Tales of tavern championships, summer 2015 edition (part 4)

August 15, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 15, 2015

Sunday night.

This was it — my last chance this season to win my first tavern championship.

The venue was another billiards joint, this time near the Cary-Apex municipal boundary. I was ranked in the top 10, which meant I could show up at 9 p.m. and play nine or so others for the title — which was exactly what I did.

I think we started with seven players, and I got off on the wrong foot. Nick, the tournament director or TD, seated me at the end of the table. I scarfed down some food I’d brought with me — this venue doesn’t have a kitchen — and waited for things to start.

When V— came to the table, he asked where his seat was. “I think Nick put you over there,” I said, pointing to a stack Nick had placed a little earlier.

V— rolled his eyes. “Great, another TD,” he said* sarcastically.

I wrote the other day about players whom I find annoying; as I said at the time, I sometimes talk too much. As the game got under way, I found myself piping up a bit too much, typically with questions, and V— and another player, J—, announced their displeasure.

I thought that they were being a bit too critical for my taste, so I mentioned an incident that happened early on in the championship finals at this venue: While a hand was still ongoing, a young player named Mark had scooped up the pot and placed it with his personal chips.

“You guys make fun of me for asking questions, but what about the guy who just started taking all the chips before the hand was over?” I asked, my voice elevated. There was no immediate answer, so, pressing my advantage, I asked the question again.

J— was having none of it. “He made a mistake one time,” J— said. “You make mistakes all the time.”

“All the time?” I said, even more loudly than before. “I make mistakes all the time?” I rolled my eyes.

That was the end of that spat — mostly. Around this time, V— looked at his hand, announced that he was tired of playing with us, and went all in.

Action moved around the table: Fold, fold, fold, fold…

No one called. “Damn,” V— announced, and revealed his hand: pocket aces.

J— was the first player to be eliminated. He went all in against Mark, even though Mark’s betting had indicated that he had a very strong hand. J—’s jacks went down to Mark’s aces. J— had a few chips left over, but he didn’t last an entire orbit around the table. Lee started calling Mark “Mr. Stacks” because of his abundant treasury.

V— prospered early, but he petered out and was also eliminated. The player who collected the most chips, however, was Lee, seated immediately to my left. His cards kept on hitting, and his stack kept on expanding.

Meanwhile, I was having a typical game for me: Losing chips slowly, hanging around, waiting and watching as other players lost their stacks and left the game.

I believe that the player who finished in fourth place was Nick, the director. When he was knocked out, I shifted from my spot at the end of the table to one opposite Lee and Mark, who had started the game at either end of one of the long sides. (Mark wound up moving toward Lee to make the exchange of cards and chips easier.) Yet again, I’d made the final three of a tavern championship game.

By this point, I was hanging on by a thread. Lee had at least 50 percent of the chips; Mark had 45 percent at most; I had a very small amount. But Mark’s run remained bad, and eventually Lee and I were heads up.

For the second time in two nights, I was — potentially — in line for a title. Even so, I was in lousy shape. When we got down to two players, Lee had perhaps 90 percent of the chips in circulation.

As a result of the disparity in stacks, I’d been playing pretty aggressively: Going all in when I had a hand I really liked, folding when I had to call nearly any amount of chips with a hand that I felt was sketchy, checking very rarely.

Lee folded a few times to my raises, either pre- or post-flop; I folded a few times in the small blind, or when Lee raised me. On balance, I was gaining more chips than I was losing. I took a couple of big hands, and just like that, the momentum was clearly going my way. And then came a hand — then came the hand.

Lee, who was in the small blind, declared all in.

I looked at my hand and found pocket nines.

I shrugged. “I call,” I announced.

We flipped, and Lee showed ace-something. Cards came out right in the middle of the spectrum: a seven, an eight, a 10…

Lee never got anything that helped him. I had won the hand. I had won a huge, back-breaking hand.

We stacked up chips and discovered, after about a minute, that I had exactly enough to cover Lee. We’d each started the hand with 50 percent of the total chips in the game — and I’d finished it with a championship.

I shook Lee’s hand, did an internal fist pump and sat back, both exuberant and relieved. I’d come tantalizingly close to a major accomplishment on Saturday night; winning this venue wasn’t nearly as prestigious, but neither was it nothing.

There was one wrinkle… OK, maybe, two wrinkles… that impeded my happiness about winning the title.

One was that, for whatever reason, Nick hadn’t received the championship hardware. Normally, tavern champs get both a plaque and a medallion to commemorate their titles. But I would have to wait a week, or perhaps longer, until I took possession of my swag.

The other was that, after winning, I decided to stick around for a little while and shoot some pool with Lee. We played two games against each other. (He played three, two against me that were sandwiched around one vs. Nick.) I lost both of my contests.

I’m not going to lie: I would have preferred to beat Lee in pool once or twice.

Otherwise, however, it was quite a fine evening. I’m very eager to put my hands on my championship booty.


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! 

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