The $250,000 Bridesmaid (Part III)

When I left off, I had just made the final table of Event #12 of the 2007 WSOP, and I was pumped.  High stakes poker competition really increases the amount of adrenaline in the system—I had no idea how much was coursing through my veins last Friday until play finished for the night.  I was wired.  It was very late on the East Coast, but Janeen was wide awake too, fully aware of what I had accomplished and possibly more excited than me.  We had a breathless, excited phone conversation, and then I also phoned my parents.  News of my final table was on the short list of things big enough to bother them about at 3:00 am.  I also posted news of my accomplishment on this blog and on the message board at rhythmism.com, a NYC-based internet community that I’m a long-tenured member of.  I once again struggled to sleep as I considered my final table strategy.    

This may seem odd to some of you, but making the final table of the Six Handed event was the hard part.  Sitting down and playing out the final table was going to be relatively easy for me.  Although I was positively thrilled to have gotten there, and although it was going to be the highest stakes poker I’d ever experienced, the strategy at the final table was going to be both simple and familiar.  The reason:  I have played thousands of online sit –n-go’s. 

Over the past year, I have bitched a good deal about sit-n-go’s on this blog.  I have called them pointless and equated playing them to beating one’s head against a wall.  But as I mentally prepared myself for the Six-Handed final table, it occurred to me that perhaps all those sit-n-go’s were about to pay dividends.  This is ironic, since the only poker that ever gets televised is at final tables, but I realized that the following day’s final table was nothing more than a glorified sit –n-go with half a million dollars at stake. 

My precise strategy was based on what I knew about the players and those players’ stack sizes.  And here’s what my scouting report said:

I was in the 1 seat with 899,000 chips. 

In the 2 seat was Matt Brady with the shortest stack, 381,000 chips.  This player/stack size combination completely dictated my strategy.  Matt is a strong player and he had a “reshove” stack.  This means that his stack was too big for openshoving, but too small to get really fancy with.  His obvious best play was to reraise someone all in preflop.  If I were to raise on the button or in the cutoff, I knew that he would not hesitate to move all in with hands as weak as A-x or K-J and the like.  If I raised with garbage and he did this, I would find myself in the uncomfortable position of having to either lay the hand down or make a risky “math call” with a hand that I knew was an underdog.  This meant that I absolutely could not openraise light when Matt had yet to act.

In the 3 seat was Brian Miller with 831,000 chips.  This was another good player who had position on me.  I felt that if anyone at the table was going to pull something tricky, it was this player.  The combination of Brady and Miller to my left was bad; both of these players would make me pay for any foolish steal attempts.

In the 4 seat was Steve Olek with 484,000 chips.  I didn’t have a really good feel for this player’s game, but my sense was that he’d play a good, solid, smart game.

In the 5 seat was Jason Warner, the chip leader with 945,000 chips.  From observing him, reading the recaps of Day 2’s play, and from a conversation I had with Brady, I had a full scouting report on Jason.  I knew that he was very aggressive and completely unafraid to make big calls.  There were several instances from Day 2 where he picked up a hand and went with it in the face of heavy betting from his opponent.  I was going to have a hand if I ever went to war with this player.

Finally, in the 6 seat was David Mitchell-Lolis with 736,000 chips.  I didn’t know a lot about David, so I pegged him as a classic TAG player and would proceed under that assumption until I had reason to believe otherwise.

The bottom line was that the player to my left would be itching to move his chips in whenever I raised, and the player two seats to my left was capable of doing something crazy.  So at the outset, I really had no choice but to openraise only with very strong hands and pass on everything else.  Having determined this, I continued to lie in bed waiting for my adrenaline rush to subside.  I managed to get maybe four or five hours of fitful sleep.

