Charm Looking for a Bracelet – Tournament of Champions 21
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October 31, 2011 – 12:19 PM | No Comment

By Mike Nelson
For the twenty first time players made their entrance to the grounds of the Tournament of Champions, as a field of 140 Red Hot Poker Tour elite entered the tournament …

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How to finish 900th out of 2800 at the WSOP in 3000 Words or Less

Submitted by on July 6, 2009 – 4:51 PM2 Comments

wsop-54This year the World Series of Poker featured 57 bracelet events, including the still-in-progress Main Event. Most of those events required buy-ins that would tax the bankroll of your average poker player, including the ten $10,000 “championship” events, the $50k H.O.R.S.E. tournament, and the 40th anniversary $40k Hold ‘Em event that kicked off the series.

On the other side of the coin, the series also included seven $1500 buy-in No Limit Hold ‘Em tournaments. Because of the relatively small buy-in for these tournaments, the relatively fast structure, and because they generally attract the largest fields of the series, these tournaments have been given a somewhat derogatory nickname.

Donkaments. Donkeys + tournaments = Donkaments. Nice, huh?

That doesn’t mean that only donkeys enter the donkaments. For example, in event #54, the last $1500 buy-in tournament of the Series, I saw Isaac Haxton, Eli Elezra, and Blair Hinkle – all well-respected pros with the results to match their reputation – sitting down for the action. On top of that, 20+ members of the Red Hot Poker Tour were also on hand to play the event. And on top of *that*, there was one more player playing who is of particular interest to the author of this blog.


I played in event #54, the first World Series of Poker tournament of my poker career. And, based on how it all shook out, hopefully not the last. What follows is the story of my tournament. Though I didn’t make the final table – heck, I didn’t even cash – I felt buoyed by the experience, even more confident in my game, and itching like crazy to get back into the action.

* * * * *

The day before we were set to play, the entire group of Red Hotters shuttled down to the Rio to complete our registration process. As we milled about the registration desk, I could tell that most in our group looked nervous and anxious, but excited. I was definitely feeling the latter, but not much of the former. Instead, I was completely calm and relaxed. I knew that I had played thousands of live and online tournaments, and that I knew what to do in whatever situation I could encounter. I just had to have the nerve to do it.  And to avoid the bad luck, and ride on the good luck. Easy enough, right? What could there possibly be in that recipe to be nervous about? Oh right, the first place price that was sure to reach nearly $700,000. Gulp.

The other things keeping me cool were the knowledge that, unlike a typical Red Hot tournament, which is designed to eliminate 60 players in 3.5 hours, this one would move along at a much more leisurely pace. Most poker pros describe the donkaments as having a horribly quick structure. But for those of us weaned on Red Hot tournaments, it would be more of a walk in the park, with its 4500 starting chips, 60 minute levels, and slower-rising blinds.

The next day, heading back to the Rio in a limousine provided by Red Hot, I tried my best to keep my calm, and it seemed to work. My nerves were steady, and I couldn’t wait to get to my table.

When I play a big tournament, I like to maintain an air of frivolity, the better to keep myself relaxed and able to make good decisions. It’s usually a bit of work to get to this point (it’s safe to say that I am usually in a dark mood), but moments before this tournament was to start, something happened out of my control that helped ease the tension. A friendly bald-headed gentleman from Philadelphia sat down on my right, and asked me, “So, how’s your series going?” In lieu of a response, I instead dropped my Red Bull, making a huge puddle on the carpet. Oops. Embarrassed, I tried my best to clean it up, without neither napkins nor a mop as aid, and then returned with a laugh to answer his question. The world didn’t end, as I might have anticipated, and I felt even more ready to play.

The first hand of play, I folded 5s4s under the gun, and, in an attempt to further lighten the mood, I mock-complained, “Jeez, I’ve been card dead all day!” Mr. Philadelphia looked at me with confusion for a moment, before catching on to the joke and joining me in a laugh. Tension breaker #2, out of the way. And now we’re ready to roll.

