I sat down and the blind would hit me in two hands. I just needed two cards that would allow me to move my stack in. The good news was that between the antes and the blinds there is $550 in the middle every hand. Mother of Mary I needed a hand! I put in my $25 ante and got my cards: Q2 off suit. Perfect! I mucked. Next hand, 84 off suit. Muck. I am starting to run low on choices, and I was already at the point that an all in from me was giving anyone 3 to 1 odds to call, so I wasn’t going to scare anyone away. I needed a hand! I threw my last $25 chip out for my ante placed my last two black $100 chips out in front of me to satisfy my big blind obligation. I was down to one chip: a lone $500 check; it was almost funny in a way. I watched in amazement as this previously bloodthirsty table that was making every hand $500 pre-flop turned into a little lamb with seven players just limping in for $200 big blind! I never look at my cards until it is my turn to act, as you know, so I was sitting there thinking that if I had ANYTHING I was going to throw in my last $500 chip and we were going for a ride, hoping that if they were all that weak, they might be able to lay down to a guy that hasn’t played a hand in 2 hours. This would be the score I need to get back on this horse, please pocket fives, anything. The small blind called the additional $100 and the dealer looked at me and said, “Option?” You bet your ass, I looked down to see what monster fate had provided me in this perfect scenario and there it was. 72 off suit. Yes boys and girls, the worst starting hand in hold’em. I check; I guess we hope for the best, huh. The flop comes out J82 and well that that hit me, but it was nothing to write home about. The small blind checked and so did I, then another miracle happened. Everyone else at this hostile table checked! Wow! The dealer brought out the turn card and I just couldn’t believe what I saw: the 2 of clubs. I had made trips and the small blind checked. I actually said out loud, “I have been waiting all afternoon for a hand to go all in with and I can’t believe that this is the one I am doing it with but, I’m all in!” With that I tossed my lone $500 chip out in front of me and everyone folded save two players. When they called I thought, “No one would have played a set like that and if there was the case deuce out there, I probably had them out kicked because they would likely have limped that card suited and connected with a three or god forbid an ace.” I didn’t have long to worry, because when the river came I almost feel out of my chair. The seven of diamonds. I had made a full house. It wasn’t the nuts, but I was happy to get it all in with this hand and if someone beat me they beat me. Don’t get me wrong, I would never play poker again if I was beat, but I would accept it. Ace Jack made a pair of jacks to win a small $400 side pot over pocket tens when I announced “I’m full.” The math was 8 players calling $200 pre-flop, 10 players putting in $25 in antes and myself and two others putting in the $500 each for $3350 coming my way. I was so happy I was shaking. I had my voice back; I had a chance.
The thing that happened next was really great and kind of eerie at the same time. I was happily stacking my chips now that I had more than 3 of them, and I was in the small blind. Under The Gun limped and it was folded to the button who was a crazy Russian kid from New York City. I had watched him get involved and show down some pretty crazy hands in the last 2 hours, and he made it $600 to go. I thought, “You want to steal my small blind? Who cares?” I was so happy just to be alive. I looked down and saw wired jacks. Crap, here we go again. I was not folding Jacks to a $500 raise. I could get away from it on the flop if it got crazy. I called, and the big blind and the under the gun limper also called. I thought, “Oh well with four players, you are certainly up against some big hands like AA KK QQ or AK AQ that will turn monstrous with the right flop.” I was doing the right thing with the hand but I was done with it already. When the dealer brought the flop out, I just pulled down my sunglasses and covered my mouth after I quickly said, “Check.” The flop was JJA, all those hands I was afraid they were holding pre-flop were now money cards for me. I could not believe it, Quadzilla! All of that torture all day and now in two hands I was going to make it to safety. The big blind checked with me and UTG made it $2000 to go, when just then the crazy Russian kid pushed all his chips in and actually said, “All in Bitches.” Now, he had like $7500, and at this point I only had $2725 left, but I went in the tank and took at least 3 minutes to call with the rest of my chips in hopes that I could get the other two to come along. The big blind mucked immediately and UTG said, “I only have AK; I was stealing,” and