Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Queens of Ventura

My most recent session at Player's Casino in Ventura was short and successful.  Timing is everything in life and in poker and my timing was excellent on this day.

I arrived before 1PM and had to wait for a seat in the 2/3 game to open up.  Just as my name reached  #1 on the waiting list, they called a new game.  My preferred seat was already taken so I had to settle for seat 7 from where it's a little hard for me to see everything, but it worked out just fine.  I bought in for $300 as usual.

I didn't recognize anyone at the table except for Pete Peters. Well, it wasn't really him, just someone who looked (to me, anyway) a lot like him—or actually an older version of PPP, hair a little grayer.  He looked enough like him that I surreptitiously took a pic of him and sent it to PPP for confirmation.  But he failed to see the resemblance.  I could post the pic here but I don't want to get in trouble. Besides, the dude was showing zero cleavage so why would I post a pic like that?

Anyway, even though I couldn't recall seeing any of the other players before, it was obvious from the fact that a lot of them knew each other and the dealers knew their names that there were a lot of regulars at the table.  I've been playing in this room fairly regularly for a few years now, and it always surprises me that there are so many regs I've never seen before—it is, after all, a small room.  But these new-to-me regs keep coming out of the woodwork.

The first twenty-minutes or so of the game I played exactly zero hands and was the very definition of "card-dead."  Finally I got Ace-Queen off in the hijack seat.  It folded to me so I made it $12 and was called by the button and one of the blinds.  The flop was low and I tried a c-bet of $20.  But the button called.  There were two more blanks (the river put a pair of 4's out there) and I checked and he checked behind.  He showed Ace-King to out-kick me.

A good while later I had pocket Aces.  There were a number of limps so I made it $20 and got one taker.  The flop was King-high and I bet $30 and didn't get a call.

The seat on my immediate right opened up and we could hear them calling "Alan" to the 2/3 game.  Of course, Alan wasn't the name them called, they called him by his real name, presumably.  But I need a name for him and I'm using "Alan" because, among other reasons, I've never use Alan as a pseudonym before, which is surprising since it is such a common name.  Anyway, one or two of the players in the game reacted to the likelihood of Alan joining our table. I don't remember the exact words but it was something like, "This game is about to change," and it was clear they meant it was going to get wilder.  I should point out that Alan's real name is not a particularly common name so it was easy for the players to assume the Alan that was coming to the table was very likely to be the Alan that was going to make the game a little crazy.  So I was glad that Alan would be sitting on my immediate right and not my left.

Alan said hello to the players who recognized his name and did indeed immediately change the entire dynamic of the table.  He proceeded to play extremely aggressively, shove quite a bit, raise and three-bet big—and bleed chips.  He was stuck like $500-$600 before you knew it.   This didn't affect me too much because I was still card-dead and folding one garbage hand after another.  Before Alan showed up, I was able to play a few speculative hands and was down about $80, I guess.  But I never got anything close to playable once Alan sat down and made it expensive to see a flop.

I guess I should mention that sometime after this big hand I'm about to get to, Alan won a few pots, built up his stack and commented that once he was back to even he was going to play "normal"—or at least differently than he was playing.  In other words, he was playing crazy in order to become unstuck.  Gee, do we know anyone else who plays like that?

Anyway, finally, under-the-gun, I got a hand to play.  It was pocket Queens.  Only my second pocket pair of the day.  I opened to $15.  I had played so few hands I was half-expecting everyone (even Alan) to fold.  But the guy on my immediate left called, and then two more players called before it even got to Alan.  Yikes!  Then Alan announced "raise" and made it $60.

What to do?  If it was just heads up vs Alan, I would have had no problem getting it all in preflop with my Queens.  I was most likely ahead of him.  But the three players who called my $15?  That was scary.  I mean, they had all witnessed Alan's play and it was certainly possible—even probable?—that one of them was sitting on a really big hand and just waiting for Alan to raise so they could shove.  I figured that with three callers to my $15, there was a decent chance my Queens weren't the best hand.

I called and wondered if anyone was going to re-raise.  But no one did.  But everyone who called the $15 called the $60 except one guy who could only go all-in for $49.  So we were looking at a huge pot preflop.

The flop was low, 10-high, two clubs.  I did have the Queen of clubs, for what that was worth.  Alan checked, somewhat surprisingly so.  I checked too because I assumed it was likely that flop hit someone (a set, or two pair, or a club draw).  But no one bet.  The turn was a third club and I thought surely someone had two clubs in their hand.  But Alan checked, as did I—as did everyone (except for the guy who was all-in, he didn't have to check).  The river was another blank, and not a club. Not sure how happy I'd be with a Queen-high flush anyway. 

This time Alan did not check.  He bet $70.  That was certainly an odd bet. Very small for the size of the pot. Based on how he had played until this hand, I had to assume my Queens were beating him—or he would have bet more.  And sooner.  Unless the river card (a Jack, I think) was the one he was waiting for.  But then he would have bet more. 

But I was thinking about the players behind me and it seemed very possible that one of them had caught something good by now.  After all, they all had hands that were worth $60 preflop, right?

So I just called and waited to see what happened.  One by one, they folded—except for the guy who was all-in, of course.  Alan and I had showed for the side pot. He had pocket 9's...unimproved pocket 9's.  My unimproved Queens were better.  And the all-in guy just mucked without showing.

Wow.  It was like a $420 pot.  Won with pocket Queens—unimproved.  I'm not sure I liked the way I played it, but with so many players in, I dunno what  else I should have done.  Do you?

Alan congratulated me on the hand.  He wasn't upset, at least he wasn't upset with me.  He said "nice hand," "good hand," to me a few times, and at least once or twice it didn't even sound sarcastic.  He did wonder aloud if maybe he should have bet bigger—or shoved (he had me covered at this point)—or just saved his money and checked.  He even asked me if I would have called a shoved.  I just laughed and said, "I don't know."

