Poker postseason recap, winter 2020

February 12, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 12, 2020

Having scooped up a pair of tavern season points titles, I went into the two-week World Tavern Poker postseason with the goal of collecting some more trinkets.

The first postseason week, which began on Monday, Jan. 27, consists of tavern championships. Those who placed in the top 10 at that venue start these games with double stacks and can re-enter if they’re knocked out before a certain time. Top tenners only get one re-entry, and those who knock them out receive a bounty.

I held top-10 rankings in three venues, playing on Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday nights. I also qualified to compete, and did compete, at venues on four other days.

Let’s go more or less in reverse order of finishes:

• Thursday and Friday: Not in top 20.

• Monday: 15th place.

• Saturday: Ninth place.

• Wednesday: Fifth place — disappointing, of course, since I’d won the season points championship by a fair margin at this bar.

• Tuesday: Let’s talk about this…

Right before the break, in a tournament with 33 contestants, I was playing king-jack off-suit in a pot with Paul and Darrel. Paul went all-in for less than both Darrel and me. Darrel, who had been betting aggressively, then raised. I decided that he was ahead of me and folded, only to see that Darrel had also been playing king-jack off. Darrel scooped a huge pot that the two of us otherwise would have chopped.

Darrel had been a short stack not long after I joined his table, but that win contributed to a huge hot streak that just never seemed to let up.

In one hand late in the game, Dennis went all in with pocket aces. Darrel had ace-king and hit a pair of kings on the flop to knock out Dennis.

The game came down to me and Darrel, with him holding probably four-fifths of the chips, if not more. I made a solid try of things, but Darrel could afford to throw away bad hands and fold cards when he sensed that I’d set up a trap, so I never held more than a third of the chips in play, if that.

Ultimately, I shoved preflop from the button with Q♣︎4♣︎. Darrel called instantly with pocket sevens. I hit a four on the flop, but the clubs didn’t come and neither did a queen or a second four.

The week of Monday, Feb. 3, through Sunday, Feb. 9, we played tournaments of champions, in which eligibility and starting stacks are determined exclusively by the number of top-three finishes a player has had at the venue in question during the regular season.

On Monday, I finished in 15th place.

On Tuesday, I finished in ninth place.

On Wednesday, I began with the biggest chip stack in the bar: 32,100, better by 4,000 than the second-biggest stack. I started off playing hands very selectively.

At one point, holding pocket kings, I called an all-in of about 11,000. Phillip had jacks; my cowboys held up. I was sitting pretty — but then I got overconfident.

After a period of discarding bad hand after bad hand, I found myself at under-the-gun plus two facing a sizable all-in — maybe a third of my stack — from Michael W., who was under the gun. I held K♦︎Q♦︎, and I should have folded. Instead, I called, as did Chris R. on the button. 

The flop had either a king or a queen. I bet about 5,000, which was enough to put Chris all in. He called instantly: He and Michael had ace-king, so I ended up donating a bunch of money to these gentlemen. That marked the start of a long downward slope for my chips.

After we got down to the final table, I shoved for a relatively modest amount with pocket queens and didn’t call. That took me off life support but still left me in shaky condition. It felt like that was the first hand I’d won more in quite a while.

Not too long after that, Mike R. and I limped into a hand in which he was dealing and I sat in the small blind. My 5-4 off made two pairs on the flop — which was 3-4-5, mayhaps?. There was some betting, and he ultimately went all-in for 11,000 or so. I called (holding 17,000 or whatnot).

Mike had ace-five, so an ace would give him a superior two pairs and a two would give him a straight, A-2-3-4-5. The river, of course, was an ace.

I went on to finish fourth, which was extremely dismaying given that I’d made (to my mind) one and only one very bad decision and run into bad luck as exemplified by the hand just described.

That left one day in the postseason: Sunday, on which the venue where I serve as tournament director was holding both a tavern championship and a tournament of champions on a single night. This represented my last two chances to win any additional hardware.

The tavern championship went badly for me. With the blinds at 500–1,000, I raised with ace-queen to 2,900 and got called by 9-7, who of course hit three of a kind almost immediately. That wiped out most of my stack, and I wound up 10th in the game. Dave A., the player who doubled up on that hand thanks to me, went on to build a huge war chest, lose all but two of his chips, and then come back in a heads-up duel to win the event.

I began the tournament of champions with 22,000, which was tied with two other players for the healthiest starting stack. I ran into trouble and was short stack for quite a while, but then I got hot at the final table and actually held the chip lead for a bit.

When I make a deep tournament run, I often find myself achieving a state that I think of as being locked in. I make smart, disciplined decisions. I am stone-faced, never giving away any information. I bluff selectively and successfully.

This is a mental state, but it’s also a physical one. When I’m in this condition, my hands turn to ice. I fancy that this is because my brain is using a huge amount of blood to process information at peak efficiency.

It would not last, sadly.

The tournament came down to Sonja W. and I. We played for 20 minutes or so, neither of us winning more than a modest amount of chips from the other.

Then, on the button, holding pocket fives, with the blinds 5,000–10,000, I raised to 30,000. Sonja jammed for all her chips.

I put her on an ace with a high kicker. I took a minute or two to think about it and then called. She had just two chips in reserve.

We flipped our cards. Sonja had pocket nines. I was behind.

The flop was 4-6-10. No help for me; I was still behind

The turn was a 7. That was very good for me, as it left me open-ended and increased my number of outs. Now a five would give me a set and the winning hand; a three would give me a seven-high straight and the winning hand; and an eight would give me an eight-high straight and the winning hand.

The river…

…was an eight. I’d won a huge hand with 4-5-6-7-8!

And then I realized that the eight hadn’t helped me — or, to be technical about it, it hadn’t helped me as much as it had helped Sonja, who had made a 10-high straight with 6-7-8-9-10 to win the tournament of champions and the medallion that accompanied it.

I was devastated. I’d come so close, only to throw away a chance at victory with a reckless call. Had I folded to her all-in bet, I would have had about 45 percent of the chips with blinds still at a relatively low level. I could have — I should have — played it smart; instead, well…

I found myself brooding quite a bit for the next few hours. But that’s just the way it goes sometimes.

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