by Kat Martin
-- Las Vegas --
I confess I wasn't looking forward to it, but somebody had to be back-up clipboard carrier and since Ross and Doug know I rarely play on Mondays and Tuesdays I couldn't really refuse. Thus for the first time in my life I was facing the prospect of watching twelve hours of poker without RFID or hole cams. I carefully packed Zachary Elwood's “Reading Poker Tells,” and Jovanka Houska's “The Caro Kann” and set off for the Mirage poker room.
I never opened either book, not because I was too busy tracking rebuys, but because the action at the inaugural Grinder's Cup was remarkably compelling. In particular, the contrasts between this game and the regular $1/2 games I play in were startling.
First, I've never seen a $1/2 game move so quickly. This might have been predictable on the grounds it would be a tight game with a lot of raise-and-take-its, but the rapid pace was in fact driven by something much simpler. Primarily, people didn't screw around like television prima donnas taking thirty seconds over trivial pre-flop decisions. The players were not embedded in their phones requiring constant reminders from the dealer the action was on them. Everybody knew when it was their turn to post blinds. In other words, the game flowed as poker should, crisply, with the only pauses coming from genuinely close decisions in big pots.
As early as the first heat we saw a cold 4-bet. I don't recall seeing one in two hundred hours of $1/2 I've played this year. We also witnessed a 5-bet shove with AK which would be virtually impossible in a typical Vegas $1/2 game simply because of the short stacks, but more tellingly because the vast majority of $1/2 players have a 5-bet shove range which is precisely [AA].
A tone was quickly set in which it was clear Doug and Trevor would be playing the most hands with the majority of the other players taking a tighter, more conservative approach. Given that the prize pool was basically providing an overlay on each pot, and the fact the pre-paid time charge meant individual pots were not raked, the loose-aggressive approach struck me as the right one. But the Poker Gods have a subtle sense of humor and in the first couple of heats decided to derail this logic with the distribution of cards.
To put it another way, set-mining in this game structure would have been too nitty a strategy had it not been for the fact that the tighter players kept flopping sets. Partly as a result, the two players I had marked as favorites both finished Day 1 stuck.
All that said, I should add that the tighter players were not your average set miners. Of particular note were some of the light river calls and ambitious semi-bluffs that these players pulled, particularly when contesting pots with Trevor and Doug. Indeed one take-away from Day 1 was that the tighter players understood how they were being perceived by the looser ones, and that they won the early battle of adjustments by exploiting that image and employing an anti-LAG strategy.
All this set up Day 2 perfectly. In order to get into the prize money Trevor and Doug knew they had to ramp up the aggression further, and those players currently booking wins knew equally well what was coming. Thus it was no surprise that Heat 3 featured the most action of the two-day event and also featured “The Hand” which ultimately decided the winner.
While I could see this collision coming from the rail, the details were still a surprise. An early position open from Trevor got five callers. Up until this point I don't recall any flop being seen more than four-way, and even that was rare. When the 7h6h3d rolled off you could feel the tension in the room creep up a notch. Nobody had a capped range! A couple of minutes later there was $1500 in the middle as Doug (open-ended straight draw), Jackie (top set), and Trevor (nut gutter and flush draw) stared at the run-out. Doug made his straight on the turn taking over the lead from Jackie. The flush came on the end giving the huge pot to Trevor.
It turned out to be the decisive pot of the competition, propelling Trevor to victory, followed home by Steve Selbrede who won the Nit Award as well as 2nd Place and Bob Fisher who took 3rd Place. And it raises an important question. To what extent is the Grinder's Cup a true test of cash-game ability? If for, example, the flush doesn't fill on the end, I suspect Doug was favorite to take top honors.
I guess the answer is the same as that usually given for conventional poker tournaments. In any given contest the winner typically must pick up a superior distribution of hands and win all-in confrontations in key spots. But it is also the case that some tournament players consistently make deep runs in large MTTs and are generally regarded as more skilled than the dead money that finances tournament pros. The primary difference between the Grinder's Cup and a conventional tournament is that the Cup plays deep throughout, and the reset of stacks after each heat minimizes the big versus short stack dynamics that develop in regular tournaments.
A couple of days after the Grinder's Cup concluded I was asked by a local grinder why anybody would want to play in such a tough game. I admitted the line-up and quality of play created the toughest $1/2 game I had ever witnessed, and if it had appeared magically in one of my regular rooms I would look for a softer one. That said, I think there are two compelling reasons why playing in such a game is a good idea and why I expect Grinder's Cup II (tentatively scheduled for June) will receive a larger number of entrants.
First, all entrants to the Grinder's Cup are getting discounted rake. Part of the entry fee goes towards a time-charge which I estimate to be about $75% of the typical rake taken in a Vegas $1/2 game. As the Cup pulls in more players, diseconomies of scale will bring down that percentage considerably.
Second, one of the frustrations of ambitious $1/2 players is that $1/2 is a poor training ground for bigger games. $1/2 and $5/10 are fundamentally different, and perhaps most significantly the higher limit requires a much bigger bankroll. The Grinder's Cup strikes me as a powerful training ground for $1/2 players who want to get experience in tougher games without exposing too much of their bankroll.
I'd like to congratulate all of the competitors for entertaining me and playing excellent poker, and to Trevor for winning the inaugural Grinder's Cup.