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My Humble Assessment of the '15 WSOP Main Event

I watched the superbly well-orchestrated, three-evening final table of the 2015 World Series of Poker Main Event. There was a decent amount of drama and a more-or-less predictable end. Joe McKeehen came to the final table with a significant chip stack advantage. The game, when played at this level, affords the chip leader a significant edge. He/she can keep pots small, utilize position, put pressure on shorter stacks and, importantly, can afford to lose a couple of chips if a hand goes awry.

I appreciate that Joe McKeehen did these things, and did them with élan. He played the big stack game as well as it can be played. He stuck to his “small ball” strategy for the most obvious of reasons: why risk a big chunk of your stack when you don’t have to. He put pressure on the others at every opportunity for the most obvious of reasons: raise when you’ve got the big stack and position because your opponents won’t call or raise you unless they’ve got a serious hand —  and, in which case, you just fold.

Joe just chipped away and chipped up. It was weird watching it. I kept wanting someone at the table to wrest control away from him. Start three- and four-betting him. Push back. The cards really don’t mean that much at this point — particularly pre-flop. McKeehen stole pot after pot simply because none of his opponents were willing to push back.

My problem with the way Beckley, Blumenfield and the others from Days 1 and 2 played is simple: adopting a measured stance won’t work. You’re going to go broke, not in one blaze of glory but by a slow attrition as your stacks get ground down. Eventually you’re going to have to take a stand and , of course, that’s when you get knocked out. But the longer you wait the smaller the return on your “shove” will be if you win it.

So, I wonder…. why do this? Well, one obvious reason is to lay low and try to move up — after all, each step has a serious payout bump. Finishing 2rd was worth a million coconuts over ending up in 3rd.

But 1st was worth 7.7 million and over two million more than runner-up.

And the painful truth, which every serious poker junkie knows at some level, this strategy won’t work if you get shitty cards and your opponents get good ones.

But if you pick up premium hand after premium hand, hit something like 75% of the flops; if your opponents miss virtually every draw and almost never hit their second pair you’re gonna be just fine.

And so it went. As Antonio put it, “if you ever want to run really, really good there’s no better place to do it than here, the final table of the Main Event.”

So, congrats to McKeehen but, from this recreational player’s perspective, I’d really have liked watching a more competitive match where the luck factor got spread out among the contestants. This final table felt a lot like Jamie Gold’s in 2006. Since then, Gold has disappeared into the statistical morass that sucks up the one-timers. McKeehen may have serious poker chops. We’ll find out.

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