WSOP 2023 Main Event Trip Report

Day 1

I always wanted to play the WSOP Main Event, and this year for the first time, I finally did.

I flew into Vegas on Tuesday night to play Day 1C on Wednesday. I took 10k in cash directly out of my "poker piggy bank." I'm always paranoid about losing cash, whether it's by misplacing it, or the time I had a cash game heater that my dog ate half of. So I decided to be cautious and fly to Vegas holding the money in my pocket, and I headed straight to Paris after the flight to register.

The woman at the cashier did a double take when I pulled out the money. She said she expected me to ask to register a satellite.

It would have been wise to sell action, but I decided that having 100% of myself is more pure. I've always been a massive bankroll nit, but this would be my one huge exception. One of my friends I talk poker with did insist on sending me $500, though, so I only ended up with 95% of myself. Close enough.

I get tournament nerves, so I toss and turn in bed. I fall asleep around 3 AM, and I'm wide awake at 7 AM with the jitters. I get breakfast, but time goes slowly. I end up heading back to Paris around 11 AM. Time still marches slowly while I anxiously await the noon start time. I never play house games, but I'm desperate for a mental distraction, so I put $100 on 3-card poker and minbet it. I lose every hand and bust quickly. I'm hoping that it's good luck to get bad luck out of the way.

Finally, I'm able to take my seat in Horseshoe. I watch as the lines of people progress past me, and the tables fill up and get my 60k starting chip stack.

A beautiful brunette girl catches my eye for a second as she walks by me. I watch more people fill in and then turn to look at my table. The same brunette is at my table directly across from me. She has a lot of tattoos, including a very prominent Ace of Spades tattoo on her forearm. I'm guessing this isn't her first time playing cards. Watching her throughout the day, I noticed she played like a professional player.

She starts speaking Brazilian Portuguese to the guy to her left. He has some poker badges stitched on his hoodie that I don't recognize. The loudspeaker comes on, and we're all asked to stand up as they start an announcement ceremony. I ask the Brazilian girl if she knows our table mate already. She says that they just met but that she knows who he is, implying that he's a "known" pro in Brazil. I don't recognize him, but that's some interesting recon to know.

There is a Brazilian poker news outlet taking a few pictures of her and a lot of pictures of him throughout the day. The ceremony starts playing the Brazilian national anthem. The Brazilian girl laughs when she recognizes the tune and hums along.

We then proceed to sit through Canada's national anthem and then China. These were in honor of bracelet winners from those countries. I was impatient to start, and I felt like I had been tricked into attending a mock United Nations club rather than a poker tournament. Defending champion Espen Jorstad gives a speech, mentioning bagging only 17k at the end of Day 1 last year. He tells us to hang in there if we have a rough start.

Finally, cards are in the air.

I go card dead for a while, which isn't bugging me since I have 300BB, and I wasn't trying to force a massive pot in the first hour. I end up playing a lot of small pots with the Brazilian girl as I'm in the cutoff for her big blind. I seem to lose every pot against her. I never have a good combo to continue. For example, once I open ATo from the cutoff and the flop comes KQ7 with a flush draw I don't have. She checks, I bet 3/4 pot, and she calls. Turn is an offsuit Q, and she leads for 3/4 pot. I feel I have better hands to call with here and block some of her obvious bluffs like JT, so I fold.

In another hand, I raise K6ss in the CO, and she calls. Flop comes down 752 with one spade. She checks. I bet small, she raises me. I call with my backdoor spades and backdoors to open enders. Turn is an offsuit 6, and she bets pot. It's a weird spot for me since the 6 improves my hand to beat pure overcard bluffs, but it's no good if she was raising for protection with a hand like pocket eights. If she was semi-bluffing with straight draws like 98 and 43, she got there. So I fold.

There were a few spots like this, and I got the feeling that she thought I was too tight, and so was coming after me. I let her push me around a bit, but I never saw any opportunities that felt right to play back at her. Besides, it was still early, and I didn't want to force things.

