The Borgata houses the most popular poker room on the East Coast and runs the best attended poker tournaments in America outside of Las Vegas. Also, the fields in The Borgata’s poker tournaments are notoriously weak. Despite those facts, heading into the 2008 Borgata Winter Open, I carried with me a nasty, bulging five-digit lifetime deficit on the premises. Outside of the very obvious (a second place finish in the WSOP bracelet event, duh) my failure to produce even a single tournament cash at Borgata—a.k.a. The Bogata Curse—had been the greatest disappointment of my poker career. My futility at Borgata had become fairly comical. Until last week.
I’m pleased to say that the Borgata Curse is no more. Here’s how it was conquered.
I spent nearly the entirety of the last two weeks at Borgata, making three separate trips down to Atlantic City in the process. The first trip felt awfully familiar, featuring consistent losing at multitable and single table tournaments with one maddening near-miss, my first ever multitable cash at Borgata, sprinkled in.
Thankfully, I am now past the point in my career where tournament variance, i.e., bad beats and dry spells, give me much pause. However, I am not (and nor likely will I ever be) past the point where I have any tolerance for tournaments that I flush down the toilet by royally fucking up a hand. My bustout hand of Event #2 at the Borgata was possibly such an instance, and its aftermath sent me into a nasty psychological tailspin. Here’s what happened:
I started out Event #2 ($500 +60 NLHE) by surviving the first few levels and then gathering steam towards the middle of the day. Around the dinner break I was in firm control of my table, and when I was moved to a new table later in the evening I had a large stack with the tournament bubble approaching.
My new table featured eight stacks smaller than mine and one stack, to my immediate left, much larger than mine. This stack belonged to a reckless, crazy player who I will call IDC (“I don’t care”) for short, in honor of his careless style of play. IDC was having a grand old time, chatting with the table nonstop whist tossing his chips around. Within the first few hands after my arrival, I witnessed IDC raise to five times the big blind from under the gun with A-3 offsuit, a play that any pokernerd will tell you is horrible. I also witnessed the following hand: everyone folds to IDC on the button and he raises to four times the big blind. The young player in the big blind promptly reraises all in with a big overbet shove that will cost IDC almost half his stack to call. IDC thinks for a few seconds before shrugging and calling. IDC’s K-9 suited holds up over the young player’s Q-2 offsuit. The first play was hideous, but the second play was a great one, but I don’t believe IDC had any idea why. He was simply there to gamble. So that gives you an idea of where IDC’s head was at.
Slowly but surely, I wrested control of IDC’s table from him as he lost several large pots in a row while I was busy accumulating chips, and by the time the tournament bubble burst with 81 players remaining, I had the third or fourth largest stack in the room. At this point the blinds were 1500-3000 with a 500 chip ante, and I had around 190,000 chips. IDC had been chopped up pretty badly and had around 50,000 chips.
Soon thereafter, I was on the button and reraised a middle position player’s openraise from 9,0000 to 25,000, and IDC put in the third raise, shoving from the big blind for his full 50,000. I had pocket sevens and was committed to call the additional 25,000. IDC doubled through me with kings. After losing another small pot and watching IDC win another hand, the balance of power at the table had again shifted. I now had about 118,000 chips while IDC had me covered with about 160,000 when the fateful hand occurred.
I was in the big blind, and IDC was sitting under the gun, first to act. He took a quick peek at his cards and openraised to 18,000, slapping the chips sloppily into the pot. Anyone who has ever played a no limit hold ‘em tournament will tell you that this was a crazy bet. IDC had raised to six times the big blind, an amount unheard of at this late stage of a tournament. Once his chips hit the felt, there was already nearly 30,000 chips in the pot, or well over half the average stack in the room. It was a pretty ridiculous overbet. Whatever IDC’s hole cards were, he did not want action with them. I knew I’d be folding all but the most powerful hands to his maniac raise. But when I looked down at my hole cards, I found a big hand: pocket tens. The action folded all the way around to me, and now I was faced with a hard decision. No fewer than five options flashed through my mind.
1. Just fold. Simply calling this bet was going to cost me one-fifth of my stack. I knew I was a much better player than IDC and I theoretically could have waited for a better spot to take care of him. Also, JJ is the classic hand that many players are stereotypically scared to play after the flop, so JJ made a lot of sense here, and my tens were in bad shape against JJ.
