Sunday, June 15, 2014

Despite Fuzzy Math, Alex Bilokur Scoops $10,000 Pot-Limit Hold'em Event

I’m taking the weekend easy, watching the live stream by the swimming pool at my Las Vegas “homtel” across from the Hard Rock. Honestly, as big as the $10,000 Pot-Limit Hold'em event is in the WSOP firmament, I do not see a real need to be at the Rio for a major streamed table. Standing up near the table on the ESPN stage is uncomfortable, plain and simple, what with the television cameras, officials, snarky photographers, and whatnot. Those bold enough to stand next to the table for a hand or two (and few are) really feel like an interlopers. I’ll wait for the lesser WSOP final tables, held simultaneously with ESPN-worthy tables in far more intimate confines, to do the real reporting. Standing inches away from the players as they battle it out for half a million dollars (or more) gives me distinct sense of deja vu, back to my Ironman tournament win. Sure, the money was a hell of a lot smaller, but (thanks to a 100,000 chip starting stack) the chip mountains were of similar girth and the play of similarly hard-fought caliber. 

Gratuitous Vegas Photo to break up all that text. The walk back from the Rio at night.

This final table of this 170-runner $10,000 tournament did indeed feature top notch talent, though not as many true superstars as one might expect in a field this small. As one very wise pro once said, “If you don’t think your play six months ago sucked, you’re slipping.”  Still in the hunt were bracelet winners Todd Brunson and Barny Boatman, former November Niner Chino Rheem, and up-and-comers Alex Bilokur and Pratyush Buddiga. Unfortunately, the always colorful hedge fund manager Dan Shak was eliminated in 10th, his pocket aces cracked by Rheem’s trip twos. A true degen’s degen, living by the seat of his pants (on and off the felt if rumor is true), Chino Rheem started as chip leader with 1.3 million chips––with Matt O'Donnell nipping at his heels on a stack of just over 1 million.

Short stacked, Barny Boatman was first to go. He made a fairly loose all-in reraise with 4-3 on a 10-2-6 board. With his shove for only 130,000 remaining chips, he had no chance of not being called by Alexander Venovski’s 10-6. Essentially, Boatman was giving up on the tournament, wanting to either double up or go home––with blinds of 16,000 and sitting on less than 10 big blinds, the shove was understandable, but not necessary. Holding 4-3, Boatman needed a miracle gut shot 5 to win. There must certainly be better spots for a shove than a four-outer in an pot to which one is not committed and which is very likely going to get called down––Venovski had raised the flop ahead of Boatman, with about 400,000 behind. 

When I played my first WSOP 10 days ago, the $1,500 Pot-Limit Hold'em event, Boatman and I were similarly short stacked at the start of Day Two, about six from the money. Waiting for the signal to approach the tables and cut open our bags of chips, he gave me sage advice that it was best to cultivate patience, as we would be in the money in a round or two. I actually discarded what seemed to be sincere advice (but was probably, thinking back on it, a level)––making a couple moves on the likes of Joseph Cheong that I deemed necessary to stay ahead of the rapidly escalating blind structure. One thing is certain––Boatman did not adhere to his own advice. He went out three spots from the money on what seemed to me a similarly questionable short-stacked shove. Still, ultimately I have to defer to Boatman’s judgement––he is the one with the multiple deep tournament finishes and WSOP bling. 

Gratuitous Vegas Photo of desert sunset.

Eight handed, early action seemed to center on the always volatile Chino Rheem, who did not seem content to consolidate his chip lead and gambled incessantly on ill-timed bluffs. In one early confrontation, Chino Rheem raised to 33,000 preflop with A-Q and called a reraise by Alex Bilokur, who held K-K. The flop came out 7-9-3 and Bilokur bet out 80,000, which Rheem called. With both players checking an inconsequential 7, the turn brought a J, which Bilokur bet out 155,000. Rheem then raised 320,000 on top. The dapper middle-aged Russian, weighed what seemed a clear call for minutes. Currently 17th on the Global Poker Index (GPI) ranking, Bilokur has numerous WSOP cashes in the past two years, though this was his first WSOP final table. He gave careful consideration to the 3-1 odds presented on a call, with what Rheems had not guessed was an overpair. Rheems reraise repped only a seven, or possibly a 10-8 straight, as even a jack would not take the risk of such a large river overbet. With this polarized range in mind––as well as Rheem’s reputation for putting pressure on players––Bilokur deliberately counted out chips and finally made the call. Seeing the bluff he gave a fist pump, taking down a 1.2 million pot. The only questionable aspect of his play was extended deliberation on what was essentially a no-brainer call––this is not NLHE where Rheem could move all-in. As I see it, Bilokur may have simply wanted to nit roll Rheems and put him on complete tilt. 

