When the first break arrived, the guy sitting to my right smiled at me and said “not a bad level one.” I had more than quintupled my stack. “Could not have conceivably gone better,” I replied. I spent the break acquainting myself with the role I was now thrust into: big stack. By picking up the right cards at the right time, my day one perseverance had now given me the opportunity to do some damage. It was time to start pushing people around. One of my favorite things to do at the card table.
2:30 PM: Right after the break, with the blinds at 400-800, I picked up JJ in the big blind, and the short stack (about 11k) on the button raised to 2500. As my first official act of imperial bigstackedness, I immediately put him all in, and he called, showing 99. The board offered him no help, and he departed. 67k.
Right around this time, hapless PS Gear was eliminated on a bad beat. About 10 minutes later, Noah Boeken was moved into the vacated seat. Boeken is a 24 year old kid from Amsterdam who has a European Poker Tour title and is already one of the best players in the world. He had a ton of chips and played over half the hands dealt, talking nonstop (in marked contrast to his seat’s previous occupant) throughout. He is a fearless player, the type that will run a big bluff whenever he senses a little weakness. Before I could figure out how I was going to deal with him, they broke our table, sending me to Table 3, seat 8 in the far corner of the room. The makeup of Table 3:
Seat 1: A calling station with lots of chips
Seat 2: Don’t remember
Seat 3: Oskar Silow, had a lot of chips
Seat 4: Kid wearing a “No Waiting” hat, short stacked
Seat 5: Biker looking guy with pic of his daughter
Seat 6: don’t remember
Seat 7: Snaggletoothed Canadian guy with a lot of chips
Seat 8: me
Seat 9: young guy with tattoos
When I got to this table, I was surprised to see that I had the third or fourth largest stack. At my prior table I had the second-largest stack. There were lots of chips in play here. My impression, after watching the first few hands, was that the guy in Seat 1 was a weak player. His starting standards were low, but he was not very aggressive. He was calling many bets on the flop and then laying down on the turn. Oskar (wearing a shirt with his name on it) liked limping in early position with mediocre holdings and was fairly aggressive otherwise. The biker was super tight. I had no real read on the Canadian, but his accent was unmistakable. The young guy tattooed was in a surly mood, possibly having suffered a beat before I got moved.
My first action at the new table occurred when I found Q8 offsuit on the button, with the action folded to me. I raised to 2200, and Seat One called. The flop was K 8 4. He checked, and I fired 3200. Seat One called. The turn was a 3. We both checked. Maybe he had an 8 too? The river was a Q, giving me two pair. Once again he checked. I didn’t see any draw that he could have completed, nor could I imagine a hand he’d hold that beat mine. I bet another 3600, and he called. I showed my 2 pair, notifying the table that I think Q8 is playable in the process, and he mucked. 73.5k
Because showing down the Q8 blew my cover a bit, I decided to scale back my play for the rest of level 2. However, the cards were good to me, and I picked up 1010 and QQ one time each. On both occasions there was a preflop raise in front of me, and I reraised, taking both pots down. I showed the QQ in order to try and establish a more sensible table image. My chip count was snowballing, and I felt like a freight train. 79k.
Just before the break, I saw a flop from the small blind, with 4 other players in the pot, with K2 offsuit. The flop came K K J with 2 spades. Too many draws were out there to mess around, so I led out into the 5k pot for 3500. Only the calling station called, and the turn was a dangerous 10 of clubs. I checked, and so did the calling station. The final card was the 8 of spades, making an ugly board for my trip kings. I checked, and once again, so did the station. I showed him my trips and he folded. I don’t know what he could have held, he limped under the gun. Possibly something like J 10? This guy can’t play at all. 90k.
At the second break, there were about 1200 players left in the tournament, and I had surged into the upper echelon. My mistakes through about 15 hours of total play amounted to a couple of missed opportunities to pick up chips on day one with preflop reraises. Aside from those minor gaffes, I had played admirably. I had laid down several key hands, and won the maximum on most of my strong hands. I found my parents, who had lost track of me when I switched tables, and shared the good news with them. 90 fuckin’ thousand chips. There was an unspoken but palpable excitement now. The implication was obvious: I could win a shitload of money here. I was high as a kite, but totally in sync with the flow of the game at the same time. For me, this is a happy state of mind.