I pick up an actual hand with Queens. I raise in early position, and an OMC who looks to be about 80 years old calls me in the big blind. He was playing in weird ways that you might expect from an OMC, and he seemed to be the guy at the table most clearly diverging from "standard" play. The flop comes down TT4r. He checks, and I bet about half pot. He calls. The turn is an offsuit 2, he checks, I bet small, not knowing what he can call with but wanting a little more value, and he calls. The river is an offsuit 7 so the board has bricked out.

He checks to me. I'm tempted to check back, worried that he doesn't have much to call me with besides a T, but I mentally tell myself that it's crucial to build stacks by getting thin value. I figure I'm targeting hands like 99 and 88. Plus, how often does OMC check-raise bluff?

I make one last small bet on the river for thin value. OMC snap check-raises me big.

If this is the one OMC in the world sick enough to realize I'm going for thin value and checking raising me with a bluff, then credit to him for leveraging his image. I fold. Now I'm down from 60k to about 50k.

I get some hands, but I get no action on my good hands and get played back at when I have a marginal hand. I float at around 50k for a while. The table seems to be mostly decent players, the guy to my right (Mr Right) is playing a little loose but not crazy, OMC is doing some OMC things, but nobody's giving chips away. Both the Brazilians are playing like pros and the others are mostly playing pretty tight with plenty of preflop aggression making it tricky to see cheap flops.

I end up leaning on the tighter side myself. I am able to pick up some chips with some light 3-bets such as A8s and ATo, but I also make some tight folds as well such as folding 77 on the button after a cutoff cold 3-bet and KQs on the cutoff after a hijack cold 3-bet. I was still getting a feel for my opponents, and I wasn't sure exactly how wide their 3-betting ranges were and how aggressively they would play postflop. So I erred on the side of caution, but I may have missed some good opportunities to be in-position and deep.

The guy to my immediate left I will call CriticFish, since he is one of the weaker players at the table and is also the most vocal about criticizing the play of others, which is a common combo. Critifish has a weakness of rarely believing people, even the guys who were clearly nut peddling.

The guy to the left of Critifish, I will call Sleeves since he had a sleeve of arm tattoos. Sleeves seems to be playing very tight and cautiously.

I pick up Q9hh on the BB, Sleeves raises from UTG+1 and I defend. The flop is T84 with two clubs so I have a gutshot and overcard. I can also represent the clubs if they arrive. I check/raise him, he calls. Turn is a brick. I fire 3/4 pot and he calls again. River totally bricks out so there's nothing to even represent. But so far I've been pushed around and not been able to win a single pot, this guy seems snug, so I just bomb it and pray. He looks very frustrated but folds.

Critifish and Sleeves ends up in the craziest pot of the early levels. It folds to Critifish in the SB who raises, Sleeves 3-bets, Critifish 4-bets, Sleeves 5-bets. Critifish jams and Sleeves snap calls. Critifish has QQ and Sleeves has AA. While its a cooler in blind vs blind, you could tell Sleeves was not jamming much worse than KK for 250BB so Critifish was making a "standard" play, but I think he could have slowed down and flatted.

Flop comes down AJx so AA is way in the lead. I jynx Sleeves by saying, "wow, only thing left is backdoor straight" and like clockwork it comes in.

qq vs aa aipf , qq hits backdoor broadway

Brutal beat for Sleeves but Critifish had lost some chips, so Sleeves had about 10k left and did a good job hanging in there and ended up recovering, partially at my expense.

In one spot, Brazilian guy opens from early position, someone flats, I squeeze with KQs on the BTN, Brazilian guy 4-bets and I immediately regret my decision to 3-bet. KQs is a great hand to take a flop with in-position, but it's also easily dominated. I end up folding, which I'm not happy about.

I again mix it up with OMC. I have K4s in the HJ and raise, and the flop comes down KK3 with a heart draw. I have no hearts. OMC donks into me, I could raise, but I figure I'm way ahead so I'll call him and raise later. But the turn completes the heart draw, he leads again, I'm a little worried he has a bigger King or made the flush, so I call. The river is a fourth heart, he checks his cards then bets about 1/3 pot. I probably should fold , he probably has the flush, but I think that if he was betting a dumb hand on the flop and maybe still is committing to his dumb hand now that there's a scare card in the fourth heart. So I call, and he turns over Ace of diamonds 8 of hearts. So he had a very dumb hand, I was 96% on the flop, and he got a perfect runout. Frustrating. Down to about 40k.