2. “Stop & go” him. IDC obviously did not have aces or kings; he had a hand that feared action. I considered the idea of calling and then leading any flop, most of which would contain cards that scared him.
3. Call and reevaluate from there. Just by calling his massive raise I perhaps could have frozen IDC and later snatched this large pot from him on one of the later streets.
4. “Go & go” him. I also considered a small reraise to around 60k, followed by betting the remainder of my stack on any flop. This move clearly screams AA or KK into the earhole of even the stupidest opponent, and IDC would have been hard pressed to call both the reraise and the continuation bet.
5. The final option was to move all in.
After a bit of thought, I went with option #5, and the rationale was as follows. I felt that the range of hands with which IDC would make this wacky 18,000 chip raise was trailing pocket tens. I did think that it was obvious that he might be holding two jacks for the reason mentioned above, but based on watching this player for the prior couple of hours, I felt that many other hands were in his range, including AK, AQ, maybe some weaker aces, the other two tens, pocket 9’s, and possibly pocket 8’s. I had virtually no fear of AA, KK, or QQ because I believed IDC would try to induce action with those hands. Also, there existed the possibility that IDC would even fold JJ to a shove. Hence, I gritted my teeth and made the move.
After watching me say “all in” as I carefully pushed everything forward, IDC said “you’re all in!?” I repeated “yup, I am all in.” Then, for the first time in my limited experience with him, IDC fell completely silent. The fact that he needed to contemplate his next move made me confident that he was either going to fold or call me with a worse hand, so I sat there quite comfortably awaiting his decision. Finally, he stood up and put his hand over his mouth, and after about ten more seconds, he removed his hand, shrugged, and said “call.” I also stood up, glanced at IDC and asked “you have pocket jacks, don’t you?” He nodded and turned them over. Ouch. The flop came A-K-K (i.e., options 1 through 4 above would have worked). Ouch. The turn and river were blanks. Ouch. I was out, with about $300 profit to show for my twelve hour workday.
I trudged out of the room in a very foul frame of mind. This hand did not sit well with me. I had worked hard and played well, putting myself in position to finally make a big score at the Borgata. Yes, I had cashed in a Borgata event at long last, but that was small consolation. Getting to a place in a live tournament where the final table is in clear sight is a difficult achievement in and of itself. The good players, when they are able to do this, tend to capitalize by playing their best poker from that point in the tournament forward. I had arguably failed to do that, and I was beyond pissed about it. I had found myself seated at a table full of novices, all of whom, with one exception, were scared to play a pot with me. And I had dumped my entire stack into the hands of the one player at the table who didn’t fear me.
I spent the next few days struggling to evaluate my bustout hand. Pokernerds draw an important distinction between players who are “results oriented” and those who can objectively analyze their play, with “results oriented” categorized as a very negative trait. “Results oriented” players tend to revise history, and they attribute all of their winning hands to strong play and their losing hands to poor play. Well, the results of my 10-10 < J-J were bothering me to no end, and I began to terrorize myself to the point that I was having trouble sleeping for the next two nights. I simply could not decide whether my play was okay or not. Was I falling into the “results oriented” trap, or had I legitimately botched the hand? I couldn’t decide, and I hated it. My self-torment lasted several days—I carried it home to NYC with me for the weekend.
My stubborn refusal to accept hands that I may have misplayed is probably both a blessing and a curse. It makes my life suck for awhile, but it also might be responsible for my overall improvement as a player. In any event, my first week at Borgata was a failure. I had once again lost money there and was pissed off at myself.
The trip back the next week would go a lot better. I won Event #9 for over $67,000. And here is a recap.
I have never run as well in a tournament as I did on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week. Basically, my foes folded to all my bluffs, called me down when I had the goods, and on the three or four occasions where I got my money in bad, I sucked out. I was blessed the entire time. My fantasy football friends insist that I lead a charmed existence in our league where my litany of (supposed) lucky breaks have earned me the nickname “Sunny,” as in “the sun always shines” on me. Well, if any of my SoY brethren are reading this, I’d like you to know that Event #9 of the 2008 Borgata Winter Open was a very sunny poker tournament.
