Thursday, March 15, 2007

2006 – 37th Annual WSOP - Event Number 31 – The $2000 Part Three

I started counting my chips and was getting ready to verify. After you get checked by the staff, they give you a bag and you seal your chips up and get a receipt. I called Brad real quick to let him know the good news; funny it was 3:00AM his time and I never even thought twice about calling him. Poker players. I was walking out of the Rio with Jason and I turned to him and said, “I made it, Bro.” He said something that I will never forget. “Yes you did. You wanted it more than they did there is no defense for that.” It was true, I did want it. I crawled all day on the metaphorical broken glass and now it was all extra. Whatever happened, this could never be taken away from me. Before we got on our separate elevators back at the Bellagio, Jason stepped into his elevator, turned around and said to me, “You do remember that I finished 77th when I cashed in the World Series, right?” The doors closed and he was gone. Yea, that would be sweet, to fight through at least 121 more players and finish deeper than Mr. Smart-Ass.

Nine or ten years ago, when I first started to play poker seriously, I would play until breakfast when I was winning, and I still do. I love the night, when I am rolling I play as long a session as I can and pick up when it is time to eat with Lucy in the morning. I could play longer but it makes it nice to meet her and go sleep for 5 or 6 hours; it has become our thing. Back in the day when I got busted and lost all the money I allocated for poker that day, I would have to go to the room earlier than breakfast. I have always been very strict about the money management associated with poker. Lucy quickly learned that if Big Papa should show up at the room too early, things went bad and I had lost all my money. She was so funny in those days. She would always pretend to be asleep when I came home early. We both knew she wasn’t and I was typically so pissed that I was glad to go along with it, so as not to risk taking it out on her accidentally. I was never pissed about the money; it was taken there to lose if necessary. I was very seldom mad at my table mates; they wanted to win and they had rights to that. I was always mad at me. I was frustrated that it seemed that I didn’t know anything about poker and I wanted to become better, and every time I got busted it seemed like I knew less. I would dominate one game and then move up a level in cash and get punched in face. Every time I got knocked down I had a bunch of time to lie in bed next to my baby girl who was pretending to be asleep and think about what I had done wrong. I would analyze those mistakes and try to figure out ways that I could avoid them in the future, and pretty soon I stopped losing so often, then after a couple of years it was the remote exception, and now I haven’t lost all the money I left the room with in 4 or 5 years. The point I am making is, if I can do it, you can do it. However, you must face your mistakes and correct them, spend time thinking about your failures and they will happen less often. Talk to people whose game you respect about the dumb things you did, not about how you made quad kings. Be honest with them and more importantly with yourself and you will get better, I promise. It worked for me and am definitely not the smartest guy in the game. I just want it more than they do.

I got back to the room around 3:00AM and I crawled in bed, knowing that Lucy would consider this a VERY bad sign. I kissed her on the head and said nothing. Five minutes went by and she said, “I am sure you tried your best, honey.” I said, “I did, and I am going back tomorrow for day two! I am in the money!” She told me how much I sucked and slapped me around a little. Then we laughed and talked like kids until 5:00 when she made me settle down and get some sleep. I had a tournament to play in the morning!

We all got together for breakfast in the morning at the Bellagio Café; we love eating there. That’s when it all started, the prop betting. I said to Jason, “So if I go below 100, what do I get?” He thought for 2 seconds and said, “Remember those lame WSOP shirts with ‘spectator’ printed on the back that we made so much fun of?” We really did make fun of them, I mean really, why not just get a shirt that says “mirage buffet spectator”? I told him that I remembered the shirt, but what of it? He said, “If you go below 100 you get nothing, but if you break my record and go below 77, I will wear that shirt on the rail, stand on a chair and cheer you on to victory for the rest of the tournament.” I said, “Even if I make the final table and you end up on ESPN doing that for 8 hours?” He replied, “Especially if you make the final table!” We had a deal.

I got to the Rio at 11:30 to be early for my noon start and walked into the main event area. My mouth dropped open as I saw a tournament already in full swing with a small number of tables in advanced rounds roped off. Holy crap! Did I get the time wrong? If I had been blinding out since 9:00 I was screwed! I panicked. The “Missed your final exam and you don't graduate” kind of panic. I asked one of the directors if this was day two of event #31 and he said, “No this is day three of Event #30 - WSOP No Limit Hold'em Short Handed. Event number 31 is over there,” pointing to the other roped off section. “That starts at noon. If you are here to watch that, you have plenty of time.” Ok, that was a little scary. I walked over to the tournament and the security guard said, “This area is for players only, sir.” Music to my ears! I was in the right place and it was the right time and hey, I was a player!

We started the day at $2000/$4000 with a $1000 ante, and on the second hand something wild happened. Ian raised to $10,000, it was folded to me and I looked down and what did I see but American Airlines: AA. I was 17th in chips with $52,000, so I made it $30,000 to go. It was folded around to Ian and he said, “I suppose you have pocket aces again, because I have wired queens,” as he tossed them face up in the muck. I slid the aces face down to the dealer and took my pot. Two hands later, Ian said, “What did you have, mate?” I replied with “pocket fours.” He said, “So aces then, eh?” and I said, “Yea.” Same hand and same players as the night before.