I then pick up AKs, raise and get a call, Sleeves has doubled and now has about 18k or 45BB, he 3-bets, so I 4-bet, and he snaps with Aces. His Aces hold and I'm down to about 20k.

Now I am very unhappy with how this tournament is going. I have yet to get over starting stack, and I'm at serious risk of busting before the first dinner break. I've gotten very few good hands, and the ones I've gotten have received zero action or ran into Aces.

I raise on the button with A9cc and Critifish 3-bets me to 3k, I call. Flop comes down with 2 clubs, and he leads for about half pot. I think in theory, I should be calling here a lot and bluffing with flush draws with less showdown value, but I'm feeling super pushed around and needing a win, so I put in a big raise with most of my remaining chips. He doesn't like folding so I'm expecting a call and to just pray I hit my draw. He tanks for a while, and thankfully folds, and I'm back to about 30k.

We go on dinner break. I'm glad I made it that far but frustrated with how it's going. I'm thinking my trip report will sound like me just whining that I got outdrawn by an OMC. It's the classic situation where you can't get anything going. I nearly run over Alexandra Botez in the hallway since neither of us were looking where we were going.

My luck turned after dinner break. Brazilian girl raises, Mr Right flats, I look down at Aces and 3-bet. Brazilian girl folds, Mr Right calls. Flop is 732ss, I have the Ace of Spades, I bet small, he calls. Turn gave me spade draw, I bet big, he calls. River is a brick, he checks, I jam, he unhappily calls. He has QQ with the Queen of Spades.

I double up and I'm now back just over starting stack, hooray!

Mr. Right complained about it being a setup hand, and to some extent, it was. I really have his number this day.

I raise Queens and Brazilian girl 3-bets me. Mr Right rejams for about 30k or 35BB. I'm not thrilled with this situation, as I think he has something decent and Brazilian girl is still behind me, and she has me covered for 75BB effective. She's uncapped and could have anything, including Kings or Aces.

Despite some concern, I'm thinking that Brazilian girl is wide since she's been aggressively coming after me all day, and it feels too tight to fold Queens. If I move all in on her first, she'll always call with better and fold worse. Instead, I want to give her a chance to come back over the top of me as I probably just go with it. So I just call. She gives me a quick glance, then folds.

Mr Right has AK so it's a coin flip for a 60k starting stack. The Main Event has an unmatched intensity, and it has the "final table" vibe right from day 1. There's no tournament that you want to sunrun in more. We all win and lose some flips in tournaments, but the tension of waiting for the dealer to peel the next card, and the great feeling of coming out on top, is amplified tenfold by the backdrop of the biggest and most important tournament in the world.

The flop comes out and I get brick, brick, brick, turn, brick, river….brick. Im ecstatic to now have 90k, and a frustrated Mr Right grumbles in disappointment and leaves.

I pick up Kings and raise under the gun. OMC min-3bets me from the big blind. A 3-bet clickback from an OMC is a meme, and I'm honestly terrified. But, it's Kings. This guy may play tight but he also probably saw some stuff in Vietnam that's scarier than busting a poker tournament, so I'm going to give this guy some credit for a few light 3-bets despite his age and image, so I put in the 4-bet, and he folds.

Critifish ends up giving all the chips from his suckout back to the table. Him and Brazilian Guy are just constantly in pots. Early on, Critifish caught Brazilian guy bluffing on a big river overbet. But then about 5 times in a row, Brazilian guy overbets and Critifish pays him off. Brazilian guy often had hands like T9 on 98872 board where you wouldn't usually want to overbet for value, but Brazilian guy had a good read that he was playing against a calling station and extracted max value with merged overbets.

Brazilian guy ends up being the big winner at our table having gotten those max value from those hands. He also was a constantly 3-betting Brazilian girl, which I found amusing as she seemed to be one of his fans, but there was no soft play between the country mates. She had run up a massive stack herself early but gave a lot of it back stationing in some spots.

