Thursday, January 29, 2015

Missing the Boat at the Venetian

This post is a continuation of the day and night I discussed here, my very good session at Bally's with Nick & Lightning.

As the evening wore on, there were two topics of conversation that became dominant.  One was dinner.  When to break for it and then where to eat.  The other topic was whether or not we would try to join Tony at the Venetian for a session.  Tony had been texting Lightning for quite some time asking us all to come play with him.

Of course, seeing how well I was doing, Lightning was wondering if I wanted to forgo breaking for dinner—or going anywhere else to play—and just stay there for the foreseeable future.  Noting that I had done terribly the night before at MGM, he wondered if I should consider making Bally’s my new room of choice. 

It took us a long time to decide to leave, we were all having fun, I was winning, and Lightning wasn’t getting an answer to a key question he was asking Tony before he would commit to all of us heading over to the Venetian.  But we just had to eat, and while dinning at the elegant, newly improved Bally’s food court, Lightning got the info he needed and we discussed going to the V after our meal.

Lightning and Nick were definitely going, but I had to think about it.  It was getting late for me.  It was a Sunday night and, unlike the two of them, I had to actually put in some hours in a real job the next day.  But I finally decided to be sociable and put in an appearance.  I’d put in an hour, hour and a half tops and then call it a night.

We headed over to the Venetian.  Since Lightning was parked in Bally’s, the two of them got there first, as I had to walk all the way back to Caesars to get my car.  By the time I arrived, I expected to see them in a game, but no, they were sitting in the Venetian poker room’s waiting area.

They informed that they couldn’t find Tony.  It had been awhile since Lightning had heard from him, but last he had heard, Tony was playing in a 1/2 game there dying for us to meet up with him.  Note: Those of you who follow the Tony saga—and I’m sure that’s almost all of you—already know what happened to Tony on this night.

Meanwhile, many texts from Lightning went unanswered.  What to do, what to do? 

We wasted a good 10-15 minutes sitting around, pondering that perplexing question, hoping that Tony would either show up or send Lightning a text letting him know what he was up to.

In the meantime, I got a tweet from Alysia Chang asking if we were playing at Caesars for the promos.  I sent her back a message that there was no way to get into a game there.  And I said what I still believed to be true at that moment: That we were all at the Venetian and we were all going to be playing with Tony at some point.  She decided to head over and join us.

We then had one of the silliest discussions I can recall.  It was late, getting near 11PM I believe.  We agreed that we should not worry about Tony—since he was now ignoring us—and just find a place to play some poker.  This discussion took place in the Venetian poker room, one of the very nicest poker rooms in all Vegas.  And yet, somehow, both Nick and Lightning were trying to think of a place for us to go play poker.  Um, guys, look all around you.  We’re in a poker room!  A nice one.  It took me a lot longer than it should have to convince these out-of-town yokels that we should play in the poker room where we were having the discussion.

With remarkable ease we all managed to get into a game together.  The table where they sent me had two open seats within a few minutes after I was seated, and they were able to grab them.  Not long after that, Alysia showed up and managed to get seated at our game as well.

The problem was the three of them were all in a corner at one side of the table and I was by myself at the opposite end.  The three of them were seemingly having a grand ol’ time chatting away, speculating on TBC’s whereabouts (among other topics), and I could barely hear every third word, if I was lucky.  The seating arrangements eventually led to some ruinous poker decisions.

One of the first hands I had was pocket Jacks.  Yes, again.  Recall that I had pocket Jacks twice very early in my Bally’s session earlier that same day.  I raised to $10, only one caller.  The flop was King-Queen-Jack rainbow.  That was the exact same flop I had the first time I had Jacks at Bally’s.  I bet $15 and he folded.

A bit later I had pocket 3’s. I was one of many limpers.  The flop was 3-6-8, two clubs.  I bet $5.  Another player made it $15, I made it $45 and the two of them called.  The turn was a 7, not a club and I just shoved.  No call.

In the big blind I had 7-6 offsuit and no one raised.  The flop was A-9-5 and Lightning bet $10.  I called with my gut shot.  It was heads up.  Blank on the turn, we both checked.  Another 5 on the river, I bet $20 with nothing, and Lightning folded.  See, I do bluff.  But only my friends.

Then it was time for me to get the dreaded pocket Kings.  The guy to my immediate right raised to $13 in front of me.  I made $37.  He called and we were heads up.  The flop was Ace-high.  I bet $60. He tanked and then folded.   He didn’t show but said something about “Ace-magnets.”  His neighbor asked him if he had Kings and he confirmed that he did.

“Really?  You had pocket Kings?”  He assured me that he had.  “Well, then neither one of us was gonna hit our set.”  He did a double-take and asked me if I really had the other two Kings.  I assured him that I had.

See?  I can too play pocket Kings!

