Winning a World Series of Poker bracelet is the dream of every poker player. From professionals to amateurs, thousands of poker enthusiasts flock to Las Vegas every year to chase international glory and a coveted WSOP gold bracelet.
I’m one of these people, with 2021 as my third WSOP trip. When I first started playing poker with my friends in high school, I remember being mesmerized by the WSOP Main Event coverage (on ESPN at the time) and dreaming that I would one day be there taking part.
Although I’ve never entered the $10,000 buy-in World Series of Poker main event on TV, I have played a handful of smaller WSOP bracelet events. What many people don’t know is the WSOP is not just the one tournament you see on TV each year.
The WSOP is a festival of more than 80 tournaments, each awarding a WSOP gold bracelet to the winner. From No-Limit Hold’Em to Pot-Limit Omaha, and many more, there are bracelets being awarded for all the variations of poker. Buy-ins have ranged from $400 all the way up to $1,000,000 in some years.
As much as I would love to enter a buy-in of $10,000 or more, that wouldn’t be a wise decision to risk that much money on one tournament, given my bankroll. When in Vegas for the WSOP I stick with the lower buy-ins, usually ranging from $400 to $1,500.
In 2021 I would be in Vegas for 10 days during the series. I had six WSOP bracelet events I planned to play with buy-ins up to $1,000. In addition to the WSOP bracelet events, I would be playing in a few other tournaments and cash games around town. That’s another great thing about the WSOP — other casinos have their own tournament series and cash games running at the same time, so there is never a shortage of options, pending your skill or bankroll.
Returning back to live poker action
This WSOP was going to be a special one for me. It was the first time I had played live poker in a casino since March 2020. In the 19 months since, I had been playing poker online thanks to the new regulated online poker sites in Michigan and creating content on both YouTube and Twitch to document my play. (But more on that in the next blog.)
I was both excited and anxious boarding the plane to Vegas. I had played mostly in casinos in the recent years prior to COVID-19 shutting down all the casinos in Michigan, but it had been so long that I worried if I’d feel outside my element.
When we first landed in Vegas, I checked into my room, and then I was off to the iconic Bellagio for my first cash game session.
I played for five hours and booked a nice $219 win. This was a great start to the trip — not only was I off to a winning start, but I felt comfortable being back at the table. Like riding a bike.
The second day included my first tournament, a $400 tournament at the Aria. I was excited! It may not be the WSOP, but I love playing live tournaments and was hoping to make a deep run. Maybe a final table, or even a win!
Unfortunately, I would be knocked out in about 47th place, when the tournament paid the top 35 players. It was still a good run though, as the field had just over 300 entrants. I was hoping this was the buildup to a big WSOP run.
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The WSOP bracelet chase begins
Day 3 was my first WSOP bracelet event of the trip: the $400 buy-in “Colossus.” Before this trip, I had played in 11 WSOP events without making it into the money. Tournaments usually only pay the top 10-15% of finishers, but 0-for-11 still stings.
In tournament poker, it’s not impossible for a top tournament pro to go through stretches where they play 30-40 events and record zero cashes. So as someone who primarily plays cash games, I know this is a possibility for me as well. But I was hoping 2021 would be a breakout year at the WSOP.
Day 3, however, wasn’t going to be that day. I was knocked out shortly after the dinner break when I was all-in preflop with pocket-8s against my opponent A-K. They would hit a pair. I was eliminated.
Day 3 was still memorable for me though. I met with fellow poker content creators Jeff Boski, BetonDrew and TSB253 on dinner break. Before I started streaming my online poker sessions on Twitch and creating YouTube videos, Jeff and Drew were content creators who I watched, so it was cool to meet and chat with some inspirations behind my own channels. Despite Jeff being a Michigan fan (Go Green!), he and the others were great guys.