For the next couple of hours I really went card dead. Jennifer Tilly was at the table next to me and was knocked out in 99th place. As she was starting to walk out, this girl was chasing behind her with a clipboard, trying to get her info to pay her, and Jennifer just ignored this girl. “Miss Tilly, Miss Tilly,” the girl chased after her and she just walked out without collecting her prize or even acknowledging the girl trying to do her job. If you don't need the money, fine, tell the girl to give it to charity; if you are mad and can’t talk now, tell the girl you will come back later. It was obvious to me that Jennifer thought she was better than that girl. I was not impressed, and I was a bigger fan of the girl trying to do her job than of Jennifer Tilly. I did get to talk to Jennifer’s boyfriend Phil “The Unabomber” Laak before the tournament started and he was a really nice guy.

Now we were at $4000/$8000 with $1000 antes. Things were moving pretty fast now, and I was down to around $26,000. I was going to have to find a spot to make a stand while I still had enough chips to make someone at least think about laying down when I move in. When I looked up at the TV with all the tourney info to see how long we have left in this round, I saw we were down to 70 players. I looked around to find Jason on the rail and he was standing on a chair next to Lucy wearing that stupid shirt, backwards with the “Spectator” facing front! He is indeed a man of his word and he was having fun; he is a good friend. It was time; I had picked up queen ten of hearts in late position. I needed to start stealing and get healthy again, and if I got called I got called. Any hand that called me would likely give me live cards to draw at and the hearts provided additional ways home. It was folded to me and I moved in. Like a storybook ending it was Ian that called me. He turned over AK, I didn’t improve and just like that I was out in 56th position. Ian walked around to me and gave me a hug; I wished him luck. Then he said, “I am sure I will see you in more of the upcoming events; you're a pro right?” I was very complemented and I said, “No, I am just the fourth best player in my home game and it was an honor to play with you all! Good luck!” I shook everyone's hand including Dan Harrington, and I would like say he was very nice to me and very professional. Some other professional players could learn from the example he sets. I hope the next WSOP story I write starts like…. “So there I was at the final table with Jason and Brad.” Until then, be nice, it matters.


2006 – 37th Annual WSOP - Event Number 31 – The $2000 Part Two

I sat down and the blind would hit me in two hands. I just needed two cards that would allow me to move my stack in. The good news was that between the antes and the blinds there is $550 in the middle every hand. Mother of Mary I needed a hand! I put in my $25 ante and got my cards: Q2 off suit. Perfect! I mucked. Next hand, 84 off suit. Muck. I am starting to run low on choices, and I was already at the point that an all in from me was giving anyone 3 to 1 odds to call, so I wasn’t going to scare anyone away. I needed a hand! I threw my last $25 chip out for my ante placed my last two black $100 chips out in front of me to satisfy my big blind obligation. I was down to one chip: a lone $500 check; it was almost funny in a way. I watched in amazement as this previously bloodthirsty table that was making every hand $500 pre-flop turned into a little lamb with seven players just limping in for $200 big blind! I never look at my cards until it is my turn to act, as you know, so I was sitting there thinking that if I had ANYTHING I was going to throw in my last $500 chip and we were going for a ride, hoping that if they were all that weak, they might be able to lay down to a guy that hasn’t played a hand in 2 hours. This would be the score I need to get back on this horse, please pocket fives, anything. The small blind called the additional $100 and the dealer looked at me and said, “Option?” You bet your ass, I looked down to see what monster fate had provided me in this perfect scenario and there it was. 72 off suit. Yes boys and girls, the worst starting hand in hold’em. I check; I guess we hope for the best, huh. The flop comes out J82 and well that that hit me, but it was nothing to write home about. The small blind checked and so did I, then another miracle happened. Everyone else at this hostile table checked! Wow! The dealer brought out the turn card and I just couldn’t believe what I saw: the 2 of clubs. I had made trips and the small blind checked. I actually said out loud, “I have been waiting all afternoon for a hand to go all in with and I can’t believe that this is the one I am doing it with but, I’m all in!” With that I tossed my lone $500 chip out in front of me and everyone folded save two players. When they called I thought, “No one would have played a set like that and if there was the case deuce out there, I probably had them out kicked because they would likely have limped that card suited and connected with a three or god forbid an ace.” I didn’t have long to worry, because when the river came I almost feel out of my chair. The seven of diamonds. I had made a full house. It wasn’t the nuts, but I was happy to get it all in with this hand and if someone beat me they beat me. Don’t get me wrong, I would never play poker again if I was beat, but I would accept it. Ace Jack made a pair of jacks to win a small $400 side pot over pocket tens when I announced “I’m full.” The math was 8 players calling $200 pre-flop, 10 players putting in $25 in antes and myself and two others putting in the $500 each for $3350 coming my way. I was so happy I was shaking. I had my voice back; I had a chance.

