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Strategies vary on how to play early days in World Series of Poker Main Event

Slight increase in participants at Day 1B of poker’s world championship

WSOP Main Event Begins

Steve Marcus

Poker players compete during the first day of the World Series of Poker main event at the Rio Thursday, July 7, 2011. To accommodate all the entries, there are four “first days” for the main event.

Updated Saturday, July 9, 2011 | 3:17 a.m.

WSOP Main Event Begins

Poker professional Greg Raymer competes during the first day of the World Series of Poker main event at the Rio Thursday, July 7, 2011. Raymer was the winner of the 2004 World Series of Poker main event. Launch slideshow »

Notable End of Day 1B Chip Counts

  • Ben Lamb — 189,000
  • Carlos Mortensen — 105,000
  • Sam Stein — 102,000
  • Patrik Antonius — 89,000
  • John Racener — 84,000
  • Dan Kelly — 75,000
  • Andrew Lichtenberger — 68,000
  • Justin Bonomo — 61,000
  • Jean Robert-Bellande — 50,000
  • Alan Cunningham — 30,000
  • Mike Matusow — 27,000
  • Scott Seiver — 23,000
  • Jake Cody — 15,000
  • Erick Lindgren — 4,000
  • Michael Mizrachi — 0

As with most subjects in the poker strategy realm, there’s no definitive answer to the most effective way to approach the opening days of the World Series of Poker Main Event.

Some players at the Rio will say a deep chip stack — everyone starts with 30,000 chips and blinds at 50 and 100 with two-hour intervals — makes a loose aggressive style more rewarding. Daredevils can speculate with weaker hands and attempt elaborate bluffs in hopes of building a massive early stack.

Others will argue patience is the most important virtue in a tournament like the Main Event, which will require 10 days of play before a champion is crowned. Their reasoning is that players should want to preserve their chips for later in the tournament when they’re more valuable.

“The first couple of days, you should be playing more tight,” said John Racener, who finished as the runner-up in last year’s Main Event. “It’s such a good structure and there’s a lot of dead money in the field. But unfortunately, that’s not what I’ve done so far.”

Racener was one of 985 card players who showed up Friday at the Rio for the second of four starting days, Day 1B. After five hours of play, Racener was down to 10,000 chips.

He said it was partly because he was too eager to mix it up with one foe, who beat him in three big pots within a matter of minutes. Those were the kinds of situations Racener was able to avoid last year when he finished second for $5.5 million.

Racener finished the first day of the 2010 Main Event right around average with 45,000 chips and kept that pace until the fifth or sixth day when the tournament reached the money.

Mike Matusow, a Las Vegas native and three-time WSOP bracelet winner, is another advocate of the cautious approach. Matusow has cashed in the Main Event three times over the past 10 years — including making the final table in 2001 — without playing many hands the first few days.

He was off to a solid start Friday with around 40,000 chips after five hours, but found it hard to stick to his game plan because everyone at his table was also patient.

“I wish I had a table where I had some opportunities,” Matusow said. “I look at the table behind me and it’s raise, bet, call, all-in, call. Table draw is everything and I just seem to never get a good one.”

There are plenty of players in the Rio who strategize to feed off of tight players like Matusow and Racener. Aggressive pros like Lex Veldhuis believe there’s an influx of chips available if one is able to put up a little fight.

Veldhuis finished Day 1A of the Main Event with 82,000 chips, around 35,000 more than the average.

“People really think it’s a special event, so they really don’t want to get knocked out,” Veldhuis said. “It makes them play tighter, which plays into my hands. They want to make day two and make the money because it’s the world championship. You can tell.”

Matusow had one player at his table like Veldhuis who seemed to constantly raise pre-flop. Midway through the day, he was already plotting how to combat the method.

“Basically, you try to take flops with the one guy who is raising a lot of pots,” Matusow said. “If nobody is putting chips in the pot, you’re not going to get any anyway. If you raise, the only people who are calling you have good hands. So, what are you going to do? Raise and then fire and then fire again and hope?”

It’s hard to argue, however, that the players with big leads at the end of the first day are those who are willing to take more risks. One unidentified player had one of the largest stacks in the room after he made a calculated gamble by calling an all-in with Ace-Queen, which was the best hand in this circumstance.

Another player with a lot of chips, Las Vegas resident Ben Lamb, claimed to twice shove all-in on a bluff to win sizable pots when opponents folded.

Playing fast works for some, but busts others. There’s no consensus when it comes to the early stages of the Main Event.

“I thought it was a pretty easy table and I’d be able to run over them,” Racener said. “I just feel like everyone wants to beat me every single hand. The cameras are always on me and they are out for me, so I guess I’m going to have to tighten up.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at

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