He shook his head.  “Well, it was a good bet then.  You bet $60 with an Ace on the flop?”

Well yes, that’s exactly what I did.  I almost always bet my dreaded Kings when an Ace hits the flop. I might not stick around to the river but I think you have to bet there and see what the response is.  I don’t believe in being afraid of an Ace until I’m given reason to.  I don’t play those dreaded Kings meekly….maybe that’s why they sometimes bite me.

What I didn’t ask him is why the heck he didn’t repop it after I re-raised him?  I mean, if he had, we would have gotten it all in preflop and we would have chopped the pot.

So I was building up a nice little stack, a nice little profit, when this nightmare occurred.  Alysia raised to $10.  I called with pocket deuces.  I believe we were heads up, if not, a third player dropped out after the flop.  I rather liked the flop.  It was 4-4-2.  Yes, I do enjoy flopping boats.

She bet $15 and I just called.  The turn was an Ace and this time she checked.  I thought about betting but decided to slow play it still.  I think it was a 5 on the river.  She bet $15.  I made it $45.  She announced all-in and I snap called, sure my boat was the winning hand.

From across the table I hear, “What, do you have pocket fours?”  She turned up two Aces!  I couldn’t believe it.  OK, I could, but I didn’t want to.  “You sucked out on me,” was all I could get past my lips.  That was indeed a major cooler hand.

The guy next to me said, “Yeah, but you sucked out on her first.”


“She had the better hand preflop.”

Well yeah, that’s true.  But that’s not a suckout.  I maintained (and do here) that you can’t suck out on the flop. For it to be a suckout, it has to happen on the turn or the river.  The flop is suck-out proof.  I mean, unless it’s all in preflop.  Then you can have a suckout.  Aces vs. Kings, all-in preflop, King hits the flop, that’s a suckout.  But if I see a flop for $10 with deuces and hit my set (or in this case, a boat), that’s not a suckout.  It became a suckout when Alysia hit her two-outer with only two cards left to come (OK, she actually had a four-outer, either of the remaining 4’s would have given her a bigger full house too).

Does that make sense?  Do I have a valid point?

Anyway, it’s just semantics.  Whatever, it was a cooler, as I said.  I didn’t write down the amounts, but I had her covered (I think she bought in for $100), I still had chips, enough so I didn’t have to rebuy, but I was no longer profitable for the session.

But I won a number of smallish and not so small pots.  I got pocket Aces and got two streets of value for them before taking it down.  I had KK vs JJ—I had to slow down on the flop because it was Ace high and all clubs.  However, I had the King of clubs and caught the nut flush on the river.

I was back above my $200 buy in and pretty much ready to call it night.  Now, because I was running so well (until the deuces full hand) I had passed on a few opportunities to change seats and get closer to the rest of the gang.  But as I was just about done, and ready to cash out with a small profit, I decide to move next to the gang for a few more hands.

You see, Lightning had indicated he had finally heard from Tony and he didn’t want to shout what he had heard from him across the room.  So I decided to move not just to be sociable, but so I could learn why Tony had disappeared from the V before we had gotten there.

When I left my “lucky seat” the guy to my right—the one who had folded his Kings to my Kings—said, “What, that seat is not good enough for you?”  He started listing all the good hands that I had that he had seen, starting with the Kings vs. Kings hand.  I didn’t explain to him why I left.

Anyway, I soon learned Tony’s fate.  This was the night he was banned from the Venetian.  He was now at the Wynn and asking us all to join him there.  I dunno about anyone else, but I was just about done and wasn’t going to waste time going to another poker room.  I guess everyone agreed as we stayed put.

But that did give me the opportunity to badly misplay a hand.  I raised to $8 in early position with pocket Queens.  At least one person called, and then it was on one of the two new players to the table.  I recognized this first new guy.  I remembered him not only from the very first freeroll I had played in at the MGM, but I had seen him earlier in the day at Caesars.  Yeah, he was one of zillions of folks who tried and failed to get into their room when they had all these promos going on.  He made it $35.

Now, the next guy was the guy who had taken over the seat that I had recently vacated. And he made it $70.

The second guy had about a similar amount behind, the first guy had less, closer to $120.  I had them both covered.  It folded back to me.

I wanted to fold, I should have folded.  And instead, I started thinking about not folding.  I’m not sure what my thought process was, other than I felt like I was running good this day (yeah….if you ignore the deuces full I flopped and lost with).  And the more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t get away from it.

And I assumed that if I just called, there was a good chance the first guy would re-raise and we’d get it all in anyway.  So I figured I might as well just shove there.  Maybe I had a little fold equity.  Maybe the guy who made it $35 would fold his Ace-King.  So I shoved.

