The Education of a Poker Player: Part V
Tournament Poker in the Sunshine State
By Randy Glover
March 17th, 6:30 pm.: All Conditions Go
As I pull into the Sun Cruz parking lot in Port Canaveral I hear a bad rendition of the Beatles Love Me Do, coming from one of the dockside bars. I lock my car and check my pockets for all the essentials. Money clip, yes. Mints, yes. My handwritten note card with ten tips for playing tournaments, yes. I am ready.
I collect my boarding pass from the cruise terminal and head to the ship.
A Note on Florida Poker:
There are two choices if you live in Florida and want to play poker: Indian reservations or short cruises. The word cruise is a misnomer. The ships go out the minimum statutory three miles and then circle 5-6 hours. The problem is if you get stuck early in a game, you are truly stuck.
Port Canaveral is only a thirty-minute drive from my home in Satellite Beach. It is one of the busiest cruise terminals in the United States. Disney's Magic and Wonder sail out of here. These are massive ships; my little ship is a tugboat in comparison.
The Last Trip: February 2002.
My last trip aboard Sun Cruz Casino was hell on water. I had driven though pouring rain to get there. Seas were probably 5 feet or more. As soon as the ship left port, the rocking began.
I had just got seated for the tournament and the queasiness hit. When you are seasick, queasy doesn't even come close to describing the misery. The comped chicken cordon blue served earlier was not sitting well. I began looking around for a door to the outside deck. I knew I would never make it to the bathroom one floor below.
I prayed that I would not throw up in front of all the other poker players -- table image and all that.
To make matter worse, I got no cards that tournament. Rag after rag. It was a mixed tournament: half Limit Hold Em, half Omaha Eight or Better. I am very weak at Omaha/8, and Limit Hold Em is not my favorite.
When I caught something decent the board was a complete mess. I make it to the break having to make two rebuys and an add-on. I am into the tournament $185. ($85 buy in, the two rebuys at $25, and a $50 add on.)
Five minutes into the break, I am leaning over the rail. (Enough said.) I just pray that I don't fall overboard.
I make it back just in time. I ask a poker school pal, RichieRich, for a piece of gum: he gives me an entire pack. Thanks Rich.
Later on Rich tells me the story of a player who got seasick one time at the table. The player lost it just as the action got to him. Well the guy doesn't miss a beat: he turns back to the table and pushes his chips all in. Now there is a tell. All the other players immediately fold.
My queasiness doesn't leave; neither does my run of bad cards. My best hand all night nets me a quarter of a pot in Omaha Eight. I am out about 23rd out of 46 people.
After my exit, I contemplate a return to the rail. At this point I would give $1,000 to have a helicopter come and take me off this rocking boat.
I eat some crackers, and believe I just might live until the ship docks.
I go back to watch the rest of the tournament and see another PokerSchool Online friend, FiremanDave, get into the money. The fourth member from PokerSchool Online present that night, RiverCityRon, had about the same luck as me.
But on this sunny day, St. Paddy's day, I have high hopes. First of all, I rode my bike to the beach earlier that afternoon and saw that the seas are only 1-2 feet. That, I can handle.
A Note on NLHE:
Tonight is No Limit Hold Em. It is my favorite online game as well as live. I feel like PokerSchool Online players have an edge in NLHE against your typical ring game limit hold em player. We have seen thousands and thousands of hands, thousands and thousands of different NLHE betting situations. We know how to survive in a NLHE tournament.
I'm not taking anything away from these ring-game limit hold em players. They would likely tear me up in a $10/$20 game where we are playing the flop, turn and river.
But NLHE is a pre-flop game. This is where the critical decision is made. Limit hold em players playing in an occasional NLHE game tend to see too many flops. They play A10 off suit (not to mention A8 or worse). If they hit an Ace they bet it big. They play KJ, Q10 suited. They play A6 suited and if they hit a four flush, they will call it all the way to the river. All of these are hands of death in NLHE.
6:45 p.m.: PaleRider and Kozzo.
I check into the poker room to make sure my name is on the tournament list, get my comp for tonight's meal (I decide to skip the Chicken Cordon Bleu), and place myself strategically by the stairwell to search for two PokerSchool Online buddies: PaleRider and Kozzo. I have never met either of them. I have no description of either of them. We have chatted online a couple of times, and I make an educated guess that they are both in their thirties.
Amazingly, the first two thirtyish-looking guys I approach are Palerider and Kozzo. We grab dinner and talk about PokerSchool. (Kozzo gets the Chicken Cordon Bleu; I can't look.)
Most of our talk is about the Big One on March 30th. In this tournament, PokerSchoolOnline.com is sponsoring up to $100,000 in buy-ins to the World Series of Poker. The winner of the March 30th online tournament will get a $10,000 buy-in to THE BIG ONE at the WSOP. Many other buy-ins will be awarded, ranging from $2,000 to $10,000.
