One of the ways to build a bankroll online is by playing freerolls of various types. Some of them are truly free, where you just have to be quick enough to sign up before the tournament is full. Others require you to spend, not money, but the frequent player points that you amass on a particular site. One of the most interesting of these latter tourneys is the monthly Million Dollar Turbo Takedown on PokerStars. The entry is 5,000 frequent player points, which can either be paid directly or won in a variety of satellites starting at an entry of as little as 10 points. As I mentioned in my first article in this series, it was my intention to try and hit a big payday through tournament play, and this was my first opportunity to see if I could make it happen.
I decided to forego trying to qualify, and just bought into the tournament directly. My reasoning was as follows: PokerStars allows you to directly cash in 5,000 FPPs for $50. The Turbo Takedown anticipates a full field of 12,000 players, of whom 4,000 cash. The minimum amount of money that can be won is $90 [for places 2,000-4,000] and the prize money goes up from there, with first place taking down $100,000. Since I had been performing very well in turbo tournaments ranging from 18 to 180 players, I felt confident that I could at least cash by playing with the same combination of patience and aggression that I had been using in the cash turbos.
Unlike the usual turbo tournaments on PokerStars, which have a starting stack of 1,500 with blinds rising every five minutes, the Turbo Takedown gives you 3,000 chips with blind levels going up every 10 minutes. This is very important from the standpoint of trying to cash, because, on the assumption that in most no limit tournaments about half the field will be eliminated in the first hour, even if your stack stays at 3,000, you will still have a reasonable M value for that entire period, after which you will just need to outlast another 2,000 players to make money. So, it is possible to be just a bit more patient than most of the field, and pick appropriate spots to try and increase your stack.
On to the play: After an uneventful first level, I found two off the button, with blinds at 15-30. The player right in front of me, who had been an aggressor at the table, raised to 90. I am not fond of re-raising with A-Q, and flat called, as did the cutoff. The three of us saw a flop of , and all three players checked. The turn was the , and the initial raiser bet 120. Holding the Broadway straight, as well as the nut flush and royal draw, I decided to play coy and simply call. The cutoff then raised to 360, and the raiser folded. I called, a little concerned about a made flush behind me. The river was a blank, I checked and the cutoff went all-in. I didn’t want my tournament to end so soon, but I also didn’t think it was likely he was playing two random diamonds, with all of the high ones accounted for. I called, and we chopped the pot with matching straights.
The next critical hand happened during the third level, with blinds at 25-50. Two players limped in front of me, and I also limped with 8-7 suited. The blinds called, and five saw a flop of 8 [h]-. It was checked to me, and I bet 150 into the pot of 250. Three players folded, and the aggressive player in front of me minimum raised to 300. I called, and the turn came with the , giving me two pair. He immediately went all-in, leaving me to decide whether he had flopped a set, hit the same two pair as me or a different two pair, or slow-played an over pair pre-flop, most likely 9-9 or 10-10. As I had seen him slow play bigger hands earlier in the tourney, and as I didn’t think he would lead bet all-in with a set, I decided to rule out those hands and call. He showed 9-9, the river was a blank and I was now at 5,500 chips.
I was soon moved to a new table and found A-A on the button. The player under the gun limped for 50, and I hoped that he was making that move with a huge hand just slightly worse than my aces. When it came to me on the button, I raised to 250, and sure enough, he reraised to 1,200. I had him covered and put him all in. He called and showed exactly the hand I had hoped for, A-K unsuited. Five uneventful cards later, and I was at 9,000, and in the top 200 in the tourney.
At this point, it was clear to me that I could easily fold into the money, but I hoped to be able to play aggressive, big-stack poker and build on my good fortune.
Unfortunately, I went completely card dead for the next few orbits, and with people going all-in with small stacks, there were not many opportunities to do much more than steal enough blinds and antes to keep my chip count level.
As the blinds and antes increased, the money bubble burst, and at that point, the game shifted radically.
Having cashed, and with M values rapidly shrinking, most of the players were now picking two cards to push with, and either taking the pot right there or running into another big hand for a showdown. I started playing much more aggressively, and pushed my stack up to 20,000 without having to show a single hand.
We passed through 2,000 players [new payout of $150], and headed rapidly for 1,000 runners left. Then, disaster struck. With blinds of 800-1,600, and an ante of 160, I looked at 10-10 in fourth position. My chip stack was at 23,000, giving me an M of about 6. The player under the gun raised to 4,800. This was a player I had successfully re-raised off a hand one orbit earlier.
Without thinking too carefully, I pushed all-in, thinking I could once again push him off his hand. He called, and showed K-K. When the dust had settled, I was left with 154 chips, and the next pay level was still 200 players away.
What transpired next was like something out of a B-movie. My ante was swallowed up, and I was all-in with 9-6 suited.
As I prepared to exit the game, I turned a straight and wound up with a little over 1,000 chips, which were immediately all-in again in the big blind. My king-queen suited wound up heads-up against a pair of threes, and I turned a king. I pushed in the small blind with a pair of eights, and those held up as well. On the button, I called an all-in from an overly aggressive cutoff with J-10 and flopped a straight against his weak ace. When, two hands later, I pushed with middle pair and a flush draw against the player who had almost busted me with the pocket kings, his nut flush draw didn’t come in, and I had over 60,000 chips, and was in the top 100 of the tourney!
I wish that I could report that, Jack Strauss-like, I turned my chip and a chair into victory and $100,000. Alas, that is not the case. I got as high as 75,000, and once again went card dead. A critical moment came with blinds at 2,000-4,000 and antes of 400, when I raised to 16,000 two off the button with A-10, one of the ultimate “problem” hands. The big stack at the table was in the big blind, and reraised me another 32,000.
Had I called, I would have had just another 12,000 behind and would have been pot committed. I decided to fold the hand and keep my last 45,000 chips for a better opportunity.
Unfortunately, that opportunity was not to come. I wound up pushing with K-10 two orbits later, and the big stack snapped me off with A-Q, turning the ace to seal the deal.
I wound up 366th, for a payday of $315. Still, for someone grinding it out at $1-$2 stud and HORSE and .25-.50 NLHE ring games, that is a quick 20% pop to the bankroll, which stood at an all-time high of $1,829.
My suggestion to low-stakes players is to find opportunities that fit your playing style and carry with them the possibility of a solid or even better return for a low investment.
If you are playing enough on any particular online site, cashing in those frequent player points for tournament play is a much better idea than buying t-shirts and baseball caps. Hey, $315 can buy a whole bunch of t-shirts!
See you at the tables!