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.


  1. Rob:
    I think you played very well given your stack size most of the tournament. While luck is a bit of a factor once you get to be a short-stack, knowing how to play the short stack is also important. Seems like you took advantage of situations, played the cards right, and got the lucky miracle jack when you needed it. Nicely done!!

    1. Thanks, Nick. Yeah I was pretty happy with my play when I had a chance to think about it. Realizing I was so short-stacked all that time, it was pretty amazing that I lasted until the chop. And except for that big one with the Jack, I probably caught fewer lucky breaks than most tourns where I've cashed.

  2. Jack must be a friend to both of us Rob lol. Back in early December when I entered a $225 dollar buy in bounty tournament the hand that gave me the deep run that I had was I had AQ vs AK all in preflop and a miracle Jack of the river gave me Broadway. I ended up finishing 4th in that tournament and walked away with $942 total. Huge congrats on your performance and remember Jack is our friend. 😀

    1. Thanks, FlushhDraw. Wow your story is strangely similar to mine. We both caught Jacks on the river and both basically finished fourth.

      Indeed, Jack is our friend!

  3. Since when does genital warts require you to eat regularly?

    Anyhow . . . two great posts on the Aria Daily. I've never had any luck in this event. Glad to hear you were able to chop it up!

    1. Very funny, funnyman!

      Thanks PPP, yeah that is a tough tournament to crack but at least this time it was well worth it.

  4. Very nice. Survive and outlast - that's how all of my deep runs seem to go. For the record, your cash is more than I've ever made in any one single day of playing poker... ;) Congratulations!

    1. Thanks, Coach.

      This is actually the second biggest pay day I've had in my poker "career". I made a little more over a year ago at Binion's....was in the final three. We made a deal that wasn't a chip-chop which is how I think I came out better.

      To refresh your memory see:

    2. Tourney and cash game take home or just Tourney??

    3. Not sure exactly what you're asking or who you are addressing. But if the question is to me and you want to know if that was my biggest score ever, including cash games, yes, it was. I've never won close to that in a cash game.

  5. Congrats Rob! Awesome score. Makes you realise it is almost never +EV to scrape a min cash when the real money is alway top 3.

    1. Thanks. Yeah, those min cashes are really frustrating. The trouble is, when you've been playing for hours and hours and you realize you are either going home with a total loss or at least a little something, well, it can affect your thinking.

  6. Why chip chop, instead of ICM, which is supposed to be fairer (and there are plenty of apps to calculate it)?

    1. To be honest, I have never seen a tournament settled with ICM, and I've never heard of it suggested. So it didn't occur to me, and I guess it didn't occur to anyone else.

      Maybe its because I don't play in tourneys that often, and cash in so few--get to the final few player so rarely--that I've never seen it.

      Have you seen the ICM used in this situation, Anony? Maybe it will eventually be common place but I just haven't seen it.

      Also, the TD director at Aria, who no doubt sees this scenario almost daily, didn't suggest it either (tho it may have been out of line for him to suggest it).

  7. Love reading your posts...Heading out to Vegas for the first time with a friend the last weekend in February (Thursday through Sunday). Planning on playing as much poker as possible. Any recommendations for tournaments ($125 buy-in might be the top of our budget per tournament)? Any recommendations for cash game ($1/$2 or $1/$3 would be what we would play in)? We are staying at the Mirage. Would also be fun to meet you if you are in town that weekend as well. Thanks and keep up the entertaining posts (and deep runs in the tournaments).

    1. Thanks very much, Mark.

      Sadly, there's virtually no chance I'll be in Vegas then, unfortunately.

      As for tournaments, well if you can afford the $125, Aria is your best bet. If you want something smaller, take the tram to the TI from Mirage and try their $80 or $65 tourns....they all have guarantees now. I don't really play anything lower than $125, but those are are good values. BTW, you may not be aware, but Mirage closed its poker room temporarily on Sunday, and it will be closed while you're there. Reopens in May.

      For cash, TI just switched to 1/2 (from 1/3) so if they have games going that would be convenient. Or you could walk the other direction and try Caesars new room, also now 1/2. Across the street at the Venetian is another great option for 1/2.

      Just to see it you have to check out Aria, very nice room, but their NL game is 1/3. Of course, my personal favorite is the MGM. Depends on how you are getting around because that would be a pretty big walk from Mirage unless the weather is unusually nice (still pretty cold in Vegas that time of year) But it's not that big a walk from the Aria.

      Let me know how it goes! Good luck and have fun.

  8. Thanks for the response. That's too bad about the Mirage poker room. We are not opposed to venturing further out from the Mirage, probably going to be downtown one of the days as well. Any other tournaments around $125 or a little more that you would recommend? We are thinking about the one at Aria but also looking at the Bellagio, Ceasar's, Golden Nugget, and Binion's (particularly the 2 pm Saturday deepstack one). Cash game at MGM sounds good as well, especially for the "scenario" you mention on some evenings. :-) Again, thanks for the recommendations...we are excited to get there and looking forward to having a great time!

    1. I didn't mention Binion's cuz you said $125 was at the top of your range, but definitely something to consider on a Saturday for $140. If you go downtown Golden Nugget has revamped their schedule and buy-ins and payouts--the manager there liked my post about the minimum cash being too small and modified the payouts (I'm sure he had that idea on his own but I'll take credit). I don't think Bellagio gets that many runners, not sure how the new tourns at Caesars are. Venetian has great tourns too but most are a little more than $125.

      The days you are in town will ALL have nice late evening scenery at the MGM if you get my drift. Happy hunting!