The thing that happened next was really great and kind of eerie at the same time. I was happily stacking my chips now that I had more than 3 of them, and I was in the small blind. Under The Gun limped and it was folded to the button who was a crazy Russian kid from New York City. I had watched him get involved and show down some pretty crazy hands in the last 2 hours, and he made it $600 to go. I thought, “You want to steal my small blind? Who cares?” I was so happy just to be alive. I looked down and saw wired jacks. Crap, here we go again. I was not folding Jacks to a $500 raise. I could get away from it on the flop if it got crazy. I called, and the big blind and the under the gun limper also called. I thought, “Oh well with four players, you are certainly up against some big hands like AA KK QQ or AK AQ that will turn monstrous with the right flop.” I was doing the right thing with the hand but I was done with it already. When the dealer brought the flop out, I just pulled down my sunglasses and covered my mouth after I quickly said, “Check.” The flop was JJA, all those hands I was afraid they were holding pre-flop were now money cards for me. I could not believe it, Quadzilla! All of that torture all day and now in two hands I was going to make it to safety. The big blind checked with me and UTG made it $2000 to go, when just then the crazy Russian kid pushed all his chips in and actually said, “All in Bitches.” Now, he had like $7500, and at this point I only had $2725 left, but I went in the tank and took at least 3 minutes to call with the rest of my chips in hopes that I could get the other two to come along. The big blind mucked immediately and UTG said, “I only have AK; I was stealing,” and mucked his cards face up. The kid turned to me and said, “What do you have?” Proper protocol would be for him to show me his cards first since I called his all in, but asking him for that would have been bad form in my mind given my holding. I said, “I have ALL the Jacks,” as I flip over my hole cards. Then, I guess out of embarrassment, the kid told the dealer to bring out the turn and the river without exposing his hand. The dealer said, “We need to see both hands in a showdown, sir.” He said, “I don’t have to show my cards if I don’t want to!” The dealer said he did and so did the rest of the table. I told the dealer that I didn’t care, but the dealer called for a decision. Now everyone was getting upset because the kid is wasting everyone’s time and the blinds were going up, and the short stacks were low on patience, and boy did I ever know how they felt. I turned to him and said, “Come on, don’t make it hard on the short stacks, let’s just do this.” I must have gotten to him because before the floor came he flipped over A4 of spades. Two blanks came and it was over. $250 for the antes, four players pre-flop for $600 equals $2400, and the kid and I for $2725 each on the end made me $10,100. It came over the loud speaker, “Dealers finish the hand you are on and we are breaking for dinner. Players, you have one hour.”

I went looking for Jason and when I found him it didn’t look good. I said, “What’s up Killer?” He said, “I just got wiped out. I was up over $5000 and I got it all in with QQ vs 88 and you know how this story ends.” I said, “A #$%^&ing eight comes?” He said, “Of Course. I hate poker sometimes.” Note: Don’t worry, Jason got his revenge at the Wynn Classic later that year by making a final table in a major event, so he and poker are friends again. He said, “How about you? Are you still in it?” I told him my tale and he couldn’t have been happier for me, and that was for real. If he couldn’t win it, he was truly happy that I had my chance. He told me he was going to find some stripper to make him feel better, but I knew he was going back to the Bellagio, so I called Lucy and told her to call his room in half an hour and make sure he got some dinner. She was happy that I was still in it. She had no idea. “Are you having fun honey boy?” It was like John Elway calling his wife at half time during the super bowl after he just scored the go ahead touchdown. “That’s nice Johnny, are you having fun?” Classic; she doesn’t give a rat’s ass about poker and she tries so hard to conceal that from me, because the only thing that she cares about regarding poker is that it makes Big Papa happy and for that she loves poker and I love her for being just who she is. I hope God takes me before her because I just couldn’t stand it here without Mimi.

Time to call Brad, and oh hell yea! It was seven o’clock in Vegas so it was eight in Denver, and guess what? It was our monthly poker club night and Brad was at his house with all the guys. I called and he answered and said, “Great Job Mark, I am so proud of you!” I was like, “What the ..?” He said, “The tournament is all over the internet and we have been following along. The bloggers are posting everything.” I asked him to tell the guys I said hey, and I would continue to do my best. He said, “I never doubted you for a second Bubba!” Man, I can’t tell you how good that phone call felt. I hung up the cell phone and I was alone. When you are on break at the WSOP you are required to leave the tournament area, so I had walked over to an area of about fifty tables that were empty from the days knockouts and not being used for the sit n goes or the second chance tournament yet, so they were just empty, save me in the middle of them. I was alone for the first time in what seemed like ages and I wasn’t hungry. I had called all the people I needed to talk to and there I was. I slipped my on iPod and listened to the song that I had put on repeat and played over 200 times over and over while I ground down the cheese grater. “Me Against The World,” by 2Pac.

