Fortunes of play: Notes on an extended tavern championship run

August 4, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 4, 2018

Having botched my chance at a season points championship in the World Tavern Poker venue where I play on Tuesday nights as well as the one where I play (and direct tournaments) on Sunday nights, I had extra motivation to want to do well in the two-week “postseason” that the league stages every six months.

My first opportunity at redemption came in the tavern championship on Tuesday evening. This is a single tournament, run with the same length of blinds as all the others. The main differences between the tavern championship and regular games are twofold. In the championship, each top-10 player receives twice the starting stack as other players, and each top-10 player is bestowed with a bounty/re-entry/add-on card.

Here’s how the card works. If a top-10 player is knocked out before the first chip-up break, which occurs between the 500–1,000 and 1,000–2,000 blind levels, then the card enables the top-10 player to get a new double stack (effectively, a rebuy or re-entry). In addition, the individual who knocks out the top-10 player receives a 10,000 bounty.

Any top-10 player who survives until the first chip-up break receives a 10,000 “add-on.” After that point, top-10 players receive no further advantage. A top-10 player can use her or his card only once, either when knocked out or at the break.

Anyway, early on in Tuesday night’s tavern championship, I made some money by hitting a set. But then I got into an expensive hand with R.C., one of the circuit’s wilder players. I think I started with pocket nines, turned an open-ended straight draw and failed to improve on the river, prompting me to fold to her all-in push.

After that, I entered a seemingly endless fallow period. I got down to 9,900 right before the break, which I thought was a shade under half of my starting amount. I considered shoving all in so I could get my rebuy, but I opted not to for two reasons. One was that I expected that the 10,000 add-on at the break would make me whole; the other was that I thought giving someone else at my table my 9,900 chips plus the 10,000 bounty put me at a relative disadvantage.

However, I almost immediately began to regret my decision. Ginger, the top-10 player sitting across the table from me, used her rebuy just a few minutes before the break. Right after I folded for the last time before the break, I counted her chips and realized that the double-stack that top players received was 22,100, not 20,000. In other words, my decision to take the rebuy cost me 2,000 chips.

That left me at something of a disadvantage relative to Ginger, but at least I hadn’t handed a competitor 19,900 chips in order to get 20,000 or 22,100.

At any rate, there was nothing to be done at that point. I’d just have to limp along and hope that I started hitting some hands.

Unfortunately, as stated, my drought stretched on and on and on. At long last, at the final table and with the blinds having passed the 5,000–10,000 mark, I went on a small run.

The exact chain of events is hazy, just a few days after it occurred, but the general sequence started something like this. My tiny stack survived the blinds with a marginal hand and I got the dealer button.

A statistically rare string of events ensued. Howie, the player to my immediate left, who had been limping along with a very modest stack from nearly the start of the game, was forced all in by the blinds and busted out in 10th place, leaving me to deal twice in a row instead of just a single time. (Broadly speaking, if the player in the small blind is knocked out, the deal stays with the player who last had it rather than passing to the left, as normally happens.)

On the next hand, Paul P. was knocked out of the tournament in ninth place. Therefore, I had to deal yet again.

On (I think) my third consecutive deal, the person in that hand’s small blind, John P., was knocked out in eighth place. The next hand, Ginger was eliminated, leaving the tournament with six players. The hand after that, Dave H. lost an all-in bet. That left only five of us.

I ended up dealing — or having the dealer button, as we got a volunteer dealer right around this point — an unusual six times in a row. Ironically, this was exactly the kind of sequence that might have pushed me to a season points championship had I folded and gotten lucky toward the end of the late tournament exactly one week previously.

By this point in the tavern championship, I think the blinds had reached three chips–six chips — that is, the small blind cost 15,000 and the big blind 30,000. With a table this small, the blinds always come around quickly, and I had just four chips, or 20,000. Put another way, if I didn’t get lucky soon, my tournament was about to end.

Things were about to get interesting. On what I think was my very last turn with the button, Paul C. went all-in with one chip while under the gun. Three other people ended up getting in on the hand, including me. Ultimately, I won a main pot and a side pot worth a total of 13 chips when my ace-eight of spades rivered the flush. Paul C.’s elimination left us with four players.

I folded the next hand. But right after that, I was in the big blind with 13 chips and the blinds having risen to 25,000–50,000 — that is, five chips–10 chips. After Homer and Darrel folded, Tom, who was sitting to my right in the small blind and was easily the chip leader, went over the top.

I was holding ace-10 off-suit (shades of the previous Tuesday!), and I’d lose more than three-quarters of my stack by folding. I had a feeling Tom was trying to buy the pot with a weak hand, so I called.

My conjecture about having superior hole cards to Tom proved correct: I think he had six-three off-suit. However, one of his cards paired with the board, and neither of mine did, so I went out in fourth place.

A few minutes later, the tavern championship was over. I later learned that Tom had won with jack-three off-suit against Darrel’s ace-nine. Sometimes, junk wins the day.

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