i played the East Coast Poker Championships main event this weekend. this is probably the best event of the year at turning stone, and i especially look forward to it because it was the scene of my first big win, in 2005.
this year, i started the tournament hot, caught some hands and hit some flops. built my stack through the day, and at dinner break on day 1 i was in good shape with about 80k and blinds going up to 500/1000. after dinner i had a long dry spell but kept mostly out of trouble for a couple hours. i got moved to a very soft table where i got to see a lot of flops cheap and accumulated some chips, only to give a bunch of them back losing a big race with AK vs 77.
the tournament had started with 234 entries, and 20 spots were on the pay scale. we were probably down to 25 or 30 when this bizzaro thing happened at my table. it was so weird it got its own blog post
we popped the money bubble and the 20 survivors finished for the night at about 12:00. i bagged up 133,000 chips — about 33 big blinds, a playable but precarious stack. with that size stack your tactical options are a bit limited, and losing 1 decent-size pot can put you in the danger zone.
it was 12:30 by the time i had my chips bagged up, and we were scheduled to restart at noon. the next 11 hours went coffee,drive,food,sleep,coffee,food,drive. i had been too wired to sleep well, but i felt pretty good when we started day 2.
two strong players had moved to my left when we went down to 2 tables, including tommy w who chopped this event last year. not good news for me, but i managed to win a pretty big pot from tom early on. i opened for a raise with 88 on the button and he called from the small blind. the flop was AQx he checked, i bet, hoping for the best. he called. ugh. the turn was a blank, he checked, and i checked behind. river was an 8! sweet! he checked, i bet pretty big, not really expecting a call, but he called. i showed the 3 eights and he made a really sour face.
a while later i had run into some hot water… twice i’d had to fold my opening raise to a 3-bet from my left, and i was down to about 19 big blinds. the chip leader in the 9 seat (the same guy that won the bizzaro pot mentioned earlier) was still two to my right and he was still playing aggressively and causing me some grief.
a conservative player in the 8 seat opens for 18k with blinds at 3k/6k and the 9 seat flat calls on the button. he hasn’t flatted much and i think he’s trying to see a cheap flop in position. i’m in the big blind and look down at 88. hmmm, my stack feels a bit too deep to reshove. i decide to reraise to 49k, with only 70k behind. the way i see this playing out in my head is that the opener will feel squeezed by having the chip leader behind him and fold, and the chip leader doesn’t have much so he’ll either fold or call. if he calls i have the option of jamming a safe-looking flop, or possibly folding with 11bb remaining in my stack if the flop looks scary and i have to bail out. instead, opener folds and chip leader jams. uh oh. but i can’t fold there. getting too good a price, so i call off the remaining 70k and he shows JJ. hmmm, wow, that was a tricky play. i guess he was hoping i’d do something foolish. mission accomplished. he’s a 4:1 favorite and i’m mentally on my way out the door. the dealer spreads an uneventful flop, a non-descript turn, and…. an 8. yeehaw! now i’m up over 250k, about average. in retrospect, i don’t like the way i played that hand at all. calling or jamming were both better options than the weird reraise to 49k. but it worked out ok. if you can’t be good, be lucky!
a while later we lose a few more contestants, and i’m at the final table with a decent stack. this is a pretty strong final table, with tommy w on my left again (rats!), hoss, and marvin who has a monster stack. the former chip leader from my old table still has a decent stack, but he’s been on a downward slide since i crushed his JJ w/ my 88.
after a while of drifting along, i win this weird huge pot. i’m in the big blind and there’s a raise from under the gun, and there are 4 callers before it gets to me. these big multiway raised pots just never happen at final tables with good players, but here it is. i look down at QT offsuit, a hand i’m not going to play for a raise under normal circumstances. but here i’m getting a great price and i come along for the ride. flop is AQT so i’ve flopped 2 pair, but i can’t be in love with it in a 6-way pot. could easily be up against KJ for the nut straight, AT, or a set of tens. i check, expecting a bet. i might raise or might just call depending on the action. but it checks all the way around. wtf? i’m almost definitely ahead here, nobody would have checked a better 2 pair or set on this super scary board. however, KJ (the nuts) might have checked so i’m not out of the woods yet. turn is a blank, and i fire 48k into the 70k(?) pot and get 4 callers. seriously???? wtf???? river is another blank (whew), and i check, praying for it to check around. i REALLY don’t want to face a 150k bet here. my prayers are answered. i table my QT, everyone mucks, and the dealer passes me the 300k+ pot. so weird.
with 7 or 8 players left, this dream hand happens: i’m sitting on over half a million chips, but marvin has over a million. i’m in the small blind. strong young kid 2 to my left moves in for maybe 10 big blinds. a conservative player at the other end of the table raises to isolate, which is a smart move with a variety of good but not great hands. then hoss on my right moves in for almost half a million! he’s a VERY solid player and i know he’s got QQ or AK minimum, and even then only if he has a read on the 2nd raiser. i look at my hand. it’s AA. unbelievable. i pretend to think for while just in case the 2nd raiser has QQ, which is really the only hand where he’d have a real decision to make (although i believe he’d fold QQ there). i call, other guy folds AQ. hoss flips up his kings but he already knows they’re no good before he even sees my hand. the short stack has JJ. my aces hold up and i scoop a million dollar pot and send 2 tough players to the rail.
when we get down to 4 handed it goes back and forth for a while. one of the other guys is not a very good player but he manages to hang in for a while. finally he goes out and counts are something like marvin 2M, me 1.2M, and the 3rd guy 300k. he plays well but it’s too deep a hole. marvin busts him and we’re heads up. he’s got me outchipped about 2.5M to 1M with blinds at 8k/16k. the official prize distribution is $30k for 1st and $16k for 2nd. we stop to make a “save” so the difference isn’t quite so big. we agree to take 20k each and play for the rest. we play 1 hand and he looks at his stack and says, wow we’ve got a lot of chips. true. i’ve got 70bb and he’s got a lot more than that. he’s thinking this is going to take forever. probably also true, and we’re both pretty tired. and although he’s a very good player he knows i have more experience. i say “make me an offer”. he does, and it’s a good one. he gets the win, but i lock up a bigger payday than my chip count would suggest. we both go away happy with the result.