Could somebody help me? I'm out here all by myself
See ladies in stores, Baby Capones, livin’ wealthy;
Pictures of my birth on this Earth is what I'm dreamin’
Seein’ Daddy's semen, full of crooked demons, already crazy
and screamin I guess them nightmares as a child
had me scared, but left me prepared for a while;
Is there another route? For a crooked Outlaw
Veteran, a villian, a young thug, who one day shall fall;

Every day there's mo' death, and plus I'm dough-less
I'm seein mo' reasons for me to proceed with thievin’
Scheme on the scheming and leave the peeps grievin’;
Cause ain't no bucks to stack up, my nuts is backed up
I'm bout to act up, go load the Mac up, now watch me klacka;
Tried makin fat cuts, but yo it ain't workin
And Evil's lurking, I can see him smirking
when I gets to pervin’, so what?
Go put some work in, and make my mail, makin sales
Risking 25 with a 'L', but oh well;

Me against the world
With nuttin to lose
It's just me against the world
Ooh yeah.. oooh-ooooh
It's just me against the world baby
Me against the world
I got nuttin to lose
It's just me against the world

I really felt like all day it really had been me against the world. I leaned back in that chair, put my feet up, pulled down my sunglasses and drifted off to sleep for what felt like too long when I felt a nudge. It was the fat guy from my table. He was 30ish and had been a large stake for most of the day, as well as a major pain in my short stacked ass. He was hyper aggressive, raising every pot. I wasn’t surprised to find out that he was a professional player named Mark Davis from Dublin, Ireland. I woke up and looked at my watch; I had been out for 30 minutes. I pulled my plugs and after a couple of minutes I felt great; refreshed and ready. Mark was yakking at me, “You really made a comeback there,” he said. “Yea, I was on death’s door all day it was nerve wracking.” I was trying not to hold a grudge, but he was one of the troop that had been pounding on me for the last five hours. I am sure he didn’t even realize it; he was just playing cards. Five minutes to go time, “Nice talking to you Mark, see you at the table, good luck.” I went to the bathroom and then I needed to get refocused. I still had a long way home.

I showed up back at the table and it was moving day. The Grim Reaper Tournament Director was there passing out cards for us to draw. I chose table three seat seven, and wished my previous tablemates good luck. When I make my way to my new table with my new stack, I am immediately put back. The big stacks at my previous table were like the furry creatures in Monsters, Inc. These towers of chips were like the monsters in Alien 3, complete with acid for blood. After witnessing this new level of aggressive play, I thought that I was back where I started. If I was going to get involved, I would need to have a hand and just play tight and aggressive. In short, I needed to try my best and not make a stupid mistake. I played for about an hour without much going on. I stole a couple of blinds and antes and had a really good idea of what was going on at the table when I got my chance. I was one off the button and it was checked around to me when I saw AK of clubs. The button was a fairly tight professional player, but the small and large blinds were a couple of kids that had been splashing around pretty well with less than premium holdings. The blinds were $200/$400 with a $50 ante and I had around $14,000 in chips. I made it $1200 and the button mucked his cards. The small and large blinds both called. The flop came out J42 with 2 clubs and the small blind checked it. The big blind made it $2000, so I called and so did the small blind. The turn took all the pressure off of me when it brought the 3 of clubs; I had made the nut flush and there was now a small straight out there. I had seen a couple of bust outs at this table come from the kid in the big blind when he had made small straights against opponents holding large cards. Both the small and big blinds checked. I thought for a minute and wondered if one had 2 pair or a set. If so, and the board paired, I would have a tough decision. I made it $4500, and honestly I was happy to end it there. The small blind called and after thinking for a second, the big blind moved all in! He had around $40,000 and I did a little acting and said, “Well I only have around $6000 more so I am going to call; I am all in too.” The small blind went in the tank and after a long time he finally said, “I have top pair, best kicker and a gut shot straight draw, but I am going to lay this down,” and tossed AJ face up into the muck. The kid in the big blind turned over his hand saying, “I have the wheel.” As he turned it over, I flip over my hand and say, “Your drawing dead. I have the nut flush.” He is a really nice kid, but I was amazed he had so many chips when he replied, “I didn’t even see that flush out there!” Including the antes and all the small blind money, I rack in $36,200, and for the first time all day I feel like I can relax.

