I was moved to a table out on the main floor. At this point it finally occurred to me that the tournament had been pared down to a more manageable number of players. WSOP players had once occupied every seat in the huge room, but now the action was confined to a group of tables in a single quadrant. My table was right on the rail, and spectators were lined up four-deep to watch. The breakdown of this table as best I can remember it:
Seat 1: diminutive nebbishy kid from Brooklyn named Yakov Hirsh. HUGE stack of chips, probably over half a million.
Seat 2: very confident asian kid, also sitting on a ton of chips, probably 400k.
Seat 3: European guy with funny accent, also a lot of chips, probably 300k.
Seat 4: Me.
Seat 5: man with a bad temper.
Seat 6: don’t remember.
Seat 7: don’t remember.
Seat 8: a guy named Alejandro or something who wrote notes in a diary after every hand.
Seat 9: don’t remember.
Pretty soon after I sat down at this table, realized that opportunities to steal the blinds would be rare. The three guys to my right were raising almost every pot, bullying the table mercilessly. I was totally card-dependent.
5:40 pm: By now I had drifted down to 19k, on life support. I knew my time was nigh. I picked up a pair of fives in second position. The five of diamonds and the five of clubs, to be exact. Definitely good enough to make my stand with. My first affirmative act at my new table was to say “Raise. All-in for nineteen,” as I slid my pathetic little stack in. The action didn’t get very far before trouble arose. The player to my left removed an indiscriminate number of 5000 chips from his stack and tossed them in somewhere in the neighborhood of 80k. As he did, he muttered “I’m gonna give you some protection, buddy” to me. The meaning of this comment was that he had me beat, but that he was going to isolate me from the other players by shutting them out. Gee, thanks. Everyone else folded and he disdainfully flipped over a pair of aces in the same suits as my fives. Fuck. He even had my possible flushes nutted.
I stood up, knowing the bell had finally tolled. Well maybe not. So, dealer, how about a five? No such luck. The flop was the jack, the eight, and the seven of spades. The European guy to my right looked up at me and said, “running spades?” in a hopeful tone. Yeah, two more spades would entitle me to a split pot. But the odds of that were about one in twenty. My opponent sat calmly to my left, waiting for confirmation of victory. As for me, I felt mostly pride. I thought I would feel more disappointed, but I was downright proud of my performance and, surprisingly, was already feeling very nostalgic about the whole experience. I felt like a gravely wounded soldier, satisfied with myself, noble in defeat, and ready to go.
But wait a second, the turn card was the four of spades. Aha. Now any spade would result in a chopped pot, the three non-spade sixes would give me a winning straight, and the lone non-spade five, the five of hearts, would also be a winner. That’s nine outs to a tie and four outs to a win. Not impossible.
The river card came quick. Five of hearts. What?! Yes. That’s right. The pristine, the immaculate, the saintly divine embodiment of all that is right with this wonderful magnificent world, the absofuckinglutely perfect, FIVE. OF. HEARTS.
A bolt of lightning. I lost all sense of self in the moment. My reaction was a sharp pivot to my left and a single, staccato clap. Like a flamenco dancer. About thirty railbirds and all the players at the table let loose with a chorus of “ooohs,” and “wows.” Players from surrounding tables hurried over to see what was up. The guy to my left slammed the table with his fist and screamed “jesus fucking christ!” I couldn’t help but laugh, and I apologized to him as I returned to my seat, the recipient of a very thoughtful gift from Miss Lady Luck. Ahhhh. Stackity stack stack! 43k.
6:05 pm: At dinner time, there were only about 380 players left, and I had drifted back down to about 33k. I had somehow hovered at more or less the same chip count for the entire day, as almost 200 players were eliminated around me. At this point, the magical 5 of hearts notwithstanding, I realized that making the final table was a major longshot. I was way down at the bottom of the field, about 3 double-ups away from having any sort of weight to push around. But I was proving to be very roachlike: doing my damage when everyone else was asleep, adept at avoiding confontations, and hard to kill. Oh, and also lucky. Maybe, just maybe, that 5 of hearts was a sign that another rush like I had at the beginning of day 2 was forthcoming.
My parents and I ate dinner at the Rio’s little sports bar. All around us players were recounting hands, the place abuzz with the tales of card sharks from faraway places who had now cashed in the big show. Everyone was on their cell phone calling someone. As for me, the break left me feeling kind of numb. My brain and body were adjusting after a long period of concentration which was capped off with a surge of adrenaline. I sat there in a detached state, eating french fries and not really talking much. The prevailing sentiment from my parents was that they could not believe I was still alive.
After the dinner break, the blinds went to 1500 and 3000 with a 400 ante. I was now officially on life support. In accordance with Harrington’s theory on short-stacked play, all I could do now was pick spots where I didn’t think I’d get called. Either that or wake up with a monster hand. I told myself not to be afraid to move in with trash; I had to pick up chips by any means necessary.
