Friday, July 06, 2007

Caesars Palace Saturday Night 7:00 $540

The title of this story is deceiving because this is really a tale about the ending of my 2007 WSOP. I have gotten in the habit of starting from the end of the trip and working to the beginning in the last couple of years, this year will be no exception.


It has become very difficult for me to decide which I like better: playing poker or writing about what happened. I do know for sure that building the memories with my friends is the largest diamond in the mine. We call our group that goes to the series every year "The Tribe." We fight and die together on the felt and poker can be a cruel mistress. When you are not winning it is nice to have the support of your friends. I would like to say THANK YOU to Jason, Brad, Randy, Brandon, Gavin and the list of the many others who, although are not tribal, gave their support to me. I need to give a special thank you to Brad and Jason, you are my wingmen and you are always there for me. I wanted to win that night for me; I NEEDED to win that night because I was representing US.

Like so many other times before, the day begins in the afternoon.

It was the end of a very long week and I will no doubt write some stories about the bad beats the tribe took, there were many and we were tired. I was done with tournament poker for the trip. When you are playing that many big buy-in tournaments for that many hours, really getting deep only to have victory snatched away from you by some donkey catching his 4 outter, it can really take the wind out of your sails. We train ourselves to take the swings and we know that if you are getting your money in good most of the time, they are going to sneak some beats in on you every once in a while. We had taken more than our fair share and we were beat up and battle scarred.

The whole tribe had been playing really well, especially the "Most Improved" tribe member award winner: Brad. Brad really had become a dedicated student of the game this last year joining's program. He diligently put the time in and it showed. Every time I saw him in a tournament that week, if he wasn't leading in chips at his table, he had a top 2 stack. His table image was awesome; more than once I watched him announce "Gentlemen I am tighter than the skin on a hot dog." as he turned over the nuts for them. I also personally witnessed some of the gut wrenching beats he was taking, AA vs you name it and they get there. I once saw him flop a set of kings and get it all in with a turned set of queens and the river brought the omega black widow to iron out his monster hand, just sick.

I was done playing tournaments. I am a good tournament player, but my heart and skills are embedded in the cash games. That is where I feel the most comfortable and I had been swimming in those familiar high limit cash games for the last couple of days. I was leaving blood trails back to my room with Lucy at the Bellagio. It felt good and I have never seen the action running this high- it usually pumps up a little around series time but this was insane. The 10/20 NL game was playing like the 50/100 and so on up the list. They boys were in town and they wanted to clash with each other. I will write a couple of stories about those cash games for you later that will make you hold on to your wallet while you read them, I know I did when I played them. When I play cash, I play all night and sleep all day. The poker room is richer in both money and loose attitudes at night. Over the years I have become a poker vampire I guess.

It was about four in the afternoon and I was just finishing eggs Benedict in my room, when my phone beeped. It was Coldiron with a three word text "Tourney @ 7:00". I know I said I was done with it but I guess that is part of being tribal, it was our last night and if he was going, I was going. I called John Galt and said the same to him "Tourney @ 7:00." He said the only thing I expected him to say, "Ok." I said, “Meet me at Caesars early so we can play some cash before.” I jumped in the shower and called Lucy to let her know where I would be; she wished me luck. Even she knew the way these things had been running. I really did need her to wish me luck this time and I told her the same thing I always tell her, "I am already the luckiest man alive because of you and the girls." I really do feel that way, winning at poker for me is just extra. She asked me when I was leaving and I said that I wanted to go soon. Then she said that if I would wait five minutes, she had something to give me. I said, "Honey, I don't have that kind of time!" She told me that I was a pervert and that wasn't what it was and that she was getting in the elevator.

When she walked in she was holding a teal box with a white ribbon. I knew instantly what it was and I loved her all the more for it. The tribe has a tradition that anytime one of our own gets there in the WSOP we award our own bracelet. It is an ID bracelet from Tiffany's. I earned one earlier in the week but I hadn't said anything and there she was, it was engraved 2007 WSOP event #25. I guess she is just as tribal as the rest of them. Thanks Lucy! She is the real prize.

