After playing in the $1500 WSOP and $235 deepstacks at the RIO I decided for my 4th day to head to downtown Las Vegas where smaller buy in tournaments were taking place. I had heard about the Golden Nugget tournaments. This is an “old school” casino that has been renovated in recent years (or at least, half of it was renovated with a great swimming area). I had also heard their Claim Jumper restaurant praised so I arrived early for a hearty breakfast. And I can highly recommend this cafe.
The Golden Nugget was hosting a tournament series in their Grand Ballroom. The 1 pm tournament was $150 and started with 15,000 chips while the 7 pm tournament was $100 and you started with 10,000 chips. Blinds in both were every 30 minutes so you got some good play for your money.
I entered the 1 pm tournament and played until around 4:30 when I got knocked out. I do not remember any hands from this event. I decided to play in the 7 pm tournament and the two hours free time gave me an opportunity to do something I’d been looking forward to for a few months: have a drink at Atomic Liquors Cafe! This is a very cool place where the hipster Vegas crowd hangs out. I had a couple of excellent pints of craft beer before heading back into the tournament fray.
I should note that the end of town on Freemont where Atomic Liquors is situated also boasts an excellent bookstore and record store. There is also a cool “container park” and much of this development is sponsored by the Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, “who leads the Downtown Project, an effort to revitalize downtown Las Vegas as a vibrant cultural and economic hotspot, has said he wants ‘to be in an area where everyone feels like they can hang out all the time and where there’s not a huge distinction between working and playing.’”
Anyway, back to poker:
I entered the 7 pm, $100 tournament with $10,000 in chips and there were 140 people registered. My first table was fairly friendly. There were two women to my right, the one furthest away was in her 60s and was a “local”. Apparently she played Omaha with her friends in a weekly game. The woman directly to my right was about 35 and was co-owner/manager of a poker club in Dallas. She had actually cashed in the Collossus tournament but she said it was a “min cash” and she’d bought in 3 or 4 times and had been partially bankrolled.
After about an hour and a half I was hovering around $12,000 chips and I had Ac,8c. I believe the older lady raised and I called with a couple of other people. Two clubs came on the flop so I had a nut flush draw. She bet the flop and I called and I made the flush on the turn! She bet again and I called, and then the river paired the board which brought on the possibility of a full house, but I did not think she had that. The river action went Bet, raise (from me) and call and I won a pretty large pot with my nut flush! I was up over 24,000 chips at that point. The older lady expressed surprise at my flush because she did not realize there were three clubs showing on the board! The younger women to my right made a comment about “well, a pair out there could mean a full house” indicating she may have thought me a bit reckless to be raising on the river. But I was quite sure I was ahead and wanted to get some value from my flush.
After about another 45 minutes I got my dream hand. The blinds were 100/200 and I was in middle position. I looked down at J,J so I raised to 600 and was called by one person to my left and the older woman (again). The flop came with another J giving me a set! However, it was checked to me and I thought “no one is going to bet and they will fold if I bet” so I just checked (the board was “rainbow” meaning all the cards were different suits so there was no immediate danger of a flush). On the turn came another Jack so I now had quads!! Finally the older woman bets 700 so I think “great, at least I’ll make a couple of thousand chips” and I call. A guy to my left calls as well! On the river the older woman goes “all in” for another 2100! Oh happy day! So I just call the 2100 hoping the guy to my right will call as well. He surprises me by raising another 5,000 chips! Oh happy day! I love poker! (At this point the older woman says to the younger one “ok, I know I’m not going to win this pot!”). So I surprise him by raising another 5,000. I could have raised all in, but I wanted to let him have a few thousand chips left because I think this will make it easier for him to call if he is not going totally “all in”. My re-raise really shocks him and he actually says “what could you have? I have a full house!” and he takes a minute or so but reluctantly calls and I turn over my JJ to show quads! So I knock out the older lady and take most of his chips and I’m up to almost 50,000 now. Nice!
I had a few good hands after this including one where a player goes all in, and is called by one other player and me. The flop gives me an open ended straight draw and I check, believing the two of us will “check it down” to have a better chance to eliminate a the all-in player. This is an established practice that not everyone follows. The idea is that it is more important to eliminate a player than it is to gain a few chips. So I check the flop and to my surprise the other player bets. I’m a bit irritated, but I have a good draw so I call and with the turn I make my straight! The other guy bets again and I call and we both check the river. He turns over the set he flopped and starts to reach for the chips and I show my straight. He looks kind of irritated as the dealer pushes over the chips to me! This guy also looked a little pained throughout the tournament because he was in the process of getting a large tattoo on his arm and had some paper or gauze over it to help with the healing. He pushed me off a couple of other hands with his aggression but by around midnight I think he had gotten knocked out.
