Poker TV, in general, is pretty much crap. While I enjoy watching the WSOP broadcasts and I used to enjoy the WPT, they are – as every poker player tries to make clear – not an accurate representation of the game. A lot gets edited out and plays that seem weird in a 2-hour show make total sense if you can see the 7 hours of play that led up to it.
One of my vices, right now, are the European Poker Tour live-streams. I don’t watch a lot of them because, being held in Europe, their timeline doesn’t usually match my sleep schedule. The one event I try to watch each year, though, is the Pokerstars Caribbean Adventure, a large tournament held annually at the Atlantis Resort & Casino in the Bahamas. Several years ago, when Pokerstars partnered with the EPT, this became an EPT event despite not being anywhere near Europe.
The live streams, for the most part, are played without showing the hole cards. The featured tables have the capability, but they don’t start broadcasting with hole cards until the final table, which they play on a 1-hour delay so that it doesn’t affect play (much). Even without hole cards the broadcasts are engrossing, mostly because they are entirely uncut. You get to see every move a player makes, and you get a real sense for the flow of a major multi-table tournament. That didn’t work out quite the way I’d have liked for this year’s PCA, though.
Poker tournaments are unpredictable, and players will bust at the strangest times. In this particular case, Day 5 of the tournament was playing down from 20 players to the final table of 8. The day ended up being very short, with the 9th place player busting less than 5 hours into the day.
What did this mean for the final table? It meant that every player at the table was super deep-stacked, with the average stack having almost 100 big blinds, and even the shortest stack sitting on almost 40. While that made for some awesome deep-stack poker when it was 8- and 7-handed, it also made for an insanely long final table and one of the most boring heads-up competitions I’ve ever seen.
I started watching the live stream at around 11:15am on Monday morning. The final table wrapped up at around 2:45am Tuesday. The 3-handed and heads-up battles lasted hours, and the tournament wound up with a really unfortunate end.
Before I talk about the ending, though, I wanted to touch on something that – as a “poker enthusiast” – I found really interesting. When the tournament got down to 3-handed between Mike McDonald, Isaac Baron, and Dominik Panka, the players stopped the tournament to make a deal. This is pretty standard in large tournaments – the top few payouts are extremely weighted toward first place, and the players like to flatten that out and limit their liability a bit.
Since this was a live-stream and not an edited show, they actually filmed and showed the entire process of the deal. The players discussed their chip-stacks and worked with the tournament directors to flatten the payouts, and the tournament directors actually adjusted the direct payouts so that the players wouldn’t have to come to some sort of under-the-table agreement. Rather than over a million dollars separating 1st and 3rd place, things rounded out to all 3 players getting over a million with only 350,000-ish separating 1st and 3rd. In addition, they set aside 100k to “play for”, that would go solely to the winner along with the title.
As boring as it may sound, I was fascinated by the discussion between the players as they worked out the math using a method called Independent Chip Modeling (or ICM) as a guide. Seeing the tournament directors getting involved was awesome, too, because it’s so much safer for the players when there’s an external entity doling out the money instead of forcing them to rely on and trust each others’ individual judgment to make sure they get paid. This is one of the downsides to the WSOP, in my opinion: They do not endorse or support deal-making, even though it’s an integral part of the larger game, and players have gotten screwed in the past when they’ve attempted to make off-the-books deals with less than trustworthy players.
But I digress. I thought it was cool.
What wasn’t cool was one of the most boring heads-up battles I’ve ever watched. While there were a few interesting hands it was all very straightforward, with McDonald in the lead for what seemed like an eon. Even worse, though, was that after 14 hours of final table coverage, the final half hour of the tournament came due to a fatigue-induced implosion by the tournament favorite, Mike McDonald.
I was rooting for McDonald the whole way. I like the guy. He’s super smart, he’s one of the best No-Limit Hold ‘Em players of the last ten years, and he was well on his way to becoming the first ever 2-time EPT champion. He had small-balled the living crap out of Panka for a couple of hours, maintaining anywhere from a 3-2 to a 2-1 chip lead over him at almost all times. It was when he had a 2-1 chip lead that his slide began, and he sloughed off the tournament on two very suspect hands.
The first hand was 3-betting Panka with KJo. Panka had pocket 9’s and 4-bet shoved. After thinkin for less than a minute, McDonald made a senseless call of Panka’s shove. The 9’s held up and the chip stacks reversed, giving Panka a chip lead that he never relinquished.
I mostly think that McDonald just wanted the tournament over, and was willing to flip for it. I have a feeling that in the back of his mind he had the thought that, under most circumstances, even if he lost the hand he had enough of a skill advantage over Panka that he could battle his way back from a 2-1 chip deficit by using the same small-ball tactics he’d been punishing the guy with all night, but he figured he could end an already long night – where he was obviously fading fast – if he won a simple race.
Unfortunately, a combination of fatigue on McDonald’s part and solid big-stack play on Panka’s part just seemed to wear him down. When Panka raised with A2o after having built a 4-1 chip lead, McDonald completely imploded, making an impatient bluff-shove with 7-4 suited. It was a move that McDonald just didn’t need to make, but you could tell he was exhausted. Panka flopped a meaningless 2, and the board gave McDonald a glimmer of hope when he turned a 7, but an Ace on the river sealed the deal for Panka.
It’s a shame. And a real disappointment for someone who’d watched 14 hours of poker that day and seen McDonald smoothly transition from table domination to chipstack conservation to soul-reading hero calls, proving why he was the favorite right up until a massive deterioration in the last hour of play.
As much a fan as I am of watching these tournaments live, this one gave me pause about watching the next one all the way through. I’m not sure I can stomach seeing that much awesome poker get tossed aside by fatigue and impatience again.