After dinner, where I scarfed down a turkey sandwich and fries, all the while excitedly chatting away on the phone, I became completely card-dead. An entire level went by with me winning a grand total of one hand. I had a good opportunity to pull the trigger on my long-awaited reheat on the Danish guy, but I chickened out. 11.8k in chips, now a substandard stack.
At the ensuing break, I realized fatigue was setting in, but I was still focused and playing mistake-free poker. After the break, I did manage to steal a pot from several limpers out of the small blind with Q4 offsuit. I hate this play and think it’s a pretty amateur move, but there is a time and place for it, and I got away with it here thanks to the very tight image I had at the time. I finally did put a move on the Danish fella as well, coming over the top of his preflop raise with QQ (not with junk, as I had planned). I didn’t really want action on this play, and he showed me 99 before mucking. Other than these two hands, not much happened other than me having a few stealraises re-stolen. It was getting late, around 11:30 pm PST, my chip count was hovering in place, and players were getting bounced out of the tournament left and right. 11.5k in chips. Not enough.
They broke my table and they moved me to the 2 seat at a new one. I only remember two players at this table. In seat 5, a garrulous (annoyingly so) Israeli guy who called himself “the Beast,” and proclaimed that it was “his tournament to win” on almost every hand. He also found it necessary to do a play-by-play on every preflop decision he faced. And in seat 1, a young Swedish kid with a lot of chips. He was wearing Pokerstars gear and I found out through casual conversation that he was “Maciek” on the site, someone I had played with on a few occasions and a very respected player. After an uneventful hour or so, at about 12:40 am PST, I played my most important hand of the day against him.
It was the last hand of level 7, and the blinds were at 200/400 with a 50 ante. My stack of about 11k was just above the “all-in or fold” line, very short, but not dismally short. I already knew that we would be playing about 7.5 levels, which meant I would have to increase my stack very soon or fade into do-or-die mode.
I was under the gun (first to act). After the hand was dealt, but before I looked at my cards, I noticed two or three players across the table getting up to leave for the break. I looked down and found AJ offsuit. Normally I would not play this hand in that position, but the increased chances of stealing the blinds and my semi-desperation told me to raise. I made it 1200 to go. All folded to Maciek in the big blind, who had me outchipped by a ratio of roughly four to one, and he called. Everyone else at the table, now exhausted after about twelve hours of poker, left to take the break. It was Maciek, the dealer, and me. The flop was A 6 4 rainbow, and Maciek checked. I checked too, for two reasons. First to protect my chips, which is always priority #1 in the early stages of a no-limit tournament. I want to win this pot, but I do not want to be trapped. The second reason I checked behind him was to induce a bluff on the turn. The turn came a 9, creating a flush draw and a possible straight draw, and Maciek checked again. It appeared that he intended to just concede the hand, probably holding face cards, and I fired 2000, happy to take the pot down as-is. To my complete surprise, Maciek raised it to 6000, basically asking me the question, “are you ready to put your tournament on the line?” I only had two options: fold or go all in for about 9500 more. Just calling was out of the question, as that would oblige me to call on the river as well. I gauged that the equity I gained from possibly being able to force him to lay down his hand was sufficient enough to make this a true all or nothing moment for me. I replayed the hand in my head. What could he have called my preflop under the gun raise with? AK? Nah, he’d have reraised. AQ or AJ? Maybe. A-x? No, too weak a holding to call with. 1010, 88, 77? Maybe, which would mean he’s putting a play on me. 99, 66, 44, for a set? Maybe. I agonized for a full two minutes, to the dismay of the dealer, who was looking forward to his 20 minute break. I had been playing for about 11 hours, most of the room had been eliminated, and it was time to decide what to do. I looked at my young opponent for some kind of a clue. He was completely motionless. Finally, I disgustedly slapped my Ace-Jack down on the table face up, muttered “nice hand,” wheeled around, and stalked out of the room. 8.9k
I had done very well to make it so far, only a little over one-third of the room was still playing, but I could not stifle my severe disappointment with the last hand. I spent the break trying to regroup, and left a phone message for my father telling him I was still alive, but not in good shape, but that he shouldn’t unpack the bags just yet. With the blinds about to increase again, I was now stuck in all-in or fold mode. I needed enough chips to have a shot tomorrow, but I had to selectively pick some spots to accumulate chips. It’s a bad place to be, but I was still in action.
When I got back to the table, Maciek congratulated me, saying “nice laydown, I had a set of sixes.” I was positive he was telling the truth, and this gave me a boost of confidence. Now to survive another 40 minutes of play.
I was lucky to pick up two quick no-brainer all-in hands, JJ and AK, and stole the blinds with both. Then, with only about 15 minutes to play, I made another key laydown.
