By Matthew E. Milliken
June 9, 2016
Deep stack tournament, Sunday evening, June 5, 2016. After a slow start, I hit a long stretch where nearly everything I do seemed to work out. I didn’t score a lot of huge pots, but I built my stack with nearly every hand I played.
One of the players at my table was a personable fellow from Asheville, N.C., named Joey. We started chatting and I stopped paying close attention to what was happening on the table when I wasn’t in a hand. Since I didn’t know any of the other players, my distraction meant I wasn’t learning as much as I could have been about my rivals’ tendencies and tells.
My trouble started when I played queen-10. They were suited, I think, and I may have been in the blind. The board gave me a straight draw, and Joey and I bet against each other.
Then I made a mistake. I tried to push Joey off the pot by betting the river even though the fifth card hadn’t completed my straight.
My spirits sagged a bit when Joey called my bet. I dejectedly flipped over my cards. “Bluff,” I said, by which I meant that I didn’t have a good hand and I was sure that he’d beaten me.
Joey stared at the board with a pained look, not saying anything. My hopes rose slightly. Was my garbage queen-high hand really going to win me the pot? It beggared belief.
Finally, Joey flipped over his cards — queen-nine. He had a pair of nines, better than my queen high. He explained that he thought I’d said “Flush,” and he’d tried to figure out what community cards could have given me that hand. (The answer, of course, was none; there weren’t three same-suited cards on the board.) Someone at the other end of the table said that he too had thought I’d said “Flush.”
I apologized and said that I hadn’t meant to confuse anyone, but I’d inflicted some kind of karmic damage on myself. My cards went cold, and Joey, who had had to rebuy earlier in the tournament, started winning huge hands. By bluffing, and by misleading the table about my useless queen-10 — albeit inadvertently — I had earned the wrath of the poker gods.
I had a good stack at this point, and I won a few hands going forward, but as the tournament continued, the overall trend was clear: My chip stack diminished as my rivals’ stacks increased.
I moved at least twice before arriving at the table where my run ended. By this point, my treasury was shrinking, and quickly. It didn’t help that as I sat through a round or two of blinds, I had absolutely no cards that would have given me a decent shot at winning a pot.
Finally, I had 24,000 in chips, a mere pittance when the blinds were 8,000-16,000. As I sat in the big blind, a fellow across the table from me raised to over 30,000 — more than I had. When the action came to me, I peeked at my cards for the first time and saw the six and the two of spades.
I hemmed and hawed for a while, trying to decide what to do. On the one hand, 6-2 are lousy hole cards to have. On the other hand, they were connected, which gave me a chance to land a straight, and they were suited, which gave me a chance to land a flush.
Another point in favor of putting my tournament life on the line with 6-2 was that I was likely to go heads-up against the man who had raised. In any given situation, your odds of winning a pot when you have one opponent tend to be better than when you’re facing multiple opponents.
I had to work up my nerve to do it — but finally, I did it. Everyone else got out of the way, the pot was made right, and we showed our cards.
I think my rival held the queen of clubs and the jack of spades. To have a good chance of winning, I needed three and only three spades to appear on the board. (If four or more appeared, my foe would almost certainly have a higher flush.)
The flop was extremely favorable to me — eight, seven and four, all spades. These cards unsuited would have given me an inside draw for a straight; suited, they gave me a flush, and the five of spades would have given me an unbeatable straight flush.
Now all I had to do was hope that no more spades landed, unless that spade was a five. I held my breath as the turn and river emerged without harming me. I was now the proud owner of 54,000 in chips.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep my momentum going. I had to fold my small blind when I received utterly useless cards. I watched anxiously as the dealer button moved around the table, anticipating the moment when I would be on the hook for 16,000 or more in chips when I once again became the big blind.
Alas, no opportunity for me to play emerged until the blinds came around. Someone in early position raised, I believe to twice the big blind — 32,000 chips — and got a caller or two. I peaked at my hand and found the king and queen of clubs.
I was nearing desperation territory; how could I fold? I considered going all in but opted against it.
The flop included a king; I think the other cards were 10 and eight. The man who had initially raised made a big bet. No one called until the action got to me. I’d hit that flop, so again, how could I fold?
The pot was squared away and the two of us showed our cards. My opponent had king-jack unsuited. I heaved a sigh of relief — I was ahead.
It wasn’t to last. The turn was a jack, and the river did nothing to help my case. I was out of the picture.