They say chips speak in no limit hold ’em, and with my stack I wouldn’t have much to say. With the blinds at 300-600 and a 75 ante, an uncontested pot would start with over 1600 in it, or roughly one-sixth of my stack. This meant I had room to possibly bring it in for one “regular” raise, but if that didn’t work out, I would be in all-in or fold country. My position was therefore precarious; I had to double up. There were three available methods for accomplishing this. In order of preference:
1) Get dealt AA or KK, get all your chips in, pray for a call, win;
2) Pick up a big ace or smaller pair, move in, and get into a race (all-in with a 50/50 chance on winning), win;
3) Lose so many chips before you get any good hands that you have to move in with junk; win anyway.
Oh, one more thing: even if I was able to double up, I’d have to do it again soon thereafter to have a fighting chance of making it through the day. Bottom line is that I’d be making a move real soon.
Sunday, July 10: Probably because of the simplicity of my optimal strategy, and possibly because I had little expectation of making it past the first break, I woke up Sunday morning feeling much less nervous than I had felt at any point on Friday. I put on my Day 2 ensemble: khaki shorts, State of Yo softball shirt, beige Pokerstars cap, toothpicks, sunglasses, pinky ring, and of course the “Sug D’s” sweatshirt. I met my parents at the hotel caf?ɬ�. It was my mom’s birthday. We discussed some special dinner plans for the evening, came to the mutual understanding that it would be best if we had to cancel them, and quietly ate breakfast. I could tell they were pretty nervous, which was both endearing and beginning to make me nervous as well.
11:30 AM: When I got to the Rio, I found Kevin and Carrie, and discussed strategy with Kevin. He seemed really edgy, which was understandable. Sitting on 47k in chips, way up in the top 20% of the field, he was expected to make the money and maybe even wreak some serious havoc. I had many fewer contingencies to plan for than he did, and consequently, felt comfortable doling out advice. “Look at the stack sizes, man. Remember the short stacks are desperate. Don’t be afraid to look them up with a weak ace, or king-jack or whatever. It’s really easy to chip up in your position. I’m jealous, man.” Kevin sort of nodded, probably wishing I’d shut up and leave him alone. I gave him a pound, wished him luck, and reported to my seat at table 92, where I dumped the contents of my chip bag onto the table (they keep your chips in a carefully labeled oversized ziplock overnight), and stacked them up. My parents, with my father sporting some of his spoils from the expo, a Pokerstars hat and a Pokerstars t-shirt (obviously not sharing my reluctance to wear poker website gear) looked on from the rail.
getting down to biz
The layout, as best as I can remember it, of table 92:
Seat 1: one of the stacks shorter than mine
Seat 2: don’t remember
Seat 3: don’t remember
Seat 4: me
Seat 5: the other stack shorter than mine
Seat 6: guy in Pokerstars gear with a lot of chips
Seat 7: don’t remember
Seat 8: don’t remember
Seat 9: don’t remember
12:10 PM: When play began, with approximately 1850 players alive, it was immediately apparent that the advice I had given Kevin was astute. The wide disparity in chip stacks was forcing eliminations to take place at an alarming rate. The short stacks were making their desperation moves and the big stacks were gobbling them up. All around the room, players were rising from their seats with bemused smiles, shaking their head and departing.
Within the first ten hands, Pokerstars Gear established himself as the table captain, stealing four pots preflop. I noted that he was acting with extreme confidence, his motions quick and decisive. I also noted that he acted in complete silence.
Around hand number 8, I picked up AQ in middle position. It was folded to me, and I realized this could be it. I had two choices. First, just move my 9700 in. A reasonable option. Second, make a standard raise, and open yourself up to the possibility of having someone put you all in, or having to play the hand after the flop. I went with the standard raise, making it 1800 to go. All folded but the small blind, who called. The flop was 8 4 2. I decided right there that I was not putting another dime in the pot unless I hit my hand. I still had 8000 in front of me and wasn’t going out on a bluff. A game of cat and mouse ensued. The small blind checked, and so did I. The turn was another 4. Again we both checked. The river produced a Q, giving me two pair, with top kicker. Again the small blind checked, convincing me that my hand was best, and presenting me with a decision. What bet amount would most likely get called here? All in might look desperate enough to get a call from a hand like ace high. A small bet might look like a nervous attempt to steal the pot without risking going broke. I went with the second option, tossing 1200 towards the center. The small blind called, probably out of curiosity, then mucked when I showed him the AQ. 13k in chips, and a little breathing room. I glanced at my parents, who clearly had no idea what was going on.