I counted my chips and had in excess of $550.  Then I resumed my card-deadedness.  Meanwhile, the dynamic of the table changed again.  To some degree, Alan had been making good on his promise to play "normal."  But I should point out that his definition of normal is not what you or I would consider normal.  But then the player two to his right won some chips from him, and Alan took it personally.  The player who won those chips was, according to Alan, a doctor.  At least he was referring to him as a doctor, I can't actually say for a fact that he was doctor.  I never saw him take a stethoscope to anyone.  But Alan began playing back against the Doc and the Doc returned the favor.  Almost anytime Doc entered a pot, Alan would raise.  Doc might raise back but if not, would always call.  For awhile the action was so crazy I wondered if I should just sit back, watch the carnage and wait for Aces.

But I didn't really have to worry because I never got another decent starting hand. Not even close.  After a few orbits, I was the big blind with 9-6 offsuit.  Doc folded so Alan just completed from the small blind.  I checked behind.  I think it was 4 or 5 of us seeing the flop, which came Queen-8-7, two spades.  It checked around.  The river was the 5 of clubs, giving me the nut straight.  I led out for $10, got a call, then a lady who had just come to that table made it $20.  That got a call and Alan folded.  I actually recognized this woman as someone I'd played with there before, but couldn't really remember anything about how she played.  I made it $65, the person who called my $10 folded, she called, the other player folded.

The river was the Ace of spades, which I didn't much like.  Now there were three spades on the board.  I played it safe and checked, and she checked behind.  She had Jack-9 (the Jack was a spade).  Well, I didn't like the Ace of spades but it was a helluva lot better than a 10!


This Many Chips

When I finished stacking I was now sitting behind about $635.  And so after a few more orbits, again totally card-dead, I racked up and called it a day.  The guy on my left said something about just playing that one hand.  Guess he forgot about my straight.  Alan said, "Good hand with the Queens, well played."  I just said, "Yeah, the ladies were good to me today.  Usually they aren't—either in poker or in life."

But what was really good was being in the right place at the right time when a maniac came to the table.


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Last Binion's Tournament (Part 3)

This is the third of three parts.  Part 1 is here and part 2 is here.  And again, we pick up right where we left off.

Level 14 (1K/3K/6K) $239K.  And then....I went card dead, at least for the early part of the (40-minute) level.  That last level had obviously been a good one for me and now the poker gods were balancing things out.  I got almost nothing to play.  When I tried to make a move, either Mike (short stacked but still tough) or especially Cliff would make my life hell.  One of them would always call me—unless they three-bet me.  Usually it was Cliff.  I swear, there was a long stretch where he called every single time I made a raise. If I checked the flop, he bet.  If I checked the turn, he bet.  If I bet, he'd call or raise.  And I had too many chips to just shove with—I had to play poker!  At one point, I shouted across the table, after Cliff called me again, "You know, you're allowed to fold if I bet."  He was a really tough player.

But I did finally get pocket Aces in my small blind.  There was a raise or maybe just a limp and I added $18K to my small blind.  Of course Cliff called.  There was a Jack-high flop and I put out a pot-sized pot.  Cliff folded. 

Later I got Aces again.  I opened to $15K and Mike called.  The flop was Ace-Queen-x, two diamonds.  I bet $25K and he folded.

I opened to $15K with Ace-9 of spades. Cliff called.  I totally whiffed.  I checked, he bet $25K and I had to fold.  Typical hand against Cliff.  If I had c-bet he would have called and I'd have lost more chips.

After one limp, I made it $18K from the small blind with pocket 10's and didn't get a call. 

Last hand of the level I had Queen-Jack off in early position and opened to $15K and took it. 

Level 15 (1K/4K/8K) $280K.  We were now playing 60-minute levels. 

I opened to $20K with Ace-Jack of diamonds and Mike called.  I totally whiffed the flop and tried a $30K c-bet.  But Mike shoved and I had to fold.  He showed pocket 8's (and also an open-ender, as it happened).

Now, I didn't keep good track of the bust outs.  When we first made the final table, no one busted for a long time.  Whenever ever anyone was all-in at risk, they survived.  But eventually, a couple of players busted out and we were down to eight, and remember they were paying seven. We played a few orbits with eight and then Mike popped up with, "Should we consider paying the bubble?  I mean, we've all played so long, I'd hate to think one of us would leave with nothing." And he admitted it was somewhat self-serving since he was one of the shorter stacks—after being one of the chip leaders for so long.

Mike suggested that everyone chip in $25 so that the bubble would get $200.  Someone objected saying that the bubble would be paying himself $25. So what?  That's kind of always the way it was with these bubble deals.  He'd end up with $175—at least he'd have his buy-in back.  But then, to my surprise, Cliff spoke up and said, "Look at the top payouts. How about we take $100 each from first and second place?"  Considering that Cliff was definitely back to being the chip leader at this point, it was surprising and generous of him.

Well, here's the thing.  At this point, I was pretty sure I had the second biggest stack.  I could have objected. But there's no way I would have. I've been saying on this blog for years that the pay scales for these tournaments are out of whack, that they're way too top heavy.  I'd be a total hypocrite if I objected to taking a couple of hundred bucks off the top two spots for the bubble.  I guess if I wanted to say I just didn't want to pay the bubble I could object on those grounds.  But I always agree to pay the bubble (usually because I'm a strong candidate for being the bubble) and again, I'd be a hypocrite if I objected.  Actually, I was totally fine with it.  I think it was the right thing to do.  We all agreed and they adjusted the payouts and we were all in the money.  I was assured of a $25 profit, but I was surely in position to do a helluva lot better than that.

I raised with Ace-Queen after one limp and took the pot.  I opened to $20K with Ace-4 and took it. 

