Talkin' Flop: Jason Alexander Reports from the World Series of Poker Main Event

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Photo via Eddie Malluk

Photo via Eddie Malluk

[Ed's note: Jason Alexander will be writing daily for Extra Mustard about his run in the 2013 World Series of Poker Main Event. He began play on July 6 at noon, Vegas time.]

This is year seven of dream chasing for me. I played my first World Series of Poker Main Event six years ago. I had no idea what to expect back then, and I was overwhelmed every second. Now I know exactly what I'm in for, and I'm merely whelmed. That's an improvement.

Though I only started entering the World Series of Poker in 2007, I've been playing cards for decades. In my business there's a lot of downtime, so early in my career I picked up the game. It was a good way to pass time on set. During the 90's my agent also represented Phil Hellmuth, and at some point Phil offered to give me a lesson. I said, "Ah, I know the game, we don't need to do that." But eventually I agreed, and I met Phil for a session. He blew my mind all over the table. That's when I really developed an appreciation for the tools of the game.

As the whole celebrity poker phenomenon began to take off, I started playing in a lot of charity tournaments. I did well in a few, which prompted PokerStars to increase its sponsorship of me. Eventually they asked if I wanted to play in the Main Event, and they've paid all my entree fees since. I'm fortunate to find myself in that position (PokerStars has gotten rid of most of its non-pro endorsements) but I also consider myself a good ambassador for the site and the game. I'm conversational at the table and add a bit of levity, but take it seriously and never become a distraction. And I wear the shirts.

Part of my PokerStars sponsorship used to involve playing regularly on the site, though that changed when real-money gambling was shut down. I still play every day, either online, in one of a few different homes games with friends, or with a computer program that I've been using for years. So long, in fact, that I can't remember what it's called. What the program allows me to do is randomly assign characteristics to the computer-controlled players. So if I set up a table with nine other players, I can have three of them be aggressive, three be tight, and three be moderate. Since I don't know which players possess those different traits, I'm forced to figure out, based on patterns in the way they play, their poker characteristics. In other words, it's teaching me to read players. That's a huge benefit.

In many ways, the game is like using flash cards: In a given situation, it will show me the correct move to make. Not necessarily the winning move, but the correct move if I'm playing by the book. The more I do that, the better off I am. What used to happen to me in tournaments is that I'd speculate on a hand in the wrong position or with the wrong cards, and I'd get into a situation where I had a piece of the hand but wasn't sure where I stood compared to everybody else. For instance: I'd have a Jack-5 suited, and on the flop I'd hit the 5, and the other two cards would both be my suit. So I've got a pair of fives, and I'm also four to the flush. But where am I, really? If a guy's betting against me aggressively and one of those suited community cards is an ace, am I dead? Or should I be pushing back? It's those kind of things that the computer simulation helps me work through—it teaches me how to play a given hand if I'm going to play it, and even more importantly, it shows me how and when NOT to play hands.

So here I am, freshly arrived in Vegas, dreaming again. I've never gotten out of day 3. In past tournaments I've tended to go late in the day, and then get a hand that looks really powerful. Each time I would think I was in control, and it always turned out that either I wasn't, and I made a bad read on somebody, or I just got unlucky. I've busted out three times with pocket aces. Last year I was card-dead all day on Day 2. Finally I got a pair of 9s in position; since I was short-stacked I went all-in, and got called, and the guy had pocket queens. But at least it wasn't Day 1. No one wants to go out on Day 1—and you certainly don't want to go out because you did something stupid.