Thursday, November 7th, 2019, Early AM: Today is a very special day for me. It’s been almost a year since I had my Poker re-awakening (Read About Me for details). Per usual, I can’t wait to just hop in a seat and play some cards – there’s something about the felt, the feeling of cards hitting your hands, that smell from the carpet cleaning solution that’s used in casinos all over the world.
This will be my very first blog, documenting what happens on the felt from my perspective. This is also the very first time that I’ll play in the brand new Poker Room in the retail shopping promenade of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, FL. The already-iconic guitar-shaped hotel had its Grand Opening a couple of weeks ago – my wife and I were there on the Friday Night of Opening Weekend to see Maroon 5 in concert, and swung by the new Poker Room to check it out.
Simply put, the new Poker Room is phenomenal (I will take some pics later today!). While I loved the Grand Ballroom and had many fond memories there, it will be an easy transition to play in this fantastic, upscale room, with beautiful wall décor and a “Final Table” area that looks ready to hold a live stream at a moment’s notice.
Today I’m playing in the $130 November Big Stack Special, a NLHE multi-day event with seven starting flights, 30-minute levels, and 15,000 in starting tournament units. If I can find a bag and not punt off my entire “good enough for Day 2” stack in two hands like I did in the Seminole Turnpike Series in October, I’ll return on Sunday at 11AM to hopefully cash, make a deep run, and since I’m going to be there anyway, bink it.
Friday, November 8th, 2019, 11AM: So I “bricked” the new Lucky Street Parking Garage when I got to the Hard Rock yesterday. There was a group of construction workers standing around and waving at me haphazardly, so I re-routed back to my standard parking spot in the Seminole Way Garage and made my way to the Poker room.
Before the tournament started, I played some $1/$2 NL and one interesting hand came up. I was in late position and there was a $5 button straddle with two limpers. I have about $225 in front of me and I look down at AQ0 in the CO. I make it $20 to go. The BB, with about $1,500 in front of him and absolutely trashed from playing all night (and after many beers), fumbles a few red chips forward to make the call. The two of us and one other caller see a flop of QsTh6s with roughly $70 in the pot. The action checks to me and I continue for $50. The BB is the only caller, with $170 in the middle. The turn is a blank, but interestingly, the BB leads out for another $50. I had observed the BB using his gigantic 800BB stack combined with his drunken stupor to make as-you-would-expect, completely non-standard plays that somehow worked in his favor. I decide that I need to get maximum value out of him before he passes out, so I rip in my last ~$150. He snap calls with K9ss. The Poker Gods decided that I would not be able to fade his 13 outs, giving him the Js for the flush.
Levels 1-4: Rather than grouping my posts per individual tournament level, I prefer to group them in-between breaks (So, Levels 1-4, Levels 5-8, etc…). My mindset going into this tournament was simple: “Don’t fuck this up!” I had blown up in my last tournament, going from 100,000 in chips to out of the tournament in two ridiculous hands that I shouldn’t have even played in the first place. I was determined to not go out like that this time.
Early on, I win a couple of small pots and hover around 20,000 for most of the first few levels. I picked up KK and won a small pot against two callers with a flop c-bet; another small win after raising with Q8o and turning a straight, and a couple of other small wins / losses with hands like AKo and QJhh. All in all, nothing too wild happened during the first three levels.
The action picks up right at the end of Level 4, which plays at 200/300 with a 300 BBA. I’m in the big blind and look down at Jh8d and check my option after a few limpers choose to see a cheap flop, which comes QTx rainbow. Action checks through and I hit the money card with the 9x on the turn. I bet in the neighborhood of 800, which draws a few calls. The river is a blank, where I again go for value, betting ~2,000. (I feel that I should point out that there is a slight margin of error with my reporting, as I am not always able to capture all of the hand history details with 100% accuracy. Some bet sizing, position of villain(s), and other details might not be entirely precise. However, the “meat” – the most relevant parts of each hand – will always be written herein). I get not one but two callers and take down a nice one. In the very next hand, I’m in the SB and put in an extra 100 to complete in a 5-way pot with 46 off-suit. The flop is one of those Favorable ones that Andrew Neeme always talks about: 578dd. Because of the two diamonds, I decide to lead out for 700. One of the reasons why I started this blog is to be able to go back and re-analyze significant hands I played; I don’t like my bet sizing here – it is way too small to deny equity from hands containing a 9x or two diamonds. I should be, at a bare minimum, betting 3/4ths pot or even betting full pot. I am out of position against multiple opponents with a hand whose equity has been fully realized. Even a 9 on the turn no longer gives me the nuts, so I much prefer a larger bet size here. Nonetheless, I get bailed out: the BB calls, a player in middle position raises to 2,500, the CO calls the 2,500 and action is back on me. I decide that I’m not messing around any longer and rip my entire stack in the middle. Not surprisingly, everyone happily folds as this hand sends the remaining players at the table on break.
