Man, where to start? This story has taken me almost a year to write and I think that I have put it off so long because once it is written it truly will be over and I don’t want it to be over EVER. If you are a constant reader, you know how important this was for me and you also know that the victory of cashing was taken from me in the $1500.00 event. This was my last chance. I had left Miss Lucy poolside at the Bellagio with a “Wish me luck sweetie.” She replied, “Just win it Baby Boy.” It’s amazing that when she looks at Big Papa that is the thing that she chooses to call me. I am the luckiest man on the planet because of her, my girls and my friends, and if you are sick of hearing that, please stop reading my stories, because without them to share it all with I wouldn’t play poker. What would be the point?
Speaking of friends, I was headed to the World Series Of Poker with Mr. Jason “Who is John Galt?” Writer. We are close and I really don’t know when it happened, but we are the “you don’t really need to finish most of your sentences” kind of close. I know when it started, and that will be the greatest story ever told, called “The Bravery Of The Lambs: The Dawning” but it is a story for another time. Jason is one of those guys who is very popular and knows a lot of people. He does a lot of charity work and many people think that they are his friend, and he lets them think that. It isn’t that he doesn’t like them; he just doesn’t let them in. Closely guarded privacy is the watch word for Mr. Galt. If Jason only had one phone call, I am sure he would call me and then I would call Brad, because damn, this sounds serious!
Jason and I pulled up in the back parking lot of the Rio about a half hour before jump time and Jennifer Tilly was valet parking her Bentley Continental GT. More on her later; she was less than impressive as a person. It looked like an NFL football game letting out and I thought, “here we go, another army to wade through.” It turned out that over 2000 people signed up for our little card game today.
On the way in I called Brad. He was majorly pissed off. Circumstances had unfolded at one of his companies and kept him from coming down with us. It wasn’t getting any better, and he was going to miss the whole thing. Bradley wished me well, the same as Lucy did, only instead of “Baby Boy” he called me “Bubba” and said, “Just do your best Bubba, if you want to stay longer I would put you in the main event, that is how much confidence and trust I have in you. Just do your thing!” I will never know if what he said was his true feelings or if he was just trying to get me up for what I had to do. Either way I will never forget him for it; I know that his words helped me focus and feel confident. I was having a conversation with him a couple of months ago and he told me that he was still just sick about not being with us, and I told him that he was with me the whole way. With our partnership I felt like whatever I was doing in the tournament was his to own as well, and I am not at all sure that the fact that I was playing for US and not just me alone didn’t take my game to the next level. I was damn sure not going to make any stupid mistakes on Bradley’s dime; I wasn’t going to let either of us down, not this year.
Big hug for Jason and I said, “Flop’em Dead Kid” and he said, “Do the whole village Big Man.” It is kind of funny that we NEVER call any of the Tribe members by our given names and not by design. It just is what it is. I sit down and have 5 minutes to chat with my tablemates. I am friendly, but what I am really doing is gathering the information that I need send them to Valhalla later. The one thing that is true in a poker tournament is that no one is your friend. It is war. People are friendly but what they want is you dead, period. I never forget that even if my fellow Tribe members who I love show me the soft under belly in a tournament, they are dead. No questions asked, no apologies given, made a head stone. The same goes the other way around too, except I am even more cautious when I am in a pot with one of them. I know them too well, they know that I know them and this is where it gets even more dangerous, because these guys are some of the most brilliant minds I know, and the levels of poker theory can get a little mind bending. Your basic player looks at his cards and bets accordingly; the more advanced player looks at his cards and wonders what his opponent has. One more level up, the player thinks “what do I have, what does he have and what does he think I have?” Keep adding levels and add some deception and it can get pretty hairy. So much for my friendly table mates.