I was on my way next door when I ran into Jason standing on the carpet highway in front of the Bellagio poker room. I was pretty sure it was the end of days. It was one thing for John Galt to be on time, but for him to be early? I pointed to my watch and tilted my head; he knew what I was asking without a word being said. "I know, I just want to bankrupt some tourist in a cash game before we play the tournament. If I can't find one it's going to need to be you." I put my arm around his shoulder as we walked toward Caesars Palace and said, "Let's go find you a lamb. I'll hold him for you, how is that?" We both smiled. If poker gives you just one good friend, that makes up for all the bad beats. We both knew that poker didn't owe us anything.

Caesars Palace Saturday Night 7:00 $540 Buy - In Part Two - Nine Ball

Galt and I walked into the Caesars Palace poker room and it was hopping, all the tables were full including the upper deck. I walked around the corner of the sign-in desk and handed Lexie a $20.00 bill and said, “Put Nitrox and Galt on all the no limit lists please.” She said "Thanks!" and we went to the tournament area to sign up while we waited. I handed the girl my WSOP players card and $540USD and asked her how many she had so far and she said "You're the first one" I wondered to myself FIFO or FILO?

I went and sat at one of the empty tournament tables in the sea of tables in the huge tournament room at Caesars and waited for Jason to sign in. Poker sure has come into its own the last couple of years. They used to just shove us in a corner somewhere and now look at this beautiful room. As I sat there Galt joined me. As we chatted about the improvements to the room including the new elevated and televised final table, we heard the announcement "Nitrox, 2/5 No Limit, Galt, 2/5 No Limit!".

We were seated in the main poker room at table 00723. As the chip runner went for our ammo, I called Coldiron. I told him where we were and he said that he was showing up at 6:30 to get signed in and that he planned on winning tonight. He sounded serious and I believed him. Poker didn't owe me a thing either as far as he was concerned. We met many years ago as we both started new businesses, I sold him his first computer when he started his firm and my computer shop was one room. Playing poker together for the last 4 or 5 years further forged our friendship, more like brothers than friends, at least for me. I heard once that history will remember you more for your associations than your deeds; I am comfortable that history will remember me well. In addition to being very gracious and a gentleman at all times, Brad is a very fierce competitor and after talking to him I really hoped that I didn't draw his table tonight.

The chips came and Jason and I both were playing a rack of red and five behind, $500.00 in $5.00 chips and $500.00 cash behind. It was a pretty soft spot, the usual suspect's a couple of minor leaguer WSOP guys, a kid from Helsinki, someone's mom, Galt and Boss. If you are a constant reader you know how this is going to go. I never remember anyone's name, even though as a sale's professional it is my business to remember. I don't remember their names on purpose because as you know, I name them when I sit down. Galt is in the five seat and I am in the eight seat, the number 2 seat is a large man with a baseball hat on emblazoned with a big M, for Missouri. He makes a bet at me and I start in "Why so much Mississippi?" He says "It's not that much, only three times the big blind and it's MISSOURI!" I say "oh sorry" and look at Galt who already has the "here we go with this shit" look on his face. I call this guy every geographical M name I can think of except Missouri the rest of the time we were there. He stopped correcting me when I got to the University of Madagascar. The table roared with laughter.

When I am at the table we are going to have fun, but never in a mean spirited sort of way. I will leave with the money more than my fair share of the time but we always have fun! I also create a lot of action in a small game like this because I like to play odd hands like small pairs and suited connectors and 90% of the time I take a flop, I raise with them. I do this for several reasons, but mainly I feel like I will have the advantage playing after the flop. I either make a monster hand and do the whole village or I sense the other players holding and get away cheap after I have 70% of the information. I also have built a nice pot at this point and a lot of times a reasonable continuation bet wins me what is in the middle when they don't hit. I am always talking and having fun and my table mates are having fun also; occasionally there is the one grump. He normally just loses and leaves mumbling something about my poor play, "Seat Open!" and the game rolls on.

We had a great time in that game and Jason and I were just vacuuming chips off that table. I was in full control. Jason said later that he felt like we were the Penn and Teller act, he said, "guess which one I am?" I laughed, good times.

Since almost the first hand I started calling for cards to come on the board. Sometimes I really did call for the card I needed but mostly I was just fooling around, but I said it John Juanda style with "ball" after the card I wanted every time. I was also saying it really loud so the whole card room could hear it. I know, hard to believe.

