Thursday, May 10, 2012

Ship It!

Friday, March 30, 2012 (well, technically Saturday, March 31st): A milestone accomplishment comes off my poker bucket list. I won a World Series of Poker Sanctioned event! No hardware for this Circuit Event nightly, but a win's a win, and the WSOP brand was attached to the tournament.

I first went to the WSOP Horseshoe Council Bluffs Circuit Event in it's inaugural year, 2006. I had only been playing for about 2 years, maybe less, and a friend let me crash on the couch in his hotel room, so it was worth the 2 hour drive out and a few meals just to feel the buzz. I didn't have much of a bankroll at the time (in fact, I didn't have a "bankroll" at all and was playing out of pocket), so I had to be picky (read: cheap) when it came to what I played. I didn't have a lot of success. My cash game skills were weak and I was definitely a fish at the cash tables in Limit or NL, but had a little success with the SNGs since that's what I'd primarily played online. I didn't even get into any MTTs, because they were way outside my budget at the time. I think I was up for a day or so, but left town a loser. But it was a fun experience and helped me understand where I needed to go from there.

I'd always wanted to go back, but never made it much of a priority, because I had my monthly game, tourneys or cash at the local casino, once upon a time there was online poker, and was making regular sojourns out to Las Vegas to get my fix. Plus I'd have to be a pretty healthy winner just to turn a profit after gas, food, & jacked up hotel prices, the timing wasn't working out, and I just didn't know if my game was ready for it yet. Fast forward to this year, the opportunity was there, and I felt ready. My good buddy Being Rich is an RV owner and fellow degenerate, so we rallied one other guy, made plans to head out this March, pack the RV full of a couple meals a day plus booze, and stay in the casino parking lot/RV Park for $30 a night plus some fuel, and see what we could make of the early stages of the Circuit Event.

We got into town Thursday evening, grabbed some dinner, then headed to the room for some 1/3 NL, where we all promptly lost a nickel or two. But we got our feet wet. The focus was going to be the $150 nighties, with my ultimate goal being to get into the $350 Event 2, 2 day re-entry ring event.

So Friday afternoon, after a relaxing day in the zero gravity chair under the RV awning on an unseasonably warm March weekend in Iowa, I reported for duty & got back to the 1/3 NL grind about 4:00. By 6:45 when I had to quit to head over for the 7:00 nightly, I had reversed the prior night's loss, AND conveniently also locked up my $150 buyin. Freerolling the first tourney I was taking a shot at...nothing wrong with that! I went into the tourney thinking very positively. I'm sitting at a WSOP sanctioned event with a nice structure on a long weekend w/my buddies, freerolling the biggest buyin tourney I've played to date thanks to cash winnings, with another shot or two in subsequent nights if things don't go my way. My tourney game was admittedly out of shape, only having played one real MTT in almost 2 years, the $125 Aria nightly NLH in Vegas in January, where my game was so out of shape I didn't know which way was up. But that was against Vegas pros/grinders who know that tourney like the back of their hand and play it regularly, preying on outsiders like me, and I was admittedly shaken. While there was certainly going to be experience in this circuit nightly, I felt more on "my turf", playing in my neck of the woods against a lot of people under similar circumstances as myself. Plus, worst case, there was always the pile of action in the poker room or the pile of booze at the RV, were sorrows required to be drowned.

So away we go.

