Last night, my crew made a run to Delaware Park for our usual weekend festivities. They have a $100 ($85 + $15 fee) 7pm tournament, and $65 10pm if you bust; the cash room is also fairly tolerable, and the place has an NFL parley sportsbook that I'm far too fond of. Until New Jersey allows sports betting, or Parx in Bensalem, PA does that and opens a satellite room of sane people with actual service, it's my favorite place to play that isn't my home game. So away we go.
We got to the table just as things were starting, and the second I sit down, I get pocket kings in middle position -- well, hello. A 2X raise gets me just the big blind, and I flop freaking quads... and, of course, can not get a bet to the life of me. A river min bet is folded. and I show quads just to establish table presence as The Card Rack. I play fairly well to the break, chip up a grand despite paying off a straight, then double up to 25K when my pairs are bigger than a smaller stack's and hold up. Two hands after that, I catch pocket 10s and make it three times the blind. The small blind calls, and the big blind shoves for $7K -- another 2X the blind. Not wanting to get to a 3-way pot with my pairs, I shove as well, only to see the small blind, who's got more than me, call as well. We all flip, and I've not thrilled to see A-K from the small and A-A from the big; a K hits the flop, and just like that, I'm done. GAHHH.
I've got an hour before the 10pm start, so I make my sports bets, walk the casino, then sit down for a half hour of $1/$2 in the cash room. It's the worst kind of table for a small stack -- nothing but slumming $10/$20 types -- so the only fold equity I've got is a shove. After missing some flops, I finally catch top pair with K-10 suited, shove into a 4-way pot of $40 for my last $80, and hardly seemed surprised at all when someone else calls with K-Q. Well, that was fun. Back to the tournament.
The 10pm is a turbo set up (15 minute blinds, big jumps but no antes, $20K stacks) with first hour rebuys. First hand is $100 / $100, so I limp with random cards and catch middle pair and a straight draw. The turn makes the straight, but not for me, and I make $5K to go, because my read is two pair or an over from the cautious looking woman matching my bets. The river fills my second-best possible straight, I shove, and I find out why she's been calling these bets; she's got the stone cold nuts. JOY. I head back to the window.
Now, I've played poked for three hours, and I've made three monstrous misreads that have cost me 3 bills, more or less. Some part of me is saying just bail... but the other two members of my crew are alive in the 7pm, and there's nothing else in a casino that interests me. So I join the 10pm with a rebuy, and resolve to just play tighter and see if I can improve my reads. Amazingly enough, it works: I double up with a nice call on a short stack bluff, and another shoves blind on my big blind when I have K-Q off suit. In the second hour, I play from position despite not having much in the way of cards -- the table stays pretty stable, so my tight image gets folds on 3X raises with Ace-Rag -- I keep a stable chip stack of $37.5 for the better part of an hour. Which, of course, is time enough for the field to go from 48 to 29, and my stack to go from average to among the worst, and the blinds to go to 4K/8K.
29 to go, 9 get paid, and here's the worst thing about my career as a casino poker player... I've never cashed in a tournament. And I've played way too many times for that to be a good thing to admit. But my stack is small, and I've been pretty damned card dead, the table has a few targets (Drunk Guy, Too Tight Girl, Calling Station and Bluffable are in my cast of characters at my table)... and limping to ninth is just going to get my buy back, and nothing more.
At this point, I get moved to another table, and for once, it works out well, since the deck starts to pay me back for that hour of Test Your Faith. My first hand at the new table is pocket aces; I try to play them like a very weak pair and shove, hoping that I'll get a caller from the big stack... but nothing. Now up to $42.5 from the blinds steal, I get sixes and raise 3X, which is either going to cement my new table reputation as a maniac or steal another one. A big stack puts me all in, and my read is that this is a race, rather than a bigger pair; I call, and am thrilled to see him flip over Ace-5. He catches the five to add a little sweat, but the turn and river are blanks, and I'm suddenly at $85K and daring to dream.
Then, I make a hopeless mistake. Ace-10 suited, the big stack that just doubled me makes it $25K to go. I hate just calling, but I'm putting him on a big pair that he wants to get paid on, and the suited puts me on the knife edge of making it a go. Flop comes Ace-8-9, two spades, and he shoves. I've read him before, trust your gut, you hit top pair with a solid kicker and the flush draw makes no sense to shove... so I call. And I'm wrong, wrong, wrong, as he flips over Ace-King.
The nice thing about casino dealers is that they do not wait, as per television, to rub your nose in your terrible play. Instead, they advance the hand... and when they then put three-out magic in the turn, and a blank on the river, you find yourself wondering just what the hell happened. Other than a 5X rise in your chip stack in five minutes, and a move to near the chip lead. Hand of the tournament for me; a whiff of a misread bailed out by luck. Nothing more to be said than that, really.
In the last few minutes before the break, I pick off a few more blinds from position, and before you can blink, we're collecting $10 a player for the bubble boy. I get 8s under the gun, raise and get an all-in. The stack is about 40% of mine, and I'm hoping to win one more race against an ace play... but instead, I'm looking at nines and another terrible play, at least until the 8 hits on the flop to give me trips and another knockout. Now I'm around $440K, holding about a quarter of the chips and a narrow chip lead, when the chop talk starts in earnest. Eventually the two short stacks agree to take less, the rest of us will get $600 -- basically, just under second place money -- and, well, it's 2:30, from a 10pm start, and my crew is up in the cash room. I take the deal, then go upstairs and play cash with my friends, and nearly win back the money I lost in that room earlier in the evening. Poker's a lot easier when you are playing from ahead, and I end the night with a nice payday.
So, well, what have we learned? Nothing that I didn't already know from previous home game tournaments, of course -- patience pays, play position, and no one wins one of these things without winning races and getting lucky.
But one new thing: I can shake off bad play and reset, and turn back the tide. I don't have to get unlucky, or go card dead and never revive. My reads aren't always wrong -- I was good before I was lucky, which is the only way you really can get lucky -- and I can compete with a fairly tough field. Sometimes, even win.
Because, well, it's just poker. The cards don't care what has happened before. And neither, really, should you.
See you at the tables.