When I awoke, I took a shower and selected my clothes:  my favorite jeans, a comfortable blank army green t-shirt, pumas, and of course, my “Sug D’s” sweatshirt.  I repeated my routine from the day before.  I ate breakfast and took a long, hot walk.  Then I sat in my room in a semi-meditative state waiting for the minutes to pass by.  My cell phone was exploding with text messages, and both this blog and rhythimism were filled with messages from well-wishers.  I was proud to have such a big support network and it really charged me up.  I eventually managed to kill off enough time, and it was time to go.  I headed over to the Rio.  I felt exactly the same as I did 24 hours earlier:  excited and nervous, but unafraid.

When I arrived in the poker room, I found the rest of the final table participants grouped together awaiting instruction from the floor personnel, who were conspicuously absent.  We had an open discussion about how charged up we all were.  It was my first real interaction with everyone besides Brady, and all of them were nice guys.  Even though we were about to enter a competition for huge sums of money, there was a collective sense of accomplishment amongst us which created some camaraderie.  Then someone, I believe Mitchell-Lolis, indicated that he was amenable to dealmaking.  The others agreed that the prize structure (481k for 1st, 269k for 2nd, 186k for 3rd, 123k for 4th, 92k for 5th, 61k for 6th) was alarmingly steep.

I was probably the second most accomplished live tournament player in the group behind Brady.  Since he was the shortest stack, I took the lead and proposed a new payout structure.  I took $81,000 off of first place and redistributed it, proposing a 400-294-206-138-102-72 arrangement.  It seemed to appeal to everyone, but after a couple of minutes, Miller demurred, requesting that we play through to the first break and revisit it at that point.  And then the tournament director appeared.

We were led to an area away from the commotion of the main floor, towards a small area encircled with a curtain.  Our final table was not an ESPN final table.  Instead, it was scheduled to be part of a new WSOP feature for 2007:  a webcast aired on a one-hour delay, with holecard cameras and analysts.  Worldseriesofpoker.com had exclusive rights to both the webcast and updates.  This meant that we would play in complete seclusion, and that special precautions had to be taken.  All six of us were ordered to hand over our cell phones and any other electronic equipment on our persons, and then we were all frisked to ensure that we hadn’t smuggled any communications devices in with us.  Then we entered the final table area and had microphones attached to our collars.  We were informed that we would be sequestered on all breaks.  If any of us wished to go to the bathroom, we would be accompanied by a security guard. 

I walked into the little makeshift room.  The black curtains were only a few feet from the table.  There would be no spectators; only the six players, a dealer, the tournament director and a couple of production people.  I found my seat and unbagged my chips.  The production folks made some last minute adjustments as we all nervously waited.  Then it was finally time to get the cards in the air.

Many of you have already watched the webcast, and most of you are already aware of the key hands.  I’m going to try and focus on my reasons for making certain plays and my emotions in the following recap.  It was pretty cool watching the webcast after all was said and done.  I was able to really analyze my decisions and pinpoint my misplays.

As soon as play got underway, I noticed two things:  first, the tournament director was doing play-by-play on a microphone.  This was cool, but it also seemed unusual since there was no audience.  Second, Warner was on a big heater.  Right out of the gate, he won several large pots and emerged as the unquestioned chip leader.  The players he took chips from at first were Miller and Brady, which was a good development for me.

The first hand I played was, in my opinion, my biggest misplay of the entire final table.  It was the very first hand of the final table and I was in the big blind.  The action was folded to Mitchell-Lolis in the small blind.  He raised to three times the big blind and I defended my blind with A-6 offsuit.  The flop came a very dry 10-5-2 rainbow, and he made a standard continuation bet of around two-thirds of the pot.  This was a great spot to either raise, or even better, float (call) and take the pot away on the turn.  Under normal conditions I would float this flop, but instead, I meekly folded. 

I am ashamed to admit that the reason I folded was that it was the first hand of a huge final table and I wasn’t in the flow just yet.  Plain and simple, I tightened up.  I was unhappy with myself, but did not lose focus.  I later learned that Mitchell-Lolis had A-J.  I could have won that pot.