And we lost a couple of players and were down to the final six.  I was assured of at least $555.

There were several limpers and I looked down at Ace-King.  Cliff had already folded so I decided to just shove.  Mike said, "What the hell....I had fun and I'm going to get some money," and called with his short stack and flipped over A-4.  There were two Aces on the board but no 4 and Mike was gone. 

At this point I was not really keeping up with my notes. One of the remaining short stacks busted to the next shortest stack.  Cliff eliminated the next short stack, a nice guy who had commented to me during one of the breaks (in the Men's Room, of all places) that he admired my game.  So in a way, I was sorry to see him go—but not that much.  Now we were three and if we played it out I was assured of at least $1,445.

(Speaking of the Men's Room, I noticed the sign below at the urinals.  There is a much bigger sign with the same message at the front of Binion's, but I'd never seen the smaller, bathroom version of the sign before. The one outside does not have the silhouette of the cowgirl with the arrows pointing out where the poker and liquor are supposed to be.  In other words, this version is raunchier than the one out on Fremont Street.)



This is definitely the part of the tournament where I'm used to someone suggesting a deal. By this point, Cliff was the overwhelming chip leader, I was in second and the Swede was in third. For awhile, the Swede had worked his stack up to almost the same as mine (and I had worked my stack down to his level too).  But he lost some chips to Cliff and now I had at least twice the Swede's chips but I'd guess Cliff had almost three times my stack. In other words, I had a better chance to bust out third than I did to overtake Cliff.  But no one said anything about a deal and we played on.

So the Swede raised and I shoved over him with Ace-Jack of diamonds.  He called and showed pocket 4's.  There were two diamonds on the flop, and the a third diamond on the river to give me the nut flush and sent the Swede back to Stockholm.

Now I was assured of at least a $2K pay day.  We started to play heads up, played a few hands.  I looked over to Cliff's stack.  He had more than twice as many chips as I did.  And I had played enough against him this day to be convinced he was a better player than I was.  Of that I had no doubt.  Furthermore, I have very little experience playing heads up.  I think there have been two live tournaments when I got down to playing heads up.  I did win one (against a really inexperienced player) and we finally agreed to split in the other case as neither one of us had any idea how to play heads up.  Both of those were years ago.  I had to assume (rightly or wrongly), that Cliff had more experience heads up.  In other words, I really didn't like my chances of overtaking Cliff and winning this thing.

Plus, I am just used to getting to the final few players and making a deal, that's always been my experience in any tournament of this many (or more) players that played so long and where I lasted this long.  I actually expected a deal to be proposed when we got down to three.  But it wasn't and now Cliff wasn't apparently going to suggest anything.

It was around 10:30pm (we had started at 1pm).  Not really that late, and I wasn't tired, but still, we had played a lot of poker for the day.  And I didn't really see how I was gonna come from behind and win it except with some kind of fluky cooler hand or a major suckout.  So, after a few heads up hands where we basically just passed the blinds back and forth, I spoke up.  I didn't even consider the possibility of suggesting an even split, he had way too much of an advantage to accept that. What I was used to was the chip-chop.  So after a hand, I said, "You willing to make a deal?"  He asked what I had in mind.  "How about a chip-chop?"

And he surprised me by saying, "I dunno.  What is that?"

Wow.  He didn't know what a chip-chop was?  How could that be?  He was obviously an experienced tournament player.  Anyway, I explained to him what it was—that we'd combine the first and second place money and distribute based on the percentage of the chips we each had.

I'm not sure he actually fully understood, but he said, "As long as I get the bigger payout, I'm fine with it."  I assured him he'd get the most money.  So we called the TD over and told him what we were talking about and then he did a count of chips.  I didn't make a note of the stacks, but basically Cliff had 70% or so of the chips.  And then he did the calculation and it came out that Cliff would get $3,105 (down from something like $3,600, the original 1st place prize) and I'd get $2,535, (up from a bit more than $2K, the original 2nd place prize).  That was certainly ok by me and Cliff was happy with that too.  We shook hands and the deal was done.  I had just agreed to my biggest tournament payout of my "career."  This surpassed my previous high, which was also from the Binion's tournament.  So you can see why I was so bummed that they discontinued this tournament.

While we were waiting for the paperwork to be completed and our payouts to be delivered, I was thinking about Cliff's reaction to my suggestion of a chip-chop, and then his response that he was fine with it as long as he got more money than me.  I realized I very likely could have made a better deal.  I guess I should have suggested we split it and that he get a few hundred more.  Maybe I should have said, "Well let's split it, and how much more than I get would you be happy with?"  I think if I knew he wasn't familiar with a chip-chop, I could have gotten a few hundred more.  It sounded like he was going to be satisfied with anything as long as it more than I got.  So he would have been happy with $5 more than me?  I'm sure that wouldn't cut it.  But as I said, I might have gotten a bit more.

But I didn't mind.  I considered that Cliff had outplayed and deserved every penny he got.  Plus he was a heck of a nice guy, I didn't begrudge him the money. And I had gotten around $500 more than second place money at a time when I was at a huge chip disadvantage.  It was a good deal for me.

When they gave us the money, Cliff surprised me by saying, "What do we tip, $200 each?"  Wow, I thought that was a bit too much—at least for me.  I said something to that effect, "I think that may be high."  He said, "What about $100 each?"  I said ok.  What I wanted to say was that he should tip more than me, he got more money, but I didn't want to say that in front of the guy who would be collecting our tip and also didn't want to piss of Cliff (if that would bother him, I have no idea).  Anyway, they paid me off with some purple $500 chips, which I rarely get my hands on.  I had to hustle over to the main Binion's cashier so I could get cash for it.  Then I got the hell out of downtown. I couldn't wait to get back to my room so I could roll around naked in the money. 

