Three Strikes

Last weekend saw a return to tournament action and entry into the main event of the Central Valley Poker Championships a tournament with a simple $250 buy-in and a $25,000 guarantee. I was sponsored into the event and was playing more to establish my credibility as poker player than any need for the money. I had not played a poker tournament in my home town in years and only twice in the last ten years. The card rooms are taking too much juice.

I saw a few familiar faces and a couple celebrities in the field of 140 players. I glanced around looking for Dutch Boyd or Brandon Wong and saw no ringers in attendance. I was not sure who the favorites would be. I liked Barbara Enright and I did not see anyone else with real tournament experience. Jerry Yang is in the field but he lacks the experience; a World Series Main Event Champion and yet not one of the best players here today. Probably one of the young up and coming locals is the best.

One of the new owners of Club One welcomed everyone and spent a few moments introducing all of the celebrities in the field. A washed up has been baseball player was the lead celebrity with poker luminaries Barbara Enright, Max Shapiro and Jerry Yang being introduced. Several locals were paraded out as celebrities. Not Exactly. After a small amount of fan fare the cards were finally in the air only 15 minutes late.

I started at table eight with a group of young guys. I was the second oldest player at my table with one of the Old Fart Fresno regulars seated right next to me. I have just a vague recollection of him and his play. The rest of the players are new to me. Players is a loose term used to refer to people seated at the table and in no way reflects actual ability.

In the early rounds play was slow and most were playing a little too tight. I saw quite a few limpers entering the pot. I noticed only one player, the four-seat, that consistently entered pots with a raise playing too many hands and a few from up front. I knew he was trying to pick up the blinds anytime a pot was not opened and this was before the antes had kicked in. I figured his range included many marginal hands. I was going to re-raise him as soon as I had a playable hand. In retrospect, why wait? Just outplay these jamokes. The ten-seat quickly established himself as a calling station with weak passive play and only marginal holdings.

In the second round I was in the big blind for $100 in a five way unraised pot. I looked down to a 97 offsuit and was tempted to put in a large raise and pick up the pot. I checked and the flop came 963 with two clubs. The small blind and I both checked and the hand checked around to the button. The button made a small bet of $200. The small blind called quickly. I raised to $600 and the everyone folded to the small blind who made a call after some hesitation. An offsuit jack on the turn and the small blind checked and I fired $1000 and he quickly folded. I pulled back half my bet and said $500; pure salesmanship on my part. The table was convinced that I had some of that board. Which I did.

The feeling of going card dead is one that is hard to explain. I sat there hand after hand patiently waiting for a decent starting hand. As the blinds increase the pressure to play becomes greater. As my chips slowly dwindle, eaten up by the blinds, my starting hand requirements sink lower and lower. I no longer need a hand to play. I am going to take a shot at a bluff. I am looking for an opening to make a move. Every single hand somebody has already moved on the pot. The stress is building. I have about a dozen big blinds and I no longer can afford to pay blinds and antes. I have to play before I become so short chipped as to be no threat at all. I swear I am never going to allow this to happen even if I have to bluff every hand. To play and lose is fine; to sit there slowly dying is truly torture. PULL THE TRIGGER!

The player to my right has just whispered to me, “pick a project and go with it”. He knows that I am a project manager? The next hand I am in the big blind for a six way limper. I peak my hole cards and see an Ace and then I see he has a brother with him. I immediately slide all my chips to the middle. I am all-in and everyone knows I am making a semi-desperate move. The hand folds around and I pick up five additional blinds. They never call when you need them to call. I have about 16 big blinds and the pressure is ever so slightly lifted from me. I can look at a few hands before I need to make a move.

Table eight breaks indicating we are down to 70 players. I draw table 2 seat 8 and go looking for table 2. This place is a friggin joke the table assignments do not correspond with the table placards. Before the tournament they have cute little signs sitting in the middle of the table, now I am on my own. Remind me again why I should play here. I find my seat with no help from the staff; they feel everyone knows how they number the tables. Oh Really!

I am right next to the guy with 462 career major league home runs. I have seen him before at the world series of poker and yet here I am rubbing arms with him. I thought he was bigger. I notice my forearm is a little bigger than my steroid enhanced neighbor. He is deeply tanned and well groomed. I expected the whites of his eyes to be a little more yellow. He has serious nervous system damage and so many nervous tics and mannerisms as to make it hard to sit next to him. He is constantly fidgeting. Maybe one too many injections of Mexican bathtub farm-a-suit-a-no-testicles. He is playing too many hands and plays very aggressive. I am engaging and mostly just trying to get a read on the table. There are more chips here and the players are more active. I have a couple orbits to find a hand to go with once again.

Blinds are $800 and $1600 and I am in the big blind. My first big blind at table two. A couple players limp into the pot before the button raises to $4000. My celebrity neighbor calls without much hesitation. I look down to find that I have pocket tens. I shove all-in. I make it $13,200 or $9,200 more. The limpers fold and the button goes into the tank and spends a full 30 seconds thinking before he makes the call. The small blind does not want to call but the pot has gotten big and he has chips. He calls. I hate that I have two opponents and know it probably spells doom for me. A king and a queen come on the flop. Both players check the hand down to the river and when nobody wants to show I flip up my tens. The button shows 85 of hearts and the slugger shows Q3 off-suit for a pair of queens. My tournament is over and I have had my first celebrity beat down. The guy who had a fly ball bounce off his head and go over the fence for a home run has way more natural ability at baseball than he does at poker. He told me so. Did I mention he showed me too.

Alas I have to report to my wife, sponsors, co-workers, friends and readers that I was not able to bring home the bracelet. I was 0-1 on showdowns and lost my only race. Life as a short stack in a poker tournament is miserable and leads to a life of disappointment. I will play again and hopefully next time it will come down to Barbara and myself heads-up. Barbara played well and split the tournament. She is a professional and acted the part all evening. Well done.

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