Soon thereafter a huge hand developed.  Warner raised with Kc10c, and Miller defended his blind with Ad-6s.  The flop came 7-8-7 with two clubs, giving Warner two overs and a flush draw.  Miller took a stab, and Warner flat called.  The turn was an irrelevant three of diamonds, and both players checked.  The river was the king of spades, giving Warner top pair.  Miller checked and Warner made a small value bet.  Miller then went into a long period of contemplation before pushing all in, a big bet.  Warner considered for a very long time and made a huge call, busting Miller.  I don’t love the way Miller played this hand, and I believe it might have been one of the only hands he misplayed the entire tournament.  The really important aspects of this hand, from my perspective, were:

-I had just made $31,000.
-A dangerous player who had position on me was gone.
-The rumor about Warner was confirmed:  he calls light.

The next hand busted the shortstacked Brady.  He openshoved K-6, and Warner, still busy stacking his chips from the previous hand, called with A-6.  Again, from my perspective:

-I just made another $31,000.
-A dangerous player with position on me was gone.
-Warner had all the chips.

On his way out the door, Brady, who I am happy to have befriended during this tournament, whispered in my ear a huge compliment:  “You have a great chance of winning this thing.  Go get ‘em.”  Translation: you’re the best player in the room. 

I am not arrogant enough to say that he was right, but I am comfortable admitting that I was quite happy that he and Miller were the first two to go.  My three remaining opponents were all excellent players, but I felt that I had a good read on them.  Namely, this read was that Olek and Mitchell-Lolis were cautious and bluffable while Warner was very dangerous and had neither of those characteristics.

Meanwhile, the tide was about to turn for the previously shortstacked Olek.  After losing another pot to Warner when Warner hit a gutshot straight on the turn (the kid was on fire), Olek began to make up ground.  First he doubled through Warner, JJ over 99.  Then he shoving all in when I openraised on the button with A-10, forcing me to fold (he held pocket sevens). 

My next stab at a steal was a few hands later with K-7.  Once again, I was foiled by Olek, who shoved all in, and again I folded (he had pocket aces).  Things were not going well.  Yes, I had crept up the prize ladder and was now guaranteed $123,000, but I was now the shortest stack left.  I had made zero impact on the final table thus far.  And then things got even worse.  I went card dead.  I tossed away trash hand after trash hand as my three opponents traded blows.  The blinds were $15,000 and $30,000, and I had only about $350,000 in my stack.  I found one spot to openshove, which allowed me to pick up some antes and blinds, but then went right back to being card dead. 

Right before the first break, Olek won a strange pot from Warner.  Warner openlimped under the gun for $30,000 with pocket fours.  Mitchell-Lolis called from the button with J-10.  I completed from the small blind with J-6.  Olek, sitting in the big blind with A-9 of hearts, chose to raise the pot to $155,000.  Warner, possibly sensing weakness, reraised to $350,000.  Mitchell-Lolis and I folded, and Olek, sitting on only about $700,000, must have sensed that Warner wasn’t that strong, because he called the reraise.  The flop came 10d-9d-2h, and Olek moved in for his last $400,000.  Warner must have felt committed to the pot, or perhaps he was just continuing with his serial calling.  In either event, he immediately called with his underpair.  I sat there dumbfounded, as I could neither understand the way the hand was played preflop nor comprehend how they both accurately sensed weakness in one another.  Then Warner hit another miracle card:  a two-outer on the turn– the four of hearts–which put him in the lead but also gave Olek a flush draw.  Upon seeing the four, Olek understandably recoiled from the table in horror.  And just when it looked like I was about to guarantee myself another $53,000, Olek re-sucked out on Warner as the five of hearts hit the river giving him a flush!  Olek celebrated, and Warner shrugged.  Whoa.

When went to break, the chip counts were as follows:

Warner:  1.6 million
Olek:  1.4 million
Michell-Lolis:  970,000
Me:  305,000

After the break, the blinds were going to be 20,000-40,000 with a 5,000 ante, putting me in full-blown desperation mode.  Where was I at emotionally?  Nowhere, really.  I recognized that I was playing correctly (with the exception of the very first hand), and that this was not foreign territory for me.  I knew how to pick my spots to push all-in.  I would pick a decent spot and hope for things to fall my way.  I would continue playing my glorified sit –n-go.  Simple as that.