4:50 PM: During level 3, with the blinds ramped up to 500 and 1000 with a 200 ante, things got even better. First, I picked up QQ and AK in rapid succession, both times forcing a preflop raiser to lay down with a reraise. Next, I backdoored a flush after the calling station gave me a free card on the flop. I was somewhere in the 95k range when the following hand took place:
I had A5 of spades on the button, and 3 players limped in for 1000. 5 of us saw the flop, which was 8 7 4, with 2 spades. This gave me the nut flush draw (9 outs), a gutshot straight draw (3 outs), and an overcard (possibly 3 outs). The action was checked by the small blind, big blind and the early position limper, to the player two spots to my right: A chunky woman with short black hair sitting on a short stack of approximately 14k, very recently relocated to her seat. She bet 2000 into a pot of 5000. Curious. She didn’t think she could steal this pot against so many other players, not with that little stack. If she had a draw, she’d probably just move all in. The only explanation was that she had a big piece of this flop. Regardless, I felt I might be favored to win, and there was an outside chance I could force her to fold. I raised it up to 9500, putting all her chips at risk. It was folded back to her, and she quickly moved all in. This meant a reraise of only 3500 more, so I instantaneously called, knowing I was pot committed. She turned over 87 of diamonds for top two pair. I smiled, said “I’m not there yet” (meaning I was on a draw) and showed my A5. I had a nebulous feeling that I was going to win this pot. The turn was the 3 of hearts. The river was the Jack of spades, completing my flush. “I got there,” I quipped as the dealer shipped her chips over and she headed for the rail. 114k and delighted with myself.
The following hour or so was a maze of preflop action. Stealing blinds, laying down stealraises to reraises, etc. 110k. It was also around this time that the snaggletoothed Canadian dude doubled through the biker, AA vs. QQ, to surpass me, holding the most chips at the table.
Eventually I won another sizeable pot. I had AQ suited on the button with 3 limpers in front of me. Both blinds called and the flop came Q 7 4 rainbow. It was checked around to me. Too many players to slowplay one pair. Not a good time to get fancy. I bet 4000 and they all folded. I gratuitiously showed the AQ. 114k, and time for dinner.
7:00 PM: My mother had her birthday dinner at the Rio’s buffet. Not what any self respecting birthday girl envisions, but she was happy to be part of everything and was genuinely excited for me. I was, and remain, grateful for that. As for me, the extended time away from the felt allowed me to put everything in perspective. There was something like 800 players left, and my chip count probably put me squarely in the top 100. Almost all the big name pros had already busted. I was sitting at a table of players I felt I could control. I was in the midst of probably my best day of gambling ever. And there were plenty to choose from. It was awesome.
There are few activities hypercompetitive people like me can partake of to fulfill their need to achieve. Many times, these activities require some sort of special talent: maybe athleticism or some sort of freakish mental aptitude. I have neither. I also lack the devotion to put a lot of energy into my job and achieve something special in that realm. So my July 10, 200, tear on poker’s biggest stage was fulfilling, to say the least. Having “One Shining Moment” on a continuous loop in the background would have felt wholly appropriate.
It also felt like my dedication was being rewarded. Back in early 2001, I was broken-hearted and stuck in a job I hated. I was also playing in a friendly weekly poker game. Feeling sort of aimless, listless and uninspired, I sunk a lot of time and energy into one of the only things I was then enjoying. I decided I would learn how to play better poker. Essentially, I put myself back in school, creating my own course in high-level play. I read every poker book on the market, including David Sklansky’s “Hold ‘Em Poker for Advanced Players” cover-to-cover about twelve times. I found new home games, and I started playing online. I became pretty proficient, and when my job inevitably disappeared on me, low-stakes hold ’em became my main source of income for about a year. I also began to learn how to play no limit hold ’em. I was pretty horrendous at first. It wasn’t until I started working at my new job that a breakthrough occurred. It was followed shortly thereafter by another breakthrough, taking my game to a new plateau. I became battle-tested and then somewhat well known in the New York City poker clubs, winning consistently. Now, in exchange for all my work, I had earned the right to terrorize other players at my first World Series of Poker for the previous six hours. It was the best compensation I could think of.