Really turned out to be a great decision to skip the Venetian two-day for this.  But as I said at the outset, a real bummer to know this tournament no longer exists and I don't even have a chance to have another score like this at Binion's.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Last Binion's Tournament (Part 2)

This is the second of three parts, (see here for part 1) and we pick up right we left off....

Level 8 (100/600/1200) $40,300.  I opened to $3K with pocket 9's and took it.  Later, it folded to me on the button with 9-5 of spades.  I made it $3K and both blinds folded.  Yes, 9-5 of spades.  Hey, who says I'm a nit?

It folded to me on the button with King-Jack off.  I made it $3K and the small blind called.  The flop was very low, I c-bet $4,500.  He tanked for a long time but finally folded.

The very next hand I had King-Jack again, this time they were both diamonds.  I opened to $3K and one of the blinds called. The flop was Queen-Jack-x, two clubs.  He donk-shoved $14,500.  I tanked but eventually folded.  He showed one card, a Queen.

Level 9 (200/800/1600) $42K.  It folded to the small blind who completed. I was the big blind with Jack-3 off.  I checked.  The flop was low and missed me completely.  But when he checked it, I bet $3K and stole it.

Then I made what I referred to in my notes as a "dumb ass" move.  I limped in with 8-7 of hearts, then called a raise to $3,500.  I had to fold on a flop that totally missed me.

I opened to $4K with 10-9 of diamonds and didn't get a call.

Level 10 (300/1000/2000) $32,700.  That put me pretty close to shove-or-fold mode.  So, after one limper, I shoved with King-Jack of spades.  I took it, but the limper showed his hand—Ace-10 off! 

There was a guy at this table who was from out of town and had mentioned repeatedly that he was fairly new to tournament poker and maybe even poker in general.  I didn't see any obvious mistakes, although perhaps he was shoving a bit much and too early.  Anyway, sometimes when he didn't need to, he would show his cards (usually after he took the pot without a call).  So on one of the breaks, he asked me if I thought it was a good idea for him to show his hand like that.  Boy, I didn't really want to answer that one! I mean the honest answer is, "Yes, it's a very good idea...for me.  For you, not so much."  I kind of hemmed and hawed and luckily the waitress came around with his drink just then and distracted him.  By the time she moved on, the tournament had resumed and he never got his answer.

Soon after that last hand, they broke our table and we were down to 18 players (because of the light turnout, we had been playing 9-handed tables pretty much the whole way).

Soon thereafter, desperate, I had Ace-4 of spades and open shoved.  One guy called.  It was the kid who had been sitting on my immediate right most of the time I was at the previous table.  I'm going to call him Mike since he told us that was his name (and I later found out it wasn't his name).  Mike came to that table with a huge stack and was likely the chip leader of the tournament when I first encountered him.  He tried to explain that he had just gotten lucky to have gotten all those chips when someone went on tilt against him.  Now, he hadn't been the most aggressive player I'd ever seen but he was pretty tough to play against and I was glad that he was on my right.

At this new table he was still on my right, but a few spots away from me.  He still had a ton of chips although he was no longer the chip leader (either at our table or for the tournament). Anyway, he flipped over King-Queen.  The flop had an Ace, but the turn had a Queen. The river was a sweet looking Ace and I had my first double up of the tournament.  As I started stacking my chips, Mike said to me, "Sir, you're supposed to have like 10's or Jack's there."  I laughed and said, "You know the river card could have just as easily been a Queen—or a King—as an Ace."  I'm sure that had already occurred to him.  That got me to $59K and I was breathing a little easier.

The next hand I was in the big blind with King-Queen.  Mike made a big raise.  I wondered if that was a "tilt-raise."  I could have called or even come over the top, but I decided to fold.  Good thing, Mike had a couple of Aces (sorry, my notes don't indicate if he won it preflop and decided to show his hand, or if he had to show to win the pot).

On the button, with Ace-3 off, I opened to $5,500 and took it.

Level 11 (400/1200/2400) $61K.

I won uncontested pots by raising to $6,500 with Ace-Jack of diamonds and 8-7 of spades. 

With Ace-King I raised and a guy with a fairly big stack shoved. I had more chips than him but not that much.  I figured this was a good time to roll the dice.  I called.  He had Ace-King too, but his was sooooted (hearts).  The flop was all black and we chopped it.

I opened to $6,500 with pocket deuces and didn't get a call.

That took us to the 30-minute dinner break.  Right before the break a funny thing happened—not with me, but with the guy on my right.  He was all-in and lost and he had just a few chips left, basically the ante and not the entire big blind—he was the big blind on this hand.  So he was all in and just heads up against somebody and he had 10-5 and the flop came 10-10-5.  He shoved about two more hands and won them both and thus had a working stack going to the dinner break.  He won a couple more like that before busting out.


Level 12 (500/1500/3000) $62.5K.    First hand I opened to $7,200 with King-10 of hearts, no call.

Then I messed up.  I was in the big blind with Ace-rag and just checked.  No one bet on the flop or the turn.  Someone bet the river for $5K.  Yeah, I saw a possible straight but I thought it was more likely he was trying to steal it and I reasoned my Ace-high might be good.  So I called.  Unfortunately, he did indeed have the straight.

Then I opened to $7,500 with Jack-10 off and a guy shoved behind me—probably slightly smaller stack than mine.  I let it go and he showed Ace-Queen.

With Ace-Jack, I decided it was time to shove.  No call.  A bit later I got pocket Aces.  I probably should have just raised but I decided to shove.  No call.

It folded to me in the small blind with Ace-10 and I shoved.  The big blind folded.

Well with that we were suddenly down to 10 so they assembled the final table.  But we were still three from the money since they were only paying seven.

I had about $53K when we got to the final table.

Made it to level 13 (500/2K/4K) with $51K.  That's shove-or-fold territory.