Meanwhile, my three opponents were anxious to work out a deal.  On the break, which was chaperoned by two security guards in a small quiet room in the bowels of the Rio’s convention area, a deal was hammered out.  It seemed that everyone wanted to lock in as much prize money as possible, which was understandable in light of the amount at stake. 

The initial proposal, made by Mitchell-Lolis, was to give the fourth place finisher an additional $26,000, then make the top three spots an even split, with the final two players playing only for the bracelet.  I rejected this idea, saying that I’d prefer that first place make more money than second.  I also prefaced my comment by mentioning that I would likely agree to any deal that included at least $26,000 more for fourth place.  I am a realist, and I knew that my likely destiny at this point was fourth.  I was a big underdog to finish in any other position.  In the end, the four of us agreed that fourth place would be bumped up $29,000 to $152,000, and that second and third would each earn $275,000, with the bracelet and $350,000 going to the champion.  On the walk through the Rio’s catacombs back to the final table, we all shook hands on this arrangement.  I was very happy, as I had just locked in almost $30,000 on the mere fortuity that we happened to go on break at that time.  I was also happy because I understood that we were on a massive bubble right now, since the deal we had brokered significantly widened the gap between fourth place and third place.  I knew that if I got my hands on some chips, I would begin to wreak havoc.

When we got back to business, I was forced to fold the first few hands, knocking me down into super-desperation mode, around $250,000 chips.  Then, at last, I turned up the heat. 

The first shove was with the A-6 of hearts and went uncalled.  Stack. 

Thee second time, Michell-Lolis made the mistake of limping into my big blind, and I shoved with K-3.  He folded.  Stack, stack. 

The third time, I had Q-J in the small blind and Olek didn’t call.  Stack, stack, stack.

The fourth time, I had A-3 on the button.  No customers.  That was four in a row.  Now I had over 400,000 chips.  Stack, stack, stack, stack.  Then came a bunch of folds.

The fifth time, Michell-Lolis limped into my big blind again, and I shoved with K-4.  Staaaaaack.

The sixth was another Q-J in the small blind.  Staaaaaaaaaaack.  Around 360,000 chips.

The seventh was a reshove with AK against Mitchell-Lolis’ raise.  Up to around 600,000.

Then came something special:  the best hand of my life.
  
I was in the big blind, and Olek started the action by raising under the gun to $100,000.  This was a very small raise, only 2.5 times the big blind.  Mitchell-Lolis called from the button, and I looked down at the 6-4 of diamonds.  I was getting very favorable odds and made a speculative call, hoping to flop something big.

I flopped something big:  it came 6-4-3 rainbow.  Yes!  I successfully concealed the excitement brewing inside me and checked.  My heart raced as Olek led at the flop for $200,000.  Then Mitchell-Lolis called very quickly, swelling the pot to over $700,000.  What the hell did that smooth call mean?  Very ominous.  I didn’t like it one bit, but there was a 0.00% chance I was doing anything but shoving all in.  So with my top two pair, that’s exactly what I did.

The next two minutes were bizarre.  Olek took a very long time to make a decision.  He counted his chips, put his hands to his face, he muttered to himself a bit, then he recounted his chips, then he rested his face in his hand and continued to think.  A photographer took several shots of all three of us during the delay.  I realized that I definitely had Olek crushed, but I wasn’t too sure about Mitchell-Lolis.  Even though my action was complete, I took the opportunity to stare Mictchell-Lolis down while Olek deliberated.  Our eyes met a few times, and the conclusion I drew was that I had reason to be worried.  I thought there was a very good chance that I was up against a set of threes.  After what felt like an eternity, Olek folded.  At that point, Michell-Lolis immediately said “easy call” as he pushed his stack in.  “I got the nuts.”  Fuuuuuck.  He turned over the 7-5 of hearts.  Yup.  He had flopped the nuts.      

