By Matthew E. Milliken
July 13, 2016
The evening started off well enough. In an early hand against a man named Aziz, whom I know sometimes plays junk, I started off with the ace and jack of diamonds and hit a jack on the flop, which gave me top pair and top kicker. He went all in following either the turn or the river, and after thinking, I decided to commit. He had nothing better than a low pair, and I raked in a nice pot.
The game progressed, shrinking from four tables to two. (I was seated at the same table throughout the tournament.) About once an orbit, I would be dealt a pair, and I continued to bet aggressively on them — I usually went all in, because my stack was respectable but modest compared to what other folks had. Everyone kept on folding, leaving me to collect only the blinds, which isn’t great but is better than losing.
A boisterous player named Jon arrived, the very same man who had gotten me involved in World Tavern Poker in the first place, albeit indirectly — although that’s a story for another time. (It isn’t all that interesting, frankly…) Around the same time, we hit the 5,000–10,000 blind level. The tournament director, a.k.a. the TD, removed the black chips from the table, leaving us with only white chips, which have a nominal value of 5K.
Jon went all-in with eight chips. I had six chips, and I had — well, not a hand that was super great, but one I was fond of, and felt gave me a good chance to win. Jon started chattering away about how he didn’t want me to suck out on him, which made me feel as though his hand was weak.
After some contemplation, I committed my six chips to the pot. Everyone else folded, and we showed our hands.
I had a queen and a jack. Jon had the ace and king of spades, so he started out ahead. But the flop included a 10 and a jack…
I forget whether the third card on the flop was a queen or whether the queen came on the turn. Regardless, the board gave me two pairs — but it gave Jon a hand nicknamed Broadway, an ace-high straight. I wanted a queen and I wanted a jack on the board, but I didn’t want a queen, a jack and a 10 to come out. Of course, as Mick Jagger famously sung, “You can’t always get what you want…”
It was around 8:50 p.m., and the late tournament was scheduled to begin in 40 minutes or so. I wandered the parking lot, muttering to myself, and decided to make a short drive to a nearby grocery store. That would occupy most of the interim, and my house was barren of nearly every food except popcorn, so this was a good opportunity.
Just before 9:30, after purchasing a bunch of apples and peaches and a few boxes of pasta, I checked in with the TD and selected a seat at a table that I saw had already been chosen by some relatively conservative players. I’d be comfortable there, I thought.
When we got under way a few minutes later, I saw to my dismay that two of the people at the table were relatively unpredictable, which makes for more of a challenge. But my spot was already chosen, so there was nothing to do but grit my teeth and try to do my best…
In fact, one of the unpredictable players was eliminated in short order when he went all in with two high cards against someone who had a high pair — jacks or queens, I think. The winner of that hand was C.T., the man sitting to my right. He was the big stack for just about all of our time at that table.
I myself won a modest pot or two. Then I found myself with a high pair of my own in the blinds. I bet heavily, but C.T. bet on the board in a way that strongly suggested that I was behind, even if I hadn’t started out that way pre-flop. I folded in disgust and started to sulk.
A hand gone wrong wasn’t the only thing that was frustrating me. As previously mentioned, my house was nearly empty of sustenance, and the only thing I’d eaten that day was a batch of popcorn. The bar was pretty busy, and I made a few unsuccessful attempts to order food. At one point, after standing at the bar for five minutes or so and failing to attract a server’s attention, I went back to my seat, muttering bitterly, “Well, I guess I’m not ordering anything.”
I prepared to make an early exit and drive myself home. My mood darkened when I rejected the temptation to limp into a pot with the 10 and six of hearts, a wise decision that I promptly regretted when people bet heavily on a board that would have given me a 10-high straight. (No one had better than two pairs at the showdown.)
The very next hand, I was dealt pocket cards that were slightly better and slightly worse — jack and seven, each one notch higher than my previous cards (slightly better), but unsuited (slightly worse).
I grouchily shoved all in with about 8,000 chips and got two callers. To my shock, the board gave me two jacks, and I think a pair of eights as well, giving me a full house. I guess I’m not leaving early after all, I said to myself with a mixture of resignation and happiness.
As we went to break, it was clear that the table’s remaining unpredictable player was ready to go home and was making and calling bets that were unlikely to win. I wasn’t able to win anything significant from him before he was eliminated, but I maintained a respectable stack as we progressed in the tournament.
I was also, at long last, eventually able to order a hamburger and fries. Unfortunately, when it came, it had cheese on it, so I had to send it back.
When we moved to the final table, I was doing OK — not great, but OK. However, I happened to run into some good luck, and not just because my properly prepared hamburger and fries emerged after a delay.
As in the first game, I got a few pairs, bet heavily on them pre-flop and collected the blinds without getting any callers.
Once, I got a high pair and raised from 4,000 or so to 14,000. The TD was in the big blind and called me out of spite. I bet modestly on the flop, checked the turn even though the TD warned me he was looking for a gut shot to complete a possible straight, and folded when the TD went all in after receiving the exact card for which he’d called.
I had mixed feelings about this. The TD had a massive stack at that point, and I’m not sure that there was anything I could have bet on either the flop or the turn that would have put him off the pot. So maybe my weak betting had saved me chips in the long run?
I don’t know. However, things kept on going my way. A few minutes afterward, I got another high pair, bet heavily on it and persuaded everyone else to fold, giving me a modest pot.
At another point late in the game, a man with a small stack went all in for seven chips, which had a nominal value of 35,000. I was in the big blind for four chips, so I was compelled to call. I ended up collecting the entire pot with a pair of twos even though two or three other players had called the all-in bet.
Meanwhile, other players were running into bad luck. The TD made some bad moves, as did C.T. Their stacks dwindled dramatically. We got down to four players, then three.
The guy sitting across from me had finished third in the early game, so he was happy about doing no worse than that in the late game. When the third player was eliminated, he was guaranteed no worse than second place. But I was hoping the get the win…
I had high cards — the king and jack of clubs, I think — as the clock neared 11:50 p.m. The turn or the river game me a king-high straight, but I checked. To my delight, my opponent went all-in for 30 chips or so.
I had him covered, and I had the superior hand. (I think he had two pairs.) I was a winner!
I was still hungry, however, being in significant calorie deficit for the day. And I was still a bit cranky, especially because I had to wait something like 10 minutes to pay my bill.
Once I finally accomplished that, I zipped out to my car and drove him. I had some fruit to wash and consume.
I did it with a smile — if you will, a winning smile.