Mike was still around, still had a lot of chips, and now was on my left.  Not my immediate left, a few spots away from me.  But the chip leader was the oldest player at the table (I knew because he told us his age—he looked at least 10 years younger than he was).  He wasn't at my previous table and I'm not sure if he was at the one before that.  But I had definitely played with him that day so I guess he was at the second table I was at (or maybe the third too).  Also, I was sure I'd played with him around town before. He was definitely a tough player.  Although he limped in a lot, he also raised a lot and wasn't afraid to call a raise or three-bet. Several times during the day I had heard him tell the story of how, playing at one of the Binion's Classic events some time back, he and two others finally agreed to a three-way chop for $4K each at 4AM  Let's call this fellow Cliff.

I open shoved with Ace-10 of hearts and didn't get a call.  Then this Swedish fellow (who I had played with earlier) raised to $10K and I shoved with pocket Jacks.  He let it go.

I felt I had enough chips to play a little poker so I opened to $10K with King-10 of spades.  Only Cliff called.  The flop was King-high, two spades.  I shoved and he folded.

Once I got to the final table I found it harder to keep up with my notes.  My notes say here, "might have left out a hand."  In fact, I definitely missed recording a hand or two at this point.  I think those last two hands were close together and then there must have been another hand where I picked up some chips....and before I had a chance to record that one, this big hand I'm about to describe came along, and shoved the memory of that other good hand right out of my brain.  I just couldn't recall a thing about that other hand after I recorded the next hand.  But I'm sure it wasn't an all-in where I was at risk of busting, and I'm sure I didn't bust anyone out.  But somehow, my stack for the next hand I'm about to discuss was in the vicinity of $120K-$125K.  But whatever the hand that got me there was it is lost for all-time.  But I'm sure that it was brilliant play on my part that got me those chips, of course.

So yeah, I must have had around $120K when the big hand of the tournament—for me—came along.

I had Ace-King of spades and Mike had raised. I dunno if he was the chip-leader (that might have been Cliff) but he still had a lot of chips and was no worse than second place. I three-bet (sorry, I didn't record the amounts).  He called.  The flop was King-4-2. I made a bet and Mike called.  The turn was the 6 of clubs (no flush possible).  I shoved.  Mike went into the tank.  But after a long time, he finally said, "Ah, f**k it, I've gone too far to fold now."  He called and said, "I need a 5, a 4 or a 3," and flipped over 5-4 of spades.  The river could have knocked me out.  But instead, the river was an Ace and I was now swimming in chips.

When I finished counting, it was around $250K sitting in front of me.  And I think I was now probably the chip-leader, with Cliff in second place. Mike was short stacked but still alive.  I started eyeing the payout schedule and was having fantasies of taking home the first place money.  Or at least making a very favorable deal when we got down to the final three or so.

And that's where I'll leave it.  The final chapter is now posted and can be found here.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Last Binion's Tournament (Part 1)

Note:  This is the first of three parts.

Originally, this was going to be one of my all-time favorite blog posts.  But a few weeks ago, before I had a chance to write it up, it became bittersweet.  I thought I was going to be blogging about my latest tournament at Binion's.  But now it looks like this will be the story of my last ever Binion's tournament.

You see, about a month ago, while I was in the middle of writing up the story of my two-day Venetian tournament experience, I was notified that Binion's had changed their tournament schedule again (they'd been doing that a lot lately).  The change that affected me personally was that they changed the Saturday Deepstack, reducing the buy-in from $175 to $150 but more importantly, taking away the $10K guarantee.  There is now no guarantee for the Saturday tournament.

Although it is still a player-friendly structure (though not as good as the version I played in early  September), I just can't see them attracting a big enough crowd to make it worth it for me personally to play there anymore.  If I am going to invest $150 in a tournament, I'd like to be reasonable certain that the prize pool would be close to $10K or better.  I hope I'm wrong, but without the guarantee, I don't see them getting anywhere near that. 

It's a shame.  They just completed the room's relocation to the other side of the casino, an area in the pit where they will at least get a lot more pedestrian traffic than the old (but iconic) location, which was basically a cave. If you didn't know to look for it, you'd never come across it.  Now it has visibility.  I'm sure that was the reason for the relocation.  But I guess they had missed enough guarantees for management to lose patience and just put a stop to any more potential overlays by withdrawing the guarantee.

I will definitely miss Binion's.  This is the room where I got my very first decent tournament score, a story I told you back in the early days of the blog (here).  Back then it was a $105 tournament and I don't think they had a guarantee.  The tournament has gone through several incarnations since then. From a $125 buy-in to a $140 buy-in to a $175 buy-in.  All of those had $10K guarantees.  When they went to $125 they threw in a few random $160 versions, called "Super Saturday," that had a $25K guarantee.  When they first went to $125, they did the exact same tournament on Sundays, also with the guarantee.  But they had to discontinue that a few years ago because they weren't making the guarantee on Sundays.

Some of my best and favorite blog posts came out of my Binion's tournaments.  Those involved both poker and a colorful cast of characters.  But most of those colorful characters are gone now, I didn't see any of them when I played in September.  Also, I recognized very few of the players—two or three, tops.  In the old days I'd see many, many familiar opponents. 

It turned out to be a last minute decision to even go to Binion's on this Saturday, towards the end of my early September Vegas visit. As I explained at the end of my Venetian tournament write-up (here), I originally thought I'd play the $250, two-day tournament at the V instead.  But the experience cashing in that Venetian tournament soured me on playing another two-day tournament (at least so soon).  So I decided it was time to head back to my perennial favorite tourney at Binions. It turned out to be a great decision for more than one reason.