Televised poker makes a big deal out of the “all in moment.”  While I’m not necessarily sure that all-ins deserve their own sponsor, it is true that when someone moves in and is called, the game changes radically.  When you’re all in and have been called, the poker strategy, which you’ve usually spent many hours and sometimes many days enmeshed with, suddenly ceases to exist.  Your destiny now rests in fate’s hands.  Having no more reason to posture, the player melts away and is replaced by the person.  From behind the emotionless façade that poker requires, the real true-to-life “you” emerges for a few seconds.  Therefore, some people use this time to berate their opponent.  Some use it to berate and punish themselves.  Some use it to exalt themselves.  Some–typically the player who is a statistical underdog–use their few seconds to ask a higher power for help. 

Now, as three days of hard work culminated in an all-in as a 5-1 underdog, I didn’t feel the need to do any of these things.  My player melted away and was replaced by a person who was dejected, to be sure, but also one that was satisfied.  It wasn’t a misplay that got me here.  I had to move in with top two pair.  I was going to win $150,000 even if the board bricked out.  I stood up and turned in my resignation in the form of a handshake with Mitchell-Lolis, then stood and watched as the dealer burned and turned….

The six of clubs!!! 

Holy shit!  I instinctively clapped my hands, wheeled around, away from the table (where an irrelevant river card was being dealt), took a few steps and pumped my fist triumphantly in the air.  I bellowed “ship the money!” as I turned back towards the table with a look of determination fixed on my face.  Not a look of surprise.  Not a look of happiness, but one of determination.  I stood and admired my full house for a moment, then I (literally) rolled up my sleeves and began stacking my suddenly bountiful chips.  Poor Mitchell-Lolis was left with only crumbs.  It dawned on me right then.  I was going to win the bracelet.  We were still playing a sit-n-go, but I had just gotten lucky.  Now we were on a bubble and I had a lot of chips.  That was a horrible state of affairs for these other guys.  Watch out.

I’ve heard numerous accounts of the scenes–at my parents’ house, at Janeen’s apartment, and at Kevin and Carrie’s apartment—where friends and family were watching on the internet when the six hit the turn.  It fills me with a lot of happiness to think about so many people rejoicing in my good fortune, and I’m proud to have provided such a great moment for people who care about me.

Now Warner and I had the most chips.  On the very next hand, I picked up pocket queens in the small blind.  The pot was raised to $100,000 under the gun by Warner, and I chose to flat call.  The reasons for my flat call:  I wanted to proceed cautiously against the other big stack, who was a player I thought was likely to call a reraise, and we were on a big bubble, with the gap between fourth and third place being a whopping $125,000.  Olek called in the big blind and we saw a flop three handed.  It came 9-7-5 rainbow, which was very favorable for me.  I checked with the intention of putting in a checkraise.  Olek also checked, and Warner made a curiously small bet of only $150,000.  I immediately raised to $475,000, and both of my opponents went away.  I showed them my queens and raked the pot.  I was off in first place now all by my lonesome, with over 2 million chips in my possession.  Stack, stack, stack. 

Watching the tape after the fact, I learned that Olek flat called from the big blind with AK suited.  This was a curious play, but it was likely made because of the aforementioned bubble we were on.  Mitchell-Lolis was extremely short, and Olek didn’t want to forfeit the $125,000 that he stood to win by outlasting him.

My strategy now was obvious.  Raise any two cards into Olek and Warner.  I was going to abuse this $125,000 bubble.  I stole the blinds on the next hand, then found pocket 10s on Mitchell-Lolis’ big blind.  I openraised, and he called all in with K-J, then flopped two jacks to stay alive.  Undeterred, I continued to raise every hand, once stealing the blinds, then losing a pot when Warner defended his big blind and made a nice checkraise on the flop.

I then raised A-3 suited on Mitchell-Lolis’ big blind, and he pushed all in with K-7 for not much more than my raise.  I instacalled, and again was outflopped as he hit a seven.  I no longer had the chip lead.  It once again belonged to Warner.  Doh.