The first guy tanked for a long time….then finally called.  The second guy snapped called, which didn’t make me feel too good.  The board totally bricked and here’s why.  The first guy—the guy who made it $35, the guy who I had seen at Caesars earlier in the day—had the other two Queens.  Yeah, we were both drawing pretty dead.  Because the guy who had made it $70, the guy who had taken over my old “lucky seat” had two Aces.

Shit.  We all showed our cards and Nick and Lightning were justifiable puzzled by my play.  I couldn’t really come up with a good explanation.

But then, just to poor salt in my wound, Nick had to point out, “You left that seat, Rob.”  Thanks for that Nick, really appreciated it.  There’s a word for people like you.  But I can’t use it in print without getting banned from Google.

By the way, that was pretty irrelevant.  There had been a fair number of hands since the time I had left that spot.  If I had stayed there, I would have played the cards dealt there differently, as would have the guy who would have taken the seat I moved to.  Heck, we would have folded differently.  Point being that there’s no way you could say that if I had stayed in that seat that hand would have had the same distribution of cards and I would have gotten the Aces and he would have gotten the Queens.  Not a chance in hell of that happening.

Later, in a comment on Tony’s blog, I pointed out that if I wanted to, I could blame him for the loss.  After all, I only moved away from my lucky seat to get the latest update on him.

But that would be ridiculous.  I made my own decisions—first to move seats, and then to horribly misplay that hand.  So of course I have no one to blame but myself.

It also occurred to me that this was the second time this session that I had the exact same big pocket pair as someone else—remember I had KK vs KK earlier.  There’s no bonus for that, however.

That hand cost me $153.  And put me in the red for the night (but still up for the day).  I left very soon after.  It was a fun day, a lot of great talk, a lot of great (and lucky poker), but a rotten finish due to my own poor play (and let’s not forget the suckout that Alysia laid on me).

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Double Barreling at Bally's

The events in this post took place on the day after the events I described in the two posts here and here.  Which means that they’ve already been covered, from Lightning’s perspective, here.

Long before this day, I learned that Caesar’s Palace poker room was having their official “grand reopening” on this day.  They had closed for a few weeks during the summer when their old room closed and they built  a new, smaller room (more or less the same general vicinity).  As I documented in an Ante Up column, after the new room was opened they put a new poker room manager in charge and now they were making it official: the poker room that had been open for 4-5 months was back in business.

By the way, the reason for closing the old room was to use the space for a new, bigger nightclub.  The new club will be run by the Hakkasan folks.  Which means that when it opens, it may actually be offering a better Slut Parade than MGM.  Of course, as horrible as that will be, I will no doubt have to check that out for myself, as a service to you, my readers.

The significance of this was that they had a bunch of interesting promos planned to celebrate. Starting at 7PM, they were going to give cash prizes away to one lucky player every 15 minutes (I think it was between $25 and $500—total of $5K cash given out—and then at midnight they were going to pick a seat and award that player an entry in the 2015 WSOP main event.  Pretty cool.

Nick, Lightning and I all intended to play at Caesars that evening to take advantage of the promo.  Silly me, I assumed that we could show up at 6PM and get seated and then try to stay afloat for six hours so we would still be in a game when they gave away the main event seat.

As he is when we get pocket Kings, Nick was smarter than me and suggested we may have to get there earlier.  But he wasn’t smart enough to suggest that we get there at 1:30PM, which I think is when they filled all 16 tables.  By the time any of us got there (and Nick & Lightning were together and got there much earlier than I did), there was already a list of about 140 names waiting for the 1/2 game (this was 3PM or so, I think). They were told that the chances of them getting seated before or during the promo were about the same as the chances of Jennifer Love Hewitt showing up and offering to give lap dances to players as consolations prizes.  

I heard this from them before I got there, but even though I was realizing that I wasn’t going to play there, I wanted to go over and check things out in my capacity as a professional poker journalist (don’t laugh—and don’t for one minute think that this personal blog of mine has anything to do with poker journalism).  I definitely wanted to stop by and congratulate them on a big success.

Now, the question you might have is, did I use my position in the poker biz to get a seat in a game and thus be eligible for the promotion?  Or did I at least try to?  The answer to the first question is no.  The answer to the second question is best left purposely vague.  Ahem.

But the bottom line is that I showed up to the room, saw what a mob it was, waited around for at least an hour, hoping for the manager to show up just so I could say hello. Instead, I chatted with his right hand man.  In the meantime I saw the busiest poker room I’ve ever seen in my life.  And tons of people coming up to the podium trying to get seated.  They would have had less trouble trying to cure world hunger.

Most of the games were 1/2 but they had a few 2/5 games going as well (they may have had a bigger game going, I’m not sure).  And it didn’t take me long to figure out that the games could not possibly have been very good.  It was obvious that everyone who was already seated in a game had great incentive to stay there until midnight—some 8 or so hours away.  There was no doubt in my mind that all of these games must have been the nittiest in the history of Vegas.  I was sure that no one would really be playing; they’d just be folding almost any hand—and to almost any resistance—so they wouldn’t run out of money before midnight.

