By Mark Bassaly
For me, this year’s WSOP has had some highs and lows. Like any other poker player that puts work into their craft, I had some very high expectations for myself for this trip, and the way I booked my schedule reflected that. I set it up to have the best chance of winning a bracelet by sticking to the two disciplines that are my strongest, limit and no-limit Hold’em. I had studied for nearly a year and signed up to play online again, after a six-year hiatus, so I could relearn tournament poker without spending a fortune to bust out of expensive live tournaments. I even started a Twitch stream to give people insight into my thought process for playing tournament poker.
Now I’m no tourney pro that’s for sure. I am primarily a cash game player, but I have made final tables at several small tournaments(200 players or less), so I have a good idea how to navigate tournament fields. But a lot has changed in the last 10 years of tourney poker. Before I knew it, my trip approached and off we went. I took my dad along for a few days since it was his 74th birthday June 6 (happy b-day again dad). I bought him into a tourney to try his luck, but he busted five levels into the Rio 2:00 p.m. daily. I happened to be in that same tourney since I thought it would be a good experience for us to be in together.
While I was in this event a bunch of InstaGram friends approached me and I had some brief conversations with them. It’s one of my favorite parts of being on IG. I get to meet lots of great people. While this was all happening the run-bad started. I ran my kings into a delusional meteorologist’s aces while we were debating global warming. To top it off we both spiked sets on the flop (see my IG for the run down–@pokeragent). This was only 30 minutes into the tournament, so I busted first level.
Needless to say I was a little tilted, so I spoke to a few friends and walked for like 15 minutes and was determined not to start my trip off that way, so I fired a second bullet. That second bullet took me down to just three big blinds and from there I thought I was toast until three double ups—one was a three-way pot and I had aces and won! Later I was the table chip leader with 50k. Now suddenly we had some room to work, and we did just that. We ran the stack up to 130k, but eventually the blinds got so high I busted 184th when I shoved into the big blind with K-10 offsuit to his A-5 offsuit and bricked out. That was good for a min cash, but I still had lost a little over a hundred dollars that day.
What stuck with me the most was that normally If I bust I don’t like to rebuy, but since it was my first tourney and I didn’t want to start off by busting in brutal fashion I went back at it, never gave up and cashed. In the end, it was a great confidence booster for me, and it propelled me through my next nine days of grinding. I played a little $20/40 Omaha cash because it was a soft game with lots of horrible showdown hands and won for two days, then lost for two days, so that was a wash. (I lost $300 but played well so I was happy.) The worst part about my trip was the pits. The gol dang pits. THE PIIIIIIIIIIIITTTTTTTTSSSSSSS!
Man I hate the pits now with more of a passion than I ever have. I lost over $4k in the pits this trip and it was just me being bored and undisciplined. From Roulette to Craps to Blackjack I got hammered. Didn’t matter how I bet, whatever game I was playing it would go the opposite way for me and that hurt me and my profits. So, midway through I stopped. Well I almost stopped! I did hit a win on a slot for $1,200 but that was the only pit luck I had.
After that I stopped completely to refocus on poker because all of my big buy-in tourneys were coming up and I needed to be completely focused. My first big tourney was the Venetian $2.5 million guarantee. I was in for a big surprise that day. Had I known the line would be longer than summer solstice I would’ve entered the day before. As a result, it took me an hour to register and two to three more hours before I began play. Luckily the levels were 40 minutes long, so I still had about 50 bigs to play. So off we went. Before I started though, I saw a bunch of IG friends and we spoke for a while before the tourney, so that’s always good. And these friends I saw were close friends of mine that I’ve known now for years so it was great seeing them.
At my first table I got seated with Chace Bianchi (bracelet winner) and an IG friend as well. I was essentially card dead that tourney and even with some steals I made to keep my stack at even I couldn’t get a run going and busted three hours later. I was disappointed, mainly because I didn’t think about long lines and I felt with the longer levels if I had started on time I may have had more time to run up a stack. But hey, it happens. On to the next as they say.
