I drove up to Graton Casino in Rohnert Park early on Friday morning to play in the $1700 Main Event. On both Friday and Saturday, I played and lost the $300 satellite and $1700 Main Event. In other words, I was down $4,000 and not feeling great about poker. On Saturday night I was leaning towards heading home Sunday morning but when it came around I felt rejuvenated and decided to give the $400 Event #17 a shot.
The tournament started at 11am but I registered late and got to my seat at 12:42pm with 18 minutes left in Level 4. I had a 20,000 chip starting stack with the blinds at 300/500/500. In the 18 minutes before the first break, I proceeded to lose about a third of my stack. I went into the first break at 1pm with 13,500 chips coming back to 300/600/600. In other words, right away I was short stacked with a 23 big blind stack.
However, during the next four levels I managed to get some momentum and chip up. I already had a good sized stack when I picked up 65hh in early position and raised just before the second break. The big blind – who also had a big stack – called and the flop came 774. He checked, I bet and he called. The turn was a 3 giving me a straight. He checked, I bet, he checked raised and I re-raised All In. When he check raised me, I put him on a 7 and raised All In because I believed that he couldn’t fold. However he literally proceeded to take for like six minutes into the break period before calling with Q7. I had to fade a Q, 7 or 4 – and I did. I went into the second break with a monster stack of 286k.
The next big hand I played was when I picked up 77 on the button and raised. Both blinds called and we saw a flop of 973ccx. The small blind – who also had a good sized stack – led out big for 15k and I raised big to 60k. He went All In and I called. He turned over AQcc for the nut flush draw but I faded a club and added to my stack.
At 5:30 there was a 40 minute dinner break and I went to my car to read David Herbert Donald’s Pulitzer prize winning biography of Abraham Lincoln. Just before the end of the break I read a passage that resonated with me. In 1846 a daguerreotype of Lincoln was taken – his first photographic likeness. He was 37 years old at the time and had already risen far from his humble beginnings. Herbert Donald had this to say:
For all Herndon’s detail, he failed to capture the feeling conveyed by that 1846 daguerreotype. Because a sitter had to hold a pose for several seconds without moving, it showed Lincoln’s face as grave and unsmiling, but it managed to convey a sense of a man who had attained his goals. No longer was he attempting to impose the rule of reason upon impassioned emotions, no longer was he afflicted by swings of mood that went from Napoleonic ambition to deep melancholy. He was at peace with himself (116).
I felt like I had achieved something similar and it would show soon enough in a big fold I made that another player criticized as well as a “hero call” I made at the final table.
Before that – however – I failed at a bluff. I raised from early position with 65hh and got called by my new neighbor. The flop came down AKXddd, I continuation bet and my opponent called. The turn was a blank and we both checked. The river was also a blank and – having no chance to win the hand with 6 high – I decided to fire again betting 20,000 into a pot of about 35,000 but my opponent snap called with KQxd. I thought it would have been a tougher call than that given the strength of his hand and my bet size.
With about four tables left I called an early position raise with 99 and about 35 big blinds and a player in late position who had me covered shoved All In. The initial raiser folded and it came back to me. This was a big decision. I went back and forth in my mind. If I called and won, I’d have a huge stack and would be in good shape to control the action at my table. However, if I lost I’d be out. Further, I figured that at best I was in a flip versus AK and at worst he had a bigger pair, I ultimately decided to fold and wait for a better spot and he flipped over AK.
When I said what I folded the initial raiser said he would have called with his pair of 7s if I wasn’t behind him and that I should have called with my 9s. In the past I might have felt the need to defend my play out of insecurity. However this time I just let it go and it didn’t bother me at all. It might have been the right call for him but I knew that I could find a better spot and shouldn’t risk my tournament life there.
With two or three tables left I was short when it folded around to me in the small blind with J10. I shoved but was dominated when the big blind called with QJ. However, I spiked a miracle 10 on the river to stay alive.
At the final table with maybe five players left I picked up A7hh and raised. The big blind called and we both checked. I completely whiffed the flop but thought my Ace high was probably good. However the big blind took my check as an opportunity to fire the turn. I’d seen him bluff in a similar spot before so I called. However he put a lot of pressure on me when he fired the river again. I thought about it for a bit and ultimately I didn’t believe him and called. He flipped over Jack high and I flipped over my Ace high. Everybody was shocked that I called and one of the spectators kept calling it a “hero call”. Again: In the past, I might have worried about what he thought about my play. But not this time. It wasn’t a hero call. I had a read and I trusted it.
Not too long after that I raised with A10ss and both blinds called to see a flop of J43sss. That’s right: I flopped the nut flush. And then it got even better. The small blind – who was drunk and splashing around – went All In. I took a quick peek at my cards to make sure I had what I thought I did and called. He flipped over 43hh for two pair but my flush held up giving me a significant chip lead with three players left.
When it got heads up my opponent and I each had similar stacks. I had about 2.7 million chips and he 3 million. It went back and forth for a while with him mostly getting the better of me until I shoved my remaining 1.7 million with A4cc at 40,000/80,000/80,000 and he called with 33. Unfortunately my hand did not improve and I came up just short of winning a WSOP circuit ring.
When I review the tournament I’m extremely pleased with the way I played. With almost 20 years of experience now, all the technical knowledge I acquired early in my poker career is augmented by experience and the self confidence that comes in middle age after a lifetime of work – not just in poker. The result is an increasingly strong presence resulting in consistently high quality decisions. When other players criticize my play, it doesn’t bother me like it used to. I just go on doing what I’m doing – and taking their chips.