I was under the gun again, and my blind stealing had taken me out of the realm of all “all-in or fold,” making a “regular” raise possible. I found AQ and made a standard raise of 3x the big blind. A player about 5 seats down the table whom I have no recollection of (I was truly exhausted at this point) quickly moved all in when the action got to him. If I called, I could double up to about 18k. If I folded, I’d have somewhere in the neighborhood of 6.5k to work with. This hand, under normal circumstances, is a no-brainer call. Technically speaking, I easily had sufficient pot odds to call here. But these were unusual circumstances in that I really wanted to play on day two, and my parents’ trip to Vegas was also at stake. They were now probably awake and waiting for the word on whether they should make their 8:00 flight (it was about 5:45 EST). My instinct said fold, and that’s what I did. The dude across the table showed me AK suited and I got to feel smart for a minute.
I moved in one more time, on the very last hand of day one. Once again, I was under the gun, this time with a puny stack of 6.8k. Once again, I saw disinterested players preparing to stand up, this time at least three of them. I looked down and found 66. Good enough for a desperate shorty to move in with, which I did. It was folded to the noisy Israeli, and to my dismay (or as much dismay as I could muster in my bleary state), he paused. And then began questioning me. “Why all in?” he asked, implying that my hand was weak, which it was. “Cause I’m short,” I replied. “Oh, I see. Well, I have jacks, but I don’t feel like losing chips before we quit for the day. This is my tournament to win.” With that, he mucked, and so did everyone else.
I had survived day one with exactly 9,700 in chips. I was way down in the bottom 10% of the survivors, but I had played very well, only picking up one really good hand, way back in level two. I felt a combination of emotions. Proud, for having outlasted two-thirds of the field. Disappointment, beacuse I was a big underdog to make any noise on Saturday. But mostly sheer exhaustion. I phoned my parents, who were indeed awake, and told them to take their asses to the airport, I was alive. I got back to Mandalay and crashed, but not before replaying the day’s major hands in my head.
Saturday, July 9: I woke up Saturday morning feeling giddy. Gone was the exhaustion and jangled nerves from the previous day’s epic session. I had come out to Vegas to play poker with the best players in the world, and I was alive and kickin’. No limit tournaments are a lot like minefields. Well, it took some deft maneuvering, and my ass got singed once or twice, but I was still in there.
I ate lunch and packed my bags, switching hotels from Mandalay Bay to Paris. Paris is where my father’s comp money plays (and where he was undoubtedly already shooting craps), so I had a room there. I went to my room and unpacked, then found my mother in my parents’ room. “So, you’re doing great! How was it?” she asked. It’s really hard to explain a poker tournament to someone who doesn’t know the ranking of the individual cards, but I did my best to recap the prior day’s events in simple terms, settling on “I played the best I could with the cards I was dealt.” About as clich?ɬ� as it gets, but I honestly believed it.
Down to the craps pit we went to find my father. We found him on the cashier line. “I was down two grand but this guy just had a monster roll. I paid off my marker, plus this,” he said opening his palm and flashing me an array of purple, yellow and black chips. This is my father’s traditional casino floor greeting. No “how are you,” or “long time no see” or any other nicety in these environs. I gave a small approving nod in the direction of his chips.
“So Mr. Pokerstar is still in there,” he said. “Yup,” I replied, and gave him a slightly more detailed rundown than my mother got. Then we walked over to a nearby $10 craps table and bought in for $500 each. I told a few more stories about my adventure as we withstood an unforgiving stretch of poor rolls. When the dice were finally passed to my father, he had $60 on the rail and I was down to about $150. He proceeded to shoot a good hand, giving us more ammo. Then I took over and produced the elusive “monster roll,” one of the best shoots I’ve ever had. When I finally crapped out I had cleared over $1500 profit on the session. There was a round of applause from the table and we cashed out. An omen of good things to come? I certainly hoped so.
I decided I wanted to show my parents the WSOP, so we went over. First the expo, where my father grabbed an astounding amount of free merchandise, then to the poker room. Day 1c was in progress. I took pride in showing them around the poker room the same way a transplanted Nebraskan might enjoy showing his visiting folks the East Village. It was indeed a mysterious and unusual world that my parents were seeing for the first time, and it probably helped shed some light on what my longstanding obsession was all about. I also took this opportunity to check out my table assignment, which was posted on the wall outside the poker room. Table 92 Seat 4. I ran down the table’s list and saw no names I recognized (pending the addition of survivors from day 1c), and somewhat reassuringly, two other guys with stacks shorter than mine. The rest of the day was uneventful. We checked out the Wynn Hotel (notched another winning craps session) and ate dinner. I got in bed and formulated my strategy for Day 2.