I should've done this blog sooner or taken some notes on my phone through the tourney or something, because I don't remember a lot of specific hands, but on the other hand, I wanted to focus on my table every single hand instead of dwelling on note taking. What good are notes if it means you missed a read or make a mistake that costs you your tournament life? Anyway, the first, and quite possibly biggest milestone in the tourney was in the 2nd hour. Antes had kicked in, and after being up a little bit after the first break, I was down into push or fold mode late in the hour. I came across AJ in early/mid position, jammed, ran into AK, flopped a Jack, and finally doubled into a playable stack. And play it I did. For the next 3 hours I played my heart out, and the cards were kind. My stack steadily grew in hours 3 & 4, then before I knew it in the 5th or so hour, I was a top 3 stack, with a lot of opportunities to steamroll. I was making hands, playing aggressively on draws, and consumed any size pot or stack that was up for the taking. My favorite was a total Hollywood job where I flopped a straight draw & turned the nuts after calling bets pre & post flop. I "agonized" over my turn call of his bet, which got him to give me his relatively sizable stack on the river. And if winning when I was ahead wasn't enough, I also busted AK w/KQ when I rivered a flush. I rose to a top 3 stack and could do no wrong as we went from 5 tables down to 3, but then as things got a little more challenging & the cream started to rise to the top, paying 15, I'd halved my stack on a couple of poor plays, between 27 & 19 left and was below the average for the first time since late in the 2nd hour. I continued riding a short stack down to two tables, where I took the toughest beat of the whole tourney. As the tables were rebalanced, I ended up with what was probably the shortest stack a table full of deep stacks, and the blinds approaching, which would take about half of what little I had left. It felt like as I looked around the table, people were looking at me and mentally licking their chops. I managed to shove & scoop blinds a time or two, but after coming all this way, it started to feel like I was going to manage to bubble this thing...

Then the clouds parted, the sun shone down, and the poker gods gave me the greatest gift I've gotten since I started playing this game in 2004. I got moved to the other table with much more reasonable stacks, with about 3 extra hands until the blinds got to me. I'd still be chum in the water to a few, but there far fewer sharks feeding. We managed to get past the money bubble, and I think I'd maybe scooped once, then finally, my time came. I got all my chips in in the big blind. There was a raise, a re-raise, a jam in the small blind, and I look down at AK in the big blind. Are you kidding me?? I tanked for a couple minutes, but in the end there's just no way I could let it go in that situation. Too big of a hand, too short of a stack, & too favorable of pot odds. The raise & re-raise called, and I figured I was drawing dead, but as we tabled the cards, there was still life. At the opposite end of the table the initial raisers tabled AQ & JJ. And I looked over to the SB, who surprisingly tabled an AK to match mine. I had some life, but two of my outs were staring me in the face. The flop came something like AJ10. I saw the Ace first and my vision went white, but I was quickly brought back to earth by my partner in Big Slick next to me, announcing the set. The outlook was bleak now, drawing to the 3-outer. The turn was a blank, but the river brought the miracle Q, and we were singing Broadway. What a hand. So we chopped a triple-up and the JJ guy had the AQ guy covered, busting him on the final table bubble. With a stack off life support now and a seat at the final table, I could relax just a little bit and take a chance to get refocused.

As final table play began, I still only had about 10 big blinds, or an M of just under 4, so I was still pretty much in push or fold mode, but at least had enough for a potential caller to think twice about. As fate would have it, not too far along I tripled up and busted someone to get us to 8. Then I busted the guy in 8th, and we were in business. I'm sitting on a 200k+ stack with blinds at 5k/10k/1k and could play some cards again. As we went on, 7th busted, then 6th busted and we were at a $1k payday. Being pretty superstitious, I'd been keeping to text updates to Josh (who by this point was back at the RV with Rich and some of our RV neighbors enjoying themselves) since that's what I'd been doing all tourney, but once we hit the $1k payday I was happy with any finish, so I asked them to come back & watch me finish this thing out if they wanted. I can't remember what happened to the guy in 5th, but I remember busting the guy in 4th when I called his all-in w/my 77 vs. his AK. The flop came A77.