So who’re we ready to roll against? Here’s my table draw:

Seat 1: Young kid in a Minnesota Vikings shirt (he played well, calling down a notorious bluffer on an ace-high board with AJ, only to lose to AT when a ten hit the river, for a big pot)
Seat 2: Young aggressive kid
Seat 3: Bald guy from Philly
Seat 4: Me
Seat 5: Dutch player, sporting a moustache, mullet, and sunglasses (I think he played one hand in the time I sat next to him)
Seat 6: Overly aggressive girl wearing lots of makeup (she bluffed off ¾ of her stack pretty quickly, and went broke in about an hour)
Seat 7: Bald kid
Seat 8: Old calling station guy with a moustache (he doubled up early, but didn’t last a half hour after that)
Seat 9: A bright, friendly older man, who looked familiar but not familiar enough that I know his name
Seat 10: Old bearded man (shook a lot when he put money into the pot, which was pretty much every hand; bluffed a lot, and everyone knew him for his A3s plays)

The first pot I actually won was nothing of note. Except that it was. Third hand of action, I limped Ks7s in the small blind, and bet out against only the big blind when the flop came K-9-x. He called. I checked the turn, and so did he, before I bet and he called when another king hit on the river. I showed my trips, raked in some chips, and found myself above my starting stack for the first time (and quickly going over the hand, thinking I got the maximum). And, most notably, I had just won my first pot in a WSOP tournament. Cool!

The second hand of note is only of note because of two reasons: 1) I put my opponent on a bluff, followed through with my instincts, and kept the pot small in the process before taking it down, and 2) it was caught on video! Action started with the player second-to-act raising to 300 at 50/100 blinds. I am the only caller from the bb, with 9s8s. The flop came T-9-2, with one spade. I checked, and my opponent bet 325. I looked him over, decided he’s continuation betting AJ/AQ/AK, and just called. The turn is another low-spade. I checked, planning to possibly check-raise should I improve on my read. My opponent checked behind, which was ok, too. Here’s where the video kicks in:

The river was a low blank, and I checked again, knowing full well that he had nothing, and hoping he’d bluff one more time, the only way I get anything more from him because he’s not calling any bet I make. He checked behind, I showed my 9 knowing it was good, let out a sigh of relief and raked in another pot. As an added bonus, I saw a look of disgust in my opponent’s face when he saw my hand. This one was another real confidence boost, and propelled me further along through the day.

In the wake of this hand, I became more aggressive, raising a lot of hands in position, and taking down lots of small pots. When our table broke, I had over 6000+ in chips, not a huge number but enough to keep playing my game the way I wanted to play it.

I was moved to table Orange 81, and sat down in the 6 seat, before looking over the terrain. Pretty quickly I came to a good assessment of my new table. Though mostly quiet, the dynamic was almost perfect. I could see that all the good young players with chips, sure to be aggressive, were on my right. Just where I wanted them. And the bad old players, with no chips, were all on my left. If I could get past the big stack, two to my right and prone to lots of opening raises, I’d have an easy time here.

Sadly, things don’t always work out the way you plan them. Until they do.

The active big stack was tough to get by, because he was also prone to making light calls. In one hand he busted the guy on my right by calling a big all-in with just A8s. He hit an ace on the river to crack 77. This let me know that he would be hard to come over the top of. But also that he would pay me off if I got a hand. Which I didn’t for a long time.

And then I did. With blinds at 100/200, a player in late position raised to 600, and the big stack flat called. I was in the small blind, and my stack, after a long cold rush of cards, had dipped down to about 3900. Not good. The bright side? I looked down at pocket aces. I paused for a while, hoping to show that I had a tough decision. Then I pushed all-in. The original raiser folded, the big stack reluctantly called with JJ, and I held up. So now I had just a hair over 9,000, and, with the antes about to kick in, I was ready to go to work.

I built my stack up slowly, and got over 11,000 by making lots of small raises, and lots of stabs at lots of pots. Never was my stack in jeopardy, and yet I was making it grow. My pre-tournament plan was working, as this is what I was hoping would happen. Small ball poker in action, at the WSOP.

Then, came the key point in the tournament, where the demon of bad luck reared its ugly head, and stopped me in my tracks. Two killer hands came up in the span of 5 minutes, and the combination broke my heart in the moment, but not my spirit.

In the first, I should have gone broke, but instead just lost a lot of chips and most of my momentum. With blinds at 100/200/25, two of the young big stacks limped in. The guy on my right, just new to the table, who was also a big stack, also limped. I look down at AdQd on the button. Doyle Brunson calls this the “walking back to Texas” hand, because if you play it enough, you’ll be so broke you won’t be able to afford a ride. I just call it the “Death Hand”, because no matter how I play it, I manage to lose a lot of chips. Still, this was no time to play scared, and I figured to have a better hand than the limpers – plus position after the flop – so a raise was in order. I bumped it up to 800. Everyone folded except the new guy. The flop came – wait for it – Kd-9d-3d. That is what they call, in the poker business, ‘flopping the nut flush”. My opponent checked, and I checked behind to trap. A three came on the turn, and my opponent once again checked. I bet out half the pot, hoping to get some value from my hand. He just called. Another three hit the river, and I barfed just a bit on the inside. Amazingly, he checked. Figuring I was drawing stone cold dead, I checked behind. He shows me Ks6s, for the winning boat. I actually managed a good laugh over that one, and took solace in the fact that I didn’t lose more chips there.