Levels 5-8: With about 45,000 in my stack, the run-good that began at the end of Level 4 immediately continued at the start of Level 5. With blinds at 200/400/400 and exactly one orbit later, I pick up QThh in the SB, and call a raise to 1,300 from a middle-position player. With 5 callers and 6,500, my heart skips a few beats when the flop comes down AKJss. This is a very similar situation as with the 46 off-suit hand in the previous level, so I check instead of leading out for deception. This is risky, as the initial pre-flop raiser could very well have a two-pair hand in his range that smashes this board. My plan was to check-raise any bet and, if called, bomb any favorable turn card. The action checks through and we all see a 5h turn card. I now lead out for 5,500. Only the initial PFR calls and we’re off to see a river card with 17,500 in the pot. Obviously, I am hoping that we do not see a spade on this river, nor any scary-looking board-pairing card. When the safe 3h arrives, I take an internal yet unobservable sigh of relief and contemplate what to do. After a little thinking, I jam all-in in hopes of looking like I am bluffing because I missed my draw. My opponent goes deep into the tank. I am unsure if he is “Hollywooding” or if he is faced with a legitimate decision regarding the 2x pot bet he is currently facing. Sadly, my opponent mucks :(.
At this point, Rami Singh joins our table and takes a seat directly to my left. Rami has over $1.1MM in career tournament earnings and is the life of the party at the Poker table. He recently won $200,000 in Event #1: $600 Deepstack No-Limit Hold ‘Em during the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open series. Unfortunately for him, he quickly busted one of his bullets, giving me only a few moments between hands to exchange pleasantries.
After winning a small pot with JTo by raising in MP to 2,500 during the 300/500/500 level and getting three pre-flop callers without any other action, the “Hand of the Tournament” up to this point in time comes up. I went ahead and posted the hand details on r/poker community on Reddit for some feedback on how I played the hand – there is some good commentary and analysis to be found in that thread. The below image is a screenshot of my reported HH:
The only other hand worthy of a mention in this block of rounds happens toward the end of Level 8 at 400/800/800. A very good player whom I’ve crossed hairs with in previous tournaments makes it 2,700 from UTG. I am on the button and look down at AKo, presenting itself with the classic 3B opportunity to which I avail myself of for 7,500. UTG calls, and we see a 852hh flop. He checks it over to me and I go ahead and continue for 8,000. This is a very solid tournament player with nearly half a million in career earnings – the last thing I want to have happen is for him to take control of this hand and have him in the mindset of being able to take advantage of me (oh, the illogical mind-games we play with ourselves at the Poker table!). For those reasons, I bet out 8,000 after some acting on my behalf. Fortunately, UTG quickly mucks his hand and soon thereafter, we break, closing the registration period and locking Flight C up to the tune of 216 runners. I count my chips and lean my Player’s Card next to my stack as I always do, coming up with a well-above average total of 79,000.
Levels 9-11: The start of this block of levels was a rocky one. I lose holding AKo in late position to the same good player from the end of Level 8, as I get an Ace on the turn on a 733cc flop which I call down. He makes his backdoor straight on the river, shrinking my stack down to 55,000. I proceed to lose another hand holding KJss in the BB against a player who was severely crippled and all-in holding 22 with one other caller tagged along, knocking me down to 51,000.
The rocky waters begin to smooth themselves out when I look down at TT in MP with two limpers behind me during the 600/1,200/1,200 level. I raise to 6,500 and get two callers. I flop top set on a T62 rainbow board and check out-of-position for deception, as this board is too dry with too much of a stranglehold on it. The player in the LJ bets 7,000, leaving himself with only 5,000 more behind. Action folds to me and I jam, and he snap calls, showing 99. I get a clean run-out and am quickly back up to around 78,000.
After a couple of small pots, I ran a good bluff against that same villain, whose name completely escapes me (I will make it a point to learn his name the next time I see him, and include a link to his Hendon Mob profile). This player limps during level 11 with blinds at 800/1,600/1,600. I look down at AQo in the SB and have a clear raise to execute, which I do to the tune of 6,500. The player calls and we go heads up to a ten-high rainbow flop. We both check and see a Jx on the turn. He checks, I bet 5,500, he calls. The river is another Jx, and again he checks. I could have the best hand here some percentage of the time – perhaps he called down with a weak ten or some KQo / K9 / 98 / 87 type of hand and didn’t get there. I think about checking it back with my Ace-high showdown value, but instead, I take the aggressive approach and bet out 8,000 to make it look like I had a strong ten or possibly even AJ (which is a reasonable holding after raising in the SB) and want to get some chips from a one-pair hand that hit the flop. The villain doesn’t even think for a few seconds before mucking his hand, sending the pot our way and building our stack to an above-average 94,000.