Next was the Millionaire Maker. I registered early for this tournament and was happy and energized. But like the Venetian tourney I was fairly card dead. I did pick up a few hands but no action—so no stack to work with—and again I busted a few hours into the event. I briefly contemplated rebuying but decided against it since I felt it was meant to be. As I walked out disappointed, I ran into a real character—the famous Uncle Ron. Known as a high stakes player with a quirky personality, and known as the ultimate railbird, he asked to take a picture with me, and as always, I obliged not even knowing who he was. But I kept hearing stories about him. Now if you want funny he was dressed in overalls with no shirt, a floppy hat, and was dragging around a wagon with a watermelon in it hailed as the lucky watermelon. Lots of people would rub it for good luck.
After that funny encounter I took a few days off, and played poker with the boys in what would come to be known as the New Orleans Omaha Hi massacre. These locals didn’t know what hit them when we started a game with five IG friends and four local regulars. They were stunned when we were buying in for $600-$1k apiece (other than me who bought in for $128 dollars LOL). We just were blind raising some pots and with all of us in and nearly always raising every pot the locals thought we were chum, but we ended up spitting them all out and taking most of their money. Funny thing is we were attacking each other without mercy and having a blast doing it. We all had been running a little bad so we took our frustrations out on those poor folks. But it was fun as hell and I wouldn’t trade that day for the world.
Chad, Adnan, Chris, Allen and I all had dinner that night at a local bar and had a bunch of laughs. Then I split to go pick up my wife from the airport so she could join me for a few days. The next day I decided to be a bum and not do much of anything. I slept in late, and we ate breakfast in the suite and then I took a bath for maybe two hours and man did it feel good. My wife and I went to meet her sisters and brother at Fremont Street. I haven’t been there in years so I was laughing at all the crazy shenanigans that go on while you’re walking around. Grown Baby Huey’s, naked women (pasties on their nipples and undies basically). I saw Darth Vader and we threw down with our light sabers as you saw on my IG post (I won!). We finally stopped to eat dinner at this great place on Fremont located in the 4 Queens Casino called Hugo’s Cellar. Wow what a surprise that was. Excellent food and service. It was pricey, but if you like that type of food I highly recommend it. After dinner, my wife and family split for a show. I had seen it so I stayed behind and just wandered for a while relaxing. I was lucky I did because as I was walking around something special happened.
I saw a guy painting with spray paint and the drawings he was pushing out were amazing! That wasn’t the special part though. As I watched this man for about 45 minutes, I noticed two things he did that I really needed to do during my tourneys. The first was he was deadly focused, like a lion crouched hidden in the bush waiting to rush and attack its prey. He didn’t have an inch of hesitation in his painting, and they seemed to all come out perfect. The second was that he was patient and he let his paintings develop. He never rushed to finish even though he was fast. It was then that I felt that even though I felt I played well, my strongest tourney was coming up the next day and I wanted to be just like that painter. I was on my way back to the garage when I saw some break dancers, so I stopped to watch them for a minute and reminisce about my break dancing days back in high school. As they were dancing, I saw Uncle Ron again! He came in and started dancing all crazy and the whole crowd was laughing hysterically as was I. While he was dancing he pulled out a cup with coins in it and was dropping them little by little into their collection bucket. In the end, we took a pic together again and I spoke with him for a minute. His IG is hilarious so you need to follow him if you like to laugh and want it to be poker related also. He’s Uncleronaa on IG.
After that laugh fest, I decided to leave there and go back to the Venetian where I was staying. I played a slot as I was waiting for my wife to come back from her show because I forgot my room key. I had just lost $500 playing a popular Roulette strategy that didn’t work out for me, so I switched to Deal or No Deal. Now for those who remember this game on TV, if you hit five of those on the slot machine you get to play the game. I got there several times, but the last one in true degen fashion I made a complete gamble and decided not to take any of the deals. I needed the top prize of 100k in credits and this was a penny slot so I made $1k and had been up a few hundred already so that was a good boost. My wife finally came back and we went to sleep.