The next hand comes to me min raised and I am one off the button. I look down and see a double skip connector suited in diamonds. I like ten/seven suited with five other players for $20.00, so I call. The big blind calls so seven of us take a flop and it comes out 68K the two babies are diamonds the king is a club. Now I am open ended with a flush draw. The blind checks and under the gun makes it $50.00 to go. It’s folded to me and I figure him for AK and I call, we lose the rest and take the turn heads up.

The dealer burns and just as he is bringing out the turn card I yell "NINE BALL" and you can probably guess who shows up to the party, the Nine of spades. I had been doing the nine ball, jack ball, two ball thing for over an hour so when the nine comes out the guy just shakes his head and bets out a stack and a half. I say "why so much Toto, why would you bet soooo much?" which is something I have said to everyone the whole time no matter what they bet, "you didn't hear me call for the nine ball?" then the guys says "I think you are a "full of crap BALL" everyone including me laughed and then I did the scariest thing you can do in no limit poker, I flat called his big bet.

The table went silent. It felt to me like the whole room went silent and the dealer burned and turned the river. All I could think about was no diamond and don't pair the board. What came out of my mouth, however, was "NINE BALL!" The dealer brought the Ace of clubs, the nuts for me and what I was sure was the cooler for my friend in the Madagascar University ball cap, if I was right he had top two. I felt sorry for the guy. All the money was going in and the cinderblock was heading for the bottom, the goat was doing a hundred miles an hour headed for the hole and nothing was going to stop it.

(If you read my stuff you know about the goat and the cinder block. To review- sometimes an action happens and the horrible result isn't felt until later even though it was inevitable after the first action. Tie a rope to a cinderblock, tie the other end to a goat, throw the cinderblock down a hole, three minutes later you have a surprised goat with a mouth full of grass racing towards a hole. Poker is like that, A lot!)

I almost felt a little sick when my goat said, "I think you have Ace, King." I said, "I think you have Ace, King." He said, "I can beat Ace King," and I said, "Me too." Then he shoved- it was $250 to go and he was all in. I said I have to call, he showed pocket eights for a set and I turned over my straight. I give him credit- he says "Son of a bitch, you really did need a NINE BALL!" He reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of $100s and yelled "Re-Buy, Ball." everyone was laughing and I was stacking chips. What a nice guy. You can really tell what a man is made of by the way he loses a pot. The man from Missouri had my respect; little did I know later that night we would be in a larger pot together, $26,000 larger!

I finally ask the kid from Helsinki, who I have named Hansel, if he is mute. He laughs and responds in a thick accent that no he is "just scared." We all laugh with him. Two hands later he gets involved in a big hand with the one seat that I have named Ed Norton. He is a local pro and it goes like this: pre-flop Hansel Raise $50.00, Ed Re-Raise make it $100.00, Hansel Re-Raise $300.00, Ed Re-Raise after a long shocked look at Hansel, all In for $1200.00! The kid thinks for a minute and then mucks his hand face up, 72 off suit! Ed Norton exploded turning over pocket kings, "I had no idea you even had that gear!" I immediately piped in and said, "Nice going guys, you scared the crap out of Chau Chang," as I point to the very quite Asian gentleman sitting next to Galt in seat four. He looked at me for a second and he started laughing and then everyone was laughing as he said "Man, you guys are crazy! This is the most fun I have had in Vegas, ever!" it was the first thing he had said in over an hour.

I felt a hand on my shoulder and a deep voice said "Rack up boys, it's time." It was Coldiron and it was also 6:50pm. I was up $750.00 and Jason was up at least that when we started picking up, the table complained "come on, don't leave, this has been the most fun table yet!" I said, "Don't worry, the way I have been running I will be back sooner than later." Little did I know that the tribe had just thrown a giant cinderblock down a bottomless pit, as the three amigos walk into the tournament room.

Caesars Palace Saturday Night 7:00 $540 Buy - In Part Three - "Wanna Bet?"

