In March 2020 I made my deepest run yet in a high profile tournament finishing 36th at the $5200 Shooting Star at Bay 101 in San Jose, CA. On the second day I played with Chino Rheem and Darren Elias and it was the latter who ended my dream that time. Chino – an extremely aggressive player – raised from mid position and Elias 3-bet from the button. I looked down at QQ and about 30 BBs from the big blind and shoved. Elias – who had a similar stack and had made an amazing comeback from only a few big blinds and would go on to finish 11th for ~$25,000 – called with AKdd. An A on the flop put an end to my dreams of a big score that day.
The Shooting Star took place as the COVID-19 pandemic was just beginning. None of us at the time really understood what was going on but ultimately the casino decided not to play the final day and the tournament ended in a 10-way chop. I didn’t play much poker the next couple years except for a little 10 cent/25 cent on Bovada.
My first live tournament back was the WPT Deepstacks at Thunder Valley in April 2022 – more than two years since the Shooting Star. I bagged the preliminary $460 Mononlith event but decided to play the next flight anyways for practice and ended up bagging an even bigger stack. I ultimately finished 18th for ~$4500. I went card dead at the end and it was another disappointment though it was my best finish in a field of that size (1438).
Around that time I took a step forward in my poker accountability when I started keeping track of all of my cash game sessions in a spreadsheet. This has been useful for a couple of reasons. One it confirmed that I am a winning player at my preferred game of $2/$3/$5 at Casino M8TRIX in San Jose. Second I made notes about certain sessions – especially bad ones in which I made mistakes – that helped me course correct.
For example, I played passively calling too many times with weak hands in a session on Thursday August 4 resulting in the loss of two buy ins or $1000. I took a three week break to refresh and that did that the trick. On Tuesday October 4 I made two incorrect hero calls which each cost me all my chips. On one I called a $400 pot size turn bet with KQ on a Q high board. My opponent had aces. On another I called a check raise, turn and river bets from my opponent in the big blind with JJ on an A9X flop. He had A9. Terrible play; lesson learned.
In June I headed out for my first WSOP since 2019. When I sat down at the $1500 Millionaire Maker a guy by the name of Brad Brown from Michigan struck up a conversation and we became friends. Coincidentally Brown and I both made it to Day 2 and ended up at the same table again. We continued to talk during breaks and I had a much bigger stack. Eventually I went out 573rd for ~$3800 – my fifth WSOP cash and first since 2016 (I didn’t play in 2018, 2020 or 2021). A couple days later I checked on the tournament’s proceedings when I was pleasantly shocked to see Brown’s name among the chip leaders after Day 4 I believe it was. He went on to finish 35th for ~$36k. I was extremely happy for Brad – a 50-something school teacher from Michigan who had won his entry via a home game for the second straight year.
As I readied myself for my second Vegas trip of the year for the Wynn series I was playing the best poker of my life and had dreams – and expectations – of big things. But – from the get go – I got crushed. Tournaments, cash games; it didn’t matter. I lost four tournament buy ins – including two $1100 WPT Prime buy ins – for a total of $3300. In addition, on the side I didn’t even have one profitable cash game session. As last week wore on I became progressively fatigued from all the hours I was logging at the table as well as frustrated at my failure to achieve any success.
I was scheduled to leave on Monday December 12 and so the 1pm $1100 satellite into the $10,400 World Poker Tour Wynn Main Event on Sunday was my last shot. I played my best poker, got lucky a couple times and reached the 240,000 chip milestone near the end of the tournament to book my seat to the big one. I had yearned to find a way into this tournament that was shaping up to be such a big event and absolutely thrilled that I did. I extended my hotel stay and changed my flight to Saturday December 17 when I got back to Vdara late that night.
Unfortunately I had a brutal day of poker on Day 1B of the main event on Tuesday December 15. I missed every flop and faced big resistance whenever I connected or had a hand. I fought back from 15k chips (you start with 100k) just before the dinner break to 60k an hour or so after but couldn’t sustain the momentum and my day was over around 9pm when the big blind cracked my short stacked button shove with KK with A8. The coolest thing about the day was playing with current WSOP Main Event Champion Espen Jorstad who was on my left in the one seat (I was in the nine). Jorstad beat a field of 8,663 in the $10,000 buy in Main Event in July to score a $10,000,000 1st prize and poker immortality.
For more poker see “Swimming With The Sharks: The Vegas Poker Ecosystem” (December 9)