The next hand of note was another huge one.  At the start of this hand, I had around 1.3 million chips and Warner had about 1.6 million chips.  I openlimped on the button with the Q-9 of diamonds.  The reason for the limp was that Warner was in the big blind, and I felt he was prone to call lightly on any stealraise attempt I might have made.  Now that he had me outchipped, I wanted get into a pot cheaply in position and outplay him postflop.  He ended up raising to $150,000, which was a small raise from out of position, giving me obvious odds to call, which I did.  The flop put me in a great spot.  It came down Q-Q-J with two hearts, giving me trip queens.  Warner made another small lead bet of $150,000, leaving me with a big decision to make.  How to extract the most value?  I wanted to double through here. 

I wasn’t going to flat call, but how much should I raise?  I thought it over for awhile, but in the end the decision was an easy one.  I made a huge overbet by moving all in.  The announcers on the webcast were initially very critical of this play, but it was the right move.  Here’s why.  First of all, the board was very coordinated.  That meant that it was possible that my opponent could have a draw, and possibly a very powerful one such as the A-10 of hearts.  A small raise could never price out a big combination draw, but an overbet would at least take away his perceived three-bet fold equity.  The coordinated board also meant, that if he held some kind of made hand, that an overbet on my part would look like I held a draw, when I in fact held a made hand.  The other major factor, the one that clinched my decision, was opponent-specific.  This guy was a light caller.  He loved to make the big call.  I knew he’d call my shove with any jack and most pocket pairs.  So it honestly was a no-brainer:  all in and pray for a call.  That’s what I did.  Conjuring the most desperate-looking way of doing it, I thought for about 20 seconds then blurted “all in” with a wave of my hand.  Then I sat back and prayed.

Warner reacted by leaning backwards and saying “flush draw?”  Then he went into a very, very long period of deliberation.  I sat there trying to look as scared as possible, but Warner wasn’t looking for any kind of physical read.  His sat very still, with his head down.  He was thinking things out for himself.  Then he asked for a count, and spoke. “It’s either gonna be a great call or a horrible call.”  Wow.  Then another ten second pause before he said “I think I got the best of it.”  Wow.  Then, thirty more seconds before he pulled his cap down over his eyes.  Then another sixty seconds of silence, followed by a pronounced exhale.  I shot him a glance which I hoped might convey that I was scared, but I don’t think it registered.  And then, after what was probably a four minute delay all tolled, there it was:  “I call.”

I turned over the Q-9 and waited anxiously to see exactly which cards I would have to dodge, and was shocked to learn that the answer was two sevens.  I stood up and clapped my hands.  Then I nervously watched the turn and river cards:  both fours.  Yessssss.  I slowly pumped my fist.  I had just won a HUGE pot from the other big stack.  Holy crap.  I had all the chips.  I was over 2.5 million chips, and no one else had 600,000.  It was pretty obvious now:  I was going to win a goddamned WSOP bracelet.

A few hands later, Mitchell-Lolis moved all in under the gun, and I made an isolation raise from the button with A-6 offsuit.  He had K-5.  The A-6 held, and we were down to three.  A short break was taken, during which I went to the men’s room, accompanied by a security guard.  During the break I neither celebrated nor strategized.  There was no need for either.  I was in the zone, on autopilot.  I’d been the monster stack three-handed in a sit-n-go hundreds of times.  Since both second and third place were guaranteed the same prize money, I knew that my strategy was now to only openraise with value, since Olek and Warner would be looking to reshove with almost anything.  From watching the webcast after the tournament, I know that Olek spoke with Warner, resignedly saying that they “had their work cut out for them.”  They certainly did.

Soon enough, I’d have my opportunity to get rid of another player.  I woke up with A-K on the button and made a standard raise.  Warner moved all in from the big blind, and I snap called.  He had K-8, and he got out of his chair, ready to depart.  If my heavily favored big slick held up, the tournament was all over but the cryin’.  I had it in my grasp, it was time to deliver two to coup-de-graces.  This was going to be the first.