So I had several good hands and then there is the inevitable 2 – 3 hours when you get nothing and the blinds are higher and your large stack begins to get smaller. By 1:30 am there were only a couple of tables left and the blinds were very high. I was hanging in with an average chip stack and looking for spots to raise or even jam but mostly I folded. One on the fun things about playing poker is the great “cast of characters” you run into because it is a social game and people talk. There was a guy from New Orleans who, like the woman I had met earlier, managed a poker club back home. He was down to only 2 or 3 big blinds but managed to chip up and make the final table.
By around 2 am (7 hours of playing) I had made the final table! This was pretty thrilling although getting knocked out at that point would still only get you about $330 which is not much profit considering all the time invested. When I made the final table the blinds were around 2000/4000 with a 500 ante. With 10 people at the table, that meant there were 11,000 chips in the pot before any betting had taken place. I had just over 40,000 chips which was 10 big blinds and is not quite short stacked, but not great either.
In one of the first hands I was in early position and looked down to see 5,5 in my hand. I was not crazy about the idea but I felt my only choice was to shove all in. With another 8 players to come it was possible someone else would have a higher pair, but if they called with A,J; A,K; Q,K etc. I was slightly ahead. Understanding how many big blinds you have left is an important factor that dictates how aggressive your play should be. The shorter you are, the lower your range for shoving all in. There is also something called the “M Factor” which Dan Harrington uses in his books. It is a number that shows how many more hands you can last. For example, with the 2000/4000 blinds and 500 ante, it was costing me about 11,000 chips every round so I had an “M factor” of around 4 which is pretty low. There is also a concept called “fold equity” which basically means the more chips I have when I go all in, the greater likelihood others will fold.
At this stage most players had between 40K and 120K in chips so I had a good hand with decent fold equity. So I took the plunge, went all in and…..everyone folded! So I now had over 50K in chips and could be a little patient for a few hands.
There was an older guy to my right and a few times over the next 45 minutes he just called the big blind or “limped in” as we say. So two or three times that he did that I had hands like A,10 and A,J and I was in late position so I jammed all in. He reluctantly folded. At one point I believe the blinds were 2500/5000 he raised to 12,000. I looked down and saw 6,6. I thought about calling but I’d basically be doing that to hope I flopped a set which is going to happen 12% of the time. I had around 60K in chips which is not enough to call in that position. I thought of going all in, but previously he had only limped in and now he was raising so I suspected he had either a high pair or an A,K kind of hand. Against a higher pair my 6,6 is crushed and against the A,K; A,Q range I am still only slightly ahead. So I folded. So did everyone else and he gave me a disappointed look, turned over A,A and said “why did you fold? You went all in every other time I raised”. I shrugged and did not correct his misreading of my play: I’d only gone “all in” when he had called (thus showing weakness) and not when he raised.
I had a few other good hands. I got it all in with A, K against 10,10 and a King came and I doubled up. Another player had had a huge stack and had lost a fair amount raised and I looked down a J,J so I went all in. He thought about it for almost a minute which I took as a good sign. I was thinking he had a smaller pair and eventually he called and turned over 6,6 and I won that hand as well.
There were two German friends who made it to the final table. They both spoke English well but occasionally had to be cautioned about speaking German at the table. I will always remember one player saying “I’m going to raise” and one of the Germans, in a very precise manner, and with his accent, replied “That is always a good idea”. At one point I raised all in with A, 10 and the one German really thought about calling for a while and then folded. I said “I’ve heard Germans are very disciplined and that was a disciplined fold. You should do more of those!”. He smiled.
Eventually we began to discuss a chop because, as one player put it, “I’d be pretty pissed if I played for 8 hours and still only made $300!”. When the final table got down to 8 we did the math and figured we would each make slightly over $1100 so we settled on that!
It was after 3 am when we came to the agreement and it was all very exciting. By the time I got my chips and cashed them in for money and drove back to my hotel it was around 4 am Vegas time and 7 am Eastern. I texted my wife (who was just getting up for work) and expressed my excitement. It was a real thrill to have played for that long and had a decent cash. So that was the poker highlight of my trip!