Six of us made the trip -- Rich, Chad, Josh, the two Matts (Whitefield and Yorky Pud), and myself. Was a $125 buy-in no-limit hold’em tourney, part of the Golden Nugget’s month-long Grand Poker Series 2013 that features a ton of different games, including mixed games, a Chinese poker event, a Badugi/BadAcey/BadDeucey event, and other off-the-beaten-path fare.
Someone suggested a last longer between us at $20 per, and I agreed while insisting I was dead money among the group. I hadn’t played a live tourney in many months, while all of these guys play regularly. Hell, one of them had even won a WSOP bracelet this summer. (No shinola.)
I had played at the Golden Nugget once before, back in 2009 in a charity tourney hosted by Howard and Suzie Lederer that also involved their old “World Series of BBQ.” (Talk about a blast from the past.) That was the tournament in which I found myself in the embarrassing situation of having Dan Harrington come to my table while I sat with an “M” of 2.
We joked at one point about the sign advertising the Grand series and the non-specific “Big Chip Stacks” item listed as one of the tourneys’ selling points. The list also included “Great Structures,” and even though we were having some fun inserting those phrases into various absurd declarations (“Me? I only play events with Big Chip Stacks”), the tourney did in fact have a lot of play. Levels were 40 minutes, and with the $10 bonus buy -- “optional,” though everyone took it -- we started with 12,000 chips and blinds of 25/50.
After not playing for so long, I enjoyed getting reacquainted with the rhythms of tourney play. Was sort of like getting back in front of a class to teach after taking off for the summer. I knew what to do, but at the very start there was that tiny bit of anxiousness about it all that often characterizes such situations.
I settled in quickly, though, and enjoyed having Josh at my table a couple of seats to my left to chat with here and there. I chipped up a bit during the first three levels to get over 15,000 by the first two-hour break. Then in the fifth level I earned a boost when I came along from the button with a few others following a middle-position player’s raise after being dealt . The flop came , giving me Broadway and a nut-flush draw to boot. The original raiser -- an aggressive player against whom I’d already won a couple of small pots -- continued with a bet and only I called, then I called another bet from him after an offsuit four fell on the turn.
The river brought another king to pair the board, and my opponent shoved for 6,700 (about two-thirds the pot, I think). I thought a while before calling, he showed , and I had just about doubled my starting stack.
I continued to win a few small pots while mostly sitting tight, the next highlight coming in a hand in which I opened with from late position and got a caller from the blinds from another aggressive, more skillful, hoodie-wearing player. Three overcards and two hearts came on the flop, which we both checked, then I turned my flush and ultimately got two streets’ worth of value from him and a surprised look when he saw my hand at showdown.
Meanwhile Rich busted early, re-entered, then busted again before heading off to play cash. Chad went out as well, with the two Matts also hitting the rail to leave just myself and Josh. I mostly just treaded water during the latter part of the afternoon, making it to dinner break with just over 27,000 which at the time was only around 16 big blinds. Out of the 166 entries about 55 other players made it that far, too, with the top 18 scheduled to get paid.
After dinner I managed to add chips without putting myself at risk, and with 30 players or so left was sitting at around 40,000 (by then only 12-14 BBs or so). Across the room the Spurs-Heat game was on and it was just about the time Ray Allen hit that game-tying three that I was four-bet jamming, watching the original raiser tank and then fold, then getting a call from the reraiser.
We both had ace-king and would chop the pot, kind of mirroring the game being tied and heading to overtime, and afterwards the original raiser noted he’d folded a pair and would have won the hand. Not long after we were down to about 25 players when I was all in again with A-K and this time was up against A-9. The board ran out a weird 4-4-4-K-K, and suddenly I was up over 80,000 and well out of the danger zone with an average stack.
Somewhere in there a highly unfortunate situation arose for one of my opponents. I was in the big blind, and the player to my left open-shoved all in from UTG for about 17,000. It folded around to an elderly gentleman in Seat 5 (the cutoff) with about 12,000 or so, and he declared he was calling.
He pushed his small stack of chips forward, his small, circular metal card protector sitting on top. It appeared he might have set his cards forward slightly, too, and unfortunately the dealer reached out and slid them into the muck. The player quickly noted what had happened, but it was already too late. The floor was called, and after some discussion it was determined the man’s hand was dead.
That inspired a torrent of what I imagine to be uncharacteristic language from the senior citizen before he departed, then lots of predictable table talk afterwards especially once the chagrined dealer had left. A few noted they’d seen such occur involving players in the 1 or 10 seats before, but never the 5. All agreed it was a crummy way to bust, but several also pointed out that if he’d used the card protector to protect his cards rather than as a chip stack ornament, it wouldn’t have happened.
A total of 23 of us made the next break. I had 82,300 while Josh had just taken a hit to fall to around 77,000. Then he had the bad fortune of running A-K into A-A following an ace-high flop to bust in 22nd, earning me the last longer in a fashion not unlike what Josh had endured in the Casino Employee’s Event when he’d finished 12th and Chad won.
It took a while, but the super-shorties finally ran out of chips and we hit the money around 10 p.m. I had about 15 BBs then, but lost a chunk after doubling up a short-stacked player. He’d pushed with and I called from the big blind with pocket fives, and the flop came 8-2-2. Another player said he’d folded eight-deuce.
I endured a bit longer, then down to around 8 BBs I watched the table fold to a player in the small blind who limped, the same hoodie-wearing one from my first table, in fact. I then jammed from the big blind with A-J, he instacalled, flipping over A-K, and five cards later I was out in 16th for a $258 min-cash, my profit padded a little more by the hundy I’d won for the last longer.
I cabbed it back to the home-away-from-home, the others having all long gone. I thought about how tourneys gradually evolve into these elaborate, fascinating puzzles to solve, with players’ approaches toward the task perhaps overlapping in several ways, but all ultimately being unique.
I probably only had two or three genuinely difficult decisions to make during the entire day and night. In the end, I was only all in and at risk those couple of times with Big Slick on the money bubble prior to my final hand. Of course, my ability to avoid too many crises along the way spoke more to my willingness to fold and patiently await less troubling situations than anything else.
Like a decent percentage of the field yesterday -- perhaps a third or so -- I have gray hair. And I’ll admit I play like gray-haired guys play a lot of the time. Ultimately it didn’t add up to a winning strategy, although I’d like to think I’d have been able to adapt had I gotten any further along.
Best of all, though, was I had a lot of fun playing a great game. Had been awhile.
Now I get to watch others try to figure out these things. I’ll be on the second day of Event No. 32, the $5,000 NLHE 6-max. with lots of big names among the 128 returning. Check over on the PN live blog today to read how the pros do it.