The three of us walked into the tournament room together and we were all at different tables, which I prefer. I like playing with my mates in a cash game, but not having to worry about being the one to snuff out a tribal light is just that much less pressure for me. The tournament clock on the wall is counting us down. Just less than five minutes to go, Jason says "How about a ‘last longer’, say $200.00 each?" Brad and I both agree and it looks like one of us is going to be on a free roll.

Gavin and his friend Alan show up. Alan is not a tribe member, but we wish them both well anyway. I give a hug to my wingmen and we all sit. About midway through the second hand I have pocket nines and, you guessed it, before the flop comes out I yell "Nine Ball!" Brad is at the table next to me and turns around and smiles. Jason is all the way across the room and I see his head pop up from a table and we exchange smiles. It feels good to be under fire again. The nine ball didn't come and I had to lay down my pocket nines to a large re-raise of my continuation bet on the flop. Start the grind again.

Gavin's buddy Alan was a nice enough guy, but I think he needs to relax a little. Every time I saw him he had a big backpack and a fanny pack and when I asked him about it, he said that he dressed in layers for all the tournaments. I have trouble remembering to pack enough underwear for the series each year and here this guy is with a camp stove and hiking boots! We’re poker players for God sake, relax! Five minutes into this thing here comes Alan marching down the center isle of tables with his rucksack, saying "pocket aces CRACKED!" It really wasn't funny but I… who am I kidding, it was funny.

It is nearing the first break and I notice a shuffling at Brad’s table. He is involved with someone and it is getting animated. I stand up to notice that it is Gavin and Brad is all in. The pot is HUGE and Gavin is accusing Brad of pushing him around. Brad is assuring him that he is not and he is more than happy to have Gavin call if he needs to. Gavin lays it down and is pissed. I see Brad mouthing to Gavin a couple hands later, "Pocket Aces," but Gavin is not having it; he is sitting there with his hat pulled down steaming. It really isn't funny but.... oh who am I kidding again, I was laughing my ass off.

If you have ever played any tournament poker you know that it is all about the bathroom- every break all the players head for the bathroom and then chat afterwards. The break came and I ran into Coldiron outside the men's room and said, "What were you doing to Gavin?" He told me he raised with American Airlines and Gavin re-popped him so he moved in to let Gavin know where he was. Brad was like, "I was trying to be nice to the guy. Mark, if it was you I would have called and check raised you on the flop!" See why I didn't want to be at his table? I asked him how he was doing and he said he was around six grand. We started with $2500, and I still had around that. I gave him the "what are you doing look" and he said that he had already killed two guys. Note to self: stay away from Coldiron.

Midway through round four Gavin got it all in and took a walk. Later, on a break, Brad told me he put it in with five other guys and showed a 58. QQ took it down. I think he must have been trying to steal. Then there were three. Jason and I were just surviving, and other than yelling "Jack Ball, Nine Ball," I had zero going for myself. Bradley on the other hand was the dominate chip leader when we got it to four tables.

Jason asked me if he could pen the account of his own death and it is as follows:

About half the contestants were out and I was sitting on an average stack, about double what we had started with. I was in the small blind with the blinds at 200-400 with a 25 ante and it was folded around to the cutoff. He made it 1600 and the button folded. I peeked down and saw AQ of hearts and raised it to 4800 hoping to take it down right there.

I only had 4000 left, so I would have to call any re-raise. The BB folded and the cutoff started counting out his chips. He seemed hesitant and confused. I couldn't tell if he had a monster and didn't know what to do or if he had a real decision. He had to know my chips were going in no matter what pre-flop. In fact, I had made up my mind to push them in post-flop too, no matter what. Can you say stop and go?

Anyway, he finally said all in, and was pushing his chips to the center of the table when I quickly said call. His motion stopped and I flipped over my AQ and he slapped the table and said, “Damn it.” Well well, that's a good sign. He then flipped over QJ off, and my hand couldn't be in a better spot. Getting all in as a 3 to 1 favorite in a critical point in the tournament is what you need to do to advance to the final table and collect some real payola. I couldn't have been happier!

Flop 10 9 7. Smile leaves my face. Turn 3, smile reappears. River the King, I spit my Red Bull all over the table a la Men the Master. Just kidding (about the red bull part). I had been rivered by a straight and that was that. No whining or crying, it just wasn't meant to be for myself in this tourney. I accepted the cutoff’s apology and wished the table well, then headed off to see where the rest of the tribe stood. I was in for a pleasant surprise.