Gratuitous Photo #3: Vegas is so damn pretty at night.

Next to go was the shortstacked Richard Lyndaker in an unavoidable confrontation, A-Q vs. Todd Brunson’s 9-9. This sorely needed double up left Brunson a still-low 300,000 chips behind. The next Chino Rheem confrontation also took place against Bilokur and was a classic example of how a wild reputation can ultimately gain one more chips. Holding A-K, the unpredictable Rheem raised Bilokur’s K-9 limp to 60,000 from the big blind. When A-5-2 peeled, Rheem’s 60,000 bet was called. The turn 10 induced a Bilokur check, a Rheem bet to 125,000, and a Bilokur reraise to 257,000. This time it was Rheem who was in the driver’s seat and he inexplicably chose to go all-in and get the quick fold, rather than allow Bilokur to bluff off some more chips on the river. 

Colorado resident Pratyush Buddiga, who has made a number of final tables over the past week, was next to go on an absolute cooler hand. Holding 2-2, Buddiga called Ismael Bojang’s 40,000 raise in the big blind. The flop came 6-2-A and Buddiga checked his trips, with Bojang betting his pocket tens 40,000. Buddiga smooth called and when a jack came out continued to slow play his set, with Bojang checking behind. When a 10 peeled on the river, smacking Bojang with a higher set, Buddiga shoved all in and was (after surprising deliberation, a real nit roll) called by Bojang. Out in seventh place with a prize of $58,851, Buddiga had no one but himself to blame for slowrolling an always vulnerable bottom set. 

A hand later, sitting on a newly earned stack of 750,000, it was Bojang’s turn to get coolered when he potted Bilokur’s preflop K-K reraise holding A-Q. The kings held and Bilokur was suddenly up to 1.4 million and near the chip lead––with Bojang down to a mere 220,00 chips. Ah, the dangers of overvaluing A-Q, also known as “seat open.” Todd Brunson was the next to go, with his Q-10 all in on a 9-J-4 board up against Venovski’s pocket eights. Needing a straight to survive, Brunson failed to hit and was out in sixth. Bojang took home fifth when his A-4 ran into A-K, and Chino Rheem doubled up A-K vs. Matt O'Donnell’s pocket sixes. 

Rheem could not sit on his newly won chips––the very next hand was an unbelievable cooler. Holding pocket jacks, O'Donnell raised to 50,000 and was called by Rheem’s K-Q suited hearts and BIlokur’s A-4 suited spades. The flop came out K-Q-J, with two spades, giving O'Donnell trips, Rheem two pair, and BIlokur the nut flush draw. O'Donnell c-bet 100,000 and BIlokur called. Rheem then raised 600,000 on top and O'Donnell pushed all-in for slightly less than 1 million. Sitting on 1.6 million and in a position to take out two similarly stacked opponents and go heads up, BIlokur made one of the strangest decisions I have ever witnessed. After tanking for several minutes, he laid down. 

Let’s rewind the scenario, before we simply move on and accept that fold. If BIlokur called and––worst case scenario––a spade did not come out, BIlokur would still have a healthy 30 big blind stack of 700,000, with one player either out or severely crippled. If a spade did peel, he stood to scoop a huge pot and gain approximately 80 percent of the chips in play. Seemingly unaware of the math, BIlokur made a super-nit fold and watched as a nine of spades came out on the river, which would have made him a nut flush. He had to be content instead to see Rheem eliminated by O'Donnell in fourth, with O'Donnell the new chip leader.

BIlokur quickly lost a massive pot to O'Donnell, whose K-Q hit a K-8-5 flop, and was on the ropes with 500,000 and undoubtedly regretting his decision. Holding only 350,000 in chips, Alexander Venovski was the next to go when his A-Q was called by O'Donnell’s 10-8. The flop came with a J-9-7 that gave O'Donnell a straight and ensured that Venovski was drawing virtually dead. 

Not-so-gratuitous Vegas Photo––three things you might actually need: divorce, boxes, and someone else's opinion
Moving into heads up play, BIlokur was a 10-1 dog but he somehow redeemed himself through steady, coolheaded play over an extended period of four hours. Never getting flustered, BIlokur chipped up through a strategy of limping almost anything and betting flops aggressively. This approach effectively kept his hand strength hidden from his more straightforward opponent, enabling him to win numerous hands without showdowns. In the final hand of the tournament BIlokur’s Q-J suited diamonds hit a flush against O'Donnell’s A-Q, and he cemented his position at the top of the Global Poker Index. Despite a couple of major miscalculations, BIlokur failed to get rattled and won convincingly through optimal pot-limit heads up strategy. 

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