It was as if all the good fortune so conspicuously absent from hundreds of logged hours at Borgata suddenly materialized and was concentrated into a single tournament. Witness:
Level two, blinds are 50-100. There are a couple of loose-passive muppets at my table; they’re playing a lot of hands and are generally clueless. Also present is a very genial internet player called “SuperTuan.” Both SuperTuan and I know that we are seated with a few muppets. One of the muppets openlimps from early position, and I decide to squeeze him from the button, making it 500 to go with KQ. SuperTuan is in the big blind. I have about 4500 chips and SuperTuan covers me. He proceeds to reraise to 1300. The muppet folds and it’s up to me. I consider the situation and decide that SuperTuan is making a play: he knows that I am squeezing with a wide range from the button, so I believe that his re-squeeze could also be quite a few hands, not just premiums. Under those conditions, I do not hate my KQ. I therefore call the 800 additional chips and decide to play at pot with him, in position. The flop comes A-10-x, giving me a gutshot broadway draw, and SuperTuan makes a curiously small bet of 800. I stick with my read and quickly call, intending to shove the turn if he checks. The turn is a blank, and he checks, so I do as planned, shoving all in for around 3200, representing AQ/AJ/A10 or a set. SuperTuan thinks this bet over for a long time, then finally says “eh, it’s a $500 tournament” and calls, showing pocket kings. My read was way off, and he had made a great call. I was drawing to four jacks on the river.
I protect my hole cards with two chips under normal circumstances, but when I am all in, those chips are in the center of the table, so I use my omnipresent toothpick box as a makeshift protector. During this hand, before the river card was dealt, I did something I very rarely do, my ultimate sign of concession: I picked up my box of toothpicks, put them in my pocket, and stood up to leave. So you can imagine my surprise when a jack materialized on the river. Oh hi!
I managed to chip up from there, but could only do so much. I reached the dinner break as a short/medium sized stack of around 17,000. The blinds when we returned to action were 600-1200 with a good sized ante, so it was time to move. On the very first hand after dinner, a gentleman in a yarmulke limped under the gun, and it was folded to me on the button with A-10 offsuit. The big blind had not returned from dinner, so his money was sitting there dead in the pot, and Yarmulke had made a habit of openlimping, so I just stuffed all my chips in, figuring I was ahead. Nope. Yarmulke snap-called with KK. The flop brought rags, but the turn was an ace and the pot was mine. I told the table that I “hated doing that to a fellow member of the tribe,” but I was now in solid shape for the tournament.
I scratched around until a dry spell left me fairly short stacked at the bubble. I then began to pick up good hands to move all in with, and by the time the bubble had burst, I was somewhere in the middle of the pack. As the end of the day’s play (2:00 am) approached, I was in the middle of a pack of about 20 remaining players. Then, for good measure, on the final hand of the night, I engineered one last suckout.
I had around 200,000 in chips and with the blinds at 3000-6000, I openraised in middle position to 17,000 with two black sixes. The player to my left who had been quite hesitant to get involved, pushed all in for about 75,000, and it folded back around to me. I thought it over for a long time then announced that I was making “the worst call ever” and stuck the additional chips in. I was right, I was behind: he had pocket jacks, one of which was the jack of diamonds. The flop came 2, 3, 4, all diamonds. I didn’t have many outs, but there was one of them on the turn: a black five! Woooooot! I dodged a diamond on the river, and all of the sudden, I had a shit-ton of chips. The night was over, there were exactly 20 players left, and I was third on your leaderboard, first in your hearts.
The following morning I had my trusty assistant Janeen do some quick research on the other chip leaders and came to the determination that if a bookmaker were to handicap the outcome of tournament, I’d be the favorite. Of all the players with sizeable Day 2 stacks, my lifetime tournament winnings were easily the highest. Many of the remaining players did not have any cashes whatsoever on their resume.
I started Day 2 out grinding away, and I chipped up from around 320,000 to about 400,000 when the hand that really won the tournament for me developed. Despite all the sunshiny lucksacking I’d done to that point, I’m happy to report that I won the tournament’s most crucial hand based on a good read, not divine intervention.
Short stacks had been busting from the tournament, and so we were either 14 or 13 handed. I was under the gun and the player in the big blind was the tournament chip leader, an inexperienced player who was getting involved in a lot of pots. He had me covered by a bit. The blinds were now 5,000-10,000 and I openraised to 30,000 with Q-J offsuit. It was folded around to the chipleader who chose to defend his blind and call. The flop came J-3-2 rainbow, which was a good flop for me. But instead of checking to me, the chipleader led at the pot for 100,000. Now what the hell was this?