mucked his cards face up. The kid turned to me and said, “What do you have?” Proper protocol would be for him to show me his cards first since I called his all in, but asking him for that would have been bad form in my mind given my holding. I said, “I have ALL the Jacks,” as I flip over my hole cards. Then, I guess out of embarrassment, the kid told the dealer to bring out the turn and the river without exposing his hand. The dealer said, “We need to see both hands in a showdown, sir.” He said, “I don’t have to show my cards if I don’t want to!” The dealer said he did and so did the rest of the table. I told the dealer that I didn’t care, but the dealer called for a decision. Now everyone was getting upset because the kid is wasting everyone’s time and the blinds were going up, and the short stacks were low on patience, and boy did I ever know how they felt. I turned to him and said, “Come on, don’t make it hard on the short stacks, let’s just do this.” I must have gotten to him because before the floor came he flipped over A4 of spades. Two blanks came and it was over. $250 for the antes, four players pre-flop for $600 equals $2400, and the kid and I for $2725 each on the end made me $10,100. It came over the loud speaker, “Dealers finish the hand you are on and we are breaking for dinner. Players, you have one hour.”
I went looking for Jason and when I found him it didn’t look good. I said, “What’s up Killer?” He said, “I just got wiped out. I was up over $5000 and I got it all in with QQ vs 88 and you know how this story ends.” I said, “A #$%^&ing eight comes?” He said, “Of Course. I hate poker sometimes.” Note: Don’t worry, Jason got his revenge at the Wynn Classic later that year by making a final table in a major event, so he and poker are friends again. He said, “How about you? Are you still in it?” I told him my tale and he couldn’t have been happier for me, and that was for real. If he couldn’t win it, he was truly happy that I had my chance. He told me he was going to find some stripper to make him feel better, but I knew he was going back to the Bellagio, so I called Lucy and told her to call his room in half an hour and make sure he got some dinner. She was happy that I was still in it. She had no idea. “Are you having fun honey boy?” It was like John Elway calling his wife at half time during the super bowl after he just scored the go ahead touchdown. “That’s nice Johnny, are you having fun?” Classic; she doesn’t give a rat’s ass about poker and she tries so hard to conceal that from me, because the only thing that she cares about regarding poker is that it makes Big Papa happy and for that she loves poker and I love her for being just who she is. I hope God takes me before her because I just couldn’t stand it here without Mimi.
Time to call Brad, and oh hell yea! It was seven o’clock in Vegas so it was eight in Denver, and guess what? It was our monthly poker club night and Brad was at his house with all the guys. I called and he answered and said, “Great Job Mark, I am so proud of you!” I was like, “What the ..?” He said, “The tournament is all over the internet and we have been following along. The bloggers are posting everything.” I asked him to tell the guys I said hey, and I would continue to do my best. He said, “I never doubted you for a second Bubba!” Man, I can’t tell you how good that phone call felt. I hung up the cell phone and I was alone. When you are on break at the WSOP you are required to leave the tournament area, so I had walked over to an area of about fifty tables that were empty from the days knockouts and not being used for the sit n goes or the second chance tournament yet, so they were just empty, save me in the middle of them. I was alone for the first time in what seemed like ages and I wasn’t hungry. I had called all the people I needed to talk to and there I was. I slipped my on iPod and listened to the song that I had put on repeat and played over 200 times over and over while I ground down the cheese grater. “Me Against The World,” by 2Pac.
Could somebody help me? I’m out here all by myself
See ladies in stores, Baby Capones, livin’ wealthy;
Pictures of my birth on this Earth is what I’m dreamin’
Seein’ Daddy’s semen, full of crooked demons, already crazy
and screamin I guess them nightmares as a child
had me scared, but left me prepared for a while;
Is there another route? For a crooked Outlaw
Veteran, a villian, a young thug, who one day shall fall;
Every day there’s mo’ death, and plus I’m dough-less
I’m seein mo’ reasons for me to proceed with thievin’
Scheme on the scheming and leave the peeps grievin’;
Cause ain’t no bucks to stack up, my nuts is backed up
I’m bout to act up, go load the Mac up, now watch me klacka;
Tried makin fat cuts, but yo it ain’t workin
And Evil’s lurking, I can see him smirking
when I gets to pervin’, so what?
