Who says online poker is dead? Don't tell the 3,325 players who competed Sunday in Pokerstars' World Championship of Online Poker Event No. 14 ($1,050 no-limit hold 'em). Compared to last year's event, the participation was up over 35 percent (2,458 players in 2006). Neither number included the thousands of railbirds who cheered on their favorite players, which included Pokerstars' "Big Three" WSOP champions: Joseph Hachem, Greg Raymer and the man who single-handedly started the poker boom, Chris Moneymaker.
With this many players and a tournament with a great structure (every player started with $15,000 with 30-minute levels), it would be a long night (and morning). With first prize over $580,000 and all final table participants guaranteed almost $26,000, every player had plenty of motivation to buckle up for a long ride.
As I settled in for what I hoped to be a long night, the first two levels (blinds went from $25/$50 to $50/$100) went by quickly and fairly uneventfully. The play at our table was very conservative; no one wanted to get into a big confrontation early without a monster. During these two levels, I played 10 hands (winning five) and eight hands (winning four), respectively. Going into our first break, I had slowly built my chip stack to $17,125 by the end of Level 2, while 3,067 players remained.
As we returned from our five-minute break, Level 3 ($100/$200) and 4 ($150/$300) were slightly better than their predecessors. During Level 3, I played 11 hands, winning seven. I caught several decent starting hands (7s-7h, 6d-6c, Ah-Kh, Kd-Jd and As-Qs, all from mid- to late position and first to act). During Level 4, I only played six hands, winning four, including a nice-sized pot near the end of the level. During this hand, I had Ac-Kh in early position. After the under-the-gun player folded, I raised to $1,200. As everyone quickly folded around the table, I initially believed that I was going to take the pot down uncontested. However, the small blind not only called, but also raised me to $3,600. Having position, I decided to call to see if I hit an ace or king.
The flop was perfect: Ah-5h-3c. Surprisingly, my opponent bet $4,200 and I quickly called. The turn brought a blank: 7s. After my opponent checked, I fired out an $8,000 bet, and after several moments of thought, he folded. As the level ended shortly thereafter, I realized that my chip stack had risen to $31,775, ranking me 343rd of the remaining 2,413 players.
During the next four levels, it seemed that this tournament was going to be fairly uneventful. My chip stack rode a roller coaster, as I traded winning and losing hands during the next several levels. Hand after hand, I waited for the right moment to strike. Fortunately, I ended Level 8 ($400/$800, antes $50) with $47,450. Although there were only 1,056 players left, I was in the middle of the pack in about 400th place.
After several hours, my patience was finally rewarded. I won a significant pots in
Levels 9, 11, 12 and 15, which allowed me to build a very healthy stack, putting me among the top of the chip counts.
Level 9 ($500/$1,000, $75): The cards turned quickly in my favor as I won six of the first seven hands. Late in the level, the poker gods shined down upon me during the following hand. I was dealt Js-Jh in the cutoff position. After a mid-position player raised to $4,000, I decided to reraise to $15,000. After a moment, my opponent called. The computer screen revealed the following flop: 7d-7c-2c. After my opponent checked, I bet $32,500. My opponent quickly moved all-in for $58,700 total, and although I was slightly worried, I called for the remaining chips and was very disappointed to see I was up against As-Ac. But the poker gods delivered the miracle Jd on the turn. After the river (Qs) did not save my opponent, I picked up significant chips, ending the level with $108,680. I rose to 85th place with 860 players remaining.
Level 11 ($750/$1,500, $150): Once again, I won more hands than not, picking up 11 of 12 pots that I entered. The largest one occurred during the middle of the level. As I was sitting in late position holding Kc-10c, four of us limped into the pot. The flop brought 10h-9c-2c. After the small blind checked, the big blind bet $3,500 and another player called. With my flush draw and top pair, I raised to $15,500, forcing both of my opponents to fold. My chip stack grew to $136,200, sitting in 106th place with 574 players remaining.