I got my voice back and started having fun, really playing small ball poker and I was stealing blinds and making speculative plays for small amounts in multi-way pots that would only give me the highest odds of winning if it got messy. I was up and down, hovering around $30,000 for the next few hours. At one point I flopped quad fives and checked it to the end with two players, making the minimum bet on the end and watching them both fold, and thank God I didn’t need the money then. Sometime later, Michael Odeh sat down beside me and started giving me a hard time. I told him to shut up. He told me we were going to settle this outside on the next break and I looked up and said, “Mike, if you walk outside with me you won’t come back inside ever again.” He let me know that he had cancer and asked what I could do to him. I replied, “Mike, I can end your suffering if you don’t stop messing with me. This is the deepest I have ever been in the World Series and I plan on cashing so knock it off.” I also reminded him that I play 15/30 limit with him all the time at the Bellagio and that he told me about his “cancer” five years ago and I was glad he was still around playing and looking so good. He said, “I thought you looked familiar!” I said, “Mike, do you make a habit of asking 225 pound 6 foot tall ex-football players outside to fight during the breaks?” Mike, a 5’7” 135 pound 60 year-old Persian man, responded, “I watched you for 3 minutes when I sat down; I knew you wouldn’t hurt me.” I guess I was far less fierce than I appeared and Mike was an old time rounder. I believed he had the skills to sum someone up in that amount of time. In his business you had better have that skill honed to a razor’s edge. One of the amazing things I watched during the considerable time I sat with him at that WSOP table was his almost Rain Man-like ability to count down a stack of chips. I would ask, “Mike, how much does the one seat have in front of him?” He would shoot back instantaneously $64,000, nut on every time, and I used this skill of his a couple of times that night. Mike was a little hard because of the life he had chosen; being a professional rounder is not an easy job and it leaves marks. I respected Mike and he liked me enough to give me a little mentoring along the way. It was a nice arrangement. He had an odd superstition against $1000 chips. He didn’t want them, so when he won a pot with those yellow $1000 checks in it, I would buy them from him for pink $500s. That is why, in all the pictures of me at the World Series, you never see me with anything but black and yellow checks; Mike had all my pink ones. He was nice to me, but only after I stood my ground. Life is odd that way sometimes with men. I don’t know why, but I have found it to be the norm.

“Hey, Big Man!” I heard it from the roped-off area. I turned around and there was Mr. Galt, fresh, showered and fed. It was nice to have him there, I waved and put up five fingers; we would break in five minutes. I went for a Coke and a slice of pizza with Jason and he let me know that Lucy had taken care of him. They had eaten dinner at the Bellagio Café and he had told her all about the unfairness of poker and somehow it was all ok now and he was ready to cheer me on to victory. I knew she would, she loves Jason.

There was a buzz going on around us. It was midnight and we were down to 225 players; the money was at 197. Would they make it? How many short stacks were there? How much was the first level of payouts? Everyone had all kinds of questions and their minds were racing. I let Jason know the score and when I called Brad to check in, he was at the final table of the tournament back home. He wanted a call when we were in the money. “WHEN we were in the money.” There was no “IF we get to the money” for Brad; he is the most positive guy I know. I was close, and even I was starting to think that there would be no denying me this year, and that felt good. Jason wanted to know if I had bumped into any name brand players. There were a dozen or so TV players left and I was at a table right behind Hasan Habib who is a really likeable pro that is always nice to everyone. The interesting side note on him is that his name has become popular amongst other poker players and gamblers alike. Whenever someone hits the card they need while playing poker or hits a jackpot in a slot machine or anything involving winning in gambling, the person will often exclaim, "HASAN HABIB!!" I told Jason that I hoped he would be moved over to my table at some point. I needed to get going and asked him if he was going to hang around. He asked, “Have you bumped your head tonight?” I thanked him and told him how much it meant for me that he was there.

When I sat down we were at $800/$1600 with a $200 ante, and not much happened for me in the next hour, but at the next level there was an announcement from the tournament director that we were at 207 players and would now be playing round for round. I had never seen this before, but I guess they didn’t want one table slow playing to get into the money, so they marked where the button was and as soon as the button returned to that spot the dealer would stand up and play at the table was stopped until all the tables made that rotation and all the dealers were standing. Then they did this again until we hit the money. This was getting exciting and as long as I didn’t make a major mistake, I was going to make it. I had plenty of chips and even made some moves on a couple of the short stacks that I knew didn’t want to get involved so close to the money. What turn of events! Ten hours earlier I was the one they had been feeding on. I happened to be the round for round button at our table and we had completed our second rotation and were waiting for the other tables to finish when it happened. Someone had hit the bubble and went out in the historic “you played all this time and you get nothing” position of 198th. We were there, and it was around 1:00AM. We all clapped for ourselves and the tournament staff congratulated all of us for “making it.” I turned and found Jason in the crowd on the rail and he was holding both his thumbs up. This was sweet, my first cash, and now my second short term goal of making it to day two was almost certain because the director went on to announce that we were going to play the button around one more time and then that was it for the day.