They had fairly recently restructured the tournament and this version was one I'd never played before.  The buy-in was now $175 and the time of the levels increased as the tournament went on.  The first eight levels were 30-minutes, the next six levels were 40-minutes and then it went to 60-minute levels for the duration. The starting stack was still $20K.  Oh, and they added a 30-minute dinner break in it.  That was sure a nice touch that I definitely appreciated, but actually it was more of a necessity than it used to be because of the relocation of the poker room.  It was now on the other side of the casino and thus far away from the Deli, the most convenient, quickest place for a meal.  It would take too much of the normal 15-minute break to walk over there, eat, and walk back.

And it had the $10K guarantee.  That meant that they need 72 players to make the guarantee.  Well, as it turned out, they only got 57 players.  That's important for two reasons.  One, it helps explain the subsequent decision by Binion's to change the tournament and get rid of the guarantee.  I'm sure that this wasn't the only time in recent weeks they missed the guarantee.  Second, the shortage of players and the overlay provided by Binion's (a bit more than $2K) affected the payout structure of course, to my benefit.

They were paying seven, with the min-cash being $455. The next prize was $555, the $715, $990 and $1,455 for third.  The top two payouts were somewhere in the neighborhood of $3,700 and $2,100.  So I couldn't complain about the size of the min-cash, it was quite a bit more than $350 (double the buy-in, my "requirement"). Presumably that was due to the overlay. Of course, the other side of the coin was that they were only paying seven.  Most of the tournaments I play, you are usually in the money if you get to the final table (if not before).

With that, we begin the recap, level 1 the blinds are 50/100.  I opened to $250 with Queen-9 of clubs, one caller.  I flopped a flush draw and took it with a c-bet of $350.

In the big blind I had King-3 off.  No raise and it was five-way.  The flop was Ace-King-x, two clubs, including the Ace.  My King was a club.  I called $600 and it was three-way. I called $1K on the turn, another club, still three of us.  The river was another club giving me the nuts. I led out for $3K and didn't get a call.

Level 2 (100/200) $22K.  From the big blind with Ace-Queen of hearts, I called $600.  The flop was Queen-high, one heart.  We were heads up and I called $900.  The turn was a blank and I called $2,100.  No betting on a blank river and he mucked when he saw my hand.

In the small blind with King-4, I completed and five of us saw a King-high flop, no one bet. I bet $500 on a blank turn and had one call.  I bet $1K on a blank river and didn't get a call.

I limped in with pocket 3' s and five of us saw a flop of Ace-King-3, two spades.  I bet $500 and had two callers.  I bet $1K on the turn, a blank, and got one call.  I bet $3K on the river, a King, but didn't get a call.

Level 3 (150/300) $31K.  In the small blind I had Ace-Queen,  I called $1,100 and it was four to the flop. The flop was Ace-Jack-x and it checked around.  I bet $2,500 on a blank and took it.

Level 4 (200/400) $33K.  After halfway through this level they broke our table (which was never full) and I moved next store.  In the big blind I checked with King-10 off, it was three-way.  The flop was King-high, I bet $700, one call.  I bet $1K on a blank and didn't get a call.

The guy on my immediate right shoved his last $3,300.  I had Ace-King off and wanted to raise.  I didn't want my Ace-King up against a bunch of players.  While I was thinking about how much to make it, the girl on my immediate left folded out of turn, triggering a bunch of follow up out-of-turn folds.  By the time the dealer had put a stop to all the folding there was only one other player left to act, a reg I've played with many times.  I ended up raising to $10K and she folded.  The guy who shoved showed King-Queen.  A King hit the board, nothing else and I got some chips.

Level 5 (300/600) $34K.  I know, that chip count seems way off.  I noted it at the time, on my contemporaneous notes that it seemed too low.  I think I considered that some of my chips somehow went missing.  I wondered if I had lost some chips in the move from one table to another.  I dunno what happened, perhaps one of my chip counts earlier was wrong.  Whatever.

First hand of the level I had pocket Queens and opened to $1,600.  There was one call and the flop was 10-high.  I lead out for $2,800 and took it.

I had Ace-6 of hearts in the big blind and it folded to the small blind who completed.  I checked behind.  The flop was all low cards, giving me a gut-shot.  I bet $1K and he didn't call.

Level 6 (100/400/800) / $30,600.  I opened to $2K with Ace-Queen and took it.

I opened to $2K with 9-8 of diamonds and the lady on my left called.  The flop was 9-8-7.  I led out for $2,500 and she shoved.  I didn't even ask for a count, I wasn't going anywhere with two pair.  I had her covered.  She showed pocket 10's. She missed her straight and my two pair was good.  That brought me up to almost $44K.

As soon as that hand was completed, they broke our table.  It was still too early for me to be paying attention to how many players or tables were left, we were a long way from the money.  But I guess the table they sent me to this time was the one I was at for the longest time. 

Level 7 (100/500/1000)  $41,500.  Early in the level I opened to $2K with Ace-Queen of spades.  That was too low, I must have forgotten the blinds had just increased.  The big blind called.  I flopped the nut flush, which was nice.  After the big blind checked, I decided to check behind and see if I could get the big blind to bet.  But she checked the turn as well (it was not a spade and it didn't pair the board).  So I bet $2K and didn't get a call.  Not much value there for a great flop.

And that's the end of part 1.  Part 2 can now be found here.


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Finding Royalty at the Venetian

Special Guest Post by @AvoidOddLaw

“A simple ‘hello’ could lead to a million things.” – Unknown

I just met Rob in person, for the first time, a couple days ago. I have been a long time, avid reader of his blog and aficionado of the pictures he posted. We have corresponded through Twitter many times, so when I told him I was going to be in Vegas the weekend before Halloween, he readily agreed to meet.  It was a quick meet-and-greet, as he and I were playing in the Aria tournament for that day. Not much to report since we both busted it half-way through. However, the plan was to try to get together for a game before I flew out of town.

I texted him that I was about to play in the Venetian noon tournament and that if I busted early would like to try to meet again.  Coincidently, he was on his way there himself to play as well. So while we were never at the same table, we updated each other during breaks on our progress (or lack of).