In fact, while hanging around, I heard a couple of guys who were waiting discussing the 2/5 game.  They were saying that they didn’t see how the players in that game would be able to make to midnight.  They said the average 2/5 player stays in the game for 90 minutes (I have no idea if that is close to being accurate).  They said even if you double it… are they going to survive until midnight?  How many buy-ins are they prepared to go through?  That’s why I figured the games would be insanely nitty.

I left after little more than hour.  In that time, I heard exactly one player called into a game.  It was for the 2/5 game.

Meanwhile, I heard from Lightning and Nick that they were playing at Bally’s.  Historically that has been Lightning’s favorite room.  Bally’s is one of those rooms where I can’t get over my first impression.  The first few times I played NL there I did very poorly, and to top it off, there was always some clown button-straddling my big blind and you know how much I hate that (see here if you don’t remember).  So I don’t play there very often.

The funny thing is, in thinking about it, and then researching my log, I’ve actually had a decent amount of success whenever I’ve played there after the first few times.

So I walked across the street to join Lightning & Nick at Bally’s.  And I was immediately able to get into the game with them.  We were seated in a row…Nick in seat 4, Lightning in seat 5 and yours truly in seat 6.  Now. Nick decided to take advantage of the situation by button-straddling my big blind every friggin’ chance he got.  I’m pretty sure he doesn’t usually do that.  I was sure he was doing it just to piss me off.  And in that regard, it sure did work.

So of course I had to give him shit about it.  Probably the nicest word I called him was “asshole.”  And naturally, I threatened to use my celebrity to get him banned from the room.  “I know the new poker room manager here pretty well.  One phone call or email from me and you’ll be escorted out of here, Nick.”  Of course I was just kidding.  I was, wasn’t I?

Ordinarily, I might have requested a seat change or a table change to get away from a weasel dick button-straddling me every time.  But the whole point was that we wanted to sit together and even next to each other, so I just decided to deal with it and take my revenge out by calling him names the whole evening.  You know, the mature approach.

Meanwhile, Lightning was still taking fake umbrage at my calling him a lousy player the day before.  And indeed, I was still enjoying calling him a bad player for calling my raise with Queen-Jack (it was sooooooted).  Good times.

As for the actual pokerz, well early on I had pocket Jacks and raised to $10.  A guy made it $20, I called and it was heads up.  The flop was King-Queen-Jack (rainbow, I think).  I checked and called $10.  The turn was a 4 and we both checked.  Note, not sure why I didn’t play that stronger, especially with the straight draw out there, I didn’t record what I was thinking the next day.  The river was another 4 and I bet $25.  He called and showed pocket Aces.  So that was a nice catch for me.

Two hands later I was in the big blind, which meant Nick was button-straddling ($5).  Second to act, I bumped it up to $15 with pocket Jacks again. Twice in three hands I had the fish hooks.  Two players called, including the guy who had the Aces two hands previously.  I think Nick was the other caller but not sure.  The flop was Ace-10-x (what, no set of Jacks this time?).  I made a c-bet of $25.  The guy I beat last time shoved for his last $72.  Other player folded.  It seemed like a bad call, but I didn’t think I could fold.  Not so much because I was getting 2 to 1, but more because I had put half my effective stack in against this guy. My logic may have been off, but I made the call.

Well, bad call or not, I got lucky.  The turn and the river were a Queen and a King, giving me Broadway.  He showed Ace-Queen.  The Queen he caught on the turn only contributed to his demise.  The guy left after that.  He was no match for my luck—or my pocket Jacks.

Of course, both Lightning and Nick took great delight in giving me a hard time for what they thought was a terrible call on the flop.  Heh heh.  But as Lightning learned the day before, it’s pretty easy to take that abuse when you win the pot.

Then I raised to $16 from the big blind with Ace-King of spades. Two players called, including Nick.  The flop was low and I c-bet $25, only Nick called—after tanking for some time.  Really, that raggedy flop hit him?  The turn was another lowish card. Now, normally I’m not firing a second bullet there with nothing.  Perhaps I should do it more often.  But since my opponent was Nick, I thought I could convince him I had something.  Because Nick reads my blog and would know that if I bet the turn, I’m not just firing.  I must have something.  I was sure that Nick would think that I had to have an overpair if I bet there. Besides, he had thought long and hard before calling the flop, so I was sure he didn’t have anything he would risk fifty bucks for.

So I put out $50, sure he’d lay it down.  But nope, the s.o.b called me.  Damn him.