7:35 p. m.: Shuffle Up and Deal:
Once the ship is out the statutory three miles, the tournament begins. Initial buy-in is $85 for $3,000 in tournament chips. Blinds start at $50/$100.
I catch medium pocket pairs three out of the first four hands. But each time there is a raise in front and I fold. My first confrontation comes with me in mid position holding AK suited. I raise four times the BB, and am reraised by a guy I'll call Mr. AJ (this guy made an Ace and a Jack work for him at least four times while I was at his table). I call the extra $600. The flop is rainbow with a King. I bet out $1,000 and am reraised all in. I call.
It turns out we both have AK and we split the blinds and the one limper's initial bet.
Seated at this table is a very nice lady in her forties who has obviously never played NLHE before. As she is making her first rebuy she says "This is a ballsy game, isn't it."
"That is kind of the point of No Limit Hold Em," I tell her.
Fifteen minutes later I lose my stack when my JJ meets up with Mr. AJ's AA. Ouch. Since Mr. AJ plays an Ace and a Jack the same way he plays 22, and plays 22 the same way he plays AA, I don't kick myself too much for this play. I had no clue that he had a huge pocket pair.
I pull $50 out of my pocket and buy $2,000 more in tournament chips. I tell myself this has to last me until the add on. I fold small or medium pocket pairs 5 more times before the first break. I fold AQ twice when I would have either split a pot or had the best of it preflop. I am tight, but AQ is a hand I rarely call a big preflop raise with.
Later on I rethink the AQ the second time I had it. I think I should have played it that last time. I was in the Small Blind (SB) and it is raised $600 from the button. It was right before the break. The guy was on an obvious steal. I could have played out my chips, and if I lost, rebought for another $25 to survive until the add on. The player admitted to me that he had KQ. Wow, talk about a huge favorite. (If I have any excuse, it is that I was in seat #1 and he was in seat #10 - I did not see him make his raise and thus got no visual clue whatsoever.)
At the break I buy an additional $5,000 in tournament chips for $50. Again, I'm into this tournament for $185.
The tournament director announces that table number two had 35 rebuys. RichieRich is at this table and during the break he tells me it was the wildest table he has ever seen. The tournament director says it is a record number of rebuys for one table.
9:00 p.m.: I Get Some Hands
Back from break and I immediately change tables. The blinds are now $300/$500 and I have $6,200 in chips. It is at this table that I watch another player go out with AA. It didn't have to happen. He limps with them and lets the Big Blind (BB) in for free. The flop is 823. This time he bets out all his chips; she calls. After the river card is dealt he turns over AA; she has 82 off suit. He sits there for a minute or two staring blankly ahead. Finally, after another couple of hands are dealt, the dealer says, "Tough One." The AA guy mumbles something: I catch only the word "breaks." Then he slowly stands, a far off look in his eyes, and wanders off in no particular direction.
A few hands later, I find A,10 off suit in the small blind and amazingly have only a limper in front. I call $200. The flop is perfect 5,8,10 rainbow. If the limper had JJ or better, he would have raised. I bet out $1,000 expecting the limper, an older gentlemen who ends up making it to third place that night, to fold. He calls. The turn is an Ace. I bet out $2,000, he calls. The river is a small card, no straight or flush possibilities, and I bet out another $2,000, leaving myself $500 in chips. I get another call. I flip over my hand. He looks at me like I have two heads and mucks his cards. I have no idea what he could have had. I guess he made a pair on the flop and thought I was trying to steal the pot. I'll never know.
I have doubled up and have around $11,000.
Our table is broken up a few minutes later. The new table is very good to me. I fold about 12 hands before finding myself with QQ in mid position. The blinds are now $1,000/$2,000 and I make a three times the big blind bet. I have $3,000 left after this bet. If reraised, as T.J. Cloutier says, I am prepared to go all in with this hand.
No one calls.
Two hands later I catch KK, bet $6,000 again, and again all fold.
The very next hand I get AK. I raise it $5,000 (I know I shouldn't have changed my bet amount, but do for some inexplicable reason), and again all fold to me. All the other players are eyeing me, and giving me a look that says, "I don't quite believe you, but..."
I am up to $18,000.
The husky guy to my left is not a NLHE player. First of all he raises big with A8. Not on a steal, but because he thinks it is a powerful hand. Then, faced with a raise and a huge reraise, he flashes me his 9,9. He wants to play it and I think he is wanting a signal from me. I shake my head as if to say too bad. He takes this whatever way he takes this and reluctantly mucks the hand. He is out soon afterwards.
Another 6-8 hands go by, people are going out all around us. We are down to three tables now.
I get AA in the Big Blind and one player goes all in for his last $5,000. With the blinds and his all in, I creep up some more: $22,000.