Also to my delight, Rob introduced me to the famous (or “infamous” as Lightning would say) Alysia Chang.  I was always curious to see if she would live up to her reputation of being a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Unfortunately, we never sat at the same table either so I couldn’t witness the whirling dervish in action myself. But PepĂ© Le Pew next to her sure did (check her tweets to fully understand)!

When Rob asked if I would be interested in writing about my escapades in this tournament, I was actually a bit apprehensive. I wasn't sure I could live up to his ability to paint a picture.  And compared to me, Rob tells tales in brevity (keep reading and you will see I am not joking). And now, without further ado, here’s my adventure with the $340 Venetian DoubleStack $25K GTD:

“Do not be distracted by the beautiful celebrities…” – Zoolander

I knew I should be focused on the game in front of me instead of the last few minutes of the Razorbacks - Ole Miss game.  I aspire to be more like Phil Ivey and pierce my opponent’s soul with an unwavering stare. I wanted to watch their every move, looking for the signs that give away the strength of their hands.  But alas, at that moment, I was just another recreational player with the attention span of a goldfish.  And like a teenage boy in the prime of his puberty, I was easily swayed when the attractive Samantha Abernathy sat down across the felt from me.  She is easily recognizable and although I am old enough to be her father, young uncle, I could not help but admire her beauty.


At that moment, my wife’s radar must have been working overtime from 1,300 miles away and it was as if she called the floor herself because within a few minutes of Samantha’s arrival, I felt a tap on my shoulder.  Looming over me was a floor person with a rack in his hand.  With a sigh I took the rack, put my tongue back in, and followed him begrudgingly to another table. And to punish my transgression of the eyes further, I was seated facing away from my original table.  My only consolation was the Penn State – Ohio State game was just starting on the TV.

“Life is like a ten speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we never use.” –Charles M. Schulz

I started off slow, playing very passively.  So passive, you would have thought I was hiding from the monsters under the bed or skeletons in the closet.  I was in the small blind with AK after it was limped 3-ways to me.  With the intent to punish the limpers and to exert my dominance over the game, while not wanting to play out of position, I reached for chips and…called.  WTF?!!

To be honest, I really don’t know why I did that at the time. But the big blind offered me redemption and raised the pot for me. There was only one caller when it got back to me. Now was my chance to spring the trap that I unknowingly set, so I grabbed more chips and…called again. OH HELL NO?!!

Who was this passive fish that looked a lot like me?  At least the board was a King high flop. I checked, he bet, the other player folded, and I called. Turn, I checked, he bet, I called. River, I checked, he bet, I called. Do you sense a pattern forming here?  He showed a better played AK and we chopped the pot with my lifeless, timid, amateurish style of play in full view of everyone at the table (and probably the next table over too).

I wish I could say that was the only passive play I had in my arsenal but it seems like I would stay in first gear until break.  At least I ended only down to 20k from my starting stack of 24k.



“I guess it comes down to a simple choice: Get busy living, or get busy dying” – The Shawshank Redemption

During break I finally located the cojones that I lost and came back to the table determined that it was time to get busy playing.  The table I was at had an eclectic group of players ranging from your soft rec player (myself included), all the way up to the tough semi-pro player, and everything in between.  One such player was more focused on the football games and monitoring his sports betting than playing poker.  However, when he did enter a hand, he would bet 7x – 10x the blinds and then bomb the flop with 2x – 3x pot size bets. Unfortunately I never found myself in a situation to take advantage of his bet sizing.  Instead, I went after an easier target: The semi-pro.

At least, I thought he behaved like a semi-pro with his consistent bet sizing and aggressive action when needed.  He showed knowledge of when to throttle back at times and he was building his stack with very little show-downs.  So in one hand, when he raised from middle position, I decided to call from the button with AsTx.

The flop was Ks6x3x. He c-bet as expected and I decided to float. The turn was a Qs.  He checked to me and not liking that either the K or Q could be in his range I opted to see a free card. The river was 9s and he lead out with a small value looking bet. I picked this moment to make a move.

Because of my limp fish image, I felt this was the right time to bluff him off his hand.  I had blockers to the nut flush, to a straight, and to AK/AQ.  So I chambered the revolver and pulled the trigger. I just wasn’t sure if I had the barrel pointed in the right direction.

He tanked for an eternity (at least he didn’t snap call). And when I was starting to think this may work… he made the hero call with QxTs. *Bam!*



“A mighty flame followeth a tiny spark.” – Dante Alighieri

Needless to say, I was starting to feel frustrated and a bit down on how awful a start I was having in this tournament.  And it was entirely my fault. But the reason I picked this tourney was because of its deep stacks and structure. I can make mistakes and still have plenty of time to recover. And the best way to recover from a rough start is to find the spark that lights my heater.

The semi-pro raised to 1.5k from early position and it was called by another player before it came to me. I looked down and found the silver bullets, AA. At this time I was down to 17k with blinds at 300/600/75. I re-raised him to 5k.

He stared at me (and my stack) and after a quick glanced at the player between us he said those magical words, “All-in”. The other player snapped folded and I quickly tossed in a chip and turned over my cards. He shook his head and showed AK. The board ran out and I got my first double-up with the added benefit of putting a big dent into his well-earned stack.

And with that, the furnace kicked on full blast. I called a preflop raise with AJ and flopped AAx. I checked to the preflop raiser, she bet, I called. Turn was A. I check, she checked. River blank and I set the lure and checked. She took the bait and bet. I raised and she folded asking if I had quads. I don’t usually show and just shook my head not wanting to give the table any free information.

