On Thursday night: Act IV, Act V, Epilogue

September 28, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 28, 2015

And now, back to our story

Act IV.

We got down to 10 players — the final table, at least unofficially. I considered changing my spot at the end of the table, where my cards had been absolutely atrocious, but instead decided to stay where I was. I can be a stubborn cuss, I can.

I think we’d gotten down to nine players when I got what I’d waited oh, so long for: a pocket pair. They were a middle pair, eights — not great. But I’d been so starving for good cards that I shoved all in with hardly a moment’s thought.

Almost as soon as I did it, I had reservations. Lee, two spots to my left, was short stack at the table. I should have waited until he’d gone out, I told myself, due to the way World Tavern Poker allocates points. (The league accords significant value to a final table of eight people, so finishing eighth yields a significantly better haul of points than does finishing ninth.) But it was too late: I’d shipped my chips; I was committed.

Three or four different players ended up calling my all in, which didn’t make me feel too great. (Typically, one’s odds of winning are higher when facing just one opponent in a hand, as opposed to two or more.) A couple of high cards came out on the board, including (I think) an ace and a queen; a pair of threes also turned up, if memory serves. And one of the players in the hand whose chip stack exceeded mine ended up creating a side pot by placing an additional bet, which I considered to be a bad sign.

And yet, somehow, no one hit a hand better than my dual pairs, eights and threes. With no small relief, and a non-trivial amount of surprise, I raked in a hefty pot. I’d gone from watching my stack inexorably dwindle for an hour to having a pretty significant war chest. Wow! I thought to myself. (Heck, I probably even muttered it audibly.)

The next thing that happened was pretty surprising. Chris, my nemesis from the pool table (who’d been seated at the other remaining table after we reached 20 players), went all in with a slew of chips. Someone called him; it turned out that Chris was playing garbage, and he was eliminated. That brought us down to eight players — an official final table, in the eyes of the league.

Not too long after that, Nadine got into some hands, also with garbage — stuff like seven-four and whatnot. In an eye-blink, she went from having possibly the biggest mound of chips at the table to being eliminated in eighth place.

“I guess Nadine just got tired of playing,” I said*. Linda, another player, said that Nadine was like that sometimes — she started getting cranky if she stayed up too late.

Next out was Helen, who’d come to the table with an unimposing treasury but more than doubled up with a single hand before running into some bad luck. Linda followed in sixth place, and shortly after that, her son Terrance went out in fifth.

I’d like to tell you that I was sitting quietly throughout these proceedings, but that wouldn’t be true. In fact, at some point in the middle of this, not all that long after my pocket eights had done me right, I made a big bet on ace-eight and lost a bunch of chips to Jim.

Several hands later, Jim went all-in pre-flop. I called him impulsively, figuring that he was playing garbage. In fact, he had king-nine to my ace-three, so it was a race — a race that swung wildly. The flop contained two nines, giving Jim trips — a hand that I would have trouble beating. On the other hand, one of the nines was a spade, meaning that I needed just two more spades for an ace-high flush, which tops three-of-a-kind.

I got them — sort of. The king of spades came out along with a low spade, maybe the five, which gave me the flush for which I’d yearned. A thoroughly disappointed Jim counted his chips, and I counted mine. The cards were collected and the next dealer prepared to send new cards around the table.

Jim started shoving his chips toward me when one of the players objected. “Wait a minute, Matt only had a straight,” Linda said.

“No, I didn’t,” I said. “I had a flush.”

“He had the nut flush,” Jim agreed.

“No, you had a boat,” someone told him.

“No, he didn’t,” he said. “He had trips, that’s all. I had the nut flush — ace-high flush.”

“No, Jim had the boat. Nines over kings.”

“There was no king,” I started to say, before I realized that Linda was right. The king of spades, which I’d thought had helped my case, in fact had sealed Jim’s, giving him the pair he needed to complement his trip-nines — giving him, that is, a full house.

My stomach sank. “You’re right,” I said. “You’re right, you’re right. Jim had a boat. The king gave him the boat.”

“I didn’t even see it,” Jim said. “I was so focused on the flush, I didn’t even realize I had a boat.”

