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Friday, August 18, 2006

The Real World Series of Poker


I tried to qualify for the 2006 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event and failed. I tried to qualify for some of the smaller WSOP events and failed. So I did what any bitter poker player would do - I held my own World Series. True poker fan know the real WSOP is held at Binions, so when I became tired of losing in the corporate atmosphere of the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino, I took a cab over to the former Horseshoe to claim my own personal glory.Little did I know, my luck was not about to change. Walking into Binions with a confident stride, I cranked my iPod, slid my sunglasses down, and pulled my Red Sox cap low enough to shade my eyes. I nodded to all the pictures of the past WSOP Champions on the wall and tried to exude a little cockiness.

After all, this was the pinnacle of my budding poker career.

"Don't worry guys," I said to the pictures. "I'll be joining you soon." None of them responded, but I swear Scotty Nguyen's expression told me that I could do it baby.

I kept telling everyone in the casino that I was going to take down the Main Event, but no one knew what the hell I was talking about. I received a couple of sympathy laughs from patrons who got the joke, but for the most part, the players at the old Horseshoe were too busy trying to find something to gamble on to pay any attention to me.

Sensing an opportunity for stake money from the gamble prone patrons, I asked one gentlemen placing bets at the sports book if he wanted a piece of me. He thought I wanted to fight him so I quickly made my way to the tournament area.

The tournament registrar, a shady looking character with grease in his hair reminiscent of McDonald's cheeseburger, was tired of my act the minute he laid eyes on me. I repeatedly stated my intention to be World Champion. He told me to settle down and tell him what I wanted.

"I want to buy into the Main Event," I said confidently.

"You mean the 8 p.m. tournament?" he queried cautiously.

"What's the prize for that, $12 million?"

"Uh, we have 20 people so far, so maybe a couple hundred."

"Do you get a bracelet for that?"

" you want a seat or not?"

Clearly the registrar didn't understand. Even if no one else was taking this seriously, when I won the Binions Nightly Main Event, I was going home and telling everyone that I was a champion. Perhaps I'd even purchase a bracelet to immortalize my victory.

Armed with confidence and dressed for the part, I paid the $60 to enter the nightly tournament and even threw in the extra money for the add-ons. I didn't need the extra chips, but everyone else was buying them so I did too.

I sat down in seat #3 of table #11, right next to a guy who smelled like a brewery. I tried smiling at him and he ignored me, so naturally, I immediately tried to strike up a conversation.

"This is it. The big one. You excited?" I asked.


"Don't like your chances bud?"


"You come here to be a champion too?"

"Hey, you seen the cocktail waitress lately?"

My night deteriorated quickly. On the second hand of play, I looked down to find A-K suited in late position. There were two limpers and one raiser in front of me. The raiser merely doubled the big blinds. I was in the cutoff seat so I raised four times the big blind. Only the raiser called me.

The flop was good to me. I hit top pair, top kicker when it came K-10-7 rainbow. Without the flush scare I came out firing. The initial raiser smooth called. The turn brought a three of spades. A little concerned about the call, but still thinking I was ahead (I put my opponent on a weaker King), maybe K-Q, K-J, I fired another pot-sized bet. My opponent immediately went all-in.

"Crap," I said aloud. Then I repeated it like this: "Crap, Crap, Crap, Crap." I played the hand again over in my head. Mr. All-in min-raised the pot then called my re-raise. Although a K-10 was possible, players make this type of raise-call typically with pairs. If he had a big pair (A-A or K-K) I was in serious trouble), but considering his blood alcohol level (three Coronas in the 10 minutes I'd been sitting with him), I put him on a lower pair, something like sevens maybe? I folded and showed him my A-K.

"You folded that? Damn, I had a set," he said as he flashed his sevens.

"Sure did."

"I thought for sure I'd get all your chips."

"Professionals like me make big lay downs bud."

Seething as my opponent stacked most of my chips, I vowed to play smaller pots, not wanting to blow my Main Event chances. I'd shown my ability to lay down a big hand, and the tight image worked for me, as I was able to grab some uncontested pots.

Not wanting to get too low in chips, I made a couple of speculative calls and got caught making a continuation bet on a blank board while holding 8-7 of spades. The other guy had pocket Queens. Down to just 1,000 chips (starting stack was 2,500), I needed a hand.

I looked up at a smiling Doyle Brunson on the wall and asked for a little help. If he was physically there, he probably would have told me that the real World Series was at the Rio, but what does he know, he's like 80. His picture was telling me to take my place right beside him.

An exciting hand developed shortly thereafter and my tournament life was on the line. I had pocket Jacks and I watched as an aggressive player raised the pot and a loose player called him. Wanting to win the pot right there, I re-raised all-in. Mr. Aggressive folded, but Mr. Loose refused to back down. Apparently, he had a good reason. He showed A-K offsuit and it was time to race.

The dealer, a cranky gentlemen in a bowtie who was either having the worst day of his life or was just an ass, told us to put all our money in "or else." He never finished the sentence, but judging by his demeanor, I imagine he had little to lose.

We both put in our money and showed our cards. When the flop came J-10-3 of clubs, my heart started racing. The crowd cheered my set (or the one woman watching yelled something to her friend across the room) and I was relieved that neither of us had any clubs. The turn brought a blank. I was golden, ready to collect a pot of nearly 2,800 chips. Then the river brought a Queen. Mr. Loose didn't even know he'd made a straight on the hand's final card.

I shook everyone's hand at the table as I began my exodus. You could say I was a little upset. The caller told me he was ahead with the A-K (not true) and that I never should have gone all-in against him. Ever the gentlemen, I flipped him the bird.

As I got into my cab, I asked the cabbie what he thought of my play at the World Series. He shot me a blank look and asked me if I wanted to go to the Rio. Grudgingly, I agreed, especially since I was on deadline for a WSOP Main Event Final Table preview story.

I guess that's the lesson. Not everyone can win the Main Event. Apparently, I can't even win the ones I make up. Not that I'm bitter or anything.

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