The river didn’t help and I checked.  Nick checked behind and showed pocket 5’s.  I started to give him a hard time about the call (especially on the turn) but he pointed out that he had picked up a straight draw (I didn’t note the board, and I don’t know if it was a gut-shot or an open-ender).  I was just mad that my brilliant strategy of double-barreling against a guy who knows I never double-barrel didn’t work. He even said, “I’m surprised you fired another barrel there.”

Exasperated, I replied, “Yeah, I did it because I knew you would fold.”

I raised with pocket 9’s, two players called.  On an Ace-high flop, I checked as did the other two.  So I really should have bet the turn, but I did not.  The river was also checked around.  I showed my 9’s and a guy showed pocket Kings.  Huh?  Who plays the dreaded hand that timidly?  Not me, that’s for sure.  Yeesh.  I wondered if I could have gotten him to lay those cowboys down if I had bet the flop or the turn on an Ace-high board?  He sure played them like he was scared of them.  I suppose I should have asked if he was familiar with “Rob’s Vegas & Poker Blog.”

In fact, a bit later I had the dreaded hand myself, it had been raised to $6, a few players called so I bet $32.  The raiser called.  The flop was low and I put out $50 and took it down there.

Next hand I had King-Queen, raised, one caller, caught my King on the river and took it down with a flop bet.

Very next hand I had pocket Aces.  I raised to $11 and had two callers.  I c-bet $25 on a low flop and no one called.  Nice three-hand run there.

I won hands with A-K and pocket 9’s, raising pre, getting one or two callers and taking it down with c-bets. Then I had Ace-6 diamonds in the big blind and caught an Ace and one diamond on the flop.  I bet $8 into an $10 pot.  One player called.  We both checked on the turn, a second diamond.  I bet $10 on the river, which was the third diamond I needed for the nut flush.  My opponent made it $20.  I only raised to $30, probably too little.  He called and didn’t show when he saw my hand.  I had no idea how much he’d have called, but I suppose the ten bucks was too little.

This next hand will demonstrate how good my luck was.  I raised to $13 with Ace-Jack offsuit.  Now, I meant to bet only $8, but I accidentally grabbed two red chips instead of one.  Two players called, but not the guy to my immediate left.  The flop was Ace-Ace-x.  I bet $25 and no one called.  The guy to my left, who had folded pre said, “Ace-Queen no good there, right?”  I didn’t say anything.  He went on to say that he folded Ace-Queen because of my big raise.  He was planning on raising if I hadn’t.  I didn’t ask, but from the way he was talking about my “big raise,” he probably would have called if I had only made it $8 as intended.

Pocket Aces, I raise to $12, three callers including Lightning.  Jack-high flop, I bet $25 and a weird player shoves for about $75.  He had played most hands and stayed in them too long but now that he was betting out I thought maybe he caught a set. It folded back to me and I called.  Board bricked and I didn’t bother to wait for him to show his hand, he mucked when he saw my Aces.

I tried double-barreling again, against a guy I had pegged as a bad player (but I didn’t see him as a calling station).  I raised pre with Ace-King and fired on the flop and the turn with air.  Both times the other player hesitated big time before calling.  The way he almost folded on the flop I was thinking my turn bet would get him to fold.  But he called and we checked the river.  He had a pair of 8’s (one 8 on the board) with a Queen-high board, it was second or third pair.  Apparently you can’t get bad players like this guy and Nick to fold to a second barrel.  Lesson learned. 

I ended up winning nearly $300.  It would have been more if I hadn’t double-barreled that second time.  Also, if I had actually been paying attention to the poker instead of bullshitting with the guys..  

There was more poker and craziness on this night, and I'll get to that in the next post, which you can find here.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Miracle Jack

Deep, Deep Run at Aria, Part 2

We pick up right where part 1 ended (see here).

Level 8 (100/600/1200), $17K, just $3K above an M of 5.  Still short stacked.  First in, I raised to $3K with King-Queen off, no call.  Then, I didn’t do much for awhile. Raised again with K-Q and didn’t get a call, but was mostly bleeding the blinds and antes.  Just didn’t get any cards and/or situations to make a move with.

Late in level 9 however I shoved three straight times and was never called.  I think two of those times there was a single limper in front of me.  The hands were King-10, Ace-King and Ace-King again (yes, back-to-back).  The last time I decided to show my Ace-King least they all think I was shoving light.  Dunno if that really matters though because of course I could still have shoved with 7-deuce the first two times.

This got me to level 10 (300/1000/2000) with $26,000, less than an M of 5.  Still in shove only mode. I shoved with King-Jack offsuit, no call.  In the small blind, with one limper in front of me, I raised to $6K with 10-9 off. The limper called.  The flop was 9-8-6 and I shoved.  He tanked and then folded.

Level 11 (400/1500/3000), $30K (quite a bit under an M of 5, which was $42,500). In the big blind, I had King-Jack off.  It folded to the small blind who made it $7K.  I smelled a move on his part, so I shoved.  He folded.

