Jessica was her name. She wore giant rocks on her fingers and a black leather jacket on her shoulders. She ordered filet and crab cakes at the table. At 4am, she'd sat down on my left and pulled what appeared to be two grand in hundreds on the table to back up her rack of red. She straddled at the first opportunity and I couldn't help stealing a glance at her torso. I wondered how much her breasts had cost and if she'd had the tiny love-handles before she started playing poker.
If there had been speculation about anything in the Tunica Grand poker room over the past few days, Jessica was in the center of it. She always had cash, whether she was wining or losing. She was always on the phone. She was always getting snarky with someone.
"Her daddy is rich," said one local.
Another local raised an eyebrow. "Her daddy or her sugar daddy?"
I wasn't sure it mattered. To be fair, the girl knew the game pretty well. Also to be fair, she wasn't afraid to put the money in when she had reason to believe she was ahead. Finally, to be fair, it seemed that winning or losing a few grand wasn't going to change her outlook on life very much.
When 4:30am rolled around, Jessica started craning her neck, looking for a better game, a game where the players were soft, a place where her Mississippi good looks and large roll of cash could win her a few hundred bucks more toward creating the perfect Poker Bitch persona. While she craned, I racked up with a small profit. I'd promised myself I wouldn't stay up all night before the $1000 event on Saturday.
Poker can make a big man feel small and a smart man feel like an idiot. It's impossible to ignore the daunting task ahead when you sit down at a table and see your short stack of chips. You reassure yourself that everyone has the exact same number of chips and you are not starting at a disadvantage. Nonetheless, you know 2000 chips don't go very far and even a couple small mistakes will put you in a position that requires less poker play and more guts.
I have no guts.
I wanted for only two things when I sat down. I wanted to have played with at least two of my tablemates before and I wanted to see no name pros. I got one of my wishes.
The one-seat was a guy I'd played in cash games with over the past three days. While skilled, he was predictable and I wasn't worried. The four-seat was occupied by Moustache Dude. The night before, he and I had played together for a long while and made it together to the final two tables of the $200 Second Chance tourney. I knew him to be the type of guy who would put all his chips in the middle with top pair-no kicker. He was the guy I expected to double me up. The first hand of the tournament cemented my read.
The one-seat made a three-times the big blind raise and Moustache Dude smooth called. The flop came out king-high rainbow. Pot-sized bet, followed by another smooth call. The turn brought a three and the next thing we knew, both players were all in. The one-seat held the expected AK to Moustache Dude's K3. Goodbye Mr. One-Seat.
As the first hand ended, the remaining seats started to fill and I realized my second wish would not come true. Mike Sica, a WSOP bracelet holder, sat down in the six seat. Bill Edler, an up-and-coming poker genius, sat down immediately to my left in the nine seat. (Click here to see Edler with pro-blogger Jason "Spaceman" Kirk). When the three seat emptied for the third time in the first hour, a guy I have seen everywhere on the tournament circuit sat down. For lack of a name, I'll call him Mr. Ugly Shirt.
In the first hour, I played four hands. I raised in EP with AQo and everybody, including the cocktail waitresses, called. I missed the flop, couldn't muster a continuation bet, and check-folded like a ninny. Ten minutes later, I called a multi-called min-raise on the button with 88. Again, the flop was ugly and I folded to a bet and a call. When I found JJ in the cutoff, I got excited. Sica raised and a tight Nashville music producer and writer re-raised. I knew jacks were already beat and made my only good play of the day by folding (Nashville later showed down queens). Finally, I limped into a family pot with A5s and mucked again on the flop.
Looking back, I played perfect weak-tight poker. No continuation bets, no re-raises, no nothing. I played like a pure amateur. It wasn't nerves, so I don't have much of an explanation. I finished the level with 1525 in chips.
During the break, I talked with CJ and Iggy. CJ's Law's of the Luckbox had not been holding up and Iggy's protestations that he wasn't a good tournament player were proving to be comically false. During this time, I took to hatiing myself.
With the blinds moving up to 25/50, I realized I had about two pots in me and at least one of them had to be a win.