After busting a short stack player with AJo vs. his K8 toward the end of level 11, I find myself buying all of the table’s black 100 chips and tally up a healthy 114,000 going into the last break of the flight.
Levels 12-14: I look up after level 12 starts and notice that we’ve been joined by Abbey Daniels in seat 8. Abbey is one of the top female Poker players in South Florida, with over $700,000 in tournament earnings including a pile of cashes in a variety of tournaments, many final tables and first-place finishes. She brings over 150,000 with her to our table, and with the last three levels in front of us, there’s no need to get out of line.
The Poker Gods, as we all know, have a strange sense of humor that us mere mortals have yet to figure out. After playing great tournament Poker for 11 levels, I run extremely card-dead in the next 90 minutes, with only an ATo at 1,000/2,000/2,000 as the lone exception – even here, I folded to a large 3-bet after making it 5,000 and getting blown off my hand from a large 25,000 raise. In a strange way, this is actually a good time to run card dead. During the last break of the flight, I was prep-talking myself up to not get involved in any marginal or tricky situation, and to tighten up. I wanted to find a bag for Day 2 on Sunday. Even though our baby-sitter called to cancel on Wednesday, I would have had any number of relatives or other options for Sunday. Perhaps our baby-sitter bailing on us was an omen, a sign, a “tell” for what was about to happen next.
We are now near the end of level 13 with blinds at 1,500/2,500/2,500 and I’m UTG. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m happy to look down at my two cards and fold them into the muck as fast as possible, doubly so as I’ve seen nothing but junk for an hour. At this point I have around 95,000, after blinding down a bit and picking up a very small pot (just blinds and BBA only) earlier after action folded to me on the dealer button and I raised two rags – I should probably note that the table has tightened up considerably, down to less than three full tables now and very close to Day 2.
You can imagine what thoughts crossed my mind when I eventually look down at AA. To be exact, I literally said “Ahhhh Yeah!” in my head. I raise to the table standard amount of 5,500. Action folds around to the player on the button, who has recently been moved to our Table #14, where I’ve been since the start of level 1. He brings well over 200,000 with him and doesn’t hesitate to ask me how much I’m playing behind. I inform him that I started with around 90,000-ish. After a few moments, the player announces – very boldly and brashly – THIRTY-FIVE THOUSAND. In other words, your typical 7x raise 3-bet. It’s hard to explain how massive of a raise this is for this table, so the words shock me (I was expecting 12,000, or 15,000, or something along the 3x / 4x area). Of course, the blinds get out of the way and the action is on me. I’m never folding AA pre-flop, and I’m not the type to get tricky after being 3-bet, so I rip it in there and get snap-called. Once I get snapped-off, I know I’m up against either AK or KK. I instantly flip my hand over and the player reacts as you would expect him to. He turns over KK and I’m in a great spot to double up to nearly 200,000. I stand up as does the villain and other players start gathering around to watch this massive pot go down.
The flop is clean: QTx. I’m two cards away from a major double-up and potential comfy seat into Day 2.
The turn: K.
The river: Q.
The pain of getting Aces cracked is something every Poker player has experienced, and will continue to experience as long as there is Poker to be played. The pain of having it happen in the way it happened to me hurts – a lot. Yes, I am fully aware that this will not be the last time I get coolered in a gut-wrenching way, and that this is how Poker can sometimes be. 80% of the time, I will get the outcome that favors me. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt. This one will be one I remember for quite some time: I played great Poker since 11AM, only to find myself getting the absolutely maximum double-up potential with pocket Aces pre-flop in a dream situation, only to have it turn into a nightmare on the flip of one ugly turn card. This is also now the third tournament in a row where I make a deep Day 1 run and come away with nothing but a story to tell. The difference here being that I now have a blog to tell that classic bad beat story.
I feel like I’ve been stuck in this cycle of “Play well, run deep, get coolered [or blow up], on to the next one” for a few months now. Both cash games and tournaments have not produced the desired outcomes for me since the Summer. All I can do now is continue to study, continue to work on my game, and hope to start trending away from this quadrant of the variance graph. Emotionally, I feel as if I’m owed some good luck the next time out. Logically, good play == good outcomes in the long run.