No, it wasn’t.  The flop came J-8-7 and K-8 was good.  Sigh.  Warner was back over a million chips, and my lead over him was only roughly 2-1.  Olek was now the clear shorty, and the landscape had changed.  I once again had to contend with a stack that could seriously hurt me.

I finally put Olek away a few hands later, when I openraised with A-10 and he shoved with K-10.  Unfortunately for him, he didn’t have Warner’s magic touch, and I sent him to the rail.  I was heads up for the bracelet with a 2-1 chip lead.

A very long delay ensued, while the WSOP people brought the requisite bracelet and massive pile of cash to the table.  I considered my heads up strategy.  There was only one against Mr. Warner.  It was so obvious that it barely merits saying:  play smallball and value bet all made hands.  He’ll give me action. 

It was during the long break that I noticed something odd.  The dealer, a bald guy of Middle Eastern descent, was stealing glances at me and tapping the table.  Huh?  I looked up and realized I that I knew him.  I had played poker against him in Atlantic City.  Yes, I remembered him.  He told me back then, probably 18 months ago, that he was not only a player but also a dealer.  I looked at his name tag:  Bassam.

“Hi Bassam, how you doin’?”

“I’m good,” he replied.  Then, in a hushed tone, he smiled and said “way to go, buddy.”  I smiled too, and thanked him. 

After possibly twenty or thirty minutes, the bracelet and the cash arrived.  I was so dialed in that I hardly noticed.  It was time to bring this thing home.

The heads up match opened without any real fireworks.  Warner’s standard openraises were very large:  $300,000–five times the big blind.  It was evident that he was trying to force me to gamble.  But I stuck with the plan and started to grind him down.  Then, with me sitting on around 2.4 million and Warner 1.2 million, on perhaps the seventh or eighth hand of the heads up match….

Warner openlimped on the button.  I had pocket sevens and raised to 300,000.  Warner responded by immediately moving all in.  I shook my head and stood up, leaning over the table.  I really didn’t want it to go down like this, to be forced into a big call, but he was forcing my hand.  I was ahead of his range, which included many combinations of overcards and all the underpairs.  So much for smallball.  If this was how it had to be, this was how it had to be.  This was it. 

“I call.”

Our face-up cards hit the table at the same time.  He had pocket fives and I had pocket sevens.  Fives against sevens.  I loved my hand!  I loved my pocket sevens!  They had landed on the table right on top of one another, so the second beautiful seven was obscured.  I leaned over and separated them with my fingers for the world to see.  Pocket sevens.  Pocket sevens dominate pocket fives!  Holy mother of God.  All in for the bracelet.  I clapped my hands, happy with my call.

I stood at the side of the table.  The weight of the moment took a literal toll, so I leaned forward against the table’s padded rail for support.  All in with a call.  The player melted away, leaving only the person.  The player David Zeitlin slipped away and became the person David Zeitlin.  And the person David Zeitlin wanted to remember.

I remembered what brought me here—not all the hands I’ve analyzed in the space above, but what really brought me here, the real roots of my love.

I remembered discovering playing cards.  As a young child, I loved to touch them.  All alone in my room, I’d sit there touching them.  They were fascinating—their backs with their dizzying innumerable lines that formed a special pattern, fascinating in their complex uniformity. 

The fronts were still more wonderful.  The aces, in their simple solitary omnipotence.  The ace of spades said “Tally-Ho.”  The kings, queens and jacks.  A royal painted family sitting there in their strange, colorful two-dimensional portraits.  And all the other cards, down to the lowly treys and deuces, which when put together in the right combinations, could form powerful alliances capable of destroying the aces and royal paints.  Magic.  I would look at them, shuffle them, turn them, touch them for hours.  All in preparation for this moment.

The flop was the king of spades, nine of spades, ten of spades (no spades in either of our hands).