While I can't say this was the toughest table, it didn't feel like the ultra soft Day 1 table I had heard so many legends about. That element seems exaggerated. OMC and Critifish were a bit weaker, and a few others seemed like tight amateurs moreso than pros, but they were all alright

I kept hearing that the last level of day 1 was "beer level" and drinks would be overflowing. I'm tense and wouldn't mind a single beer, but it's impossible to even get. I ask a server for one, but they tell me they are overflowing with orders. One tablemate flags down a server and manages to order , not a beer, but a black coffee. So the "fun party" atmosphere of day 1 did not exist at my table.

But at the end of the day 1, I was thrilled to bag over 90k, having dropped to as low as 20k . It wasn't a huge stack but it was more than I started with, and having feared an early bustout, a 1.5x chip stack felt great.

Day 2

I get the day off and chill. I mostly lay in bed, do a quick dip in my hotel pool, checking PokerNews Day 1D updates, feeling jittery. I play a $400 online bracelet turbo, barely pay attention to a single hand, and manage to mincash it. I again struggle to sleep, falling asleep late and feeling wide awake very early.

For day 2, I put on a Mariano River t-shirt. I'm not a big sports fan but my Mom is a diehard Yankees fan so I was at game 2 in 2009 World Series which he came out and saved for the win. Seems appropriate for my big day 2. I get in the cab to to go to the event and as soon as I get in , Enter Sandman starts playing. That's Rivera's entrance song which seemed a promising omen.

I sit at my new Day 2 table, almost the first hand I get Kings in the SB, BTN raises, I 3-bet, BB has 15k total and jams, I call it off and hold against 99. So now I have over 110k chips and I'm feeling fantastic and how great of a start to the day this was.

I thought my Day 1 table draw was mediocre, but my Day 2 table draw was absolutely awful. Everyone played like pros and to the extent table talk revealed info about players, they confirmed being full-time pro poker players. There were no easy chips to be won at this table, and it was a tough grind all day long.

One really tough spot I played is the following. About 90k chips and 80BB, I raise KQo with no club from EP and Quiet Pro flats in the BB. Flop comes down J94 all clubs. He checks, I bet 1/4 pot, he calls. Turn is an offsuit King, he checks, I bet 1/3 pot, he check raises me 4x. I think for a while, we're still somewhat deep and this could be a big pot to go to war with one pair on a monochrome board. I feel I have a lot of flushes to defend with, and I feel if I'm calling with KQ here I'd much rather have at least one club in my hand, so I end up folding. But perhaps this was too nitty a fold.

I get dealt Kings on the button and an Indian-American Pro defends his big blind. Flop comes down QJ8. He checks, I bet small, he calls. Turn is a 7. He checks, my spider sense goes off and I check back. The river is a small card that brings in backdoor diamonds. He checks again, I think he has a lot of one pair Queens and Jack hands here. I also remember the Brazilian guy getting a lot of value from overbetting. So I bet just over pot to get some value from my overpair. He agonizes over the hand for a while, saying that he's worried that I hit backdoor diamonds. It's good that he didn't snap call me, but it's not good that he's worried about a much stronger hand than I have. He ends up calling and showing 87 for bottom two pair. He said he wanted to raise me except that I bet so big. It was frustrating that I finally got a good hand and I look for value, but got value-owned.

I get hands like KTs, I try 3-betting them and get cold 4-bet behind then cold 5-bet behind me. Next hand is KTs again, I try flatting this time and get squeezed behind me. Its a very tough aggressive table and the timing's not working out for me and before long I'm back to under 90k and then 60k.

A guy who looks Asian but sounds very Irish opens in early position. I look down at A5s of clubs in the cutoff. I 3-bet, he calls. Flop comes down 742, two spades and one club. So I have a gutshot, backdoor flush, and an overcard. He checks, I bet small, he calls. Turn is the King of spades completing the flush and killing my backdoor. He checks, and I'm just so frustrated at getting run over at this table, I have a gutshot, I can represent spades, the K is good for my range, and this is a good hand to be my "fake Aces".