There was a raise and a call in front of me when I called with QsJs. Flop was AsKs9x. Bet, call, call. Turn was a 6. Bet and then a raise. I saw that the initial bettor had already cut out chips for a call.  I made the call and he did call as expected. The river was the most beautiful card in the deck. No, Norman Chad it couldn’t be the Ace of Spades (that was already on the flop).  To me the most beautiful card is the Ten of Spades!  Holy Royal Flush Batman!!!


First player checked and second player bet.  Again, the first player gave off a tell, and this time he was telling me he was going to fold so I raised. He folded as expected and the second player…folded (Damn!). This one I had to show. Unfortunately, I was so deeply enthralled with the beauty of it that it was only later I realized I didn’t snap a picture of it. My stack was now at 69.8k with blinds 400/800/100.

I had AcKc in the cutoff and re-raised a middle position raiser, he called. Flop KsQcQs, he led into me and I called. Turn 9c. He bet again and I shoved. He tanked and I was worried that I overplayed my hand when he eventually found a call.  He showed AhKh and I was free-rolling. He shouted no clubs and on the river came the second most beautiful card in the deck Norman, the Jc! My stack was now at 120k with blinds at 600/1200/200. I was on fire!


“I’m on a roller coaster that only goes up, my friend.” - The Fault in Our Stars

The nice thing about having a deep stack in a good structure like this tournament is that now I could play the game I should have done at the very beginning. The heater got my juices flowing.  I picked my spots, being aggressive when in a hand, and maximizing pressure on the other players. I finally found my stride. I played good poker and try to avoid the minefields.  At first, my roller coaster kept climbing the hill.
  • ·       At 142k. Blinds 600/1200/200. 71 left.
  • ·       At 154k. Blinds 800/1600/200. 58 left.
  • ·       At 175k. Blinds 1.2k/2.4k/400. 39 left.

And I found the peak when I had pocket 6’s and busted a player with a flopped set against his overpair. 
  • ·       At 250k. Blinds 1.5k/3k/500. 38 left.

 “I didn’t come this far, to only come this far.” – Unknown

But eventually, like all good rides, it descended into a death spiral!  The very next hand I get my AA shoved on by KK just to watch them get cracked with a Turn K.
  • ·       At 194k. Blinds 1.5k/3k/500. 37 left.

And it showed no signs of slowing down.  My KK lost to AQ followed by A9 losing to KQ.
  • ·       At 130k. Blinds 2k/4k/500. 30 left.

Determined to fight like a cornered badger, I pulled off a bluff with A5 on the button against a player that really didn’t want to fold at first.
  • ·       At 176k. Blinds 3k/6k/1k. 27 left.

After giving up some chips on a river shove that I couldn’t call, I found JJ.  Yes, the hand that most recs hate! Young hooded player with ear buds, 3-bet my raise and I decided to play back at him with a 4-bet. Don’t try this at home kids! He eventually found a fold, not willing to commit his stack yet.
  • ·       At 210k. Blinds 3k/6k/1k. 27 left.

And when it looked like I was starting back in the right direction, I got blind-sided. Short stack went all in with QT and I called with AA. Board ran out AKJxx.
  • ·       At 110k. Blinds 4k/8k/1k. 22 left.

 It was hard to fathom that with only 4 spots away from the bubble that I could be out soon.  I didn’t want to end it like this. The final countdown began:
21 left.
20 left.
19 left.

We went to hand-for-hand. A proposal was made to pay the bubble to speed it up but a couple of the other players shot it down. Each hand played was torturous, like a slow drip down on the forehead.  I was able to get a couple of walks and even stole a blind or two to stay alive. Eventually the bubble burst.



“Everything is negotiable. Whether or not the negotiation is easy is another thing.” –Carrie Fisher

18 left.
17 left.

I was sitting on a stack of 140k with blinds at 6k/12k/2k.  The even chop value was $2,452 which was equivalent to between 5th and 6th place.  It was proposed to do an even chop by several players at my table.  I doubted that 17 players would agree.  Nevertheless, they voted on it using red cards for “Yes” and black cards for “No”. 

Our table was all red; the other table had a couple black cards.  No surprise there so play continued. I already accepted my fate that I was on borrowed time and was hoping the poker gods would give me their blessing.

I guess they granted me a partial wish because somehow I managed to win just enough to stay afloat.  Players were dropping like flies:
16 left.
15 left.
14 left.
13 left.
12 left.

I was the shortest stack (106k with blinds 8k/16k/2k) when a new chop was proposed.  This time instead of an even chop, it was suggested to do a chip chop. Someone else suggested an ICM chop but Venetian shot that down. After some discussions, eventually everyone agreed to stop the clock and see what would be the payouts. 

It took the floor some time to count everyone chips, enter it into a spreadsheet, double/triple check the numbers before they told us the amounts.  I already decided that if it wasn’t much more than 12th place money I would be voting it down since I had nothing to lose.

But when they told me as shortest stack I would receive $1,645, which was equivalent to 7th place money and doubled what I could get for finishing 12th, I readily agreed.  Fortunately, everyone else also agreed.  We all shook hands and congratulated each other like we won the World Series (mainly because I think we were all exhausted and relieved it was finally over). 


“All good things must come to an end” – Geoffrey Chaucer

The tournament started at noon and by the time I was out of there, it was almost 2 am. Exhausted but thrilled to cash after a hard fought day, I made my way back to the hotel and crashed. This was the icing on the cake as I had a great Vegas trip and much needed break from reality.  Maybe one day I will tell you about the overall trip and how I got assaulted by a female cop (dressed like the picture shown here).  ;)


About the Author:
My Twitter profile (@AvoidOddLaw) basically describes me in a nutshell:  “Weekend Recreational Poker Player, Weekday Senior Business Analyst, and Everyday Husband & Dad.” I play for the fun and the challenge of it. While I always wanted to become a great poker player, reality dictates otherwise. One day I hope I can elevate my game but until then, I just play the small cash tables and tournaments.