Go put some work in, and make my mail, makin sales
Risking 25 with a ‘L’, but oh well;
Me against the world
With nuttin to lose
It’s just me against the world
Ooh yeah.. oooh-ooooh
It’s just me against the world baby
Me against the world
I got nuttin to lose
It’s just me against the world
I really felt like all day it really had been me against the world. I leaned back in that chair, put my feet up, pulled down my sunglasses and drifted off to sleep for what felt like too long when I felt a nudge. It was the fat guy from my table. He was 30ish and had been a large stake for most of the day, as well as a major pain in my short stacked ass. He was hyper aggressive, raising every pot. I wasn’t surprised to find out that he was a professional player named Mark Davis from Dublin, Ireland. I woke up and looked at my watch; I had been out for 30 minutes. I pulled my plugs and after a couple of minutes I felt great; refreshed and ready. Mark was yakking at me, “You really made a comeback there,” he said. “Yea, I was on death’s door all day it was nerve wracking.” I was trying not to hold a grudge, but he was one of the troop that had been pounding on me for the last five hours. I am sure he didn’t even realize it; he was just playing cards. Five minutes to go time, “Nice talking to you Mark, see you at the table, good luck.” I went to the bathroom and then I needed to get refocused. I still had a long way home.
I showed up back at the table and it was moving day. The Grim Reaper Tournament Director was there passing out cards for us to draw. I chose table three seat seven, and wished my previous tablemates good luck. When I make my way to my new table with my new stack, I am immediately put back. The big stacks at my previous table were like the furry creatures in Monsters, Inc. These towers of chips were like the monsters in Alien 3, complete with acid for blood. After witnessing this new level of aggressive play, I thought that I was back where I started. If I was going to get involved, I would need to have a hand and just play tight and aggressive. In short, I needed to try my best and not make a stupid mistake. I played for about an hour without much going on. I stole a couple of blinds and antes and had a really good idea of what was going on at the table when I got my chance. I was one off the button and it was checked around to me when I saw AK of clubs. The button was a fairly tight professional player, but the small and large blinds were a couple of kids that had been splashing around pretty well with less than premium holdings. The blinds were $200/$400 with a $50 ante and I had around $14,000 in chips. I made it $1200 and the button mucked his cards. The small and large blinds both called. The flop came out J42 with 2 clubs and the small blind checked it. The big blind made it $2000, so I called and so did the small blind. The turn took all the pressure off of me when it brought the 3 of clubs; I had made the nut flush and there was now a small straight out there. I had seen a couple of bust outs at this table come from the kid in the big blind when he had made small straights against opponents holding large cards. Both the small and big blinds checked. I thought for a minute and wondered if one had 2 pair or a set. If so, and the board paired, I would have a tough decision. I made it $4500, and honestly I was happy to end it there. The small blind called and after thinking for a second, the big blind moved all in! He had around $40,000 and I did a little acting and said, “Well I only have around $6000 more so I am going to call; I am all in too.” The small blind went in the tank and after a long time he finally said, “I have top pair, best kicker and a gut shot straight draw, but I am going to lay this down,” and tossed AJ face up into the muck. The kid in the big blind turned over his hand saying, “I have the wheel.” As he turned it over, I flip over my hand and say, “Your drawing dead. I have the nut flush.” He is a really nice kid, but I was amazed he had so many chips when he replied, “I didn’t even see that flush out there!” Including the antes and all the small blind money, I rack in $36,200, and for the first time all day I feel like I can relax.