After a quick moment, I jam all in with basically nothing, and it's a huge relief when he snap folds.

He gets hung up on the hand and keeps asking me about it. He says he folded black JJ, so I got him off a much better hand. I tell him I usually have Aces in that spot but I happened to have fake Aces instead and he got bluffed.

But then a mirror image of that hand occurs. I raise with black Jacks under the gun, one guy flats, and Quiet Pro squeezes from the SB.

I consider jamming my 40BB, but decide to play post flop and flat with intention to jam if I flop an overpair. I'm a little worried this guy has a strong hand because he hasn't been super active, and he squeezed into two players, I opened under-the-gun and the other player who flatted is the table chipleader. Quiet Pro has a stack himself so he's squeezing into my tight range and another player who could felt his deep stack. But it's also the same guy who check raised me off of top pair on the monochrome board, so he has been aggressive. I'm really unsure either way.

Flop comes down K92cc , I have Jack of clubs. He best 1/4 pot and I call. Now I have about 30k behind which is about 30BB and also about the size of the pot. Turn is a small third club giving me the J high flush draw, he looks hesitant for a second then puts me all-in. I'm super unsure of what to do.

My earlier opponent got bluffed by me with Jacks in this spot and now I'm in the exact same position. Jacks giveth, and taketh away. I'm somewhere between very behind and completely dead to most made hands such as a flush or any King. I'm not even that far ahead of just a bluff with a naked Ace of clubs. On the other hand, I already committed a ton of my chips to this big pot, and it's tough to say nobody bluffs here when I ran a bluff in this exact spot an orbit earlier. Close spot, but I end up folding. In hindsight, I wish I just jammed pre.

I get all those chips back very soon after though when a really nitty guy who's been complaining all day raises off his 15k short stack, and I 3-bet jam with Queens. He tanks forever and he says he wants to make a hero fold but eventually calls off with Nines. The Queens hold and I tell him that he can't really fold Nines there, he says "of course I can" and storms off disgusted.

Now I get moved from Paris to Horsehoe and have to follow the 5th-grade field trip leader as we walk there. It's getting late into the night and is around 11PM and we play until 12:30AM.

It'd be nice to make Day 3 but I also realize I'm nowhere close to the money so there's no point in trying to limp into it. My bigger motivation for wanting the day to end is simply fatigue. I hadn't been sleeping well and was tired. On the end of Day 1, I made a tiny mistake where I misread my hand and called a 1BB river bet with nothing. While the mistake was small, it made me realize how costly fatigue can be. The levels are two hours, and the last two after dinner break drag on incredibly slowly.

I am at a new table, having moved from Paris to Horseshoe. One guy is talking about being a writer for Weeds and how they might do a new season , so that's cool and as a bonus he's not a professional poker player.

I look over and see Wesley from Hustler Casino Live at the table next to me. He's having fun.

One tablemate is trying to get a beer and I mention that my Day 1 "beer level" didn't live up to the hype.

Friendly Guy says, "Oh this is your first main Event? Well nice job getting late to day 2, my first Main Event I saved for 4 years then busted within the hour".

I appreciate the compliment but I recognize it's more chance than skill. Most of my big pots were coolers in either direction, other than my one gigantic bluff.

Big blind is now 2k and I'm back at the 60k starting stack, so 30BB and officially short stack poker.

I raise with A6hh and Friendly Guy in BTN calls and BB calls. Flop comes down AQ7cc, BB checks, I check, Friendly guy bets half pot, I call. Turn is a brick, I check, Friendly Guy bets around half pot again. I agonize over this since I know I'm not really supposed to be folding top pair especially with flush and straight draws on board, but I just feel I'm beat, so I fold. Thankfully Friendly Guy shows me AQ for the top two pair so it's nice to know my somewhat big laydown was correct as my top pair was drawing dead, though now I'm down to 30k.

I steal the blinds once , SB raises me BvB and I jam with A6o and it gets through so I actually chip back up to about 50k or 25BB. Then I get dealt AKs, UTG opens, I consider simply jamming but decide to 3-bet small from the hijack, both to keep in worse hands and also evaluate flop. I'm begging for an Ace or King on the flop so I'll have an easy decision. I get my wish, but be careful what you wish for. The board comes down AQx. He checks, I bet small flop, he calls. Turn is a brick, he checks, I jam for about half-pot behind. He instantly says call and I know I'm screwed.