About eight hands later, after surrendering my blinds, I picked up 99 under the gun, and raised to 2000. The player to my left (one of the shorties) pushed all in for 6200. It was folded around to the button, the other shorty, and he pushed all in for 4800! The blinds got out of my way, and it was decision time for me. But really there wasn’t much of a decision to be made. I could feel the entire table’s attention focused on me as a computed the pot odds. 13,600 in the pot, 4200 for me to call. I can’t turn down 3-1 odds, even if losing this pot will cripple me. I called, knowing it was now completely out of my hands. All I could do was pray that neither shorty had a pair bigger than my nines. I was first to flip my cards face up, and the first one to get to his feet. Maybe they both have overcards? The player to my left flipped and stood: 66. Not overcards. Better. I had him dominated. The player in seat one was last. AK. If this hand were on ESPN, the percentages would read as follows: Sug D 44%, Shorty #1 17%, Shorty #2 38%. So the odds were better than 50-50 that I’d be crippled. The three of us stood as the dealer burned and turned. Flop: J 8 4. No help for anyone. The Turn: a three. No straight or flush draws out there. C’mon dealertaking too long the River a ten. I did a very abbreviated fist pump, shook the Shorties’ hands in quick succession, let out a long, liberating exhale (I had no idea I was holding my breath) and sat down. Ummm Stack, stack, stack. 29k in chips! Just slightly below the average stack in the room. I ran over to the rail to tell my folks. My dad gave me an “awwright!” A few random observers smiled. Mom looked scared.
The plan of doubling up had been a success. In fact, I had tripled up. It was time to switch gears. So far, this table had seen me play only AQ and 99, two premium hands. So when I was dealt J7 of spades in the cutoff (one to the right of the button), I raised to 2000. The button folded, but Pokerstars Gear in the small blind paused slightly, then reraised to 6000. A fairly small reraise out of position smelled like a big hand. I pretended to mull it over for a moment before folding. 27k.
As the next hand was dealt, I counseled myself against getting too aggressive and pissing away my newly acquired ammunition. Then I checked my hold cards. Ace of clubs. Ace of diamonds. Two aces. I need action here. Please, someone wake up with a big hand. Alas, it was folded to my spot two from the button. How best to appear weak? I made the same raise I had made the previous hand, tossing four $500 chips in. The player to my left folded, but PS Gear on the button quickly came over the top of me again, removing one $5000 chip and three $1000 chips from his stack of approximately 40k, placing them in front of him, then intentionally toppling the stack forward so the dealer and I could count out his non-verbal raise. My heart skipped a beat. Holy shit, this is perfect. The blinds folded and I had a few seconds to figure out how to double through this guy.
Should I flat call and try to get him to commit later in the hand? Nah, that looks fishy when you’re sitting on only three times the amount of the reraise. Moving all in here looks weaker, because of the action on the previous hand, all in here looks like I’m making a stand, saying “you can’t reheat me twice in a row and get away with it.” I wanted my all-in to look as impulsive as possible so I did it fast. After maybe a five second pause I let out a monotone “I’m all in,” accompanying the statement with no gesture whatsoever. Very deliberately, I then put all my chips into two stacks and slid them in front of me. I released the stacks and sat slightly upright, both my palms resting on the felt, awaiting PS Gear’s response.
Ten seconds ticked by as I sat completely motionless. Then twenty. Then thirty. Come on, call, you fuck. I think PS Gear was busy counting his chips and restacking them, trying to gauge where losing this crucial hand would leave him. I can’t say for sure what he was doing, because I was not looking at him. In this situation at a NYC club, I would probably sit there smirking and maybe even do a little coffeehousing. But not here. No way. Too nervous. Behind my sunglasses, I looked directly forward, my eyes fixed on nothing in particular. I remember thinking that I had probably set my personal record for maintaining a completely emotionless, blank countenance. Then, I recalled a passage from James McManus’ “Positively Fifth Street” where the author, in my exact situation (hoping for a call) imagines jumping into an ice cold body of water. Didn’t feel exactly appropriate. Next, I thought of a page from Mike Caro’s seminal “Book of Tells.” In it, Mr. Caro says that players who are bluffing frequently hold their breath, and if they are chewing gum, they stop their chewing. I didn’t have gum, but my omnipresent toothpick was in my mouth. As we approached 60 seconds since my raise, and I felt PS Gear’s eyes studying me for a tell, I made sure my toothpick didn’t move a millimeter, and I refused to exhale. After still another 30 seconds, PS Gear drawled the only words I would hear him say all day, “The pot odds I built for myself are too good. I call.” With that, I waited for the dealer to confirm the call and turned over my aces. Upon seeing the grim news, PS Gear closed his eyes for a moment, slouched, and reluctantly showed AK.
I had him crushed. As the dealer proceeded, I realized my elimination was possible, but I didn’t bother to stand up. I knew I had him. The flop was bricks and he was drawing dead by the turn. He counted out an additional 19k in chips and pushed them towards the dealer, who sloppily pushed me the pot: a beautiful array of over 100 chips, occupying a good portion of the table’s surface area. I began to collect and stack them, but my hands were shaking uncontrollably. I paused and gathered myself, willing myself through a physical and emotional transformation in the process. By then, the next deal was underway, and I mucked my hand (which was sitting three feet in front of me thanks to the unraked pot) before setting about stacking my new chips like I fucking meant it. Holy adrenaline rush. 55.5 k. It was on.