The blinds had gone up again and it was now $1000/$2000 with a $500 ante, and I was really focusing on not making a mistake so I could come back tomorrow and play fresh. I really had an easy go of it because lucky or unlucky I was card dead; no real playable hands even if I was itching to get involved, which I wasn’t. I was in the big blind and it was folded around to the six seat, Ian Fraser from the United Kingdom, who raised one unit to $4000. Another player folded and Jose Severino from Panama announced that he was raising, and made it $8000. I started chirping, “Oh nice, my last big blind of the night and you guys want to steal it from me”. As I was going on about all that, it was folded to me and I uncapped my cards and looked down. And there they were: TWO black Aces. I paused for 10 seconds and said, in what I am sure sounded like a very serious voice, “I am ALL IN,” and stood up as I moved my now $26,000 in chips in front of my cards. Ian stood up. He couldn’t believe it. I turned to Jason and mouthed, “I’m All In!” I saw Jason take off somewhere, and I turned to Ian who was holding his head. I said, “I did what I had to do and to be honest I don’t want you to call, but I had to do that.” He was more confused than ever, and I looked up in the now empty TV grand stands to see Jason in the top row looking down on this growing drama. He nodded to me like, “Do you have it?” I looked back at him with a nod that said, “Does Rose Kennedy have a black dress?” and we waited for Ian for at least 4 or 5 minutes. Everyone respected that he had a decision to make and gave him time and space. He looked at me one last time and said, “I Call.” I really didn’t want the call as he had me covered by at least double, and I had plenty of experience with Aces not working out in big situations before. “Here we go again,” I thought. Then Jose started acting like he was going to go in the tank and several players, pros mostly, piped up and said, “No way, you should have been thinking about your hand while we waited for him! Put a clock on him!” By now all the action in our corner of the room had stopped and the director and several tournament staff were right there with at least 200 other spectators. They started counting Jose down. 30 seconds, 20 seconds, 10 seconds. Jose mucked two Jacks, face up. I looked at Ian and said, “You know what I have,” and flipped over my Aces. He shook his head and turned over two red queens. I was a 4 to 1 favorite, and I knew I was doomed. The flop came out and it was my worst nightmare realized. All the cards were RED. Jack, Ten, Seven. Ian started cheering for his cards; he had an outside flush and straight draw. I just stepped back in silence. Everyone was screaming including Jason and it was like they were all muffed except my buddy up in the heavens, and I could hear him like he was right next to me, saying “Black Deuce, Black Deuce,” over and over. The turn came a five of clubs and the dealer was kind, ripping off the last card quickly, the 3 of spades. My rockets had held up for close to 60 thousand dollars, and I have no idea where this came from, but I jumped up on my chair and as loud as I could I yelled out the magic words: "HASAN HABIB!" To my surprise, just then the actual Hasan Habib jumped up and ran over to me, giving me a great big hug! And the crowd roared. The dealer shoved a pile of chips as big as a trash can lid at me and I took the last hand of the night, my small blind. For the first time all day I looked at my cards without waiting my turn while my shaking hands started stacking chips. I had made it to day two.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

2006 – 37th Annual WSOP - Event Number 31 – The $2000.00 - Part One

Man, where to start? This story has taken me almost a year to write and I think that I have put it off so long because once it is written it truly will be over and I don’t want it to be over EVER. If you are a constant reader, you know how important this was for me and you also know that the victory of cashing was taken from me in the $1500.00 event. This was my last chance. I had left Miss Lucy poolside at the Bellagio with a “Wish me luck sweetie.” She replied, “Just win it Baby Boy.” It’s amazing that when she looks at Big Papa that is the thing that she chooses to call me. I am the luckiest man on the planet because of her, my girls and my friends, and if you are sick of hearing that, please stop reading my stories, because without them to share it all with I wouldn’t play poker. What would be the point?

Speaking of friends, I was headed to the World Series Of Poker with Mr. Jason “Who is John Galt?" Writer. We are close and I really don’t know when it happened, but we are the “you don’t really need to finish most of your sentences” kind of close. I know when it started, and that will be the greatest story ever told, called “The Bravery Of The Lambs: The Dawning” but it is a story for another time. Jason is one of those guys who is very popular and knows a lot of people. He does a lot of charity work and many people think that they are his friend, and he lets them think that. It isn’t that he doesn’t like them; he just doesn’t let them in. Closely guarded privacy is the watch word for Mr. Galt. If Jason only had one phone call, I am sure he would call me and then I would call Brad, because damn, this sounds serious!

Jason and I pulled up in the back parking lot of the Rio about a half hour before jump time and Jennifer Tilly was valet parking her Bentley Continental GT. More on her later; she was less than impressive as a person. It looked like an NFL football game letting out and I thought, “here we go, another army to wade through.” It turned out that over 2000 people signed up for our little card game today.

On the way in I called Brad. He was majorly pissed off. Circumstances had unfolded at one of his companies and kept him from coming down with us. It wasn’t getting any better, and he was going to miss the whole thing. Bradley wished me well, the same as Lucy did, only instead of “Baby Boy” he called me “Bubba” and said, “Just do your best Bubba, if you want to stay longer I would put you in the main event, that is how much confidence and trust I have in you. Just do your thing!” I will never know if what he said was his true feelings or if he was just trying to get me up for what I had to do. Either way I will never forget him for it; I know that his words helped me focus and feel confident. I was having a conversation with him a couple of months ago and he told me that he was still just sick about not being with us, and I told him that he was with me the whole way. With our partnership I felt like whatever I was doing in the tournament was his to own as well, and I am not at all sure that the fact that I was playing for US and not just me alone didn’t take my game to the next level. I was damn sure not going to make any stupid mistakes on Bradley’s dime; I wasn’t going to let either of us down, not this year.