Then I shoved with Ace-Queen (first in) and didn’t get a call.

Level 12 (500/2000/4000), $30K.  I was just barely stealing enough to keep my stack the same, which obviously wasn’t very good since the damn blinds and antes kept going up.  My M was down to below 3, beyond desperation.  By this point, we were down to two tables, 19 players.  The total number of runners was 148.  The total prize pool was over $14K and 15 would be paid.  I think first place was around $4,900, and the dreaded min-cash was $191.  It sure looked like if I was going to cash at all, it would be for the minimum.  And it was now past 7PM.  I knew because they were starting the 7PM tournament.

I caught a small break by getting a walk in the big blind with Queen-Jack.

Then came the key hand of the tournament.

In late position, I had Ace-Jack, offsuit.  An early position player had raised to $8K.  Then a super short stack went all in for just $2K, not really a consideration.  It folded to me. I was so desperate I probably would have/should have gone all in anyway.   That Ace-Jack was looking mighty good and I hadn’t seen a big Ace in awhile.  If I had been first in, I would have shoved with any Ace or any two Broadway cards. The guy who had raised was a short stack too, but not nearly as short as I was.  I thought that while his raise might have been one of desperation, my stack, short as it was, could hurt him if he lost.  I thought he might just be able to lay his hand down if he didn’t have a real good hand.  So I shoved.

But he didn’t waste any time in calling, and the three of us flipped over our cards.  The raiser had Ace-Queen.  Ugh.  Dominated.  To make matters worse, the short-short stack had Jack-9.  Barring a fluky straight or a flukier flush, I was down to two outs.

The first four cards were all blanks.  No one had a draw of any kind, least of all me.  It appeared my tournament was over and I wouldn’t even get the min cash.  But no….the river was the sexiest looking Jack I ever saw.  Holy shit, I hit it.  I was alive, and my stunned opponent was crippled.  He was in total disbelief.  Ok, maybe not total.  I’m sure he’s played poker before.

As the chips were pushed my way, one of the players not in the hand said, “That was a miracle Jack.  I threw away Jack-3.  You hit your one-outer.  That truly was a miracle Jack.”

There’s no doubt in my mind that if he had announced he had thrown away a Jack before the board was put out, my miracle Jack wouldn’t have hit.  I just know it.

The unlucky bastard with Ace-Queen soon busted out, but not to me.  A bit later, it folded to me in the small blind with 9-8 of hearts.  I made it $11K and the big blind folded.  First in, I raised to $11K with Queen-Jack of hearts, no call.

And we got down to 16 players, the bubble.  Just as we were about to go hand-for-hand, someone from the other table suggested we all kick in $10 to pay the bubble.  This discussion took record little time as we all promptly agreed.  The way they usual do this at Aria is to have everyone come up with $10 actual cash, and that’s what we did.  The next person who busted would get $160, and we were all in the money.

I was still short-stacked, but there were quite a number of stacks shorter than mine.  At least at my table.  Strangely enough, when we got down to two tables and they did the redraw, it seemed like all the big stacks went to the other table.  My table had the medium stacks and the shorties. I had my guarantee of cashing, so I had to figure out how to play it.  I definitely wanted to move up on the pay scale. Looking at those shorter stacks at my table, I was wondering if I should play it safe and let those shorties bust out and fill out all the min-cash slots, or should I play looser and try to score a big pot?  Of course, the cards and the action at the table would have some say in that.

We went on break after level 12, and when I got back to the table, I learned that we’d lost a player and thus the $160 bubble payment had been awarded.   We were down to 15 and the next three players to bust would all get $191.  Factoring in the $10 bubble payment, that’s a profit of a whopping $56.  Please refer to my previous blog post, “The Min Cash is Too Min,” which can be found here.  I had to outlast three players just to get a small bump up to $237.

When we got down to 15 players, the strangest thing happened.  Usually, once you’re in the money, play loosens up.  As we got towards the bubble, I had definitely noticed play tightening quite a bit.  I don’t think my own game was that affected because the situations and the cards just weren’t there for me to do much. Now that the bubble had been broken, it seemed like the play actually got tighter, not looser.  Seriously, I couldn’t believe how long we went without losing finisher #15.  It was truly astonishing. 

One of the reasons was that everyone had so many chips at the other table, no one was really in danger of busting (unless two of those big stacks went up against each other in a nuts vs. second nuts situation).  My table had plenty of short stacks, but first-in shoves weren’t getting called very often and when they did get called, the short-stack always seemed to win.  Unfortunately, I was given few opportunities to open a pot, and couldn’t take advantage.

After the tournament, I asked Aaron, the terrific TD at Aria, if he had ever seen a tournament play so tight after the bubble had been broken.  He said there was one other time recently when something similar happened, but admitted that what had happened with us was very unusual.

