Notes on facing a tough tournament spot

July 27, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
July 27, 2018

For much of the season, I led the rankings at the World Tavern Poker venue in Cary where I regularly play on Tuesday evenings. Two Tuesdays ago, on the second-to-last night of the regular season, I was unable to record any points in either of the two tournaments; worse yet, my chief rival, H.M., won one game and finished second in the other to pass me and take hold of the No. 1 position.

Which brings me to this past Tuesday, the last night of the regular season. Since I was eliminated without gaining any points in the first game, I faced no small pressure as the second game got under way.

Unfortunately, the cards didn’t go my way for much of the contest. The good news was that I hung on and made it to the final table. The not-so-good news was that I had one of the smaller stacks when we got down to the final 10 players. The better news was that H.M. hadn’t gotten a good score in either game, meaning that I still had an opportunity to catch him if I could manage a terrific finish.

And although I had a paltry amount of chips, there was still a chance of getting a lot of points. Not only did a player with a significant treasury go out in 10th place, two remaining players at the table had very small stacks, just like me. If I could just hang on…

The blinds moved from 3,000–6,000 to 5,000–10,000, at which point the tournament director “chipped us up” — that is, switched out smaller-denomination chips. Now every chip was worth 5,000 units; hence the blinds were, in essence, one chip–two chips.

When the big blind reached me, I had 15,000 — three chips — sitting before me, and I was required to commit two of them. The first three or four players to act folded.

Linda, who had only a single chip, went all in. Joe, sitting immediately to her left, may have been chip leader; he bet 20,000 or 25,000 (four or five chips).

The remaining players folded until the action reached me.

I looked at my cards: ace-10 off-suit. And I sighed.

This was not a great hand. And yet it was not an outright bad one. And I‘d be going against only two opponents. What’s more, only one of those foes had enough chips to eliminate me.

Once again, I heaved a big sigh and committed my last remaining chip to the pot. We figured out the math: Linda could win four chips in the main pot — one from her, Joe, me and the small blind — while Joe and I were eligible to collect both her pot and an additional four chips.

In other words, if I wound up with the best hand, I would take eight chips, and Linda would go out in ninth place.

Joe, however, was pretty confident that I wouldn’t end up with the best hand. He announced that Linda and I each had an ace, which was true: She had ace-nine. He was holding pocket fives, a modest hand but one that was superior to what she and I possessed.

That changed on the flop, which provided a nine for Linda. Now I needed a 10 to beat her pair of nines or an ace to beat Joe’s pair of fives. (An ace would have given her two pairs, aces and nines, but since she was ineligible to win the side pot I’d still be alive.)

Alas! The turn and river offered me no succor. Linda stayed alive with her nines, while Joe scooped up the side pot with his fives. I went out in ninth place, with 7,700 points — not enough to displace 7,900, the lowest of the 15 scores that made up my tavern ranking.

I was pretty steamed. If I’d been able to outlast Linda, or someone else, eighth place would have provided me with (I later learned) 9,050 points. That would have bumped my season points average at the bar from 10,948 to 11,025. I really needed those points!

When I checked the venue’s final season standings the next day, I found that I’d slipped from second to third — a competitor named John had passed me for second place by finishing in fifth place in Tuesday’s early game and second place in the late tournament. (Joe, who’d knocked me out with fives, ended up winning that game.) H.M. claimed the season crown with a points rating of 11,292.

Should I have folded my ace-10 to Joe’s bet? It wouldn’t have affected the hand’s results for Linda or Joe; her nines would have beaten his fives, leaving her in the tournament with four chips and him with a very sizable stack.

The problem with folding, of course, is that I would have been all-in for one chip as the small blind on the next hand. There’s no guarantee that I would have had better than ace-10 off-suit, or that the best starting hand I’d face would be merely 5-5, or that I’d only need to beat one other player in the hand to stay alive in the tournament. Nor is there any guarantee that I would have hit from the small blind.

The bottom line is that I was in a bad spot; calling Joe’s bet was a sensible reaction given my hand and the situation, and folding to it would not necessarily have given me a better tournament finish than the ninth place to which I was consigned.

By the way, in preparing this post, I did some math. Just to tie H.M., the venue champion, I needed 4,160 more points. Gaining one spot in the last tournament — that is, improving from ninth place to eighth place — would only have provided me with 1,150 points, far from what I needed. It wouldn’t even have pushed me past John, who finished in second with 11,090.

In the end, I tried hard and came up short. It is what it is, and that’s all there is to it.


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