Okay players, the first round is 25/25; shuffle up and deal. Here we go. These World Series events don’t really give you much room to splash around. In a $2000.00 buy-in tournament, that is the amount of tournament chips you get: $2000.00. I will point out how this gets dicey as I review how the day started for me. We draw for the button and I end up with my first win, the button. The action is a raise to $125.00 with 3 callers. I look down and see a pair of nines. Basic strategy dictates that you want to play small ball poker early and try and gather chips without allowing you to be at risk unless you have a really big hand. I call the $125.00 with my nines, both the blinds fold. What I am looking to see is another nine for a set. The flop comes down TJ8 rainbow. This is a really a pretty good flop for me as I don’t have anything more than 2 nines but I have flop a straight draw and no flush is present. The pre-flop raiser makes it $200.00. This really doesn’t mean much. He is making what I assume to be a continuation bet because it is proper strategy to do so. AA KK QQ are unlikely holdings due to the fact that a player would protect those hands more aggressively from someone drawing out on them, and JJ is hard to imagine because that hand surely would be checking hoping to induce other players to bet. I put the pre-flop raiser and his subsequent callers on AK AQ AJ AT range of hands. One of the two callers drops out and one calls. I have too many outs to not call here. Two nines are left to give me a set of nines; four sevens and four queens are out there to give me the second nut straight. 10 outs, 38.4% and the pot has 4 x $125 = $500.00 pre-flop plus the $400.00 the boys just put in, so I am getting $1000.00 back for the $200.00 I am putting in or 5 to 1. In a cash game this is a no brainer, but the monster we are dealing with in a tournament is that we are on a limited budget. I call the $200.00 and we see the turn, the Ace of spades. This is not a good card for us. The pre-flop raiser makes it $200.00, which is an odd bet for a pot this size. The next guy makes it $1000.00 straight. We fold, and the initial aggressor goes all in with his dance partner speed calling. The dealer has them flip over their hands before the river and I expect to see AJ/AT for 2 pair, possibly suited with a spade redraw and a set of tens, jacks or eights. The actual holdings are pretty amazing. The first guy shows AK for one pair of Aces and no flush redraw and the speed caller turns over a ten and an eight for 2 pair. The AK jumps up and yells, “how can you call $125.00 with that crap?!” The guy is pretty quick and he says, “how can you go all in with only one pair?” Ah, making friends at the World Series Of Poker. The river is a 2 of hearts and the guy with AK is gathering his stuff and muttering something about donkeys and the guy stacking all the chips says, “What did you say?” I can’t help myself, so I jump in here and say, “He said nice hand, good game.” The table busts up laughing and things go forward, with the dealer tossing a card where the dead player was (Table 46 Seat #5).
We go card dead for the rest of that down, stealing one set of blinds, paying 4 orbits worth a net loss of $150.00, leaving us at $1525.00 going into round two. The blinds are now 25/50 when we pick up a nice holding in bad position. I will mention that this table was rowdy. We knocked out 4 players in an hour and so there were some larger stacks growing and the table standard bet was going up. 25/50 blinds and these guys were settling in on a $225.00 bring in culture. It was kind of scary. From under the gun, we see QQ and I limp for $50.00. The hand gets raised to $150.00, two guys call and the blinds drop out. I call the extra $100.00 and see a flop that I hope doesn’t have an ace or a king in it. The flop comes out T52, the pot is $525.00 and I want to end this thing right here, so I make it $400.00 or roughly 75% of the pot. The first guy calls and the other guy, one of the larger stacks, makes it $1200.00. Calling this raise would put me all in except for like $175.00. I go in the tank for what seems like forever and I am just sick. I think to myself, “Mark, why can’t you do better in these things? You are just going to throw in the last of your chips and get beat here? What then, more machine gun shooting? I felt like such a loser. Snap out of it man! What do they have?! AA KK – You have QQ – JJ TTT 555 222 AT A5 T5 52.” I could think of seven hands that were better than me and a couple of draws that would be worrisome. If I fold here I have $975.00 left. @#$%^! I muck the ladies and the other guy calls the $1200.00, except he only has $1100.00 of it so he is all in. A $100.00 rebate goes back to the big stack and they flip over their cards. The all in shows 55 for a set and the big guy turns over wired jacks. The turn is a king and the river is a seven. I say, “Nice hand kid. That is what I had too.” He says, “Really?” and then thinks for a minute and does a “Hey wait a minute.” When he realizes that would be impossible, and I say, “Queens,” he says, “You folded pocket queens?” I shake my head; I am not nearly as impressed as he is, I am getting pissed.