Level 13 (500/3K/6K) $88K ($70K would be an M of 5).  Average stack was $98K.  After one limper, I made it $18K with Ace-10 suited.  No call.

In the big blind I saw pocket Kings yet again.  A big stack had opened for $20K.  I shoved.  He tanked, asked for a count, tanked some more….and folded.  I was batting 3 for 3 with the dreaded hand.

Under the gun, I raised to $20K with King-Jack clubs, no call.  Then, after two limpers, I raised to $25K on the button with Ace-8 of diamonds, no call.

Level 14 (1K/4K/8K) $135K (still barely over an M of 5).  Average stack is $165K.  First in, I shoved with Queen-10, Ace-King and pocket Jacks and wasn’t called.  Then in the small blind, after it folded to me, I shoved with 9-8 of clubs.  The big blind tanked but folded.

Level 15 (2K/6K/12K) $148K (well less than an M of 5).   I raised to $40K first in with Queen-Jack offsuit, no call.  Note:  I really should have only been shoving, but I had noticed how the table was playing and raises like that were taking down pots, so I adjusted.

Somewhere around this time we lost some players finally and we assembled the final table.  Tim, the fellow who had started to my immediate right when the tournament began, ended up once again on my immediate right.  I said to him, “Here we are again, just like we started.”  He said he was thinking the same thing.

Tenth place was still only $237, but after that it moved up each spot.  When we set the final table, all those big stacks had come over from the other one.  There was one huge stack in particular, he had about 4-5 times the next biggest stack it seemed.  I was thinking that this was a guy who was never going to agree to any kind of deal.  I was in the bottom third of stacks, which just two, maybe three stacks less than mine.

Down to 8-handed (next person out would get $395) I raised to $40K with pocket 7’s.  Someone behind me shoved.  He had less than me, but not a lot less.  I tanked, and folded.  He was surprised, but I had picked that $40K so I could get away from it preflop if necessary.  It hurt, but not nearly as much as doubling him up would have.

I shoved with Ace-King, and this time I was called by a much bigger stack.  It was maybe the second or third biggest stack at the table. He flipped over Ace-Queen.  Ace-King held and I had a very nice double up, giving me over $250K.  The guy who doubled me up went all in two more times with Ace-Queen.  Each time he lost to Ace-King.  In fact, his last hand, it was three-ways and both the other players had Ace-King.  Even before the last time, the other players were telling him, “You shouldn’t be playing Ace-Queen, not today anyway.”  Indeed.  Ace-Queen was worse for him than pocket Kings usually is for me.  Considering his stack when he called my shove, it was truly amazing how fast he busted out.

And so, people kept busting and I stayed alive.  The Ace-King hand was the last one I wrote down.  I must have won a few small pots with shoves or big opening raises.  But I watched the table shrink.

When we got down to 6 players, I was in 4th place, stackwise.  Tim and another guy were shorter.  Sixth place was good for $646. Fifth would take home $847, and 4th would take home over $1K, I think over $1,100.  Now, that was the one I wanted.  Man, I really wanted to walk away with over a grand in prize money.  It seemed so much more than even the $847 next prize.

In the meantime, it was getting late—after 9PM—and I hadn’t eaten much at all.  There’s no dinner break in this tournament.  I had actually eaten an early lunch in my room before arriving at the Aria at 12:30PM.  Now, I have certain medical conditions that require that I not go “too long” without eating.  I also need to take medication before and after dinner.  It was clear I had to do something about food.  I really wasn’t expecting to be playing this late.  Also, for the past three, four, five hours, I had been half-expecting to bust out any minute.

I always keep a few bags of nuts with me whenever I play in a deepstack tournament, just to make sure I have some nourishment.  I had had a bag or two of nuts during one of the earlier breaks.  And I was lucky because, for some reason, I wasn’t hungry.  By all rights, I should have been starving.  But still, as we went to the last level before the next break, I knew I was going to have to eat something at the break if I was still alive, just to take my meds.  So I took my pre-dinner meds at the level change to be ready.  When that break approached, I folded what I knew would be the last hand before break (it was Aces, but I had to eat, so what the heck) and literally ran to the Men’s room (first things first).  Then I ran to the pizza place that isn’t far from the poker room.

The pizza place, “550 Pizza” is a sit down restaurant but they have a takeout window for pizza by the slice only.  They call it 550 Pizza because a slice of pizza is $5.50.  When they first opened the place, the pizza slices were huge, one slice was almost a meal in itself.  But now that they’ve been open for a year or two, they reduced the slices in size by at least ½ . But the price hasn’t changed. I guess that was easier than changing the name of the place.  In a few years, they’ll have the same name but will sell pizza by the bite, not the slice.

