Grasping For the Ring

2011 Venetian Deep Stack Extravaganza IV Main Event (15,000 chips)

First off, if I’d had my druthers, I wouldn’t have plowed the money from my first-place finish at the Encore Club on Saturday into a single event. I’d been keeping track of tournament series throughout the summer with the plan to get somewhere where I could play five or more tournaments—probably in the $300-$500 range—over a period of days. Events in Reno, Las Vegas, Los Angeles—stuff I could get to cheaply and easily—I had them all plotted into my calendar at one point or another through September and October (a good share of my winnings from the Encore’s Tournament of Champions went into tournaments at Foxwoods when I was there in August). Big Poker Oktober at the Bike, the Pot of Gold at the Grand Sierra, Pendleton’s Fall Poker Round-Up, the Commerce Casino’s LA Poker Open—they were done as last weekend approached. The last flight of the WSOP Circuit Main Event at Lake Tahoe started at the same time the Encore’s $10K Guarantee began, so I wasn’t making that. With the cancellation of the Ho, Ho, Hold’em series at the Bike , by the time I won the event at 4am Sunday, I was down to just a couple of opportunities: I could pay an exorbitant amount of money to get a last-minute flight down to Vegas and try my hand at the Venetian’s DSE Main Event for $2,500, or I could wait until the 28th (after our family’s holiday dinner) and try my hand at the Bellagio’s Five Diamond World Poker Classic, where I still didn’t get that many buy-ins for my money (at $500 and $1,000 each) and where if I did manage to win enough for Prague, I’d be really scrambling to get the arrangements together before I’d need to leave on December 4th. The best-laid plans, etc.

So less than four hours after I walk out of the Encore with my winnings, I’m loading my computer bag with a change of clothes and other stuff through the TSA x-ray machine on my way to Vegas. I haven’t slept for over 24 hours. At the gate, I get called up and asked to take one of the exit row seats so they can put some family members together and I think that’ll be great because I’ll be able to stretch my legs out a little bit. I can, but I still only get manage about 15 minutes of nap time on the plane. Usually I can fall asleep before we take off.

I make it to the Venetian almost exactly at noon, get signed up for my Grazie card and then count out my $100s for the tournament entry, plus a $10 dealer bonus of 5,000 chips. Goodbye $2,510!

Table 78 is far outside the poker room, on the edge of the sports betting area. It’s Sunday afternoon in football season and the crowd noise is pretty overwhelming. I’m okay, but it seems to be bothering several of the players, including the woman seated to my immediate right (who I believe was Brazilian player Alessandra Dos Santos). It does make hearing verbalizations difficult for both players and dealers, and with some of each speaking with accents, there were several instances where dealers misheard bet and raise amounts and had to be corrected by neighbors of the acting player.

My stack went up and down at 78. A couple of times I was knocked down as far as 15,000, but I managed to battle back up over the total starting stack of 20,000. Play didn’t seem that different from card rooms back in Portland. The players certainly acted the same. I haven’t been able to place the name of a player across the table who I sort of recognized, but his frustrated manner of tossing his cards was quite familiar.

My stack was down a bit after the first break (at two hours) when I was moved to a table in the 50s, further away from the sports bet. The first thing I noticed was that there were a couple of large stacks on the other end of  the table. Chips at 78 had been fairly-evenly distributed  and there hadn’t been any bust-outs in the time I was there, although the board showed a number of them that must have been spread across about 30 tables in the tournament. The second thing was that the guy directly opposite my spot at the table was wearing a Nike Portland State t-shirt. And then there was a guy between us sitting on a short stack who bore an amazing resemblance to Phil Laak.

Play at this table was harder than at 78, mostly due to the influence of the large stacks. For every chip I won, I blew off two or three. One of the players—Thong Tran (who started the final table today number 6 in chips)—managed to put the screws to me at just the right times when I was a little over-extended. Meanwhile, I chatted with the guy in the PSU shirt—who said he currently lived in Vegas—about Portland. The Laak-alike—who said his name was Bob—said he’d never been to Oregon. I don’t know, he looked like Laak, he acted like Laak, but Vegas is a town full of impersonators and I know Laak’s been to Oregon. I was tempted to tell him about the high desert of the eastern part of the state, the skiiing in the mountains, the scenic north coast, and the amazing sand dunes on the central coast, but somehow conversation between us and the dealer turned to “It’s a Wonderful Life” (which the PSU guy had never seen) and “Bob”, the dealer, and I discussed whether Mr. Potter was just a misunderstood member of the 1% and excavated favorite lines. “Bob” got a laugh out of my ability to come up with “No more we live like pigs!”, Martini’s line as George is moving him and his family to their new home.

Then, on a hand when I picked up [ax qx] and raised, “Bob” went all-in. Action folded to me, I called hoping for jacks or lower but I was heads-up against [ax kx], which cost me half my stack and put me under 10,000 for the first time. With the blind levels at 150/300/25, I was under 30 big blinds and going down fast. It was a great gig while it lasted.