I wasn’t really in the mood to think about how great a player I was and now I was screwed. The blinds had just gone up to 50/100 and I was down to essentially just one move: wait for a really good hand and move in. The table was moving pretty fast at this point. Every pot was 40 to 50 percent of my stack to see a flop, and I was card dead. I gave up a ton of blind money and when the small blind folded to me once when it was folded around to him I felt like kissing him. Hey, that was $150.00 profit for me! I was truly riding the cheese grater to the bottom, but I was still determined not to make a stupid mistake if I hadn’t already; it had already been a long day. They had called for the break and I had $900.00 in chips. I always count my chips before I go on break; at least that job was easy. One more hand and Halleluiah! My patience pays off, I pick up KK on the button and move in, everyone folds and I pick up two limpers and the blinds: $350.00. I am at $1250.00 when we go on break. I call Brad, get the voicemail and tell him it is a struggle but we are still alive. Jason says he is dealing with some maniacs at his table and he is grinding it out, at around $1700.00. Good luck buddy.
The next several levels are uneventful as I have gotten myself so low that unless I pick up a monster I can’t move. I am determined not to make a stupid mistake. I am watching the other players splash around some with lesser cards than I mucked. Some of those same players are getting knocked out, some are winning with those mediocre holdings, and me, I am getting ground down but refusing to panic. 75/150 goes by; 100/200 comes and goes I am still sitting in the bed I made fooling around with those lesser hands before. I keep rethinking the action of before and I am sure I played it right, but it sure doesn’t feel right now. Stuck and Short. Last hand and we go on break. I have a $500 chip, four $100.00 chips and three $75.00 chips.
I headed out back to the trailers they had installed this year, correcting the “one bathroom” problem from last year. They were not very good about the signage however, which was fine with me. The less people that knew about the new facilities, the better. Jason caught up to me in the bathroom line and wanted to know how I was doing. I said that for someone that plays as bad as I do, I was lucky to still be in it, and laughed. I asked him where he was and he said, “$1200.00, no cards, you?” I told him I was at $700.00, $100/$200 blinds with a $25.00 ante and when we get off break I needed a hand; he felt the same way. I told him I really felt like I hadn’t made any errors and I got away from queens when they were beat with 1/3 of my chips out there. Jason thought that was impressive; I just had a headache. We did our business and Jason asked me if I was going to go through the cafeteria line for a Coke or anything. I said no but I would meet him inside. I wanted to go call Brad while I was still in this thing. I went to the far end of the inside hallway and made the call I didn’t want to make. Almost hoping to get voicemail again, Bradley picked up on the first ring with, “Hey Bubba, how are we doing?” I said the only thing I could think of, the truth. “Brad I am doing the very best I know how and things just aren’t going well at all. We are on break and the next round is 100/200 and I have $700.00 left in chips.” I felt like I wanted to cry; here this guy had really believed in me and it looked like I was going to let us both down, AGAIN. Brad never missed a beat. “Hey man, that’s poker. You go back in there and keep being conservative, whatever happens is what will happen and I am fine with that. Just do your best.” I assured him that I would and hung up the phone.
Brad was a good friend to me, saying what he did that day. I knew that if he lost the money it wouldn’t hurt him and I had made sure before we made this partnership that our friendship would not be affected. No amount of money was worth even the remotest chance of harming a friendship like the one I had with Brad. We went way back. I sold Brad one of the first computers he bought when he started his firm and I had just left corporate America to start my own retail computer business. We were both slugging it out 80 hours a week to make things work back then, now both businesses are multimillion dollar concerns. The only thing that hadn’t changed from the old days was us. We were still just two friends making our way through the world. There were a lot more zeros now, but we were still just two hard working entrepreneurs; we didn’t really know how to be any other way. I was mad now. Damn it I wanted to win! I had worked too hard for this; I wanted to call Brad and tell him how smart he was for having faith in me. I deserved to make that call, and those guys at that table in there were denying me my phone call. I was being tested and I wanted to pass the test.
Jason walked up behind me and said, “I know you said you didn’t want anything but I got you a Diet Coke and a package of aspirin. You said you had a headache right?” Jason, he is a good guy to have on your wing. How I got so lucky in life, I will never know. I gave Mr. Galt a big hug and took my aspirin; we had two minutes left.