RIP Mr. Galt

Jason got his money in good with AQ and got knocked out. He then came over to me and handed me $200.00 and actually said "When you get knocked out give this to Coldiron with your $200.00, I'm going to get something to eat." Thanks for the vote of confidence! Brad did have a lot of chips and he was playing really well, honestly I was really proud of him. He was really playing well and if it couldn't be me, I was glad it was him.

The next break came and after the bathroom run, I went over to visit Brad at his table and he had a scary stack. I asked him what he planned on doing and he said "I can't imagine playing anything but premium cards until I get to the final table, then I will take it from there." I handed him the $400.00 and said "this is obviously yours", he said, “Naw, you hold it Bubba.” Then after the break was over the tournament director said the thing I didn't want to hear, "Players we are going to combine to 2 tables." Wonderful. They put me three to Brad’s left and, just for good measure, they bring over the Brazilian, the only other stack close to Brad's, and put him on my right also. I was pretty sure death was coming.

The next hand made me sick, Brad raised, this old guy from Grand Island re-raised, Brad went in and the old guy called. Grand Island had about half the amount of chips Brad had and turned over AQ Brad showed the only hand I knew he could have, Pocket Aces. Brad was going to add 50% to his already monster stack. He was going to win this thing for sure. Then mothers milk went sour. I watched it and I still don't believe what happened. The flop came out J89 rainbow, the turn was a King, and I almost said what I had screaming inside my head "Deuce!" Then, just like a cancer cell, the ten of diamonds came on river giving the man from Grand Island a straight. Brad never missed a beat, He said "Nice catch Sir," and cut out the rest of the chips from his stack and went about his business.

A few hands later Brad was moved to the other table and I was getting to the point that I needed to pick up a hand. John Galt was behind me and I kept mucking and leaning back talking to him and saying I needed some help. I had not had a hand all day.

Then I looked down and sweet mama, Pocket Aces! I am at just about $13,000 and the blinds are 500/1000 plus a $100 ante so this is my spot. I fire in $5000.00 and get one mid position caller and then the blind declares he is ALL IN. I speed call because he has me covered and then Mr. mid position goes in the tank. I want the chips but I would rather do this heads up. He finally grants my secret wish and gives up on his hand. I turn over my hand and the blind shows me his TT. I stand up and say "One time, let it hold up once." The board is kind and I am now at over 30 grand. I think for the first time in hours I may really still be in this thing.

Caesars Palace Saturday Night 7:00 $540 Buy - In Part Four "The Final Table".

We were down to two tables and fourteen of us. I was chipped up and looking to gain the strength I would need to final table or hit the rail, it was time. I FINALLY had some chips to make a move or two; the blinds were high, twenty more minutes at $600/$1200 with a $200 ante. I was ready to die- if you play you know what I am talking about. The cops call it "suicide calm." I was going to do what needed to be done and if that meant that it was my time, I was ready. I suppose the top pros might feel this way all the time, but before that moment all night I needed to have it locked to move. I was on fire for the next three rounds. If I had position I fired, if they limped, I fired, if they looked weak I hit them with the flame thrower and then, you guessed it, FIRE! I took four pots uncontested out of nine that orbit. $1800 in antes and $1800 in blinds $3600 went in my stack every time they weakly folded desperately hoping to make the final ten, the MONEY.

The floor man yelled out, "Dealers finish the hand you are on, players we are going to $2000/$4000 $400 ante." The four seat was counting down the last round with the two seat, they had to go to the bathroom BAD. They asked the boss "What no break?" He said, "Next round guys. Forty minutes." I was laughing; they weren't. At this level a bathroom run could cost you $9600!

Up $14,000 to $45,000 from the last rampage and my table image was fierce- I continued to push. I was gaining $9600 now every time I took a pot uncontested, which I did on the first two hands, up to 60K. The problem was some of these guys were getting short in both chips and patience, the dying were starting to fight back. They were no longer able to fold to my aggression, they were moving all in. I was ok with the knowledge that they likely didn't have premium cards but I still didn't want to let one of the walking wounded double trough me. It was getting dicey.

