May 2018 pokerpalooza: Day 1, tournament 1

May 22, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
May 22, 2018

I’m participating in another spring pokerpalooza. I regret to report that things are off to a rocky start.

In my first tournament, on Sunday afternoon, I was attempting to win my way into the national championship finals. The semifinal qualifier in which I was playing had a shootout format, pitting players at a table against each other until only two retain chips. Unlike a typical tournament, players never change tables as the field is narrowed down. I’ve traditionally been a bit leery of shootouts, but I started to warm up to them this spring when, during a regional championship, I made it through the shootout stage in one of the satellite tournaments.

I didn’t get to the casino for the start of the semifinal shootout. Still, I was in time to join the proceedings, so I paid my $15 entry fee and sat down at a table in the far reaches of the ballroom where the event was being held.

The table had started with about four ghost stacks, each of which had paid blinds as the deal orbited the table for the better part of an hour. When I arrived, we were in the third blind level, 300-600, and the ghost stack I took control of felt rather puny. (Incidentally, a standard casino poker table is designed to accommodate 10 players, although it can sometimes be a bit of a squeeze.)

Patience is generally a virtue in poker. I took a disciplined approach, folding marginal hands and calling only with strong ones. Things were hairy for quite a while, but I collected two or three modest pots and hung in there as less fortunate souls busted out. That included a few folks who were already seated when I joined the table as well as a pair of people who sat down after me. (The cutoff for new entries was 80 minutes after the start of the event; one woman who came to our table beat the deadline by seconds.)

After I’d been playing for maybe an hour, my table had been winnowed down to four putative participants: An older woman seated to my left, a younger woman seated at the far end of the table from me and a ghost stack that had never been claimed.

I stuck to my conservative strategy, in part because I didn’t want to be eliminated before the ghost stack. It took a while for the last of the neglected chips to be eaten up by the blinds but after a time, to my relief, our number was formally reduced to three.

Mystics and musicians have long argued that three is a magic number. However, in this case, the real prize was being one of the last two. I was now in prime position to make it — but of course, nothing was guaranteed.

The player to my left was in her 70s and had trouble seeing the cards. That didn’t matter once she got hot, however. She made bank on pocket aces and pocket queens and some other premium hands. In a short while, she went from having an average chip stack to having the biggest one at the table by far.

Lauren, the other woman, turned out to be someone I’d played with a bit in New York. Since I was so impoverished, I kept on shoving with decent hands and, somewhat surprisingly, both of my opponents kept on folding. In time, my chip count passed Lauren’s, though not by a lot.

Around this time, she went all in. I didn’t call, hoping that the third player would knock Lauren out and thereby seal my ticket to the championship finals. But Lauren survived, so I was back to eking out an existence on the margins.

There came a rare hand when I limped from the button, I believe with the jack and 10 of diamonds. The flop was either six-seven-eight or seven-eight-nine. What stood out about these first three community cards was their suit — all clubs. Lauren went all in with her few remaining chips. I folded, fearing that one or possibly both of my rivals either had a flush or were on the verge of hitting one.

The other player called; I think she had ace-queen, but her hand didn’t pair with the board, and Lauren ended up collecting the pot with a middle pair. As it turned out, if I’d called, I would have hit a jack-high straight and advanced to the finals. However, my decision to fold had been wholly reasonable given the available information, and there was certainly nothing I could about it after the fact.

The win gave Lauren a significant advantage over me. It was nothing like the stack the other member of our triumvirate had, but it was quite healthy nonetheless. I was again reduced to going all-in frequently.

This worked out about as well as you’d expect. I hung on for a bit, but not very long. One of the other players — I think it was Lauren — knocked me out, advancing the pair of women to Monday’s championship finals.

To be continued


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