I celebrated Groundhog Day 2006 by making like Punxsutawney Phil and holing myself up in my Upper East Side apartment. It was done partially out of necessity, as the legal writing work was still hanging over my head. And it was done partially to answer an important question. With the NYC poker clubs facing constant heat from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, and with Atlantic City and Foxwoods each around 3 hours away, I knew that mastery of internet poker was the only way I’d be able to sustain my new career without relocating.
And so I embarked on a quest to log as many hours online as I could. By this time I knew that I could not sustain a decent hourly rate without “multitabling,” i.e. playing several online games at once. Historically, my results when multitabling had been significantly worse than my results when focusing on a single online table. Determined to change this, I purchased a new high resolution monitor for my desktop that would allow me to play four tables at once without having the table images overlap. Armed with an account on each and every major poker site, off I went. I played sit ‘n go’s. I played tournaments. I played cash games. And I lost at them all.
For a stretch of about four weeks, I did almost nothing but lose. My bankroll wasn’t spiraling out of control; it was more of a slow, steady leak. Not drastic, but impossible to ignore. By the last week of February, I was pretty worried, and “you don’t have what it takes to do this” was creeping into my mind a lot. The vast majority of the super successful internet pros are kids over ten years younger than me, savants who have somehow trained their brains to instantaneously calculate odds and notice betting patterns in eight or more games simultaneously. Here I was, 32 years old, trying to emulate them, and failing.
My brain just doesn’t work that way, I began telling myself. At every level of my education, and then in the workplace, I had been trained to think analytically, to take pieces of information and apply them logically in accordance with a framework created by a teacher, textbook or case law. This form of problem solving takes time. You’re supposed to sit and ponder before you answer. Playing multiple tables of online poker does not afford one this luxury. Now I was expected to speed up the problem solving, or somehow craft brand new instincts out of thin air. After a few weeks I started to attribute my success in Vegas to pure luck. I also began to think seriously about moving to either Henderson, Nevada or some awful town on the Jersey shore, so that I could prey on real live tourists instead of mixing it up with adolescent Rainmen online. It was a sobering idea, because I really do love New York City.
Playing out the string, at 11:00 p.m. on February 28, I entered a $109 tournament on Party Poker. Immediately I began to accumulate chips, and sometime around 2:00 a.m. on March 1, the field of 356 entrants had been pared down to 30, and I held the chip lead. I shut down the other 2 games I was playing and focused in, realizing that a big payday was possible. I made the final table, and when we were down to 5 players, the following hand developed:
I had been playing very aggressively. The stacks were about even, and I sensed that one of the other players was ready to make a stand. I nevertheless raised on the button with 4-2 offsuit. The big blind, the only player with more chips than me, called. The flop came K 10 6 rainbow. Now the big blind led out with a pot-sized bet, leaving him with about the amount in the pot in his stack. The difference between 5th place and 1st place in this tournament was several thousand dollars. The sane thing to do was concede the hand. The maniacal thing to do was anything else. But it occurred to me that this guy would probably trap me by checkraising all in if he was holding a K. His bet smelled like J-10 or 99, or something like that.
Now I knew I was going to bluff and try to take down this pot, but how? Raise all in now? No, I would wait for him to show weakness. I went with the no limit hold ’em equivalent of the rope-a-dope, the bluff-call, cringing as I clicked away half my stack with absolutely nothing, knowing that the outcome of the entire tournament rested on my hunch. The turn was a 7, and now the big blind checked, trying to conserve his chips and get to the river without using any more ammunition. I checked behind. The river was another 7, and he checked once again. Now I executed the rest of the play– I shoved all in. I was hoping he’d quickly muck, abandoning his ill-fated steal attempt without much thought. But he didn’t. He obviously had a piece of the board. He let his time clock drip down to about 2 seconds before he mercifully folded. I let out a yelp, and, having made a wild play I hadn’t realized I was even capable of, I showed my opponent the 4-2. He said “nice bet,” Party shipped the chips, and I proceeded to take down the tournament.
When I went to bed on the first day of March, my ledger showed that I was a significant winner for the month of February even though I had struggled through the short month’s first 27 days. Fuck Henderson, Nevada. And fuck Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey. This groundhog’s got balls!