Sunday, January 12, 2014

It's a Wonderful Poker Tournament

One of the best holiday traditions is watching the classic Frank Capra movie, "It's a Wonderful Life."  the movie is much beloved and one of my all-time personal favorites.

You all know the story.  George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, is near suicide and a guardian angel shows him how life, how is hometown—indeed, how the entire world—would be different if he had never been born.

Whenever I play in a poker tournament, I think of that movie.

O.K., not every time. Not usually.  But sometimes.  Like after the tournament I played last month, the one I wrote about (all too briefly) here.  In that tournament, three of us split the top three places (more or less a chip-chop).  I came away with a nice return—more than I’ve ever won in a poker tournament before.

But the thing is, I almost didn’t play in it.  In fact, if my original plan had stuck, I wouldn’t have even been in Vegas that day.

Obviously if I hadn’t been in Vegas, I would have less money in my poker bankroll right now.  But that’s not the only thing that would have changed, is it?

Everything about the tournament would have been different if I was back in L.A. on this day.

This is an idea I’ve had for some time, and when I thought about it after the tournament, as I was celebrating, as I was converting my winnings into one dollar bills and rolling around naked in the money (no, I really didn’t do that, and I apologize for putting that image in your mind), I thought about it again.  Especially since it was the holiday season and I knew “It’s a Wonderful Life” would soon be shown again (for those people who don’t have the DVD, like I do).

I figured it was time to finally put my thoughts down in a blog post.  Unfortunately, I was having too much fun in Vegas to write it before the holidays were over.  It’s ok.  The first time I saw “It’s a Wonderful Life,” it was before it became a perennial  holiday classic.  In fact, it was in the middle of summer.

My original plan was to come to Vegas the day after this Binion’s tournament took place.  It was just the regular Saturday 2PM tournament, and I was planning on driving to Vegas the next day, on Sunday. 

However, there was an AVP/poker industry event the Wednesday before I was supposed to arrive.  It was an invitation only thing, that’s why you AVP’ers didn’t hear about it.  So I changed my plans.  Then I had to change them again when I was invited to the MGM holiday/poker party that was the night before the AVP event.  So I arrived in Vegas the Tuesday before this tournament.  So that’s the reason I was in Vegas so much in December.

With a free Saturday in Vegas, it was an easy decision to play at the Binion’s tournament, one of my favorites.  But it was a fluke that I was even in Vegas on that day; that wasn’t in the original plan.

And after I made that big cash, I couldn’t help thinking about what would have happened if I had never been born—ooops, I mean, if I hadn’t arrived in Vegas until the next day.

Clearly I wouldn’t have cashed in a tournament I didn’t play in.  But who would have won the money I won instead?  It’s not possible to know.

Furthermore, it strikes me that it is quite likely that the entire results of the tournament would have been very, very different just because of my not showing up.  The tournament winner may have busted out much, much earlier.  Somebody I busted out early may have survived and won the damn thing.  Of course, he/she would never know that, would they?

Sure, there’s a lot of skill involved in poker.  But there’s no denying there’s a lot of luck too.  And a tournament involves more luck than a cash game does.

There’s the obvious luck of getting good cards.  Of hitting those two, three, four outers.  Of winning the coinflips.  Of being on the right side of those suckouts.

But there’s so much more to it than that.  There’s the luck of the draw.  The table you’re assigned to—both initially and as the tournament tables break.  Or the tables you’re moved to when they need to balance tables.

In the last tournament at Binion’s I cashed in before this one (yet another blog post I still “owe” you), I had a string of bad luck involving getting moved.  Every time they broke my table, I was sent to the next table to be broken.  This happened at least three times.  Furthermore, in every case, I had just posted the blinds at the old table and then came right into the blinds at my new assignment.  This was late enough in the tournament so that posting double blinds really impacted my chip stack.

That’s just bad luck.  I only got a min cash—maybe if I had better luck with all these table draws, I would have finished closer to the top.  On the other hand, maybe I would have posted the blinds later, but gotten pocket Aces at that different seat and had someone suck out on me (you know, as in the situation I described in the post here).

But let’s go back to the beginning.  If I didn’t show up, someone else would have been assigned to the seat I had.  No two players play hands the exact same way.  The hand I folded may have been a playable hand for the person in my seat.  It may have been a big score for him or her….or a big score for another player.  Once one or two hands are dealt, since different players play different hands—and even send their mucked cards back to the dealer differently—after a few hands the cards the players received at ‘my” table would be different, causing vastly different results. 

And the player who took my place would have been replaced by another player, so that table would be completely different too.  And one table would have had one less player because I wasn’t there.

So there’s no way you can assume the winner of the tournament would have still won.  At some point he would have run into different players, different cards….and may have gotten knocked out instead of surviving to the final three.

But if you can do that exercise for me, you can do it for every other player in the tournament.  Maybe the guy next to me made a last minute decision to play?  What if he didn’t show up?  Maybe the guy next to the eventual winner—who dumped a lot of chips to him—only showed up because he woke up 10 minutes too late to make the Aria tournament at 1PM?  Or the Venetian tournament at Noon?

And how about who didn’t show up?  Maybe somebody on their way to the tournament got a flat tire and never made it.  Maybe he would have taken my seat and I would have sat somewhere else.  Maybe he would have doubled up somebody who would then run deep into the tournament, instead of busting early.

Maybe someone in the tournament could have decided to go to the bathroom (or have a smoke) one hand later or earlier than they did and that would have been the hand that changed anything.

As I said, you can do this with a cash game too.  But it’s a little different.  With a cash game, you have the option of changing seats and/or tables (or even venues) if you don’t like a player at your table.  You’re at their mercy in a tournament.  In a cash game, if you like, you can take a break for an orbit or two if you misplayed a hand or are just running bad.  Not a good idea in a tournament when the blinds and antes keep going up.

Obviously you can take this thought beyond poker, apply it to any game, or anything in life.  Ever get into a fender bender on the way to work and think, “Damn, if only I had left five minutes earlier—or later—I wouldn’t have been at the wrong place at the wrong time”?  Or, who knows, maybe if you left for work a minute later this morning, you would have wrecked your car.  Instead, you arrived safe and sound.

It would be nice if we all had a guardian angel to show us what would have happened at that poker tournament if the guy next to you hadn’t shown up.  Or if some other potential player did show up instead of playing in a cash game that day.   Or if you had folded those pocket 3’s to a three bet instead of calling and hitting your set only to bust out to a rivered flush.

But we don’t have that guardian angel.  So I’m just going to assume that I would have taken first place in every tournament I almost entered but decided not to at the last minute.  And also, I’m going to assume that the only reason I didn’t cash big in any tournament I played was because some guy should have showed up but changed his mind at the last minute.

And that missing player changed everything.

Damn him.  Why did his kid have to get sick this day?

And to that 21 year old kid from England, celebrating his birthday in Vegas, who took home the biggest prize in that Binion’s tournament—you’re welcome.  If I hadn’t changed my plans, if I had been in L.A. that day as originally planned, you wouldn’t have won all that money.

Or would you?

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