8:00 pm: Back in action, there were two major problems. The first was that I getting no good cards whatsoever. The second was that I was surrounded by guys with colossal stacks. The little nebbish three seats to my right, particularly, was a problem. He was raising probably 50% of the hands, imposing his little nebbish will on the rest of us. Plus the little booger was wearing a Yankees cap. I decided I would make my stand against him with any sort of reasonable hand. But nothing reasonable was dealt to me for a long time. Down to 22k, and fading fast. The good news is that we’re down to 330 players, and I’m now guaranteed $21,070.
8:10 pm: Finally the action was folded around to me on the button. I moved in with 98 and scooped up the blinds and antes. 29k.
8:21 pm: I was back to being completely card dead, and the blinds and antes were killing me. The tournament was down to 300 people, guaranteeing me $24,365. 22k.
8:29 pm: There was another opening. It was folded to me 3 from the button. I had 93 offsuit, total garbage. Whatever, I had to move. “All in,” I informed the table. The cutoff folded, but the button, who had at least 150k, thought for a long time. About 30 seconds passed. Why was he thinking so long? Finally, he called, and the blinds folded. I expected to see something like A5 or K8, a borderline calling hand. But he flipped AK. I guess all that contemplation meant he was trying to decide between a call and a raise. I flipped my 93. I noticed some collective laughter from the railbirds, who at this late stage of the tournament were very much into the action. I glanced over at some of them, and they looked at my sorry little 93 and gave me sad smiles. Hey, I had to move in!
I got on my feet. I was in much better shape with the 93 vs. AK than I was with the 55 vs. AA, but I was still a decided underdog. “Live cards,” I said hopefully. The flop was 10 8 5, doing nothing for me. Once again, I was resigned to defeat. This time, it arrived on the next card, which was a king, creating a pair for my opponent. I was drawing dead. Officially time to go.
I didn’t feel disappointed. I felt tired, proud, wistful and reflective. Also kind of dazed. Many of the players at the table shook my hand, and there was a round of applause from the spectators on the rail, many of whom had watched me barely scrape by for the previous couple of hours.
I didn’t know what to do next. I started to wander toward the velvet rope separating the players from the spectators when a Rio employee grabbed my arm, handed me a laminated index card, and told me to report to the platform at the center of the room. I obliged, and as I walked to the platform, I looked at the card. It said “290.” I walked to the platform, where I was congratulated by a woman and handed another card. The woman told me to report to the cashier’s line.
On the way over to the cashier’s line, I met my parents, who were glowing, but also expecting me to be downtrodden. But I wasn’t, and I gave them a shrug and a smile. On the cashier’s line, I saw my two biggest nemeses: Snaggletooth, who finished 297th, and Barbara Enright, out in 286th. When I got to the front of the line, the cashier asked me if I wanted my winnings in cash or a check. Ummm, a check. I was given a W-2G to fill out (damn IRS), and once that task was done, I was handed $365 in cash and $24,000 in Rio casino chips. Whoa. I was then told to report to the main cashier in the casino where they would cut me a check. My parents and I walked the three miles to the casino and completed the transaction.
busted Sug, $24,365. woman with gigantic ass sold separately.
We cabbed back to the Paris. When we got there, I had no idea what to do with myself. The tournament was a blur of crystalline memories that I my brain was still digesting. Outwardly, I was still dazed. On the inside, I was reliving the whole thing, and I was content and proud. Eventually, the digestion complete, I was ready to interact normally. My brain was crammed with stories to share, and I made a bunch of phone calls.
Tuesday, July 12: On the flight home, for the first time, I felt a little bummed. Not disappointed with myself, just bummed that it was all over. I wanted to still be in action. I truly enjoyed the competition and craved the intense wit-matching the way a smoker craves his next cigarette. If I had laid down those tens, or if I had filled up on the river, I would still be in action now, like Kevin, tearing my table a new one. Ah well.
Incidentally, Kevin, whose game I was completely unfamiliar with coming in, turned out to be one razor sharp dude. He maneuvered all the way to 84th place, earning almost $92,000 (2% of which was mine) in the process. I’m happy to say that we now share a very unique bond as WSOP rookies who broke our maidens together.
In the days that followed I went back to work and became a sort of mini-celebrity among the players in my home games and over at the Ace Point Club. The memories faded a bit, but as evidenced by the foregoing memoirs, they remain pretty bright. When I recount these stories to my non-poker nerd family members and friends, the subject of playing professionally often arises. They typically ask whether I could handle devoting so much of my life to cards. Wouldn’t it be unfulfilling, thankless, and ultimately depressing? I’m both happy and sad to report that the answer is no.