In the same orbit, on my small blind, the under the gun player, who I’d already mentally tagged as a bit of a goofball, raised to 600. Tilting just a little bit, I made a sloppy call with KJo; sloppy because I would be out of position, and my opponent was short enough that I wasn’t getting nearly the implied odds. The flop came A-Q-J rainbow, and I checked. He bet small, and with my gutshot draw and bottom pair, I figured I had enough to see a turn. So I called and for some reason (insanity? boredom? randomness?) I checked dark. My opponent checked as well, and it was only at this time did I look down to see I’d made my straight with a ten on the turn. The river was another ten, however. I bet about 1/3 of my opponent’s remaining stack, and then, for the second time in five minutes, barfed a bit on the inside when he shoved all in. I called, knowing full well that I was dead. He showed AT for another boat. Sigh sigh sigh.

That little stretch turned what could have easily been a 20k stack, and a good feel for the table that seemed to fear my aggression, into what was actually a 6k stack and not much room to manoeuvre.

Shortly after this stretch of cruelty I got moved to my third table, which, right away, I did not like. It featured a lot of older men, and a couple of young kids, all with huge stacks. And all on my left. There were a couple of shorties, but they were on the other side of the table, and not easily attacked. The guy on my immediate left proved to be a bit of a loose cannon, partly for his cheesy moustache, and partly for his tendency to bluff, bluff, and bluff some more. “How could he call me with the jack and the flush and the straight all out there?” he moaned after his opponent looked him up with pocket tens after a 2x the pot river bet. His question had an easy answer, though nobody vocalized it: You’re a bluffer! I could see that within a blink of an eye.

With the loose table, I needed a good hand to push my newly-short stack into the middle. Unluckily, I found nothing worth pushing. I managed a couple of blind steals, to stay alive, but as we broke for dinner, I had only 8 big blinds left with which to work.

Livaline and I took a walk, which was nice, and settled into the closest restaurant possible for a quick meal. Having her there made the fact that my demise was inevitable and probably soon much easier to take. We had a nice meal, and then watched a bit of the $50k H.O.R.S.E. action before I took my seat again around 8:30pm.

I'm all-in with KJo, and my opponent has aces... oh well

First hand after the break, I shoved in with KJo. Mr. Moustache, right behind me, was the only caller. I was hoping I had at least live cards. Sadly, I had two undercards, as he showed me pocket aces. And with no help on the flop, turn, or river, I was out in about 900th place.

My first reaction was vindication. I felt like I played my best, and it was more than enough to succeed. Without one stretch of bad luck, I knew that I would still be healthy and ready to make a move at the chipleaders. But such is tournament play; luck is a lady, and oftentimes she’s just mean.

My second reaction, which stayed with me the rest of the night, and, to a lesser extent, through the rest of the trip, was that I’d just been punched in the gut. Maybe this was my only shot at the WSOP, and it was now over. I couldn’t wait to get back and play again, but didn’t know when that would be. And that hurt.

I’m home now, and it’s been almost a week since day 1 of event #54. And thankfully, my first reaction has stuck with me, and my second reaction is all but gone. I feel optimistic that my poker future is bright, and can’t wait to play live again, hopefully for big money in the future.

Thanks to the Red Hot Poker Tour and for making this all possible. In my nascent poker career, this was my first moment in the worldwide sun. And damn did I love every bit of its warmth. Let’s do it again soon, okay?

(Oh, and by the way, big congrats to John “Fought the Law” Lawson, the only player in our group who made the money.  John finished in 135th place, and cashed for $3,615.  Good job, sir!)


  • I can’t wait to read it. Be sure to include this line:

    “Mike Stone advised me to try ‘check-calling’. Should’ve listened. He is very wise.”

  • Jeremy says:

    Stay tuned for my, ‘How to finish 2700 out of 2800 at the WSOP’. Don’t think I can fill 3000 words, though.

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