I catch JJ Under the Gun a few hands later. Decision time. Our table is short, 7 people, and I decide to push it. I bet out three times the BB: $6,000. The small blind goes all in, but he cannot even cover the $6,000 bet. The big blind, who has about three times the chips as me, rechecks his hand several times before mucking it.
After the board is dealt out J98xx, he tells me he tossed Q,10 suited and he had thought about putting me all in. His straight would have been a hard loss to take. But I would have had to call; no one looks at their hand that many times with QQ or above.
After the SB leaves, the Tournament Director hands me two $25 chips. The small blind was a bounty seat. Cost of tournament is now only $135.
Amazingly, all my big hands except the A,10 hit during the $1,000/$2000 blinds. Even more amazing: all my hands held up. This has to be my best 20-minute run of cards ever during live tournament play.
We are down to 20 people and I make yet another move, happily carrying my $27,000 in chips.
10:30 p.m.: A String Bet and a $15,000 Swing.
Disaster strikes. I recently read that one tournament mistake, while it may not knock you out of the tournament, alters the rest of your play. This turns out to be only too true.
We are down to 17 people and I have AK in mid position. The blinds are $2,000/$4,000. (At this level they will eat into a medium stack very quickly.) All fold ahead. I grab $10,000 in chips in my left hand. At first I am not sure exactly what happened. But here is how I think it unfolded: As I drop one stack of five $1000 chips on the table, I say, "Raise." As I drop the other stack of five $1,000 chips I hear the dealer call out, "String bet." OUCH.
The other players are sympathetic. I hear murmurs, "Maybe it will work out better this way," and "You never know."
I will always have doubts that I made a string bet.
A solution to all of this has been proposed. A preprinted circle around the table about 6-8 inches from the edge. If your chips cross the circle, that is the bet.
Still, the lesson here: Before you touch the first chip: Say "RAISE." Then say: "$10,000."
The SB calls and the BB checks. The flop looks innocuous enough, 8,5,3. I do not follow T.J. Cloutier's advice on not betting AK when the flop misses: I bet out $5,000. This is the way of poker errors: one error begets another. The $5,000 I would have saved here would have let me seen the button one more time. (Also, the $5,000 bet was a weak bet. Had I pushed all in, I could have represented a face card pocket pair. A risky move, but the $5,000 bet was not the move to make. I should have checked or bet out big here.)
The SB folds and the BB calls. After we both check it on the turn and river, he flips over a 9 and a 5. The BB would have surely folded to my preflop raise and I would have been back up to $26,000 in chips. Instead I have only $11,000.
The blinds soon rise to $4,000/$8,000 and I am forced to make a move. My Under The Gun hand is K5 suited. I have two hands left after this.
The two questions are: What is the likelihood I will get a better hand? And what is the likelihood that I might get everyone to fold with my $5,000 raise.
The Big Blind has enough chips to survive the SB (and get the button one more time) and I figure he might fold to my raise. This has been a tight table and the others might also fold to an $11,000 bet. (All thoughts are on the final table at this point.) I am correct, except for the SB (the older gentleman whom I had beaten with my A10 earlier). He calls with an A,3 off suit and when an Ace hits on the turn, all hope is gone. I am out 17th out of 50.
Palerider and Kozzo had been knocked out earlier: neither of them caught any cards. It is up to RichieRich, but when his Ace in hand and Ace on board meet up with a flush he is gone at number 13. Rich has had good success with the tournaments on the Sun Cruz: he made the money eight times in a row, and won four of those.
I am a bit miffed when I see a player at the final table pick up a stack of chips and drop them one by one onto the felt. After he drops the third or fourth chip, the dealer (the same one that had nailed me for a very questionable string bet) asks, "Is that a raise, Bob?"
[An observation: Most of the players on the Sun Cruz are regulars. Do regulars sometimes get the benefit of the doubt in their home casino? You bet they do. This is just human nature. So no big complaints here on the ruling. I take the blame for not calling out my raise before I picked up my chips. A rookie mistake I am not likely to repeat.]
Note that the winner that night received over $3,000, and 2nd and 3rd each got over $2,000. A very costly string bet, indeed. With 17 players left, and had my raise worked, I would have been able to see about 16-18 more hands before being blinded out. One big hand away from the final table.
The four PokerSchool Online players retire to the rail and Rich tells us funny stories from Las Vegas.
Rich was in the big Sunday night tournament at the Mirage. Buy in is $120, rebuys are $100, and there is one add-on of $100. On the second hand past the break Rich limps with two suited cards. The flop is A,A,3 with two of his suit. All check. The turn is a blank. All check again. The river brings his flush. Rich is so excited he tries to push all his chips in out of turn. Another player tells Rich it is not his turn to bet. That player bets -- his entire stack. Rich calls and says: "My pot." The other player flips over A,3. As the other player is raking in the pot, Rich sees the WSOP bracelet hanging loosely on his wrist.
By the time you read this, I should be in Las Vegas.
May we meet at a final table soon.
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