During hour #2, I spent the time enjoying Edler's dry sense of humor. For being a guy who has been doing very well recently, he was humble, careful, and friendly. He also drank coffee like I drink diet soda.
Having not seen a hand for the first half hour of level two, I got a little excited when it was folded around to me in LP and I found ATo. I popped it and it folded to Mr. Ugly Shirt in the small blind. He'd been telling a story to a friend over his shoulder and took a quick peek at his cards. His story stopped for one half of a second and I knew in that very instant he had a monster.
"Raise," he said, tossing out five hundred in chips, then resumed tellling his story like he wasn't even in the hand. When the action folded back around to me, I auto-mucked.
He flashed me two black aces. "I was hoping you were better than that. You hadn't played a hand in a long time."
I nodded and smiled.
"You noticed when I stopped talking for a second, didn't you?" he said.
I smiled again and wondered if the previous 60 seconds had any meaning whatsoever.
By and by, it came to be that I would not see another playable hand until the last hand before the end of level 2. With 1350 or so still in my stack, I sat in the big blind. A newly-seated player in the one-seat came in for a standard raise and Moustache Dude called. I looked down at AQ suited in spades.
I've seen this moment happen many times on the tournament circuit. It's breaktime and everybody at the table except the players in the hand leave. I called.
The flop came out Qxx with one spade.
Check, bet, or push? Well, I'm weak-tight Otis. I checked.
The original raiser made it 400 to go and Moutache Dude raised to 800.
Suddenly, I'm in the tank, realizing have put myself in a horrible position by not betting the flop. Folding is an option, but not an attractive one. To fold here I have to put the original raiser on aces or kings. As he just sat down, I have no read on him whatsoever. As far as I knew, that 400 bet could be a continutation bet with AK or a middle pair. What's more, the re-raise from Moustache Dude didn't scare me in the least. I knew in my gut he wasn't any better than KQ.
Calling, it seemed, was not an option either. If I had simply called, I'd be left with only 400 chips and even the most dense player would recognize I was committed to the pot.
After being in the tank for a couple of minutes, I finally announced I was all in for my remaining 1200. My rationale seemed sound. I had to hope the original raiser didn't have aces or kings. I had to hope he would fold and my hand would hold against Moustache Dude.
The original raiser called in a flash, Moustache Dude only had to call 400 more, so he did.
My eyes were so fixed on the table, I didn't see CJ come up behind me. The hands?
Original raiser: KK
Moustache Dude: Q9o
I didn't even have time to calculate that I had four outs twice when the dealer peeled the case queen off the deck and put it on the table. In fact, when the queen hit the board, while I registered that I was way ahead, I didn't smile, yell, or even breathe. I just sat there.
And then my mouth formed the word "nine." Don't ask me how. I just knew.
There was the nine on the river.
I had been ahead in the hand for a grand total of four seconds.
I closed my eyes tightly and heard the pocket kings guy screaming as he walked away from the table. For some reason, he seemed more mad at me than at Moustache Dude.
I looked up and CJ was there. I don't know why, but it was comforting to have him around.
Since then, I've talked over the hand with a few friends. Looking back, the only safe option was to fold. However, it was a question of either heading into Level 3 on the short-stack or tripling up. The biggest problem was not betting the flop for information. However, even if I had bet the flop and been raised, I don't know that I could've folded. The only thing I could've hoped for was a raise from the kings and Moustache Dude growing a brain and folding. It's all moot, though, and I guess I'm still confused.
Since then, my poker game has been in shambles. Late last night I booked a nice cash game win. Still, I haven't cashed in a tournament since taking second place in a silly $100 PLO8 tournament a couple of weeks ago.
I ask myself sometimes if I'm at all cut out for poker. I believe I have the skill and the sense to handle the game at medium levels. Beyond that, however, I look at people like Bill Edler (who, incidentally, went on to take third place in the event) and wonder if I'm missing some important mental component.
Experience, I tell myself, could make all the difference. That's why I dedicated 2006 to playing as much live and expensive poker as my bankroll and life will allow. All in all, January was not a good month. Fortunately, there are eleven more months to figure it all out.
And then, as I understand it, there are some more months after that.