Tales of tavern championships, summer 2015 edition (part 1)

August 12, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 12, 2015

Thursday night. 

I managed to get to S—’s, a Raleigh billiards hall, just on the dot of 9 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 6. I was eager to be on time because of a mistaken impression — a stricture that applied in previous World Tavern Poker seasons but had changed this time around.

You see, this was the circuit’s tavern championship league, and my top-10 ranking at S—’s entitled me to a spot in the 9 p.m. finals. (Qualified players who were ranked lower than 10 had to play their way in through the 7 p.m. semifinals.)

As it turns out, the championship games now have the same 20-minute grace periods as the regular-season games, so I could have been a little less concerned in my rush to get from my childhood home near New York City to Raleigh. Regardless, I arrived at the start.

We had two tables for the finals, with six (I believe) players seated at each. Everyone started with the same amount of chips — 30,000, if memory serves.

And… I lost most of my chips. No hand really sticks out in my recollections of the evening, although I think once I raised pre-flop with aces and failed to get any callers.

However, other players dropped out, and I stuck around. Once two or three players were eliminated, we consolidated into a final table of nine or 10 people.

Other players continued dropping out, and once again, I stuck around. I vaguely recall hitting one big hand — total blank as to what it was, although I believe I scooped my winnings from a competitor named Larry. So briefly, I had a modestly respectable chip stack. But in general, my winning hands were few and far between.

I think the player who went out in ninth place was Jim, the venue’s longtime tournament director. In eighth place — officially, the final table has eight players — was Jonathan. Next out was Tony. Doc followed in sixth, then Larry in fifth.

That left four of us: a savvy young player named Marcus, a lanky man with a star tattoo on his face star tattoos on his face and neck who’s about 30 years old; an older fellow named Paul, an extremely superstitious person who wears headphones despite being hard of hearing and who may be the slowest player I’ve ever seen; K—, a man whom I drive to many tournaments, who gets emotional when he wins big pots; and… well, rather improbably… and me!

I was excited by these developments, because a top three position is good by any measure — high enough, typically, to pay out in a tournament with cash prizes. I’d resigned myself to a poor finish for much of the contest, but now I had a chance — slim but real — to finish third, if not higher.

And you know what? That’s exactly what happened. Paul went out in fourth place, I was soon eliminated, and Marcus and K— dueled for the championship.

K— had had a pretty big stack for much of the game, and by the time it got to heads-up play, his war chest was massive. Marcus won a few hands, but his luck ran out, and K— ended up with his first tavern championship.

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