Although I was enjoying my time in Vegas, I wasn’t finding too much success early on. I would be eliminated before the money in tournaments on Days 4 and 5, and then on Day 6, I check-raised all-in at Level 3 against my opponent with pocket jacks on a board reading 9-9-6-4 with two hearts and my opponent called with A-K high. All I had to do was avoid an ace or king river and I would double up. I would love to say I got the early double-up, but our opponent hit a king on the river to knock me out.
This wouldn’t be a poker blog without at least one bad-beat story, right?
Day 7: A similar fate. as I was out before the money in the tournament that day. The next day would be my last WSOP bracelet event of the trip. My last chance at WSOP glory playing the $1,000 buy-in “Mini Main Event”.
One last chance at a 2021 WSOP bracelet
It was a slow start the first few hours, as I saw my starting stack of 60,000 chips dwindle down to about 30,000. Then, the last 15 minutes before the dinner break, I would win two all-in pots and shot up to 195,000 chips. I went on dinner break excited to have built a good stack for this point in the tournament.
Coming back from dinner break, I would get up to 210,000 chips before losing a handful of small- to medium-size pots, including one where I called a shorter stack player all-in on the river. I had two pair, but my opponent had me beat with a flush. Based on the action, looking back, I think I should have folded to their river all-in.
Now I had a short stack again and needed to find a double-up. I went all-in preflop with my last ten big blinds with A-10, which isn’t good when your opponent has pocket aces. I couldn’t get lucky, and my WSOP bracelet dream wasn’t going to come to fruition in 2021.
Now wasn’t the time to sulk, though, as I still had two more days in Las Vegas. I would spend the 9th day of the trip playing a $2/$5 cash game at the Aria. I bought into the game for the max buy-in, which was $1,000. As the session went on, I would add on another $400. When I cashed out, though, I left a winner with an $83 profit.
Late cash-game comebacks help cut losses
Day 10 would be my last chance to leave this Vegas trip a winner. I would play two entries in a $400 tournament at the Aria. But like the WSOP tournaments, I faltered before the money when my K-10 of hearts lost and all-in to pocket-8s. This was early enough in the day, though, that I still had time to jump in one last cash game, and I’m glad I did.
In three short hours, I would turn my $1,000 buy-in to a stack of more than $2,600! Although it wasn’t enough to make this a winning trip, it was a great way to end a very fun, and poker-filled trip.
I had played nine tournament entries, six of which were WSOP bracelet events. I had zero cashes so I was at a loss of $4,600 in these tournaments. Fortunately, I booked a profit of $2,069 in cash games. This left my total results for the trip as a $2,531 loser.
0-for-17 still lingers looking to 2022
I had a lot of fun even though I hurt my bankroll. But I was disappointed in the results as I boarded my flight home. I had cashed in 0 of 9 tournaments and increased my WSOP bracelet event cashless streak to 17.
If I were to cash in 0 of 9, or even 0 of 17 tournaments on a Sunday playing on regulated online poker sites in Michigan, I would just chalk it up to a bad day and be back at it the next. As I mentioned earlier, even the best tournament players in the world can play 30-40 tournaments without cashing, so certainly a lesser player such as myself can, too.
But this is now 0-for-17 in the most prestigious poker tournaments I’ve played, which makes it sting so much more.
I know it’s irrational to put so much emphasis on 17 tournaments, but I still do. I’ve been a sports fan all my life, and I equate it to how athletes aren’t remembered by how they play in the regular season, but how they perform in the post-season when everything is on the line. This is a bit of an extreme example for poker players, given the luck factor of any one tournament, but you get the point.
I want to have success in WSOP bracelet events more than any games I play, but to this point, it just hasn’t happened.
Luckily for me, and WSOP glory chasers alike, the WSOP will be back in May. The series usually takes place beginning in May, but this year was in October, given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This means we have less time we need to wait until the 2022 WSOP is here.
I hope to be back in Vegas next summer, having a blast playing the game I love. But hopefully with a little more success at the tables this time!