Monday, July 11
Question: How do you know you’re having a good World Series of Poker?
Answer: You have to cancel your flight home.
This is exactly what I did after waking up on Monday. With Sunday’s emotional rollercoaster behind me, it was time for day three. One of the funny things about the tournament (and Las Vegas in general, I guess) is that dates lose their relevance. Back home, my clients were appearing before NYC’s criminal court judges with substituted counsel, and they were the farthest thing from my mind. The tournament was an all-encompassing and totally consuming affair. Not just for me, but for all participants. I had thought of nothing else for four days. Terrorists bombed London the day the WSOP main event started. It was now five days later, and I had not heard the topic discussed a single time.
In poker tournaments, the period of time just before the remaining players make the money is known as “the bubble.” It is characterized by extremely conservative play from the short stacks, who will do whatever it takes to reach the money, and extremely aggressive play from the larger stacks, who are taking full advantage of the short stacks’ timidity. Another key consideration at this point in time is each player’s individual economic utility for the smallest payout. With 569 players left, 9 players to the money, we were officially on the bubble. In the cheaper online and local tournaments I am used to, I usually play to finish first, practically ignoring bubble considerations. I don’t play these tournaments to win a few hundred dollars. With my eyes on the biggest prizes, I always play with reckless abandon during the bubble stage, pilfering along with the big stacks, regardless of how many chips I have.
I would not have that luxury today. I paid nothing to get into the WSOP. The smallest prize was $12,500 of pure profit. Only the most hardened professional players had the luxury of treating twelve grand as a measly consolation prize. I knew that most players would be treading very lightly at the start of play on day three, including me. The plain truth was that playing over twenty hours of poker only to become one of the last nine non-money finishers would feel like an unmitigated disaster.
Even though they were well aware of it, I communicated this notion to my parents at breakfast. As I did, I saw a pall come across my mother’s face. I knew why. Since early childhood, I have been very competitive and have expected perfection from myself. It may have been instilled by my parents, or it may be something I helped create myself, but I have always had unrelenting high self-expectations. As a child, when I participated in the typical competitive activities (scholastic stuff, little league, whatever) and failed at them, I would become unconsolably upset. This placed my mother, an emotional person, in a difficult position, stuck between detached lesson-teaching and her more natural reaction, empathy. Now I could see her silently preparing for that possibility again.
After breakfast I went upstairs to log onto the internet and find out exactly where I stood. I had brought my computer out to Vegas for this exact purpose. I always bring my computer to Vegas, but usually it’s so I can listen to music in my hotel room. Not this time. There was good news: with 30.3k in chips, I was somewhere around 520th out of the 569 players remaining. At the bottom of the list were about 5 players who couldn’t even afford to post their blinds. The blinds would start at 1000-2000 with a 300 ante, so I could sit there folding my hands for five “orbits”, 45 hands, before going broke. With 9 players to go before the money, and 50 players between me and the last guy, I figured the odds I would cash were between 80 and 90 percent.
11:30 am: I sat in silence during the now-familiar cab ride to the Rio, focused on the task at hand. My outfit this time was identical to the previous day’s, with a Shortstop Deli t-shirt substituted for the State of Yo shirt. I noticed that the “Sug-D’s” sweatshirt now smelled of cigarette smoke. We arrived, and I found Carrie and Kevin. Once again Kevin, riding high with over 100k, was the recipient of my unsolicited advice: “Run them over, dude. No one wants to mess with you on the bubble.” Today, he had advice for me as well: “What about you? I don’t think I could play anything but kings or aces in your position.” “I’m not sure,” I replied, pretending he wasn’t right, which he was. My strategy was to sit there until I cashed. At that point I would still hopefully have enough chips to make a stand.