With 3 left, I made a pretty major mistake that would've gotten me to heads up with a big chip lead. There was a guy playing, who, when I sat down with him with 27 left was already drunk at 11:00, then proceeded to keep pounding Coronas and be SUPER annoying but continuously amassing chips up to this point. I had flopped a set of 8s, and it was my action, when he acted out of turn saying "all-in". Instead of checking w/the dealer or floor to see what my options were, they returned action to me, and I abruptly put him all-in thinking he had an all-in hand and would naturally call, but it turns out he was on a move with his play, and he folded to my jam. As it turns out, if I would've checked, his all-in would've been binding. Assuming I would've busted him there, I would've been heads up with a commanding chip lead, but instead he ended up getting busted by my eventual heads up opponent, which would make heads up more of a fight.

We went into heads up with me probably having a little less than a 2:1 advantage. In the end, heads up was pretty straightforward, but I did get into my own head a little bit early on, feeling a little intimidated by my Asian opponent & giving up the chip lead. Once we got a few hands under our belt, I realized I was by no means outmatched, I buckled back down & things ended pretty quickly. After getting the chips back close to even, I limped w/Q7 and flopped 2 pair. He bet into me and I thought this was going to be it. I wanted to play it aggressively instead of trap, but he folded to my raise. I won the pot and had a slight chip lead. As it turns out, the next hand sealed the deal. I called a standard raise w/K9 and flopped trips on the KK5 flop. Villain tanked for a while and open jammed, and I made the most gratifying instacall of my life. He tabled A4, and of course with a deuce on the turn he got a sweat, but the river bricked and I TOOK IT DOWN!!

For being the last standing among 148 players, I banked $4824 of pure profit for the win, and with the tourney wrapping up just short of 2 AM, is a not too shabby $690 hourly pay rate. ;-) I could get into some in-depth analysis, but any experienced poker player knows that winning a tournament involves a good percentage of luck, and the stars definitely aligned for me. I had my one big suckout, I had the deck hitting me upside the head, and that table change with 16 or 17 left sure didn't hurt either. But I played my heart out to pick my spots, grind on a short stack, get the most value out of winning hands, and all the other dozens of places where skill plays a factor. I earned it.

I'd be remiss if I didn't thank Josh & Rich. Josh kept my morale high via text throughout the whole tournament and said all the right things at all the right times to keep my head in it & keep me believing in myself. And I guess one of the inherent things for my poker bucket list that comes along with winning a tournament is having someone spectate while you play cards, which was very surreal & very cool. Having them there in person to keep me focused, and the confidence *they* had in me as things neared the end had a major part in me having the wherewithal to take it down. I'll never forget hearing Rich say to Josh "He's gonna win it. Just look at him. He's got it." as the intensity peaked. I only wish my other biggest poker supporters in my brother-in-law & wife could've been there. Of course speaking of my wife, I have to thank her for letting me get away from the weekend & continue pursuing this poker journey I'm on. She was 8 months pregnant & stayed up until 3 AM being updated via text & waiting to talk to me after all the hub-hub died down. Next time I hope she's able to be there.

As for the rest of the trip, I played the tourney again the next night, and ironically, after being in good position to double to a decent chip stack in hour two just like I did the night before, this time I had the AK vs. the AJ and villain flopped the Jack to bust me. It felt kind of like a wink, nudge, & smirk from the poker gods after all I'd been blessed with the night before. Except this chick didn't ride her good fortune to victory. She was a total donkey.

Obviously after the tournament win I had the funds to enter the $350 Ring Event, but it turned out to run a day later than the original schedule had stated, and Rich needed to be back at work on Monday. Plus after actually *winning* a tournament as opposed to just securing some profit to play the $350, I'd found my high for the weekend and figured pursuit of a ring could wait until another time. I didn't want any "but"s to take away from a utopian weekend.

As fate would have it, between 5 cash game sessions & two tournaments, I zeroed out my tourney buyins with cash game winnings, and left town up exactly my $4824 tournament payout (minus celebration costs, of course). Being kind of a sentimental, overthinking-type bloke, it seems like there's some meaning somewhere in that, but all that aside, it's something to be proud of, be able to reflect on, and a nice foundation for moving onward & upward on that poker bucket list!