Anyway, luckily the take out window wasn’t busy, I only had to wait for one guy to get his order and then I was able to order a couple of slices.  I was actually able to make it back to the poker room well before the tournament resumed, and actually managed to down the pizza and take my drugs before cards were back in the air (those of you who have dined with me can confirm that I am a fast eater).

When I got back, I learned what I missed by leaving that last hand before it was completed.  One of the two short stacks had busted on that hand.  We resumed five-handed and I was assured of at least $847.  I had the second shortest stack; my neighbor Tim was shorter. 

No offense, but I was really very anxious for Tim to do the right thing (since he was the short stack) and bust out next.  I liked the guy, but if he was next to go, I’d be taking home something like $1,100.  As I noted, I really liked the sound of clearing over a grand.

Now, when the tournament was down to 8,7,6 players, I sure as hell wanted to bring up the possibility of making some kind of a deal—a chip-chop.  But as I was one of the shorter stacks at the table, I felt it inappropriate and too self-serving.  Still, it was getting to be later and later, wasn’t it?

I actually didn’t think the chip leader would ever go for it anyway.  When the final table was formed he had what looked to be an insurmountable lead, although his lead was shrinking as the evening wore on.

For awhile, Tim stubbornly refused to bust out.  He was picking up chips at a clip that suggested he might be able to overtake my stack.  Gulp.  I managed to steal a few pots with timely shoves.  I think he mostly avoided being called with his shoves but I’m sure that once or twice he did indeed win an all-in and get the double up.  But I don’t think he ever quite caught up to me.

And then finally, he shoved, was called, and lost.  I suppose I should have made a note of his hand since it was so significant to me, but alas, I did not.  I was just enjoying the feeling of knowing I had reached the $1K threshold I was longing for.

And as Aaron took Tim to pay him off for his 5th place finish, the guy with the second biggest stack asked if we could stop and see what would happen if we all agreed to a chip-chop.  Bless his heart.

He made it clear that he just wanted to see the numbers and wasn’t agreeing to anything.  But we all agreed that we should at least find out what it would be.

So we all stacked our chips in proper stacks and the dealer counted everyone’s stack.  I didn’t note what my stack was, but it was the shortest stack by a decent amount.  Second and third were pretty close to each other and the big stack had a nice lead, but as I said, not the lead he came to the final table with it.

As I’ve explained before, for those unfamiliar with the process, when you do a chip-chop you start off assigning everyone with the smallest remaining cash prize.  Then you divide the rest of the prize pool proportionately based on percentage of the chips each player has.  Thus, I knew I would get a considerable bit more than the $1,100 4th place if we agreed to this (of course, if we played it out, I could still have conceivably won the whole thing and taken home nearly $5K, though that would have been a long shot).

When Aaron came back with the figures, the chip leader would get $3,700, next would be $2,500, then $2,400 and my take-away would be $1,787.  You bet I was willing to “settle” for that.

I expected the chip leader to balk, but he wasted no time in voting thumbs up.  Third-place was just as eager, as I was.  Oddly enough, the guy who had suggested we look at the chip-chop was the only one who hesitated.  He said, “Everyone else is on board?”  We all said yes.  “Well, ok….if everyone else is ok with it, let’s do it.”

And with that, I was about to walk away with $1,787.  It was close to 9-1/2 hours of poker but I think that’s still a pretty good hourly.

At that moment, as we were all shaking hands, my brain pretty much shut down.  It wasn’t until a day or two later that I had time to reflect on the tournament, and especially my play.  And when I thought about that, I was really pleased with the way I played.  I never had a big stack, I was dealing with a short stack almost the entire tournament.  Yet I think overall I made a lot of good decisions and some good moves and really felt I had earned my money.  True, I had gotten lucky a few times—and sure as hell got real lucky with the “miracle Jack,” but you have to do that a few times to survive a big tournament.  I really felt good about the way I negotiated through the tournament as whole.  Note: having said that, as I was writing this post, I did come across a few hands I know I could have played better.  But I think my mistakes were minimal.

Now let me get back to Tim, the nice guy I was so eager to see bust out.  A few days later an interesting email showed up in my inbox.   The subject header read, “Hello from the short stack.” The email started like this:
“So I'm on the redeye flight heading home last night, browsing poker magazines, and I spot your picture  in Dec. Ante Up...I was the guy sitting to your right all day Saturday. Imagine that, Antonio Esfandiari at my table one day, Robvegaspoker the next!”
How cool is that? Tim went on to say that he had results sheet from the tournament (that Aria always prints out) and saw that I did a chop for better 4th place money and congratulated me.  When I responded I told him about my blog and he had already checked it out.  He said that now he knew why I was writing all those notes!  Thanks so much for letting me know, Tim!

So that was a nice little epilog to what was already a fantastic day of poker.