Just then I saw something I didn't want to see, Coldiron. We had been walking over to each other’s table all night checking on each other when we weren't involved, but I knew this wasn't a welfare check. He looked like a doctor walking into a hospital lobby with bad news for the family. "I'm out!" I said, "Sorry man," and he said what he always says, "Don't be, it was time to move and I got it in good, it didn't work out." He was smiling, that is just who he is. I know he was disappointed, he really wanted this one and it was his to win, lady luck is a mean bitch sometimes.

Then he said another thing he always says to me "Take your time Mark, you have all the time you need, play your game and win this, you need anything?" He always asks me that, he always has. I do it now too; it's a great way to show your support for the tribe members still in it. It's a great tradition the tribe has adopted, but I know Brad started it. I looked over my shoulder and said "Pocket Rockets would be nice," and he looked at me a little disgusted, “Be careful what you wish for Bubba!" Oh yea, that really sucked. He smiled and did a little "what are you going to do?" thing with his hands.

I was the last man from our family left, it was a little lonely but I knew I wasn't alone; the boys would never leave a tribe member behind. We never arrived together, but we ALWAYS walked out together. When I played rugby in college I never really remembered much about the second half, this was a lot like that. I remember pounding the table but the details elude me. We kept losing players and the floor kept counting us down.

The whole time I was pounding the small stacks, then the director called out, "Players we are now down to ten players. From here forward it will be hand for hand." Hand for hand makes sure that one table doesn't play slow to sneak into the money, so when you finish your hand you have to stop and wait for the other table to finish their hand. We finished a hand and the fat guy in seat four jumped up and ran past the other table, one of their players was in the tank deciding weather to call all in. He yelled, "Take your time," and the huge 50 plus year old man did something I know he hadn't done in years, he ran! The bathroom couldn't wait any longer; it was worth four or five thousand to him at that point.

As we watched the large man gallop out of sight the player he asked to wait didn't, he called and dealer shouted to the director, "We are all in over here!" Just like it is in nature, it was this one time in poker- the large one consumed the small one and we were down to the final nine. The director passed out our cards and said "get seated at the final table and place your drivers licenses and players cards in front of your chips, after that you are on break." The fat man came rounding the corner and we all laughed. I shouted, "Take your time, you have all the time you need."

I stepped down from the elevated final table in to the arms of the tribe, I felt truly honored to have my association with them. It was a neat time that night, but I wanted to win this, oh man wouldn't that be sweet! They said to me, "The shorter this gets the better your chances get. When it gets five handed these guys don't stand a chance," and just then I said, "When it gets heads up, I win!" I really don't think it was conceit, I really just felt that confident. The support of my friends help a lot.

I got back from break and the blinds were $3000/$6000 with a $500 ante and I wasn't as confident as before. There were monsters up here; I was like the fourth smallest stack! Without boring you all with a detail of each hand it was mass action! The first hand a kid that had been drinking and must have been dealing out bad beats all night was short stacked and all in from seat two with pocket fours. A funny side note on him was that he had like $12,000 in chips, less than one orbit and had the nerve to hire a massage girl for the final table! The four seat called him with AK and flopped a king, good night kid.

Then there were eight, the action never let up, The Brazilian who was the major chip leader for hours was now dead, the lady from Argentina got him. I waited and got a feel for things and mucked my horrible cards. I stole a couple, but I was really getting down there. Nice time to go card dead. I waited.

The next hand is something that I am not really proud of but it happens in poker and it needs to be told. It gets folded around to me and I look down and see TT on the button. I am down to around $44,000 and I want those blinds and antes. I make it all-in because, if I make it- three times the blind. Half my stack is in there and the goat is going in anyway, so I don't want a call here. The big blind not only calls he beats me into the pot. Please have AK I think as he turns over JJ. I am dead, and the big blind has a name, a big smile, and a ball cap with a big yellow M on it. I say "Nice hand Missouri." The dealer brings out the flop and I hear Jason yell, "You have an open ended straight draw!" Before I even see the cards 987 the big man isn't smiling anymore and then the turn is sick. A jack comes out giving the man from the mid-west a set of jacks and a large problem, I got there.