The next day I woke up feeling great. This was a $1,500 limit tournament so I wanted to play great. Fully recharged, I was silently telling myself my goals for the day and constantly repeating things to myself that I wanted to accomplish during my tourney, like watching everyone to look for weak spots on the table and to stay patient and not play junk. It worked!
As we headed to the Rio my car had some malfunctions from a recall Volkswagen sent out (another one!) so I first thought crap, not again, the run bad continues. But when I got there I was deadly focused and ended the day with lots of chips to work with on Day 2. Had I not lost a huge pot to a bad runout near the end of Day 1, I would have been top three in chips, but hey it’s variance as they say. Right?
Day 2 came, and what a roller coaster that was. There were hours where I picked up steam and hours where I fizzled with chips. But as on Day 1, I was deadly focused. I found weak spots and exploited them, and I ran well in the end with a late day surge. I busted five people from the tourney that day, including three-time bracelet winner Ian Johns who was staying alive by doubling up many times over. I busted him by pure luck when my Ad-4d ran into his A-Q off. We got it all in pre-flop, and after people saw it (Poker News reporters included) they thought he was getting another double up, but I yelled “Watch, a four in the door.” As I said it the dealer peeled the flop and BOOM! Not one but two fours come right on the flop. He had hope with a queen on the turn but blanked the river, and he was out! My friends surprised me too and railed me late that night. That was a real highlight for me. They were loud and people loved that I had a rail that supported me and so did I. I couldn’t remember the last time I had so much support. By the end of the day I was second in chips heading into the final 15 players and I was on a poker high! I felt like at that point the final 14 other players were just standing in my way and I was going to crush them and win my first bracelet!
I remember getting a ride with friends and they were super excited for me. One even changed his flight to stay and watch, which I was in shock about and couldn’t believe, but I love the guy for it, and he knows it. Thanks Chris! As I was heading home I also looked at my phone and I was getting blown up. Hundreds of DMs from friends were rooting me on and telling me to stay focused, and tons of texts were saying the same. I went to sleep that night and woke up to a strange feeling. I was focused but felt like something was off. I wasn’t tired, and I was mentally sharp, but the feeling wasn’t there for some reason. We checked out of the Venetian, ate breakfast and headed to the Rio so I could claim my bracelet.
It was then that I got a rude awakening. I started off the day well, busting a player with by trapping him with a flopped flush. I got to the final table second in chips, trailing the eventual winner of the tournament who I had respect for since I felt he played really well. But once we redrew seats for the final table it all went downhill from there. Despite all my focus, minimal mistakes (I bluffed one spot I shouldn’t have and continued with a river bet I shouldn’t have, but that was it), and the best rail in Vegas history (they made a poster with a pic of me after surgery that was just hilarious and made Poker News also), I lost. Two brutal beats (a two-outer runner-runner 10s, and a one-outer for quad fours to beat my turned boat) and I was out in eighth place! I was devastated. I felt like the life got sucked right out of me! People had told me what a great run I had, but I felt like my soul got crushed. It was mine to win and I let it slip through my fingers, knowing how hard it is to reach a final table.
How could the poker gods be so cruel to let me run good for two days only to get crushed in that fashion at the end? I went to eat with my friends and wife since I’d won a last-longer bet with a friend. We headed to Fago de Chao, a Brazilian restaurant just off the strip that was amazing. While they were all telling me how great I did, I kept running scenarios in my head trying to figure out how I made a mistake to bust so early on the final table. It was in the end that I decided to be content with my run, learn from it, and move on. My friends, wife, and I went to play top golf for a few hours, and then I left for home with my wife. I went back to work and it will be nine more long days before I test myself again in more tourneys—stay tuned for the next chapter of my trip. I learned a lot this trip about myself and my abilities, both good and bad, and I intend to claim the prize I should have won this time around. I never gave up until the bitter end though and with that eighth place win, I’m hungrier than ever for a bracelet and a pile of cash. I put out a video on my IG thanking everyone for their support also. Be sure to follow my Instagram @pokeragent for constant updates when I’m in Vegas. I’ll see you there. Say hi if you see me!