I got my voice back and started having fun, really playing small ball poker and I was stealing blinds and making speculative plays for small amounts in multi-way pots that would only give me the highest odds of winning if it got messy. I was up and down, hovering around $30,000 for the next few hours. At one point I flopped quad fives and checked it to the end with two players, making the minimum bet on the end and watching them both fold, and thank God I didn’t need the money then. Sometime later, Michael Odeh sat down beside me and started giving me a hard time. I told him to shut up. He told me we were going to settle this outside on the next break and I looked up and said, “Mike, if you walk outside with me you won’t come back inside ever again.” He let me know that he had cancer and asked what I could do to him. I replied, “Mike, I can end your suffering if you don’t stop messing with me. This is the deepest I have ever been in the World Series and I plan on cashing so knock it off.” I also reminded him that I play 15/30 limit with him all the time at the Bellagio and that he told me about his “cancer” five years ago and I was glad he was still around playing and looking so good. He said, “I thought you looked familiar!” I said, “Mike, do you make a habit of asking 225 pound 6 foot tall ex-football players outside to fight during the breaks?” Mike, a 5’7” 135 pound 60 year-old Persian man, responded, “I watched you for 3 minutes when I sat down; I knew you wouldn’t hurt me.” I guess I was far less fierce than I appeared and Mike was an old time rounder. I believed he had the skills to sum someone up in that amount of time. In his business you had better have that skill honed to a razor’s edge. One of the amazing things I watched during the considerable time I sat with him at that WSOP table was his almost Rain Man-like ability to count down a stack of chips. I would ask, “Mike, how much does the one seat have in front of him?” He would shoot back instantaneously $64,000, nut on every time, and I used this skill of his a couple of times that night. Mike was a little hard because of the life he had chosen; being a professional rounder is not an easy job and it leaves marks. I respected Mike and he liked me enough to give me a little mentoring along the way. It was a nice arrangement. He had an odd superstition against $1000 chips. He didn’t want them, so when he won a pot with those yellow $1000 checks in it, I would buy them from him for pink $500s. That is why, in all the pictures of me at the World Series, you never see me with anything but black and yellow checks; Mike had all my pink ones. He was nice to me, but only after I stood my ground. Life is odd that way sometimes with men. I don’t know why, but I have found it to be the norm.
“Hey, Big Man!” I heard it from the roped-off area. I turned around and there was Mr. Galt, fresh, showered and fed. It was nice to have him there, I waved and put up five fingers; we would break in five minutes. I went for a Coke and a slice of pizza with Jason and he let me know that Lucy had taken care of him. They had eaten dinner at the Bellagio Café and he had told her all about the unfairness of poker and somehow it was all ok now and he was ready to cheer me on to victory. I knew she would, she loves Jason.
There was a buzz going on around us. It was midnight and we were down to 225 players; the money was at 197. Would they make it? How many short stacks were there? How much was the first level of payouts? Everyone had all kinds of questions and their minds were racing. I let Jason know the score and when I called Brad to check in, he was at the final table of the tournament back home. He wanted a call when we were in the money. “WHEN we were in the money.” There was no “IF we get to the money” for Brad; he is the most positive guy I know. I was close, and even I was starting to think that there would be no denying me this year, and that felt good. Jason wanted to know if I had bumped into any name brand players. There were a dozen or so TV players left and I was at a table right behind Hasan Habib who is a really likeable pro that is always nice to everyone. The interesting side note on him is that his name has become popular amongst other poker players and gamblers alike. Whenever someone hits the card they need while playing poker or hits a jackpot in a slot machine or anything involving winning in gambling, the person will often exclaim, “HASAN HABIB!!” I told Jason that I hoped he would be moved over to my table at some point. I needed to get going and asked him if he was going to hang around. He asked, “Have you bumped your head tonight?” I thanked him and told him how much it meant for me that he was there.