Level 12 ($1,000/$2,000, $200): During this level, I played only eight hands, but fortunately won every one, including a big pot on the last one. Sitting in the small blind, I was dealt As-Ac for the first time in the tournament. As each player folded, the button made an obligatory raise to $5,500. Deciding not to slow play, I reraised to $21,500. Immediately, the button re-reraised all-in for $102,000 total. After I insta-called, my opponent revealed cowboys (Ks-Kd), putting me ahead 81-19 preflop. After the flop (Ad-9h-9s), my opponent was basically drawing dead, which was confirmed with the turn (3c) and the inconsequential river (5h). This huge hand was the primary reason my chip stack increased to $304,496, as I rose to ninth place with 489 players remaining. Being only three players away from the money, I was in great shape to get deep in this tournament
Level 13 ($1,250/$2,500, $250): About two minutes into the level, the tournament briefly went hand-for-hand, but quickly the money bubble burst, guaranteeing the remaining 486 players at least $1,330. Fortunately during this level, I was able to increase my stack to $402,279, placing me fourth among the remaining 381 players.
Level 14 ($1,500/$3,000, $300): Well, what comes around, goes around. This time, I pushed as the overwhelming favorite with 10d-10c when my opponent revealed 3h-3c. However, the tables turned as the flop delivered the 3d, allowing my opponent to double up through me. Nevertheless, I ended the level with $359,611 in 26th place with 311 players remaining, and felt I was in great shape. Although I wasn't at the top anymore, I was in great position.
Level 15 ($2,000/$4,000, $400): During this level, lightning struck again with the exact same hand. Sitting on the button, I was dealt Jh-Jd, when a late-position player raised to $12,000. After I reraised to $42,000, my opponent reraised all-in for $115,000 total. With a healthy chip stack, I called the reraise, and my opponent flipped over Ad-Ac. Amazingly, the poker gods saved me again with an incredible flop: Js-3h-9c. After the turn (Kd) and river (3c) did not help my opponent, I won another significant pot coming from behind. Talk about deja vu! I ended Level 15 with $657,727 chips, sitting in fifth place with only 242 players left.
During Levels 16 through 19, I played very tight-aggressive, playing very few hands, winning the majority of these pots preflop with raises and reraises. This style allowed me to steadily increase my chip stack level after level, never falling out of the top 30. At the completion of Level 19 ($5,000/$10,000, $1,000), I had accumulated $787,663, placing myself in 22nd place among the 95 remaining competitors.
Entering Level 20 ($6,000/$12,000, $1,200), I was in excellent position to get very deep in another online event (I had recently won the Pokerstars' $100,000 nightly guarantee on Aug. 25, outlasting 695 other players). However, the following hand basically ended my dream of another victory.
Sitting on the button, I held Qs-9s. After every player folded to me, I raised to $32,000. After the small blind called, the flop came Qd-7h-6c. After my opponent checked, I bet $48,000. Surprisingly, my opponent raised to $120,000 and I called. After the turn brought a Jd, my opponent bet $300,000. Having only $520,000 chips left, this was a critical decision, but I decided to make the call. When the river brought a 3d, my opponent pushed all-in. After serious thought, I made a surprising fold considering I had committed most of my chips into the pot. Looking back, I made two critical mistakes. First, I should have reraised after the flop to find out where I stood. Then, after the turn, I should have either committed fully or just folded. This hand will bother me for a while to come.
Although I survived for almost another entire round (unfortunately, I have a lot of practice playing with a short stack), I ended up in 55th place, outlasting over 98 percent of the field. I also took home almost $8,000 for my efforts.
This Sunday, the online community will come together once again to play in the WCOOP main event, won last year by "area23JC," better known as poker pro JC Tran. I hope that I continue to play solid poker (and cracking aces wouldn't hurt either). Good luck to everyone competing and may all your hands go your way (unless you are heads-up with me).
Congrats to "mig.com" for winning WCOOP Event No. 14, outlasting 3,324 players over almost 19 hours. With eight players remaining, there was a brief discussion of a chop, but "mig.com" boldly squashed any possibility of that. It turns out "mig.com" is James Mackey, the young man who won the $5,000 no-limit hold 'em event at the WSOP. Now, Mackey has a WCOOP bracelet to go along with his WSOP bracelet. What an amazing few months for this 21-year-old. Congratulations!
Bernard Lee represented PokerStars during the 2007 WSOP. He is the weekly poker columnist for the Boston Herald and hosts Boston's only poker radio show, "The Bernard Lee Poker Show," on Tuesdays from 6-7 p.m. (replayed Fridays from 10-11 p.m.) on 1510 AM, The Zone. For questions or comments, e-mail Lee at BernardLeePoker@hotmail.com.