World Series’ ultimate test of patience

Jun 19, 2007 3:01 AM

It’s been well-documented, in this space and elsewhere, that the World Series of Poker is enjoying a record-breaking year.

We’re only about a third of the way through the tournament and the various events continue to attract massive fields of players, who compete for outlandish prize pools.

Playing in a tourney with thousands of contestants is at once daunting and attractive.

It’s daunting because the player must navigate through hundreds of players, a task that requires patience and perseverance, in addition to standard poker-playing skills and a healthy dose of good luck along the way.

The task can also be lucrative because the larger the fields the more money collected in the prize pools.

I’ve had a chance to speak to many newcomers who have traveled far to play in the World Series. And dealing with the huge fields is among their top concerns.

Those players who gained experience playing on the Internet may have an advantage, because it’s not uncommon for online tourneys to have unreal fields — up to 10,000 players and more.

The key attributes that a player needs to compete successfully in a tournament such as the World Series are luck, skill, patience and stamina — not necessarily in that order.

More specifically, the basic strategy of playing tightly at the start, building a decent chip stack and then aggressively attacking your opponents in the latter stages remains a winning formula.

Some players claim the opposite approach — playing loosely and aggressively at the start — can help build a chip stack early and, once you have a sizable chip stack, you can "bully" your opponents.

This may work for awhile, but it’s a slippery slope on which one wrong misstep can lead to disaster.

We’ve all seen players who like to push all-in with marginal hands — small pocket pairs, any ace, King-five, suited connectors, etc. — and take down a few pots.

But eventually a better hand will call and the aggressive pusher will be shoved to the rail.

The better approach is to play premium hands, preferably slow-playing them in hopes of trapping an aggressive opponent. Remember, your task isn’t simply to win the pot, your goal is to get all of your opponents chips.

Once you’ve been able to cash out a few good hands, then you can set about the task of attacking the blinds, the short stacks and the very tight players.

When playing in the World Series you have to build your bankroll and that often requires patience, even when your patience is tested by a plethora of mediocre hands.

This is where patience comes in, because eventually you’ll get the right cards and you could find yourself in a streak or "rush" in which you’ll be unstoppable.

Those are the moments every winning player enjoys, when all the right cards fall into place, Hopefully, the elusive gold bracelet won’t be far behind.

Age before beauty?

I’ve noted that the players at the World Series are younger than they’ve ever been.

Here are just a couple of recent event winners that typify the "new breed" of poker player.

At 25 years of age, Scott Clements won the Pot-Limit Omaha event. Although he dropped out of college, Clements has won over a million dollars playing poker — including more than $600,000 during the last two years at the WSOP.

This was actually Clements’ second WSOP bracelet win in two years.

But 25 is "mature" by today’s standards. James Mackey won the $5,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em championship at 21. He is an (aspiring) poker professional from Columbia, Missouri, who attended the University of Missouri for two years.

He took a leave of absence between his sophomore and senior year to play poker. He has supported himself for about a year since then, and will no doubt have a much bigger bankroll now after winning this event. First place in this tournament paid $730,740.

Mackey said he intends to return to school at some point in the future. However, he has found poker to be so lucrative that he wants to concentrate on improving as a player before deciding what to pursue in terms of an education.

Overall, Mackey is the third-youngest WSOP winner in history. At 21 years and 4 months, Mackey is a bit older than Jeff Madsen and Steve Billirakis (21 years, 11 days).

Just to show that not all the events are going to the (young) dogs, 42-year-old Don Baruch win the $1,500 buy-in No Limit Hold’em Shootout.

A native of Tampa, Florida, Baruch is the owner of an investment and management services company. He is married and has two girls, and holds an M.B.A. from Emory University.

Baruch learned to play poker from his father, but only started to take the game more seriously about three years ago. His regular poker game is held at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tampa, Florida.

Despite playing poker since childhood, this was Baruch’s first time to cash in any major tournament anywhere. Incredibly, it came on poker’s grandest stage.

Which should come as an inspiration for all of us forty-something’s out there!