Instead of staying through Wednesday (when my return flight home was scheduled) and playing the daily tournaments, I rebooked to come back early Monday, dumped the second and third nights of my booking at the Imperial Palace ($20/night in combination with my flight through Alaska Airlines) and upgraded to first class after sitting on hard-ass poker chairs for so long. I couldn’t have won enough to make it to Prague, and that was the point of the trip.

I looked up the names of the 57 players who made it through to Day 2 (22% of the field, and less than half of them would make the money) and spotted Gavin Smith in third place, 2011 WSOP Main Event fifth-place finisher (and DV’s nemesis) Phil Collins, and Lauren Kling, among others. Probably plenty of other names to recognize among the other couple hundred who got booted in the first day. Only a couple of the names I looked up didn’t have entries in the Hendon Mob Poker Database.

Five hours. -100% ROI. 180th of 265 players.

Foxwoods Before the Storm

On a business trip to Boston and I had a day to kill before Hurricane Irene hit New England. So I decided to head down to Foxwoods in Connecticut, which is running deep stack tournaments at 6pm every night. The WPT Poker Room at Foxwoods is advertised as the largest poker room on the East Coast, so I figured it could be a bit of an eye-opener for me, having played poker in a small tribal casino as my first casino experience just a few weeks back and the only other casino I’d been in being Spirit Mountain.

I got to Foxwoods with some time to kill before the tournament and went downstairs to where the cash action is. Lots and lots of cash action. There was a short wait for a seat at a $1/$2 No Limit Hold’em  table; I got my WPT Poker Room card and some chips.

The games at Foxwoods were definitely not as soft as Spirit Mountain. I managed to lose my first stack with a made straight on the flop hoping that nobody had already made the bigger straight draw. Got it all back when I doubled my stack holding [5x 5x] with [kx kx] on the board and the big stack thought I was completely bluffing. Then I managed to lose the whole thing, with my last hand being [as 7s]. The board gave me a pair of aces and wheel draw but [kx 2x] actually made the wheel. I went to get a late lunch.

When I was ready to face the music again, I happened into the start of a $1/$2 Pot LImit Omaha Hi-Lo game and signed up. This session went incredibly well. A three-card run in one hand turned into a straight that won me a double-up, and I caught another couple big hands, nearly quadrupling my buy-in. I actually threw down a hand with both Broadway and wheel draws after a turn bet from across the table that would have cost me about two-thirds of the profit (above the buy-in and the two stacks I’d lost in Hold’em) because I figured I needed to slow down for a second. As it turned out, the wheel came through and I probably could have added another couple stacks because I would have scooped the pot and both the other players were nearly all-in.

Success is fleeting, however. The tournament, a $15,000 guarantee with about 140 players didn’t last very long for me. I could only console myself with the fact that I wasn’t the first person out of the game. It was off to my hotel to get some sleep after that.

Back out to Foxwoods for the morning turbo. Took a bit of a hit after an OK start, but made it to the second table out of 50 entrants. Picked up [ax kx] in the big blind. After a big raise from a mid-position player and an all-in from button, if I got lucky, I might triple my stack. The raiser was largest stack, both were bigger than me. I called all-in, and the big stack called. The big stack also had [ax kx], the button held [ax ax] which held up, taking me out in 15th. First place paid $917.

The morning bounty tournament was still in the first level, so I bought in there. I plugged along with about the starting stack as the average chip level went up, then took a hit that put a mark on my stack. By the time the blinds were up to 500/1000/150 I was down to about 7bb. I shoved with [ac qc] and got called by someone who could afford the chips to race with [tx tx] (who I’d knocked out of the turbo game earlier). I placed 14th of 42. The prize pool was $5,149, with $1,803 going to first and just six players paid.

I’d lasted long enough that the early afternoon turbo was beyond it’s buy-in, so I got lunch and some goodies for friends back home, dragged things back to the car, then stepped downstairs to the cash games again.

I haven’t ever played much 7-Card Stud. My advice is, do not make your first live experience against a bunch of geezers at someplace like Foxwoods in a Fixed Limit $1/$5 game. I made a couple of blunders that marked me as a neophyte in the first couple of hands. Seriously, people were laughing. I managed to get a little bit of respect (and some chips) back with a sneaky move and a flush, but mostly the stack went down and down. The slower speed of the game did kill some time, though. I killed some more watching people play Sic Bo.

Finally, the $20,000 guarantee tournament. Our table started out laughably short-handed with just four players despite being set up for ten. People started to filter in as time went on. I pulled an iron out of the fire on one hand when a short-stacked player who had announced she was “on tilt” and I both seemed to have paired a [kx] on the flop. Hers was presumably better than my [kx tx] until the river when I called her all-in as the [tx] hit. My turn came later, when [ax jx] and an [ax] on the board ran into a set of [3x] with two of them on the board after the turn. That knocked me down to about a quarter of the starting stack and I was out relatively soon, in 98th place of 140. The prize pool was more than $27,000, with fourteen places paid and more than $7,700 to first place.

Back to Portland.