Poker postseason recap, summer 2019

August 11, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 11, 2019

The six-month-long World Tavern Poker season will conclude this evening. Thus far I’ve collected one prize — or make that two prizes, a plaque-and-medallion two-in-one combination — thanks to my taking the season points championship at the venue where I serve as tournament director on Sunday nights. It’s only my second-ever season-points title.

On Wednesday, July 31, I finished second in a tavern championship, one of two sorts of postseason tournaments that World Tavern hosts.

There were two key hands at the final table. In one, Janet, the player to my right, pushed all in for, say, a quartet of 5,000 chips at a time when I had around eight such chips in hand. I had king-10 unsuited in the small blind. Did I want to risk a major chunk of my stack on a pair of hole cards that were, at best, moderately strong? I discarded my hand.

Janet ended up winning the main pot with KQ, which would have beaten my KT, while D—, sitting immediately to my left, collected a modest side pot with a hand that was inferior to mine. I later kicked myself because, without knowing it, I’d passed up an opportunity to eliminate D—.

D— and I squared off in heads-up play. He obtained most of my stack thanks to a runout that featured four hearts. He limped in with A?8♥︎; I checked my big-blind option with 6♦︎2♥︎. The river gave me a baby flush. I thought I might have a chance to win with a strategic bet, so I wagered 15 of those aforementioned 5,000 chips. D— hesitated but announced he was calling, although he said that he thought I had him him beat.

As soon as I confirmed D— was calling, I flipped over my hand. D— fumbled with the chips for several seconds, counting and verifying the call of 15, before revealing his winning hand. This was an unfortunate sequence, because I was behind the whole way; the only way I could have saved chips would have been by (a) not betting and (b) folding to a potential river bet from D—.

Well, what was done was what was done. (As local World Tavern Poker player Paul Chew says, “Everything is everything.”) A few hands later, it was all over. I shook D—’s hand, and I congratulated him on a game well played, and I meant it. However, to come so close but fall just short — it kind of broke my heart.

The following night, I shoved with pocket queens into another person’s kings and lost nearly all I had. This was wholly infuriating. I subsequently realized that the player with the kings had kind of been hamming up his indecision in his preflop betting; I fell hook, line and sinker for his deception.

This week, on Monday the 5th, I raised with pocket aces and lost to T9 off-suit. My foe hit either a straight or three 10s — I forget which. This left me about as livid as the previous week’s QQ-KK debacle. I played in this event for about 10 minutes; it was roughly a half-hour drive each way.

One of my favorite venues held a Tournament of Champions with 33 contestants on Tuesday, Aug. 6. I was doing pretty well when we went to a 10-person final table. Unfortunately, I eventually spent an hour at that table doing little but hemorrhaging chips.

I got exactly one premium hand: ace-jack off-suit, if memory serves. I raised 13,000 preflop in early position and got called by one person, Jordan, who probably had the table’s second-biggest stack — close to 100,000, if not more. (I had around 39,000.) The flop was all low cards; I bet 13,000 again and got called. Jordan bet big on the turn, another low card, and I threw away my hand in disgust.

That episode took a big chunk out of my war chest, so I went into turtle mode. I subsequently was dealt Q6, Q5, J3, J2 — all off-suit — innumerable times. (Seriously: I received each of these hands at least two times apiece following my AJ debacle.)

Very late in my run, I tossed away king-eight unsuited either under the gun or UTG+1. Of course, the board wound up with a pair of kings, and my three-of-a-king would have crushed Ginger, who scooped a major pot with two pairs after one of her hole cards connected with a nine on the board. Ginger went on to win this event.

On the 7th, I had another 30-minute drive for another very short tournament run. This time, I checked my big blind against two other players and hit a seven-high straight on the river. My river bet was 800; the player to my left raised to 1,600; the player to my right reraised to 5,100.

This big reraise was incredibly suspicious. However, I held ace-five; the board wasn’t paired, meaning that there was no full house possibility; and there was no flush possibility, meaning that a straight was the nuts. Unfortunately, my straight wasn’t the nuts — a single hand, 85, could beat me.

Here’s what I should have done: folded.

Here’s what I did do: Push all-in for around 14,000.

The woman to my left thought about things for a good two or three minutes and called me. Tr—, the man on my right, called as soon as she announced her decision. I had A5o; she had Q5o; and he had 85, I think unsuited. I walked away from the table in disgust.

On Thursday, Aug. 8, I filled in for a tournament director who had family visiting from out of town. We started with 15 players and soon worked our way down to a 10-person final table.

I had one very big early hand. Pocket fives flopped a set on a Q5? board with two clubs. I checked and let Eddie bet, oh, 1,600. I reraised to 5,300. Eddie thought about things for a while and asked me at least twice if I wanted a call. I did not answer him directly. He wound up folding. Someone “ran the rabbit,” and as it turned out, the queen paired, giving me what surely would have been an unbeatable full house.

After the fact, I was able to answer Eddie’s question: Yes, I did want a call. As they say, hindsight is 20/20. 

The tournament’s biggest stack belonged to To—, who sat to my immediate left. I was wary of tangling with him. My cautiousness got the best of me when I folded to a fourth-street bet of 1,000 with the blinds at 300–600 and more than 3,500 in the pot. I needed an 8 for a straight, but since there were two flush draws present — spades and hearts, if memory serves — I was wary of running into a better hand even if the river did give me the straight. Of course, an eight came that didn’t complete either flush, and of course, no one had anything even close to my jack-high straight. To— scooped the pot with a bluff. 

A little later, I folded 5♥︎4♥︎ and, of course, saw two fours on the flop. I wound up coming in fourth. Close, but not cigar, and no medallion either.

On the other hand: The winner, To—, was thrilled by his victory; this was the first Tournament of Champions medallion he’d ever earned. It was heartening to witness his joy. 

Yesterday, the 10th, I was small stack in a tournament of nine. (The Tournament of Champions starting stacks are based on a player’s number of top-three finishes at the host venue during the most recent regular season. I began with the bare minimum: 10,000 in chips.) I knew I’d have to play well and get lucky to make a serious title run. 

The available evidence indicates that I did not play well and that I was not lucky. I’ll describe the two most important hands. 

A rule I try to follow is to play hands when I’m on the button — that is, when I’m dealing — and no one has raised. On Saturday, feeling squeezed by my lack of chips, I opted not to play ace-three off-suit when no one had done so. If I’d called, I think I would have finished with a full house. Why hadn’t I obeyed my rule?!!! 

One orbit later, I limped with A♥︎7♥︎ from the cutoff, which is the position immediately right of the dealer. We wound up going to the flop with at least four or five players at a table of perhaps seven.

The flop didn’t feature any hearts; to my chagrin, all three cards were black, with two spades. However, it included A♣, and the action was checked down to me. I shoved for 6,300 with my weak pair of aces and got called by the dealer and the small blind and maybe a third player too. 

I don’t recall what betting action followed, but I can tell you how things went down: The turn was a spade, and so was the river, providing a grand total of four spades. When we arrived at showdown, I asked, “Who’s got the flush?” and turned over my aces, which had not improved. 

The player in the small blind had the ace of spades, accompanied by unsuited paint. The button also had ace-paint. I’d  begun the round of play with, at most, the third-best hand, and I’d finished it in third place. Knowing the starting hands and the runout, my only helpful move would have been to fold; the chance of my inducing preflop folds from either the button or the small blind, let alone both, was infinitesimal. 

At any rate, friends: That was how the cookie crumbled, not to mention the majority of my chances at postseason glory. I’ve got one more shot, this evening; I’ll be sure to let you know if anything interesting happens. 

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