This post might be a little choppy, but I’m going to try to not write a novel about the three days in Vegas I’ll remember for years to come.
t-minus 18 hours until WSOP: My flight arrives in Las Vegas on time and I’m met by a friend of a friend who takes me to an incredible ramen shop where we chat about life, the Air Force, and the city.
t-mins 16 hours until WSOP: I get dropped off at the Rio and become one of many late 20s-early 30s men who think they’re good enough to be there and are going to show it by wearing sandles, khaki shorts, a t-shirt, and headphones while nonchalantly pretending they know their way around the gigantic casino. I had no idea I apparently dress like a poker player, that has to be a good sign right? The hallway to where the tables are is lined with portraits of the greats new(Ivey and Negraneu) and old(Unger and Brunson). I’m back to feeling like a rank and file amateur.
The room itself is gigantic, literally several hundred poker tables, most of which with games going on. I take a moment to drink it in and take a long look at a $175 fixed limit sit’n’go table, but sleep is more valuable to me at this point then squeezing in any more hands. I find the registration cages and line up behind someone speaking Russian quite quickly into their phone and I enjoy being reminded of just how international this event is. We come from different places all to play the same game.
I get my ticket and head across the street to the Gold Coast where I check into my room and try to convince my brain it can sleep. The time zone change helps a bit, but I still only manage around five hours.
t-minus 8 hours: I wake up, eat breakfast, shower, do yoga, and chat with friends online about not poker. You know that scene in the movie Ratatouille where the critic is coming so the main character gets up and stumbles through a really terrible pep talk? That’s essentially where my head was at.
t-minus 1 hour: I head across the street to the Rio. I scope out my table and go sit in the seats surrounding the ESPN featured table stage. It’s the final table of the Millionaire Maker event and serves as a good distraction. I’m really enjoying the atmosphere of the room and I feel like I made a great decision in coming, which is good since there’s no going back now.
Hour 1(7,500 chips to start the hour): My table only has six people to start with, I’m first in the big blind and get dealt QQ. What a way to start! Even better they hold up and I scoop the first pot of the tournament. I’m amazed so many people late register/show up late to claim their spot. It’s good for a couple reasons. I play 6 handed online all the time, so I’m perfectly comfortable, and the fact that so many other people are being so casual about the event is helping me not psyche myself out over the fact that I’ve been waiting over a decade to get to this table. I’m amazed how calm I really am. Once the cards started flying there was no more anticipation to get in the way of things. The rest of the hour goes well for me and slowly but surely our table fills up.
Hour 2(9,250 chips): I continue to catch great cards and my reads are starting to firm up. The guy to my right is raising too much especially post flop. The guy to my left seems pretty solid, there are two players at the far end who are way too tight, and there’s another player who is playing suited cards like he’s going to hit the flush every time. Conversation starts up between three of them and it seems like they know each other from a regular 30/60 game in LA. Lovely, their normal game is three times richer than the highest stakes I’ve played in my life. This would discourage me, but the way I keep taking down pots from them it’s telling me I really do belong.
Hour 3(16,675 chips): Not much to report from hour three. I take a couple hits, and the guy to my left wins multiple big pots, he’s loosening up what I would call too much though, so I’m hoping I can exploit that later.
Hour 4(17,625 chips): Got a little sloppy in trying to exploit some aggressive players that just got seated at our table and ended up calling too lightly on back to back hands costing me around 1/3 of my stack. I salvage things by getting my first knockout of the tournament on the last hand of the level. I bet preflop with AQ and the big blind, who is severely short stacked, raises me. I reraise since I know his whole stack is going in the middle anyway. He shows A5. A queen comes on the flop to make it even more grim, and a queen hits the turn to give me the win. Did I just knock someone out of a WSOP event? Holy shit!
Hour 5(14,525 chips): Fold mostly and sit back while trying to stay focused. A guy gets his AA cracked by 37 making a straight and handles it better than I would have. Watched another player hit a two outer king on the river to eliminate another player from our table who also handles it pretty well all things considered. After that player left the table the guy who caught the king jokes, “I really pulled a Curry and dunked on him there,” Several of us chime in that Curry isn’t really a dunker, and someone else jokes that he played a Draymond Green. The whole table laughs and even the dealer cracks a smile. The day before Green had gotten suspended for the next NBA finals game for hitting another player in the groin. Your opponent hitting a two outer on you on the river feels close enough to a punch in the nuts that it seemed quite appropriate. Out of the original nine on the table, only four of us are left including the villain to my left who keeps getting richer.
Hour 6(11,600 chips): I win a big pot by turning a flush and feel confident enough to successfully steal the ever increasing blinds a couple times. I knock out another player when my QQ holds up against his 99. I try to knock out a third but my 66 can’t beat his Q5 when a queen hits the turn. Almost double my chip stack during the level though and feel right back on track.