We counted our chips again quickly. Jim had about 175,000 to my 190,000. If I’d come out on top, I would have been top dog at the table, or very near to it. But now I shoved nearly everything I had away, away, away. I felt as though I’d snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, which wasn’t quite right — Jim had been ahead of me from the flop, and I’d never even caught up to him.

“Good hand, Jim,” I said, not entirely sincere.

Soon afterward, I got a hand I liked — a pair of fives, I think — and shoved. I survived this all-in.

Meanwhile, as I said, the table was growing smaller and smaller. When Terrance was knocked out, we were left with four: Jim, myself, Eric and Lee.

Now Lee had been short stack for much of my time at the table, but he’d hit a few hands that enabled him to cling to tournament life as others lost their stakes. I sat tight, eager for a top-three finish, which helps one’s position in the postseason TOCs competition.

At last, Lee was knocked out, and there I was in the top three. I finally shifted my seat, swinging from my position at the far end of the table from Jim to one where Jim was immediately to my left and I was directly facing Eric.

Although I’d given Jim a slew of chips, I somehow outlasted him. That brought things down to Eric and me.

Act V.

Despite Eric having significantly more chips than me, I felt pretty comfortable when we went heads-up. After I folded a hand or two, I started betting aggressively whenever something good came my way — and good things seemed to come my way pretty regularly. I felt very comfortable, and I thought I had a good read on Eric’s feelings about whether he held a strong hand or not.

And then I got three-two unsuited in the dealer position.

Normally, I’d fold three-two. But I’d been folding weak hands. If I play just one, I thought, maybe I can steal a pot from Eric.

So I called. And I put out the flop: ace-five-four.

I was ecstatic. When you’re playing three-deuce, ace-five-four is the ideal flop. It gave me a straight — five cards in a row — that players call the wheel. No two cards that Eric had could possibly combine better with the flop than my pocket cards.

Even so, Eric bet — 40,000 chips, I think, which at the time would have been the minimum bet.

Things are going exactly my way, I thought. I made a hefty raise.

Eric responded by going all in.

“Call,” I said.

We showed our cards. Eric had a set of fives — pocket fives plus the five on the board. “Whoa,” he said when he saw that I’d already hit a straight.

Eric had me covered, meaning that he had more chips than I do, but I had the superior hand — for now. I cautiously reminded Eric that he could beat me: “All you need is for the board to pair.”

I burned a card and put out the turn. It was a 10.

I relaxed a minute amount: That card did not help Eric.

I burned again and reached for the final card — fifth street, the river. I was holding my breath. Only a few cards could hurt me. If anything else came out, anything else, then I would be the tournament champion.

I turned over the river and revealed…a five.

“Dammit!” I shouted and banged the table.

I looked across the table and reached out to shake Eric’s hand. “Congratulations,” I said.

The five on the river had given Eric quads — four of a kind.

I asked Eric to count up our chips just to be sure that he had me covered. We did, and he did — not by a ton, but it was enough.

I shook Eric’s hand again. “Good game,” I said.

K—, who’d been knocked out quite early in the second tournament, had been helping Eric and I (and, when he was in the game still, Jim) out by shuffling cards. He’d watched the finale, and he walked over to tell Jim about it.

It had really been quite extraordinary. My junky hole cards, three-two, had leaped out into a great big lead on the flop — and then they’d been crushed on the river by quads.


Eric took a picture of his winning hand. We talked about how exciting the final hand had been. I helped Jim stack the chips.

K— and I hit the bathroom. K— and I got into my car. I told K— that I’d been trying to steal a pot. It had almost worked — almost. There had been only 10 cards that could have helped Eric; three other aces, fours and 10s, any of which would have paired the board and given Eric a full house, and the last five, which would have given — which did give — him quadruple fives.

I told K— that I’d probably gone as far as I could go in the tournament — my eights had been lucky to hold up on that first all-in, and the time I’d called Jim’s king-nine with my ace-three had been reckless. My coming back from losing the latter hand had been extremely improbable.

“Yeah,” I told K—. “I went as far as I could go.” Second place was pretty good, all in all, I told myself.

“But I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that final hand,” I added.

“No,” K— agreed. “I’ve never seen anything like that before.”

The rest of the trip unfurled in silence.


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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