I remembered poker theory—how, starting in the year 2001, I’d tirelessly studied poker theory, committing it to memory, then applying it in practice, just as I’d done with very different theories for as long as I could remember, first in school and then in my prior profession.  All in preparation for this moment.

The turn was the queen of clubs.

And finally, I remembered the man who hatched my love for poker almost thirty years ago, my Pop-Pop.  I remembered that my training ground, the scene of my very first heads-up matches, was the kitchen table in my grandparents’ row house in Douglaston, Queens.  We used pennies as chips.  I thought about how unspeakably proud he’d be right now if he were watching his grandson.  Watching his grandson not only earn a living at the game he loved, but watching his grandson on the verge of achieving one of the game’s highest honors.  My mind was spinning out of control, spinning through these memories, but it came to rest on a sainted image of my Pop-Pop’s face smiling a placid contented smile.  I missed him.  I was about to cry.  No, I wasn’t.  Yes, I was.  I wasn’t sure.

And then, like a gunshot piercing the quiet of a still night, it came to a sudden halt.  Bassam only had to peel the card off the deck and turn it upward, like the millions of other cards I’ve seen the same thing done to before.  Five pips.  I didn’t need it to be placed on the felt and slid into position.  I already knew it was the dreamcrusher.

Five of diamonds.

I wailed “OHHHH NOOOOOO!!!” and doubled over in pain.  It wasn’t meant to be.

I’m sure many people assume that I was unable to recover emotionally from the beat, and with the chip lead lost, that I played horribly from that point forward.  Quite the opposite is true.  I regrouped and played well.  In fact, I’m very proud of the second to last hand, on which I held pocket aces, but mystified the webcast announcers by not going broke. 

But it was Jason Warner’s day.  On the final hand, I once again led on the turn, only to be rivered one more time.

I was in shock, but I gave a classy exit interview.  When I went out into the hall, I was greeted by Olek and Mitchell-Lolis, who were both ecstatic.  In fact, the entire final table was composed of very classy, nice guys.  I slowly began to come around as well.  $274,000 is a lot of scrilla, and I really should have finished fourth.  In the end, I have nothing to complain about.

The aftermath of the tournament was the best.  I received so many nice messages that I don’t even know where to start.  People with whom I haven’t spoken in years got in touch with me.  I was a mini-celebrity for a week.  I happily wrote a check to Kevin for over $27,000, his fair share of the winnings, then surprised him and Carrie by triumphantly throwing it on the table in the middle of a betting round at our old home game.  My parents, sister, girlfriend, and entire family are proud of me.  I am walking with my head held high.  Second place in a World Series of Poker event. 

If you look at my live tournament resume, there are several serious cashes on there.  One would get the impression by looking at it that not only do i know what I’m doing, but that I’m a closer.  And maybe both of those things are true.

I’m a happy bridesmaid.

  

12 thoughts on “The $250,000 Bridesmaid (Part III)

  1. This blog is like the Cats (TM) of poker blogs: I laughed, I cried, I’d see it two times more! Well done sir, well done….

  2. Congrats on your amazing tournament and on the rebirth of David Zeitlin Poker Domination. I look forward to next month when I get to read the play-by-play of how you won the WSOP main event. 🙂

  3. holy crud! amazing — both on the poker and on the writing. i picked a great time to rediscover your blog. congrats! holy crud.

  4. Hey- i’m friends w/ Hal and played with you once or twice but think a) your poker blog is GREAT and b) you’re an AWESOME player. That’s coming from someone who has logged endless hours myself playing live and online and is a serious player. The moves you made and the way you played your hands to get 2nd are very impressive. If anything, I learned some things from your writing… keep up the great work and if you ever need someone in a home game… shoot me an email. Good luck with the rest of the WSOP and keep kicking ass.

  5. I bet this was almost as exciting as when you hit #1 on the Yahoo Hearts ladder! (Even if that was a bit of a fluke) 😛

    Congrats again, bro! Looking forward to a delayed toast when I’m back in NYC. Cheers!!

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