Big hug for Jason and I said, “Flop’em Dead Kid” and he said, “Do the whole village Big Man.” It is kind of funny that we NEVER call any of the Tribe members by our given names and not by design. It just is what it is. I sit down and have 5 minutes to chat with my tablemates. I am friendly, but what I am really doing is gathering the information that I need send them to Valhalla later. The one thing that is true in a poker tournament is that no one is your friend. It is war. People are friendly but what they want is you dead, period. I never forget that even if my fellow Tribe members who I love show me the soft under belly in a tournament, they are dead. No questions asked, no apologies given, made a head stone. The same goes the other way around too, except I am even more cautious when I am in a pot with one of them. I know them too well, they know that I know them and this is where it gets even more dangerous, because these guys are some of the most brilliant minds I know, and the levels of poker theory can get a little mind bending. Your basic player looks at his cards and bets accordingly; the more advanced player looks at his cards and wonders what his opponent has. One more level up, the player thinks “what do I have, what does he have and what does he think I have?” Keep adding levels and add some deception and it can get pretty hairy. So much for my friendly table mates.

Okay players, the first round is 25/25; shuffle up and deal. Here we go. These World Series events don’t really give you much room to splash around. In a $2000.00 buy-in tournament, that is the amount of tournament chips you get: $2000.00. I will point out how this gets dicey as I review how the day started for me. We draw for the button and I end up with my first win, the button. The action is a raise to $125.00 with 3 callers. I look down and see a pair of nines. Basic strategy dictates that you want to play small ball poker early and try and gather chips without allowing you to be at risk unless you have a really big hand. I call the $125.00 with my nines, both the blinds fold. What I am looking to see is another nine for a set. The flop comes down TJ8 rainbow. This is a really a pretty good flop for me as I don’t have anything more than 2 nines but I have flop a straight draw and no flush is present. The pre-flop raiser makes it $200.00. This really doesn’t mean much. He is making what I assume to be a continuation bet because it is proper strategy to do so. AA KK QQ are unlikely holdings due to the fact that a player would protect those hands more aggressively from someone drawing out on them, and JJ is hard to imagine because that hand surely would be checking hoping to induce other players to bet. I put the pre-flop raiser and his subsequent callers on AK AQ AJ AT range of hands. One of the two callers drops out and one calls. I have too many outs to not call here. Two nines are left to give me a set of nines; four sevens and four queens are out there to give me the second nut straight. 10 outs, 38.4% and the pot has 4 x $125 = $500.00 pre-flop plus the $400.00 the boys just put in, so I am getting $1000.00 back for the $200.00 I am putting in or 5 to 1. In a cash game this is a no brainer, but the monster we are dealing with in a tournament is that we are on a limited budget. I call the $200.00 and we see the turn, the Ace of spades. This is not a good card for us. The pre-flop raiser makes it $200.00, which is an odd bet for a pot this size. The next guy makes it $1000.00 straight. We fold, and the initial aggressor goes all in with his dance partner speed calling. The dealer has them flip over their hands before the river and I expect to see AJ/AT for 2 pair, possibly suited with a spade redraw and a set of tens, jacks or eights. The actual holdings are pretty amazing. The first guy shows AK for one pair of Aces and no flush redraw and the speed caller turns over a ten and an eight for 2 pair. The AK jumps up and yells, “how can you call $125.00 with that crap?!” The guy is pretty quick and he says, “how can you go all in with only one pair?” Ah, making friends at the World Series Of Poker. The river is a 2 of hearts and the guy with AK is gathering his stuff and muttering something about donkeys and the guy stacking all the chips says, “What did you say?” I can’t help myself, so I jump in here and say, “He said nice hand, good game.” The table busts up laughing and things go forward, with the dealer tossing a card where the dead player was (Table 46 Seat #5).

We go card dead for the rest of that down, stealing one set of blinds, paying 4 orbits worth a net loss of $150.00, leaving us at $1525.00 going into round two. The blinds are now 25/50 when we pick up a nice holding in bad position. I will mention that this table was rowdy. We knocked out 4 players in an hour and so there were some larger stacks growing and the table standard bet was going up. 25/50 blinds and these guys were settling in on a $225.00 bring in culture. It was kind of scary. From under the gun, we see QQ and I limp for $50.00. The hand gets raised to $150.00, two guys call and the blinds drop out. I call the extra $100.00 and see a flop that I hope doesn’t have an ace or a king in it. The flop comes out T52, the pot is $525.00 and I want to end this thing right here, so I make it $400.00 or roughly 75% of the pot. The first guy calls and the other guy, one of the larger stacks, makes it $1200.00. Calling this raise would put me all in except for like $175.00. I go in the tank for what seems like forever and I am just sick. I think to myself, “Mark, why can’t you do better in these things? You are just going to throw in the last of your chips and get beat here? What then, more machine gun shooting? I felt like such a loser. Snap out of it man! What do they have?! AA KK – You have QQ – JJ TTT 555 222 AT A5 T5 52.” I could think of seven hands that were better than me and a couple of draws that would be worrisome. If I fold here I have $975.00 left. @#$%^! I muck the ladies and the other guy calls the $1200.00, except he only has $1100.00 of it so he is all in. A $100.00 rebate goes back to the big stack and they flip over their cards. The all in shows 55 for a set and the big guy turns over wired jacks. The turn is a king and the river is a seven. I say, “Nice hand kid. That is what I had too.” He says, “Really?” and then thinks for a minute and does a “Hey wait a minute.” When he realizes that would be impossible, and I say, “Queens,” he says, “You folded pocket queens?” I shake my head; I am not nearly as impressed as he is, I am getting pissed.