When I sat down we were at $800/$1600 with a $200 ante, and not much happened for me in the next hour, but at the next level there was an announcement from the tournament director that we were at 207 players and would now be playing round for round. I had never seen this before, but I guess they didn’t want one table slow playing to get into the money, so they marked where the button was and as soon as the button returned to that spot the dealer would stand up and play at the table was stopped until all the tables made that rotation and all the dealers were standing. Then they did this again until we hit the money. This was getting exciting and as long as I didn’t make a major mistake, I was going to make it. I had plenty of chips and even made some moves on a couple of the short stacks that I knew didn’t want to get involved so close to the money. What turn of events! Ten hours earlier I was the one they had been feeding on. I happened to be the round for round button at our table and we had completed our second rotation and were waiting for the other tables to finish when it happened. Someone had hit the bubble and went out in the historic “you played all this time and you get nothing” position of 198th. We were there, and it was around 1:00AM. We all clapped for ourselves and the tournament staff congratulated all of us for “making it.” I turned and found Jason in the crowd on the rail and he was holding both his thumbs up. This was sweet, my first cash, and now my second short term goal of making it to day two was almost certain because the director went on to announce that we were going to play the button around one more time and then that was it for the day.
The blinds had gone up again and it was now $1000/$2000 with a $500 ante, and I was really focusing on not making a mistake so I could come back tomorrow and play fresh. I really had an easy go of it because lucky or unlucky I was card dead; no real playable hands even if I was itching to get involved, which I wasn’t. I was in the big blind and it was folded around to the six seat, Ian Fraser from the United Kingdom, who raised one unit to $4000. Another player folded and Jose Severino from Panama announced that he was raising, and made it $8000. I started chirping, “Oh nice, my last big blind of the night and you guys want to steal it from me”. As I was going on about all that, it was folded to me and I uncapped my cards and looked down. And there they were: TWO black Aces. I paused for 10 seconds and said, in what I am sure sounded like a very serious voice, “I am ALL IN,” and stood up as I moved my now $26,000 in chips in front of my cards. Ian stood up. He couldn’t believe it. I turned to Jason and mouthed, “I’m All In!” I saw Jason take off somewhere, and I turned to Ian who was holding his head. I said, “I did what I had to do and to be honest I don’t want you to call, but I had to do that.” He was more confused than ever, and I looked up in the now empty TV grand stands to see Jason in the top row looking down on this growing drama. He nodded to me like, “Do you have it?” I looked back at him with a nod that said, “Does Rose Kennedy have a black dress?” and we waited for Ian for at least 4 or 5 minutes. Everyone respected that he had a decision to make and gave him time and space. He looked at me one last time and said, “I Call.” I really didn’t want the call as he had me covered by at least double, and I had plenty of experience with Aces not working out in big situations before. “Here we go again,” I thought. Then Jose started acting like he was going to go in the tank and several players, pros mostly, piped up and said, “No way, you should have been thinking about your hand while we waited for him! Put a clock on him!” By now all the action in our corner of the room had stopped and the director and several tournament staff were right there with at least 200 other spectators. They started counting Jose down. 30 seconds, 20 seconds, 10 seconds. Jose mucked two Jacks, face up. I looked at Ian and said, “You know what I have,” and flipped over my Aces. He shook his head and turned over two red queens. I was a 4 to 1 favorite, and I knew I was doomed. The flop came out and it was my worst nightmare realized. All the cards were RED. Jack, Ten, Seven. Ian started cheering for his cards; he had an outside flush and straight draw. I just stepped back in silence. Everyone was screaming including Jason and it was like they were all muffed except my buddy up in the heavens, and I could hear him like he was right next to me, saying “Black Deuce, Black Deuce,” over and over. The turn came a five of clubs and the dealer was kind, ripping off the last card quickly, the 3 of spades. My rockets had held up for close to 60 thousand dollars, and I have no idea where this came from, but I jumped up on my chair and as loud as I could I yelled out the magic words: “HASAN HABIB!” To my surprise, just then the actual Hasan Habib jumped up and ran over to me, giving me a great big hug! And the crowd roared. The dealer shoved a pile of chips as big as a trash can lid at me and I took the last hand of the night, my small blind. For the first time all day I looked at my cards without waiting my turn while my shaking hands started stacking chips. I had made it to day two.