Poker postseason stories, winter 2019: Part 4

March 9, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
March 9, 2019

Saturday inevitably leads to Sunday — that’s how weekdays work. And a tournament of champions is supposed to be followed either by another tournament of champions or the regular season — but not invariably.

Because of a Super Bowl–related closure, the venue where I usually run poker tournaments on Sunday nights pushed back its postseason schedule by a week. Which meant that, unusually, the tournament of champions that I won on Saturday evening was succeeded the following night by a tavern championship.

In Sunday night’s event, I did well in the early going, one of three that were used in the tournament. I had a healthy stack when my first table broke and I shifted to my second one. There, when sitting in the small blind, I made a mistake.

This hand would have occurred with blinds at 1,000–2,000, I think. Action had folded around to me in the small blind. I had ace-queen or ace-jack, possibly suited. This is a decent starting hand, although not a great one, so I decided to try to steal the pot. I raised to 5,000.

Unfortunately for me, Tim, who was sitting in the big blind, had just 8,000 chips total — a fact I’d neglected to investigate before declaring my raise. He went all in and I rather reluctantly called. He had a modest pocket pair, perhaps fives or sixes. They held up, leaving me disappointed — if I’d limped and Tim had raised, either pre- or post-flop, I would have folded, thereby saving myself 6,000 chips.

Luckily, I didn’t make a lot of other mistakes. When we went to the final table, I had a modestly sized stack. I think I made bank with some suited high cards — I vaguely recall ace-queen or king-jack leading me to a heart flush on a big pot.

The final four was a well-matched quartet — Tony, a solid player; Ann, the top-ranked female player in the nation that season; Dennis, who recorded the most cumulative points at Doherty’s that season; and me. Each of us had a big treasure chest at one point or another, especially Ann, but things generally trended my way.

There was a big exception. While we were three-handed, I believe, I raised from the big blind with ace-eight. (Thanks in part to my having good cards and thanks in part to my have a lot of chips, I was raising a lot of hands preflop.) Dennis folded to my bet; Ann, however, was feeling desperate and called with eight-seven.

This kind of matchup is described as domination. Ann’s highest card was matched by my lowest card, meaning that if an eight hit the board it would help me much more than her.

I was ahead the whole way, on a board full of bricks — until the river. The last card to come out was a seven, giving Ann a pair and leaving me with ace-high. She scooped the pot. I still had a lot more than Ann or Dennis, but she once more had enough chips to be extremely dangerous.

I fretted that this suck-out would mark a turning of the tide and that Ann, who’d had a tremendous season, would roar back to claim the title. However, my good cards kept coming, and the board kept supplementing them. Before long Dennis was eliminated, and a few minutes after that, I triumphed over Ann.

That earned me a medallion and a plaque and a berth in World Tavern Poker’s upcoming national championship finals. But I had stuff to do, and I’d just won some hardware the night before, so I took no photographs this time around.

I did, however, spend much of the next five or six days feeling as though I was walking on air.

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