By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 20, 2015
Continuing my chronicle of championship events…
On Saturday, I had a relatively brief stay in the Buck’s Billiards TOCs tournament. Once, while in the big blind, I checked pre-flop with a hand of seven-five off-suit. The flop came out nine-eight-six, giving me a nine-high straight, which I decided to check.
That was a mistake. The turn was a seven, which I was unhappy to see — it left the board open-ended. Still, I had a made hand — I already had five-six-seven-eight-nine — so I bet something.
Dave folded to my very modest bet of 600; the other participant in the hand, a woman whose name escapes me, stayed in. We were now heads-up.
The river was a 10. This was even worse news for me: The board was now a 10-high straight, rendering both my five and my seven useless.
Still, I figured we were headed for a chop, meaning we’d split Dave’s chips. I decided to bet a little more — 1,200 this time.
The other player considered. I thought she might fold, which would have been an odd move.
At long last, she called, and showed…the queen and jack of clubs.
“You had me beat all the way,” I cried*, which was wrong, and threw away my cards, which was wrong. I was wrong in the first case because my opponent had only taken the lead on the river and in the second case because my opponent had called me, and poker etiquette dictates that the person who made the original bet show his or her cards first.
Later, I found myself with ace-queen in my hand. (I think they were both spades.) I raised to 2,000 — the blinds were either 300–600 or 500–1,000 at the time — and got two callers: V—, who was all in for 700 chips, and Norma, who had a huge stack.
The flop: king, jack and something else. I was open-ended; a 10 would give me broadway, the highest possible straight.
Norma bet 4,000.
I responded with an all-in announcement. Norma called quickly.
We showed our cards. She had king-jack, giving her top two pairs. V— had a pair of 10s.
“That’s bad news for him,” the dealer said, chortling loudly.
He was right. I needed a 10 to make my hand; since V— had two, there were only two left in the deck. My odds were…not so great.
And, in fact, no 10 came out. I lost the hand and was eliminated.
I stuck around a little bit, playing a game called fives against V—. He beat me both times.
Sunday was my last opportunity to scoop a TOCs victory and the medallion that comes with it. I got off to a nice start when, on the very first hand, my hole cards were both aces. The player to my immediate right, whose name I don’t know, raised from 200 to 1,200. I re-raised to 2,800. Everyone folded but the fellow to my right, who called me.
The flop was king-queen-nine or something similar. My foe went all in.
I hesitated. Did he have a pocket pair that had become trips thanks to matching one of the cards on the board? Did he have two pairs?
This fellow had fewer chips than me, so I decided that I had to call his all-in. He had pocket jacks, his hand hadn’t improved by the river and I collected the pot. I shook his hand as he stood up to go.
That gave me a nice stack, but some of it dribbled away as I tried my luck on various hands that went nowhere. Some of the chips were lost thanks to pocket sevens. That time, a player named Keyon placed a big bet after the flop; I folded, thinking discretion was the better part of valor. Ironically, it turned out that Keyon also had pocket sevens.
But the really costly hand came when I found myself with pocket 10s. I raised pre-flop to 2,300 and got many callers — perhaps six. That was quite a lot of callers, but on the other hand, that made for quite a nice pot, too.
The flop contained a pair of fours and another card — a nine, I think. Everyone checked to me.
I had to place a bet to see where things were at. “2,800,” I said, putting out my chips.
K— grimaced and contemplated and finally called. Everyone else folded, leaving the two of us heads-up.
The turn was a queen. K— checked.
I thought for a moment. My pocket 10s were pretty good on the flop. I didn’t think that K— had a four, but now that a higher card had come out, he might be ahead of me.
I decided I had to bet big. “All in,” I said.
I put out around 21,000 chips.
K— was in a pickle. He muttered to himself. “Does he have a four?” he asked. That convinced me that my read was right and that he himself did not have a four.
K— stalled and stalled.
“Clock,” said a player named James.
“Thank you,” said V—, who had taken the seat to my right to balance the tables.
K— made his decision. “Call,” he said.
K— had about 11,000 in chips. I put that out and took back the rest of my treasury.
I showed my 10s. K— revealed…king-queen. My stomach sank — the turn had put him ahead.
There was no help for me on the river. In fact, I think K— got a king, which gave him not one but two pairs that were each higher than my pocket 10s.
I shoved the chips across the table.
“Yes,” K— said exultantly. (His habit of celebrating big wins is not something that has endeared him to fellow players.)
V— chided him. “Take your damn chips,” he said irritably. “Don’t just stand there celebrating. Jeez!”
K— scooped up the pot while I licked my wounds.
“You played that wrong,” V— muttered to me as K— cleaned up.
“You mean I should have bet big on the turn — I mean, on the flop?” I asked. V— indicated that he would’ve bet heavily on the flop.
I wasn’t exactly short stack now, but I’d taken some serious damage. Fortunately, that would be partially repaired just a hand or two later.
V— had fewer chips than me, and his patience for the game had expired. As the cards were being dealt, he announced that he was going to go all in. He was doing it blind — in other words, without having seen his cards.
When I peeked at my hand, I saw ace-eight off-suit. It wasn’t a great hand, but I figured V— had worse. So I went all-in over the top: V— had about 5,200 chips, I had around 10,000.
V— had ace-two, and not only did he hit a two on the flop, it left him four cards to the flush. I cursed.
But an eight came out on the turn and the river didn’t give V— the fifth heart that he would have needed for a flush. I sighed in relief as V— stood up, patted my shoulder and quietly wished me good luck.
I would need it. I limped along for quite a while, watching from the sidelines as the others traded chips. Imaginary fortunes waxed and waned while I ticked along, doing relatively little.
K— grew his chip stack and then squandered much of it. The beneficiary of many of his missteps was John, an excellent player who works in the league’s main office.
But K—, who at one point was down to around 4,000 chips, at a time when the big blind required at least that much, stuck around, hitting a few all-ins and then continuing to prosper.
Another person who was prospering was Keyon, who had quickly built a large stack and maintained it throughout. He faltered as the table thinned out, however, and went out in fourth place. I think K— did much of the damage to him.
That left just John, K— and me. Much to my surprise, I’d made yet another top three.
In fact, I was going to go higher than that. The stars had shifted their favor from John to K—; chips that had been John’s began flowing to his opponent. After a while, John was eliminated.
This scenario was akin to what had happened the week before at the same venue: I was heads-up against a player who had a much bigger stack. I briefly took a lead, and then K— took it back.
Then, in the small blind, I had jack-eight suited, both clubs. “All in,” I announced.
K— considered briefly and then called. He had king-queen, I think.
I don’t belief the board helped either of us — if it did, it helped K— more than me. He won, and I had my second runner-up finish in the past two weeks.
K— was very happy.
Afterward, as we were cleaning up, someone told me, “Officially, I’m supposed to impartial, but… I was rooting for you.”
I chuckled uneasily, embarrassed for myself and also for the person who’d triumphed. “Well, that’s nice of you to say,” I replied.
K— was quite glad to show off his medallion.
* 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!