If you know me at all or follow this blog, you know about my obsession with the New York Jets. I have discussed my lifelong love affair with the Jets a few times on the blog, including here and here. Long story short: I’m a grown man with a child’s dream: to watch my favorite professional football team play in the Super Bowl. I am deluded enough to believe my many years of dedication and suffering have earned me the right to witness the Jets’ momentous and overdue rise to glory. I am, however, self-aware. I know that harboring this desire is puerile and irrational, but it cannot be wished away. The best I can do is embrace my fanaticism.
And that’s how I ended up in Pittsburgh, PA two Sundays ago, sitting outdoors in frigid single-digit temperatures while strangers lashed yellow towels across the only part of my body exposed to the elements—my face. The prior week the Jets had delivered their greatest achievement in my lifetime, a rollicking and resounding upset of the hated Patriots in a Divisional Playoff game in Foxboro. Once that game was secured, the odds of the Jets actually delivering my holy grail shrunk to a reasonable figure. I was giddy. To say the least.
As recently as ten years ago, a hastily planned trip to Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship Game would have been difficult, but in the Stubhub Era tickets to games on enemy turf are plentiful and inexpensive. If, at long last, the Jets were going to reach the Super Bowl, I was going to personally bear witness. I decided to pass on a few Borgata Winter Open events and head west. My friend Pooh and I found a pair of tickets online, booked a hotel room, then departed at 7:00 am Sunday, driving a beeline through southern Pennsylvania. We were in Pittsburgh well before kickoff. Before I left town, I quietly secured game tickets, a hotel reservation and flight plans for the next game—the Super Bowl, which will be contested between the Steelers and Packers in Dallas a few days from now.
The game, of course, was a letdown. The Jets quickly found themselves facing a deficit too steep to overcome. A strong second half only made the scoreboard more cosmetically appealing. In the end, I sat quietly and despondently in my seat as the throng of Yinzers whipped their towels ’round and sang all the songs in their songbook (the Steelers have no fewer than four popular songs dedicated to them). I was—and remain—bitterly disappointed. While the Jets have now reached the NFL’s semifinals in two consecutive seasons, it is folly to say they’re a team on the rise whose natural next step is the big game. The modern salary-cap NFL does not work like that, especially in a year of labor unrest. Each deep run into the playoffs is a rare opportunity to transform the dream to reality. The Jets didn’t cash this one (or their previous three trips) in. For the second time in my life my fully formed Super Bowl plans (tickets, hotel, flight) were dashed.
I got back to Brooklyn just in time for this winter’s latest snow event, and I drove through the teeth of an unrelenting storm down to AC for the smallest “major” buy-in I’d ever heard of, a $200 tournament at the Borgata Winter Open with a $100,000 guarantee. It’s a tournament I may not have bothered with under different circumstances, but it fit nicely with my plan of simply getting my feet wet again. The tournament drew something like 1200 entires and went very well. I ended up making the final table and finishing sixth for just under $10,000. Just as importantly, the tournament allowed me to get re-acclimated to the tourney grind and allowed me to realize that I did miss playing poker for the past few months.
The tourney played out pretty straightforwardly. Most of the big pots I won were coolers and flips: I got all in with 10-10 vs. AK and won, I got all in with AK vs. QQ and won, and I got all in with KK and faded AK. At the final table, I came in short but ran well. And by that I mean that several players with larger stacks busted ahead of me, allowing me to creep up the payout ladder without incident. The one hand of the tournament that probably deserves mention went as follows:
Just before dinner break on Day 1, I was on the button with the QdJd. With the blinds at 1200-2400 with a 200 ante, a young player in middle position opened to 6200. We both had roughly 130,000 in our stacks. I made a play that is fairly standard for me and reraised the button—my button—to 16,200. The action folded back to the young man in middle position, and as it turns out, he wasn’t done with the hand. He thought for a bit, cut some chips out of his stack then four-bet to 44,000. While I was unfamiliar with this kid (and vice-versa), he fit the profile. Young, defiant, handling the chips deftly. My instincts told me he was looking to run game on me. He was light here. I may not have played a tournament in awhile, but I still had guts. I was going to have the last word. I allowed my conscience the opportunity for a short counterargument, and the idea of folding and waiting for a different spot flashed for a moment. The next thing I knew I was sliding my entire stack in, five-bet jamming with queen high. The kid insta-folded and the dealer pushed me the pot.
My five-bet bluff in that situation was significant in two ways. One, it was telling that this happened in a $200 event. Tournament poker is tough these days. Three, four and five-betting in an event with such a small buy-in would have meant KK vs AA back in the day. But this ain’t back in the day, and yes, a kid was in fact trying to pwn me in a $200 tournament. Also, this hand indicated that I hadn’t lost my nerve while I was on vacation changing those diapers.
Fully aware of these circumstances and more than a little proud of myself, I proceeded to do something I virtually never do: Wishing to relive the moment, I picked the QdJd off the felt and held them aloft about eight inches from my face. Both cards were clearly visible to the players to my direct left and right. Inevitably, two guys across the table began to grumble and insisted that I table my cards. I shrugged and showed everyone without so much as a smirk.
In the Main Event, my deep run in the $200 offered little in the way of momentum. My mindset coming into the tournament was all wrong. The Borgata Main Events have structures similar to the WSOP Main Event—they’re marathons, not sprints, and longball tactics are not necessary from the outset. For the WSOP Main, I am able to counsel myself properly and let the action come to me. At Borgata, I’m incapable of doing this for some reason. I invariably do something spastic in Borgata Mains.
On Day 1 of the Main Event, I chipped up without incident for most of the day before bluffing off half of my stack by barreling three streets with 9-high. On Day 2, I made an uncharacteristic bet sizing error. By mistakenly putting in far too much money before the flop on my final hand, I turned what should have been a controlled attempt to seize a small pot into a fatal showdown. After busting, I was unhappy with myself and disappointed with the possibility that my strong performance in the smaller prelim was nothing more than a mirage. Still, it was good to get out and play.
Today I feel energized and ready to play more poker. I think I will do just that.