He starts yelling at the dealer to pair the board and in the distance I can hear someone yelling "2 Ball." A 3 of clubs comes and I start walking around the table to shake the man’s hand. He doesn't want it at first, but that quickly fades as I offer my apology and tell him he played very well. I walk past Bradley on the way back to my seat and he says out of earshot, "screw sorry, win this!" I smiled, it felt good to be alive and more importantly I had the dead man's chips.

Then we were six. I was comfortable in chips at about 120 grand and I was aggressing the small stacks and so was the ten seat, an athletic looking 45 / 50 year old guy that keeps spouting odds. He is also wearing a Party Poker golf shirt. He just made a big dent in the kid in the four seat who had allowed himself to become short after coming to the final table very large and was now just bait. He was around twenty something and he got lost laddering up the prizes, he wanted the money too much.

The director shows up and you know the drill, going up $5000/$10000 with $1000 antes. The ten seat was talking about how much he loved that last hand (pocket fives) when it came. I look down under the gun, Pocket Aces, as soon as I look, I say pretty loud, "Hey, I got my favorite hand!" The ten seat asks, "What hand is that?" I say, "Pocket fives of course!" John Galt and Coldiron knew better. They both knew that I always say that in cash games, but in cash games, I never have it when I say "My favorite hand, Pocket Aces!" as I raise.

The boys knew what I had now. I felt them staring a hole in the back of my head. I made it $30,000 to go and Mr. Stats flat called and then it folded around to the old man from Grand Island, who I called by his geography rather than a name all night and who just happened to be the very guy that put the sick beat on Brad earlier, called. The flop came out JT3 and Grand Island did a classic stop and go and declared that he was "All In!" to which I announced that I would be all in too and I shoved. Now the ten seat went into the tank and I gave him about three minutes and I let him look at me twice. The third time he stared at me I said, "You are going to need a hand you like a lot more than that one if you want to call here," and he got a little snippy when he informed me that he had the best draw. I stood up and gave the man more time and he lifted his cards up to eye level as players often do before they fold and I saw his holding: KQ off suit. He mucked his cards, which was fine with me. The man from Nebraska turned over a very ironic hand: AQ. The miracle he needed to defeat Brad didn't come for him and I had exacted tribal revenge, we were down to five.

The man from New Zealand to my left and the ladder climbing Kid met un-fantastic ends to the big stack aggression and were out 5th and 4th respectively.

We had established a pretty clear pecking order when it got to three handed and the nice lady from Argentina was not long for this world when Jason's two brother's Gavin and Adam show up with a race car driving friend of Adam's named Buzz and all of their wives. They had been to a show earlier and were out on the town when they called Jason, "Get over here. We are at the final table at Caesars!" You can imagine that this gave me quite the home field advantage and just slightly more pressure, but I was feeling good. The nice lady in seat six got her money in the best she could soon after and it was heads up with me and the party poker professor.

He was very aggressive and that was fine for me. He got it in bad with a J3 once and I doubled him when he caught a jack to defeat my AK. Four or five hands later we faced off his K4 vs. my A4. The board came Q96, the turn was a Q. I was already there but if the board paired we would both have two pair and I would win with the ace kicker. So naturally, before the river came out, I call for a.... you guessed it, "Nine Ball!" and the dealer brought out the nine of spades.

I won't lie to you, 1st place felt pretty nice for me that night, especially since I had the Queen of Hearts sleeping quietly in the Bellagio after watching her fountains and going to sleep at 10:30, letting Big Papa live his dream while she had hers. She scolded me the next morning for not calling her at 4:30am to let her know I won. I smiled and said, "Sorry sweetie, next time I get first I will call you." That was ok with her and I really was the luckiest guy in Vegas.

When you win and your friends are in the audience cheering you on and taking pictures while they are calculating the total amount of tournament chips you have control of and the guy you are heads up with finally breaks down and asks you "Who the hell are all these people? I can't believe you have your own entourage!"

That is the reason we fight, that is why we take all the bad beats and demoralizing bubble finishes. Every single loss is erased in that one moment of triumph. I just looked at him and said, "That is the TRIBE and today, I got to be chief." He just shook his head and I thought to myself, "and today the Indians get to keep all the land, Cowboy."


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