I have a particular way of describing my mental state when I’m on my game in a poker tournament: I call it being “in the moment,” which means that I’m acutely aware of what the players around me are doing and seeking to accomplish. When I’m “in the moment” I seem to rely less on rational thought processes and more on something that can best be described as “intuition” or “feel.” When I’m in the moment close decisions become easy, and I always seem to get my money in as a favorite.
Well, it seems that blogging really needs to take place “in the moment” as well. I am having a difficult time figuring out a way to write about events that took place several months ago. So I guess I’m just gonna go with quick off the cuff monthly summaries and we’ll see where it goes.
I spent most of January splitting time between lawyering and playing poker. After my signoff date at my father’s office, a few cases lingered which only I could take care of. Dad is completely at home in the courtroom, or screaming at opposing counsel over the phone, but when it comes to drafting briefs, he’s lost. So I was stuck with a few research/writing projects which would not go away. I spent most of the month playing a few hours a day on the internet and I managed to build a small bankroll playing sit ‘n go’s (one table tournaments). My biggest score actually came in a live charity tournament that my good friend Craig Sklar managed to get me invited to. I finished second in a field of 65 drunk nitwits, winning four front row seats to a Yankees game. Thanks Craig.
In the meantime, Paris Las Vegas sent me a promotional mailer offering me three free nights at the end of the month if I’d come play in an invitational poker tournament. It didn’t take long for me to RSVP “yes.”
The trip to Vegas accomplished two things: 1) it gave me a much needed respite from the horrible divorce appeal I was drafting, and 2) it gave me my first opportunity to see what I was all about as a poker pro.
The Paris tournament was a joke. It was simply a promotion for the hotel’s customers who spend a lot of money on slots and non-poker table games. Half the field had never played before, and the tournament was structured in a way that it would be over with as soon as possible. In other words, the luck factor was magnified. I was still able to weave my way pretty deep into the tournament, taking advantage of blackjack players who didn’t realize folding was an option. Then a nice asian lady woke up with pocket aces when I had KQ, and I was out.
So I sat down in a 2-5 NL cash game at Paris. Immediately I began to win. I flopped sets, I turned straights, I rivered flushes. Things were just falling my way. Plus, I was better than everyone else at the table, many of whom had just discovered hold ’em in the tournament. I was up about a grand before long. After chipping away a little while longer and working my stack up even farther, the following hand took place.
The under the gun player (who happened to be Bill Frieder, former basketball coach at University of Michigan) brought it in for a raise. He was sitting on a monster stack. A player in middle position, also with a huge stack, called, and I called as well with the 10-7 of spades. The flop came 8-8-5 with one spade, and Mr. Frieder led out with a pot-sized bet. The middle position player called and I decided to call as well. Yes, I called with nothing, intending to outplay both of them on the turn and/or river. The turn brought the 9 of spades, giving me an open-ended straight flush draw. Frieder checked, and the middle position player made a big bet. I quickly called, but when the action got to Frieder, he checkraised!. The middle position player called and there was now a huge pot developing. If I hit a straight or a flush, would it even be any good? I figured I might be up against a made full house, but the fact that Frieder had raised under the gun convinced me otherwise. The middle position player chose to call, and so did I.
The river brought my gin card: the jack of spades, giving me the nuts–a straight flush. Frieder now made a massive bet, and the middle position player called again. I pretended to mull this situation over before finally announcing I was all-in. After a long time Frider folded and MP went into the tank and eventually called. I said “sorry, bud” as I tabled the 10-7, and the dealer shipped me the biggest pot of my young career. Frieder said he folded a full house, but I think he was full of shit. When I cashed out of the game the dealer said he thought it was the biggest win in the history of the Paris’ very new poker room. I remained very calm as I took rack after rack of red chips to the cage (required two separate trips), converted them to cash, then strode slowly to the hotel elevators and watched the doors close. Then, riding up to my room, in the privacy of the elevator, I executed several fist pumps. Hello bankroll.
The next day I went to the old Mecca of poker: Binion’s Horseshoe in downtown Vegas. The story of Binion’s has been covered many, many times (most effectively by A. Alvarez in “The Biggest Game in Town”), so I’m not gonna rehash it now. The bottom line is that in its heyday it was very low on glitz and very high on action: a gambler’s place to gamble, a place where more legendary risk-it-all gambling stories took place than the rest of sin city combined. Today, it is simply a dump. Even the “Poker Wall of Fame,” situated in the corner of the room where Doyle, Puggy, Slim and the boys did battle for the better part of three decades, and always prominently featured on all those ESPN telecasts, is vaguely disappointing in person. The carpet is stained and the whole place smells like a stale Winston.
Sold to Harrah’s after coming very close to bankruptcy, Binion’s now appears to make a meager profit cashing in on its legacy as the longstanding home of both the WSOP and the biggest cash games in poker history. Binion’s today sports a huge, drab poker room and promotes its cheap daily tournaments, one of which I entered on January 26. The buy in was small and the competition was weak, and I worked my way to the final table, having outlasted 70 players. But this was no ordinary final table. At Binion’s, once the last 10 players are established, play moves to a special elevated table with brightly lit borders and space on the sides for a crowd to gather and gawk. And gather and gawk they did. A rather scary collection of trashy downtown tourists appeared and hovered around the goofed-up table, making comments (“the fella with the toothpick just busted Jimmy, he’s a tough-‘un”) all the while.
Before I knew it I was heads up with a modern-day Binion’s regular. Not exactly Johnny Moss, he was sporting sunglasses, a visor and a mustache, all likely purchased/cultivated in the 1980’s. He needed some dental work, and he wasn’t very good. I dispatched him and won a decent sum. But who cares about the cash when you also get THIS:
After dumping off a bunch of money in tournaments at Wynn and Bellagio, I wound up my January by notching another very good cash game session at Mandalay Bay.
I flew home from Vegas positively giddy about my performance, ready to put the lingering legal work behind me and really open fire on the poker world.