I'm assuming he has Ace-Queen and I can at least pray for a King. I've never used my "one-time" and was saving it for a moment like this. But he actually turn over slowplayed Aces. I am beheaded in an instant. When I jammed turn, I believed I was ahead and wanted a call. So I went from thinking I was going to double and be healthy, to drawing dead and knocked out in an instant. No 9th inning save from Rivera.

It always stings to get knocked out of a tournament whether it's the first level or the final table. This year they set the record for the most Main Event entries ever, and the prize pool will be a record as well. It's impossible to play the event without getting at least a little caught up in the mystique and fantasy that this could be the year that amazing things happen to you. That slightly irrational hope becomes a rug pulled sharply from under your feet the moment you run out of chips.

The only good news about busting is that the dim buzzing backdrop of anxiety starts to recede. The thing I was most worried about avoiding - busting out - has already happened. I can't change that now. I can finally get some sleep.

Overall, I'm happy with how I played. I'm glad I made a huge all-in bluff with minimal equity, and folding top pair at 30BB wasn't a huge fold, but it was still a good fold.

In terms of room for improvement, I think I was a bit too tight on Day 1. I had the "take your time and wait for your spots" mindset since it's so deep, there's no need to force anything. While I think there is some merit to that approach, I may have missed value by not taking more flops deepstack against the weaker players at my Day 1 table, and being a little too passive postflop.

On day 2, I struggled with two big spots where I faced raises from the same guy. I'll never know whether I made two good folds or folded a winner in a big pot, but I definitely want to consider if I'm playing too tight and passively in spots like these.

From a high level strategic perspective, all my big bluffs worked, and some of my big value did not get paid. That makes me think that I probably should have been bluffing more than I did. There was probably at least one spot I viewed as a standard fold that would have been a great place to instead bluff-raise.

Even though most players are snug Day 1, it's good to recognize the calling stations and get big value from your good hands against people who pay them off. That does require getting the good luck to have them at your table, the good luck to make hands against them, and the good luck to have those hands hold. But you're going to need some luck to run deep in this tournament, so you need to stay alert to any opportunities you might get.


I'm disappointed that I didn't cash and a $9500 loss isn't a fun entry into my tracking spreadsheet. Nonetheless, I'm really glad I played this tournament. There's a lot of poker tournaments in the year, but this is the tournament.

I generally advise strict bankroll management, but if you can put aside some dollars and save up maybe over a few years, or sell action, take a shot at this thing because it is a special event for anyone who loves poker.

The field is truly diverse and it lives up to its name as the World Series. You can get all sorts of players from all over the world at your table. The German GTO crusher, the Hollywood producer, the Texas cash pro, the Chinese student, the Brazilian online grinder, the Wall St trader - all of these players will be different and you can get anyone at your table. More important than broad adjustments is figuring out the specific adjustments against your specific opponents.

I suspect the field is soft for a 10k but the softness is exaggerated as part of a narrative, and is highly dependent on table draw. The diversity of the field means there's the potential for a lucky table draw where you get soft opponents you would never find in a typical 10k. But you can't count on that. Every pro in the world also plays this event, and you can just as easily end up at a table full of them.

Don't delude yourself into believing that you can nit it up and limp into the money. That attitude is more likely to hurt your chances of cashing than help. It's a long tournament until the min cash on day 4, starting stack is under 50BB before you know it, and it's filled with aggressive pros looking to run you over. Your best chance of survival is to aggressively build a stack yourself.

Hellmuth is one of the greatest of all time at large field tournaments but has failed to cash this event eight years in a row. There's no secret to cashing that will consistently work. Poker is skill and luck, but for any one given tournament, luck's more important.

If you take a shot at it, just play your absolute best and accept the decision of the poker gods. They might decide to eliminate you in the thousandth hand or on the very first hand you play. When that hand comes, and you know the dream is over, it will hurt. But

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