May 2018 pokerpalooza: Day 5, tournament 8

June 25, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
June 25, 2018

On the final day of pokerpalooza, my morning tasks included waking up, showering, dressing, breakfasting, brushing my teeth, packing, checking out and driving over to the casino, where I would be participating in what World Tavern Poker calls the National Tournament of Champions Finals. None of this was particularly challenging, especially because I’d done most of my packing the night before. However, there was a wrinkle thrown into my agenda.

Around the time I went downstairs to have breakfast, I received a phone call and voicemail message from an unfamiliar number. When I checked the message, it immediately became clear that I’d have to run an errand before going to the casino.

Remember when I deposited three hundred-dollar bills shortly after winning a tournament the previous afternoon? Well, I’d failed to retrieve my ATM card after completing that transaction. There had been a van behind me in the line to use the drive-up ATM; I remembering catching a glimpse of the logo on the side and thinking that it was a florist’s delivery van or maybe some kind of food truck. Anyway, someone had removed my card from the automated teller and placed it in the night deposit box.

The bank is literally just around the corner from the casino — it occupies a squarish cutout of land on the plot where the casino and racetrack are located — so this wasn’t a big deal. But it put a little bit of a squeeze into my a.m. activities.

When I got to the casino, there was a big line of late registrants for the TOCs. In a few minutes, I bought into the event and found my seat.

After some preliminaries, we got under way.

My tournament fate was sealed by one key hand that I think took place immediately after our first break. (This event had short breaks scheduled every two hours, if memory serves.)

As the hand began, I was the big blind in seat 10 (I think); blinds cost 500-1,000. The woman in seat 1 made a minimum raise, from 1,000 to 2,000. I think everyone folded to me.

When it was my turn, I peeked at my hole cards for the first time. I had a premium hand: cowboys, or pocket kings, the second-best starting hand in holdem.

I pondered what to do. I didn’t know the player in seat 1, but from comments she’d made, she was eager to see the flop any time she held an ace. I wanted to make a very big bet in order to discourage her from calling and then getting lucky.

My stash consisted of roughly 17,000 chips at that point. I don’t know how much the other player had — as I’ve written, there are reasons why I dislike certain seats at the poker table — but I think she had more than I did. I needed to send a signal that my hand was very strong.

After some consideration, I made a big raise, from 2,000 to 7,700. My rival called with surprisingly little hesitation.

The flop contained exactly the card I didn’t want to see: an ace. As soon as it came out, I knew that my kings — the second-highest possible pair — trailed my opponent’s pair of aces.  And her lead bet, 5,500, confirmed my impressions.

I was in a real pickle here. I’d bet about 45 percent of my stack before the flop. If I called my foe’s post-flop wager, nearly 80 percent of the chips I’d started the hand with would be in the pot and at extreme risk. Since the board precluded my hitting an ace-high straight (10-J-Q-K-A), I could now only win if a king came on the turn or river, thereby giving me three of a kind.

I decided to take my shot, calling the 5,500. This left me with a little less than 4,000 — a puny amount.

The turn was a blank. My opponent checked. I considered pushing all in, but I just didn’t think it would do me any good. I checked, and we got another blank on the river.

She checked fifth street; after a slight pause, so did I. I don’t remember if I revealed my hand, but she did hers: ace-queen. (Unsuited, I believe.) Just as I’d suspected, she’d called my big raise hoping to get lucky, and the flop had rewarded her amply while punishing me harshly.

Shortly after she collected this very rich pot, I asked my rival, “If I had shoved all-in pre-flop, would you have called me?” She instantly replied that she would have.

I caught some chatter at her end of the table. I was a bit surprised that she’d checked down the turn and river; as it turned out, she’d feared that her ace-queen was behind my pocket rockets and that the ace on the flop had given me triple aces. Knowing that did not change the outcome, of course, and it didn’t even change how I would have played the hand — even if I’d shoved all in, given that I had less than 4,000 chips, I just don’t see her folding.

I didn’t say anything obnoxious, but neither did I bother to hide my disgust with how the hand was done. I angrily spun my card marker, gloomily muttering to myself and cursing the fates.

This hand marked the effective end of my National TOCs. I hung around for another half-hour or so, but I didn’t catch any good fortune. We began paying antes on each hand, and even though these started out very small — 100 per player per hand — I had so little in front of me that every hand reduced my leverage significantly. (It didn’t help that I had less than twice the big blind after my kings went down in flames.)

I had an ace with a low kicker — perhaps it was ace-five suited? — on my final hand, which I think came one hand before the big blind was about to claim the rest of my chips. I went all in, and since there were a few people in the hand, it would have been a nice chip-up. However, an ace never came, so my hand lost.

To add insult to injury, the pot was collected by the woman who’d earlier claimed the bulk by calling my pocket kings with ace-queen. The cherry on top, naturally, was that when she cleaned me out, she held pocket kings.

I couldn’t walk away from the table fast enough.

To be concluded


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