I wasn’t really in the mood to think about how great a player I was and now I was screwed. The blinds had just gone up to 50/100 and I was down to essentially just one move: wait for a really good hand and move in. The table was moving pretty fast at this point. Every pot was 40 to 50 percent of my stack to see a flop, and I was card dead. I gave up a ton of blind money and when the small blind folded to me once when it was folded around to him I felt like kissing him. Hey, that was $150.00 profit for me! I was truly riding the cheese grater to the bottom, but I was still determined not to make a stupid mistake if I hadn’t already; it had already been a long day. They had called for the break and I had $900.00 in chips. I always count my chips before I go on break; at least that job was easy. One more hand and Halleluiah! My patience pays off, I pick up KK on the button and move in, everyone folds and I pick up two limpers and the blinds: $350.00. I am at $1250.00 when we go on break. I call Brad, get the voicemail and tell him it is a struggle but we are still alive. Jason says he is dealing with some maniacs at his table and he is grinding it out, at around $1700.00. Good luck buddy.

The next several levels are uneventful as I have gotten myself so low that unless I pick up a monster I can’t move. I am determined not to make a stupid mistake. I am watching the other players splash around some with lesser cards than I mucked. Some of those same players are getting knocked out, some are winning with those mediocre holdings, and me, I am getting ground down but refusing to panic. 75/150 goes by; 100/200 comes and goes I am still sitting in the bed I made fooling around with those lesser hands before. I keep rethinking the action of before and I am sure I played it right, but it sure doesn’t feel right now. Stuck and Short. Last hand and we go on break. I have a $500 chip, four $100.00 chips and three $75.00 chips.

I headed out back to the trailers they had installed this year, correcting the “one bathroom” problem from last year. They were not very good about the signage however, which was fine with me. The less people that knew about the new facilities, the better. Jason caught up to me in the bathroom line and wanted to know how I was doing. I said that for someone that plays as bad as I do, I was lucky to still be in it, and laughed. I asked him where he was and he said, “$1200.00, no cards, you?” I told him I was at $700.00, $100/$200 blinds with a $25.00 ante and when we get off break I needed a hand; he felt the same way. I told him I really felt like I hadn’t made any errors and I got away from queens when they were beat with 1/3 of my chips out there. Jason thought that was impressive; I just had a headache. We did our business and Jason asked me if I was going to go through the cafeteria line for a Coke or anything. I said no but I would meet him inside. I wanted to go call Brad while I was still in this thing. I went to the far end of the inside hallway and made the call I didn’t want to make. Almost hoping to get voicemail again, Bradley picked up on the first ring with, “Hey Bubba, how are we doing?” I said the only thing I could think of, the truth. “Brad I am doing the very best I know how and things just aren’t going well at all. We are on break and the next round is 100/200 and I have $700.00 left in chips.” I felt like I wanted to cry; here this guy had really believed in me and it looked like I was going to let us both down, AGAIN. Brad never missed a beat. “Hey man, that’s poker. You go back in there and keep being conservative, whatever happens is what will happen and I am fine with that. Just do your best.” I assured him that I would and hung up the phone.

Brad was a good friend to me, saying what he did that day. I knew that if he lost the money it wouldn’t hurt him and I had made sure before we made this partnership that our friendship would not be affected. No amount of money was worth even the remotest chance of harming a friendship like the one I had with Brad. We went way back. I sold Brad one of the first computers he bought when he started his firm and I had just left corporate America to start my own retail computer business. We were both slugging it out 80 hours a week to make things work back then, now both businesses are multimillion dollar concerns. The only thing that hadn’t changed from the old days was us. We were still just two friends making our way through the world. There were a lot more zeros now, but we were still just two hard working entrepreneurs; we didn’t really know how to be any other way. I was mad now. Damn it I wanted to win! I had worked too hard for this; I wanted to call Brad and tell him how smart he was for having faith in me. I deserved to make that call, and those guys at that table in there were denying me my phone call. I was being tested and I wanted to pass the test.

Jason walked up behind me and said, “I know you said you didn’t want anything but I got you a Diet Coke and a package of aspirin. You said you had a headache right?” Jason, he is a good guy to have on your wing. How I got so lucky in life, I will never know. I gave Mr. Galt a big hug and took my aspirin; we had two minutes left.