Hour 7(22,075 chips): The buy in window finally closes. Total entries are 665, I’m a little disappointed one more person didn’t join us. I’m amazed to see them announce they’ll pay top 100 places and that there are only 360 remaining. I’ve already outlasted almost half the field and I’m second in chips on my table! I suffer a brief attack of delusions of grandeur before shaking myself out of it and spending another hour mostly folding and missing flops. The table has become increasingly aggressive especially preflop. So aggressive in fact that when I pick up JJ and am first to act, I almost limp because I’m so certain someone else will bet and I can raise, but I play it standard and bet as first to act. It folds around to the big blind who calls me. Flop comes 236, no flush draw. Big blind checks, bet expecting to take it down right there, but big blind calls me. Turn comes 9, big blind checks again. I bet, big blind raises. Looking at my options it’s possible big blind has two pair, but I think it’s more likely he’s holding something like A6 or A9 and thinks I’ve got air, so after pausing for a moment I three bet. Big blind calls to make the pot 11,100. The river is another 9. Big blind checks and I check. At this point I think it’s unlikely he’s going to call me if he has a 2, 3, or 6. He either hit a hand that can beat me or he’s folding. I don’t think there’s any value in betting here. I ask if he has the nine, somewhat sheepishly he says yes and flips 9Q. I’m not going to hide it, that one hurt. He wasn’t drawing dead, but only five cards in the deck help him there and that was a big pot. I can’t believe he floated a Q high on the flop and got rewarded for it, but such is life.
Hour 8(19,125 chips, 315 players, and average stack of 15,833)
Now comes the hand that I’m going to wonder about for a long time. I’m dealt A♡10♡ on the button. It gets raised from middle position by a player who splashed around a lot early, but hasn’t played a hand in a while. I call and both blinds call. Flop is 10♤5♢6♤. Both blinds check and the preflop raiser checks. I have top pair and no draw, but that’s a board with a lot of draw potential, so I have to bet and do so. Everyone calls. Turn is 7♤, possibly the worst card for me. Several straight draws and flush draw are now there. It checks to me again and I think about it, but to bet again would be around 20% of my remaining chips, and I check. River is K♢, both blinds check and the preflop raiser bets. I decide to lay it down because of the chances of him hitting the king or of either blind raising behind me, but both blinds fold and the preflop raiser mucks his cards without showing. I regret my fold almost immediately because I notice how few chips the preflop raiser had left. When someone is close to their all in they’ll raise lighter. I’m kicking myself for folding and for getting fatigued enough that I’m missing details like stack size that I’m normally pretty perceptive of. I needed that pot and I didn’t fight for it the way I probably should have.
Hour 9(13,725 chips, 252 players, and average stack of 19,792) Fatigue is setting in all over the room with the only benefit that it’s hitting all of us. My table finally breaks and for the first time all tournament I’m moved to a new seat. I’m a little upset because I have to get new reads on everyone, but I know with my chip stack I’m really just looking for a hand to make my last stand with pretty soon. The new table has a truly bizarre series of events happen. One of the players is joking about how often a queen is coming on the flop, and it was a lot, but obviously this player was just having fun at a really late hour. The dealer suddenly starts to spread the cards for what’s called a setup, it’s when they change decks. Players will request one for often superstitious reasons, they’ll say a change in the cards will mean a change in the luck. Another player stops the dealer and asks who asked for a setup stating that he objects, the dealer points at the player to my left. I never heard the guy say anything. The guy says he didn’t ask for a setup he just joked the dealer needs to shuffle the cards really well. Since the setup has started though a floor supervisor needs to be called over to stop it. The floor says go back to dealing and after the cards have come out and one player has bet, but before the flop someone notices there are still cards in the dealer’s tray, cards from the deck he just dealt the hand with. Floor is called over again who says to keep dealing the hand. After the hand the floor pulls three cards out of the dealers tray which get shuffled back in and we carry on, but we played a hand with a 49 card deck.
Hour 10(5,400 chips, 198 players, and average stack of 25,189)Things are truly dire. I’ve folded preflop almost every hand at the new table but the blinds are making it in impossible to lay low, so with 30 minutes before the end of the day I catch a hand I know will be my first all-in of the day, A♢Q♢. A loose played in middle position limps, I’m in the small blind and raise, hoping to get the big blind out and play this heads up. Unfortunately big blind calls and we go to the flop with me only having one bet left. Flop is 9A10 with no flush draw. Both myself and the big blind go all in and the middle position calls. I feel good about where I am with my top pair, but middle position flips A10 for top two pair, and big blind flips QJ for an open ended straight draw. With one of my queens in his hand, I know only two queens are left to help me and neither comes. An 8 does hit the river to give the big blind the main pot, but I had more than him, so technically the A10 in middle position is the hand that knocked me out in 180th place. I bid the table good night and stumble back across the street and go to sleep.
Recap There are likely few places more self reflection has been done then on return flights from Las Vegas. I’m sitting here at cruising altitude now, and despite leaving with less money than I brought, I have to put this one in the win column. My goal in going was less about the profit and more about validation. I’ve spent more hours than I should count at a poker table. I love the hobby dearly. I’ve come to convince myself that I’m even above average at it. This week showed me that the time hasn’t been wasted. I sat with some high caliber players on the largest stage poker has to offer and I outlasted over 72% of the field.
A close friend asked if I felt like I’d had enough or if I’d be going back soon. If the opportunity presented itself I wouldn’t mind a return trip to a future WSOP, but I got what I came for. I can go back to my small games in Minnesota and Mississippi not having to wonder if beating those games is meaningless. This
fish winged bullfrog just needed to see if he was only big in his own pond. I wouldn’t have said no to a bracelet, and coming up only 80 spots shy of the money bubble is disappointing in its own way. But that said, I’m happily putting a check mark next to this bucket list item.
As a souvenir I have these two shots from the official WSOP photographer.