May 2018 pokerpalooza: Day 4, tournaments 6 and 7

June 13, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
June 13, 2018

On Wednesday morning, I began playing in an event called the Patriot Poker Kickoff Tournament. I no longer recall much about this event, except that I did OK at my first table and then had a major flameout after being moved to a different table.

That afternoon, I sat down to participate in the fourth and final grinder tournament — my third go-round at this type of event. The event got under way a little after 3 p.m. with three tables of 10 players each.

Things began quietly before I started getting some cards and hitting some boards. A little past the midway point of the event, the equivalent of about $250 was sitting in front of me. One of the poker room supervisors, who was moving throughout the room and checking the largest stashes at each table, mentioned that I had the chip lead.

As so often happens, things went cold for me for a while, and my stack stagnated at around the $250 mark.

One of the players at the table was a guy named Dick, whom I’ve seen and played with occasionally at World Tavern Poker national events over the years. Dick, who I believe is originally from Virginia, co-owns World Tavern Poker’s Coastal Carolina franchise, and he was helping to supervise that afternoon’s grinder. Every so often, he’d get up and take a look at the other tables in the event.

As we entered the final half-hour of the event, the casino supervisor let it be known that someone at another table had more than $300. He told me that I’d have to make a move in order to retake the tournament lead.

I sort of grimaced and shrugged. I’d love to win the event, but I was going through a fallow period, and I didn’t want to force things.

A little after that, Dick stood up and took a quick walk around the poker room. When he got back, he let me know that someone else still had more than I did. Much as the supervisor had, Dick mentioned that I’d have to do something if I wanted to be champion.

I offered the same kind of non-response. As a reminder, the grinder has two prizes: A plaque, which is awarded to the person with the biggest chip stack, and whatever chips are in front of each player (everyone gets to keep what they have). Unlike the chips used in a typical poker tournament, the ones employed in a grinder have actual cash value in the casino; you can bet them in most if not all of the casino’s games, or you can take them to a cashier and exchange them for money.

Yes, I wanted a championship plaque. But on the other hand, I’d rather keep the chips that I had than take some wild risks and end up losing a major portion of my ersatz fortune.

Luckily for me, my cards started improving, and I once again began to collect pots.

I recall one hand specifically, which I believe occurred when I was sitting in the big blind. When the pre-flop action came around to me, I found myself with 10-8 unsuited in the hole. There were four or five players already in. Since no one had made a significant raise, I checked, hoping that my rather weak starting hand would somehow connect with the flop.

That’s exactly what happened. The flop featured a seven and a nine, giving me four cards to a straight — seven-eight-nine-10. I was now open-ended, meaning that either a six or a jack would complete my straight. As many as eight cards in the deck would make my hand — one of the four 6es or one of the four 10s.

I made a serious bet ($9 or $16, perhaps?) and a number of my rivals folded. The exception was Pat, an older player from the Charlotte, N.C., area whom I’d met during one of his visits to the Triangle. He called me from his spot in the small blind.

The turn was a six, giving me the straight. I bet about $40, all Pat had remaining. I was ahead, and I wanted to stay ahead; a bet that prompted him to fold would spare me the sorrow of seeing the river give him a flush or a boat or a better straight, the last of which had happened to me a few times already that week.

With his tournament life at stake, Pat took at least a minute to think things through. “Matt, you’re killing me,” he lamented at one point.

Eventually, he called with, I think, two pairs: nines and sixes. The river was a brick, allowing me to accumulate additional chips.

In a hand late in the tournament, I raised to $6 or $8 early on with a high pocket pair — queens or better, I think. Everyone folded, and I collected the pot. However, a player had limped in — that is, called the regular big blind of $2 — with a $5 chip, and as I collected my modest winnings, he complained that he hadn’t gotten the right change back. After a brief hesitation, I tossed a $1 chip across the table to him, muttering something to the effect that I didn’t want any trouble. An unspoken subtext, of course, was I didn’t want to come off as a miser when I was competing for the tournament chip lead.

Perhaps that gesture helped generate some good karma for me. In the final minutes of the event, I made modest bets with hands in which I had only limited confidence, and other players repeatedly folded to me. As I recall, I won the very last hand by betting $4 on the river into a pot worth at least four or five times that much. Much to my surprise, no one was willing to call.

When the event ended, we counted up my chips. It came to $420 or maybe $425 in all, of which $397 were actual casino chips. (The rest of the total represented tips I’d paid to the dealer.) Taking out my initial $75 buy-in, I’d come away $322 to the better in this event.

But had I won it? After a few minutes, Dick came over to where I was sitting and presented me with the championship plaque, much to my delight.

We took some photos and I gave Dick my phone number, home town and the proper spelling of my name. The runner-up, a younger woman I’d played with at least once earlier in this year’s pokerpalooza, came over and asked what the second-place finisher got. “The satisfaction of having given the champion a good run for his money,” I joked. (I’m sure this did not come off as wittily as I’d intended it to.)

A few minutes later, I racked up my chips. After converting 60 of my $5 chips into a trio of crisp $100 bills. I promptly drove to a nearby bank and deposited them before driving to downtown Wilkes-Barre for a stint of walking, tea-drinking and writing.

To be continued


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