At dinner, superstitious theories abounded. My mother was certain that my good luck, and there had been plenty, stemmed from the fact that it was her birthday. She also made the unfortunate mistake of asking me when I was going to change my flight, I was scheduled to fly back to New York the following day at noon. I considered this conversation bad luck. I shot her a nasty glance and snapped: “One mistake and I’m gone. Out. One mistake. There is absolutely no guarantee that I’ll be alive at the end of today. I cannot make a single mistake. Next topic.” I guess I was wound up pretty tight.
By the dinner break, my parents had watched six hours of poker. I’m not sure how they managed this. Watching the WSOP from the rail, especially before the field is narrowed to the money spots, is about as exciting as standing on line at the DMV. Most tabletops cannot be seen from the rail; my folks were gauging my progress based on my demeanor and whether or not I was stacking chips. Plus there were no seats–they were standing the whole time. They decided to return to the hotel, get some rest, and meet me at the next (and last) break of the day.
8:50 PM: I met with Carrie and Kevin (who had come back from 37k to around 90k), gave Kevin a “let’s go to work,” and returned to table 3. The blinds were at 600-1200 with a 200 ante, and I decided to base my strategy on how the rest of the table was playing. I could now easily just blind my way into the money, but that was out of the question. It was time to play the opposite of how the rest of the table played; if they were playing scared (seemed likely since none of them were pros), steal every chip in sight. If they were opening up, lay back a bit. It quickly became apparent that the table was playing very tight, including, thankfully, the big-stacked snaggletoothed Canadian to my right. I resumed my role as the table’s resident pushy pain in the ass, stealing a bunch of blinds. 122k.
On one hand, channeling Gus Hansen, I raised to 3800 in middle position with the 52 of clubs. It was folded around to the big blind, a young Italian-looking kid wearing a black baseball cap inscribed with the words “No Waiting.” This was an odd phrase for this particular player to adorn himself with: he was one of the tightest players I had ever seen, all he ever did was wait. When I was moved to table 3 this kid had about 15k, which is almost exactly what he had some 5 hours of play later, at the start of this hand. He was playing about one hand every 45 minutes, sealing just enough money here and there to stay afloat. He was actually doing a pretty masterful job of it. His flat call on this hand meant he had a powerful holding. Either a monster (AA or KK) that he intended to trap me with, using my aggression against me, or some other premium holding he wanted to see a flop with.
What flopped was the 7 of clubs, the 4 of clubs and the 2 of spades, giving me bottom pair with a flush draw. He checked, I looked at his stack (about 12k) and said “all in” with a shrug, trying to convey the idea that a smaller bet was pointless. Without much thought he folded, flashing me AK. I pushed my hand in face down and raked the pot. “How big was your pocket pair?” he asked. “How do you know I had one?” I replied. “Oh, you had one.” (No, buddy, I had 5 high). “Bigger than the board, let’s put it that way. Nice laydown.” For the record, lying is such an integral part of poker strategy that I refuse to even classify these types of exchanges as lies. 128k.
By now, the other players were commenting on my style of play, mostly talking about the constant pressure I was applying. I decided to throw them a curveball, limping in early position with 55, the first time all day I had open-limped. With raised eyebrows, it was folded around the table, Oskar half-jokingly inquiring “aces?” I just smiled as Biker in the big blind checked his option, and we saw an A J 8 flop. Bicker checked and I checked my rumored set of aces. The turn was another J. This time I made a tiny probing bet, consistent with someone holding a huge hand, and he folded. 131k. With some more steals, I build my stack up to a robust 135k. Also around this time, the heat in my corner of the room was becoming unbearable. I held out for a very long time, but eventually I deemed it necessary to remove my lucky sweatshirt and play in my t-shirt, neck-tell be damned.