By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 14, 2015
Saturday night, continued.
After I won the tavern championship semifinals at Buck’s Billiards on Saturday evening, the real work lay ahead: Winning the tavern championship finals.
The finals had two types of players: Those who were ranked in the top 10 throughout the season and those who were ranked below that but had fought their way out of the semifinals (as I just had). Regardless of rank, all of the players had participated in a minimum of 15 games at the venue that season.
Because 36 people had played in the semifinals, as many as four people were going to advance to the finals. But the top finishers in the semifinals included me, a man named Jake, and Dan and Dave, two players who were already in the top 10. So there would be a maximum of a dozen players in the championship.
But we didn’t even get to that number, because there were three (I think) no-shows among the top 10. Rather than start the finals with two tables of six players apiece, we had a single table of nine. Everyone had a standard starting stack of something like 30,000 chips.
The game went for me much as many games do: My luck was mediocre, and I lost more chips than I gained.
I took a bad beat against Jake, a player whom I’d tangled with in the semifinals. He lost a costly hand and, as happens with some players, clearly got frustrated.
When Jake went all in for about 6,100 chips, I figured he was ready to go home. I forget my hand — it was ace-jack or king-queen, something like that — but I figured I was ahead of Jake. I called him, and was the only person to do so.
Jake had eight-four, a terrible starting hand, but it improved quickly: Two eights came out on the flop. He triumphed and left me either short stack or close to it.
Jake was one of the first players to be eliminated, if not the very first, but I wasn’t able to collect my chips from him.
I limped through the game with a very modest treasury. A player named Diane, who led the nation in cumulative points, ended up raking in some huge pots; she was the chip leader for much of the game. The player seated to my right for most of the contest, James, also ended up amassing a great deal of wealth.
Something interesting happened when we got down to four or five players. I was dealing; the player to my left, Dave, was in the small blind, while a player named Bob was in the big blind. Bob was short stack, with only about 12,000 chips; the blinds were 2,000-4,000 or 3,000-6,000. The action came to me, and I peered at Dave and Bob’s stacks, evaluating.
While I was looking, Dave made a noise of disgust and folded his cards, much to my surprise. I checked my hand, liked what I saw (ace-something, both clubs, I think) and decided to go all in. Bob briefly considered and then called.
I think he had a king and something else. Whatever it was, it wasn’t good enough to top my hand, and that brought us down to three (or four?) players. I offered my right hand to Bob, who initially declined it; when I extended it a second time, he gripped it hard and pulled me toward him. I partially lost my balance, falling toward him and half on top of Dave. It was a jerky move on his part, no question, but I shrugged it off.
Play continued, and so did an interesting turnabout: Around break time, Dave had had a very small stack, perhaps 7,000, but his cards had been hitting. Meanwhile, Diane had been getting involved in hands without having them work out. As a result, her stack had shrunk significantly.
Against all odds, once again, I found myself in the top three. But this time, Diane was eliminated, and I got into the top two. It was Dave vs. me, heads up for the championship.
I hit one hand — I think it was with a middle pocket pair, nines or perhaps eights — and overcame what had been a huge lead in chips by him.
But then… but then!
In the small blind, I had jack-10 off-suit. Blinds were 5,000-10,000 — or one-two, given that we were dealing strictly in chips of a single denomination. I raised to six chips.
Dave checked his hand and declared all-in.
I looked anew at my pocket cards. Did Dave have something good, or was he bluffing? I hated to let go of high connectors…
I compared Dave’s chips to mine. For me to call him, I’d have to contribute about half of the chips sitting in front of me. After hemming and hawing, I decided to do it.
Dave had king-nine or some such. I don’t think his cards matched the board, but it didn’t matter — king-high was good enough to beat me.
Dave raked in the pot, and with that, he retook a considerable lead. We played only a few more hands; in the end, I think I went all in with a king, but Dave called me with an ace, and after the board was dealt, he had the superior hand. Dave was the Buck’s Billiards tavern champion; I was runner-up.
It wasn’t a bad night of poker — effectively, a second- and a first-place finish in two games. But I was disappointed in the outcome.
And oh, how I wish I could go back in time. If only I’d folded jack-10… if only! That’s a call that I will regret making for a long, long time.
* Standard disclaimer: Since I wasn’t taking notes or making recordings at the time of these events, all dialogue and thought bubbles are guaranteed to be only kind of, sort of accurate. Fortunately for you, the valued reader, this free blog comes with a money-back guarantee!