It is standard for a player in the big blind who hit his hand on this (or any) flop to checkraise in this spot. Leading at the pot out of position just doesn’t happen a lot in this situation. If a good player had done this it would set off major alarms in my head, but in my estimation this was not a good player. His bet had to mean one of the following:
1. I like my hand, but not enough to checkraise. Let’s see if David will go away once I take a stab.
2. I’m gonna bluff here and make David go away. The flop probably missed him too.
3. I have flopped a monster and don’t want to win a small pot with a checkraise. David knows that a lead bet here is usually weak, so let’s induce a raise and trap him for all his chips.
4. I have nothing here, but David is thinking on a high level and will assume that I am very strong and trapping if I lead out, so this is going to scare the crap out of him and make him fold.
I considered my opponent and decided that he was probably not sophisticated enough for #3 or #4 to be accurate. It was probably #1 or #2, but I was sufficiently scared of #3 (and the flop was dry enough) that I chose to only flat call the 100k bet rather than raising. I’d reevaluate on the turn. The turn brought a nine, and the chipleader now repeated the same bet: another 100k. This small bet was just plain weird, and I didn’t waste much time trying to decipher it. I went with my original read and announced that I was raising all in.
Literally before I could pronounce the word “in,” the chipleader blurted out “call!”
Fuck no. My heart sank and a feeling of dread washed over me as I realized I had made a big mistake. Consistent with my longstanding pattern of cold, unsympathetic, harsh self-assessment, during this unpleasant moment I found that I was not disappointed about the prize money I was forgoing, nor was I embarrassed that I had put all my money in with top pair and a weak kicker. Rather, I was just plain angry at myself for making a bad read in a big spot. But all the anger was short-lived, as it only took perhaps a second or two for Mr. Snapcall to reveal his hand:
King-ten offsuit. That’s… king high. Nothing? At first it didn’t quite register. But it was true. He had called me with an overcard and a gutshot straight draw, also known as nothing. I was awash with relief. And then, a few moments later, when the river produced another harmless nine, flooded with chips. Out of nowhere, I had something like 900,000 chips… over one-third of the chips in play. Ummm… wow! Great read, David…
The rest of the tournament posed no problems for me. I once again ran well, picking up pocket aces three times at the final table, and I tacked on a couple of suckouts in all-in confrontations for good measure. No one could touch me. I was both lucky and good. The idea of a chop arose a few times, but I politely declined when we were four-handed, three-handed and again heads up. It just didn’t make any sense for me; I had all the chips. It was just my day. The final hand occurred when the second place finisher, a nice Long Islander named Sal, moved all in with A-4 and I immediately called him with A-J. When a jack fell on the turn, he was drawing dead and I was the champ. I didn’t feel especially excited when the moment arrived, but I did give the assembled crowd a brief clenched fist stare, something like a boxer posing for one of those old-timey black and white photos. But just for a split second. The $67,000 and change amounted to my fourth-largest career score. Not bad.
If I had to pick out any single thing to account for my good luck, I would say that it had something to do with Wednesday also being the day that longtime friends of davidzeitlin.com Kevin Wright and Carrie Corcoran had their first baby, a boy named Griffin. Many years from now, I will likely tell a bewildered Griffin Wright why his birthday is really the coolest birthday a kid could have as I rub his head in an effort to renew the Griffin Day magic of ’08. Anyway, congrats guys!
My tournament victory came with a shiny inscribed Tag Heuer watch, which I have promptly gifted to my father. In the age of cell phones, pinpoint accurate time-telling is sitting right there in your freakin’ pocket, so a watch really amounts to nothing more than jewelry for a man, and I don’t wear jewelry. My father belongs to a generation where a watch actually served some sort of function, so he gets a pass (and an expensive Tag, lucky guy). Actually, one of my biggest pet peeves about young poker players is the stupid-ass giant $10,000 watches that they think they look cool wearing (and even worse, constantly talking about, ugh). Guys, you look (and sound) like idiots. But that’s another topic.
In my last Borgata foray after winning the $500 tournament, I came within a hair of satelliting into the $10,000 Main Event, which I ended up skipping. In the interim, it has occurred to me that there is no good reason for me to continue skipping WPT events. Although I am still unwilling to put up $10,000 of my own money to play them, I feel confident that I can play as well as most of the field in them. So if anyone looking to stake me in larger events is reading this: I’d like to talk to you.
Well, that’s all for now. Bye-bye Borgata hex. And bring on the rest of 2008!