Catching Up, Part 4: The Venetian
I expected to have a soft day or two before the start of the WSOP itself, though now that it's going full blaze, I'm asking myself, "Why I am writing this stuff up now?" Typical -- I run hot, I run cold, I don't seem to have a middle gear.
Anyhow, the day after our staff BBQ in Henderson and the day before the WSOP itself gets underway, John Caldwell phones me or Skypes me (I forget which) and says, "You should go play the tournament tonight over at the Venetian." I hem and haw a bit and he says, "After all, you're CawtBluffin."
Yikes. Downwards, gauntlet thrown. But I did want to sneak out and play a bit anyway, and the Venetian is one of those true Vegas landmarks that I've heard about but had never been inside before. John did recommend the nightly tourney as one of his Vegas favorites, and I've learned to trust his judgment in such matters. He even added that with the WSOP starting up, they might get 100 or more players.
John was wrong on that last bit... thankfully... blessedly... because I was beat when done playing. I drove over in plenty of time to get my player's card and sign up for the event, which was $125+15 plus a $50 re-buy that gave one an additional 80% more chips. This meant one must take the re-buy at the outset. 2,500 regular plus 2,000 re-buy equals 4,500 starting chips. We had 52 starters.
I found out later that the room's regulars think the nightly tournaments at the Venetian attract a tougher-than-Vegas-normal crowd for the price, and there were several serious types at my table who looked like they sure as hell knew what they were doing. One of them called me "new blood" within the first 20 minutes.
But if there was blood in the water, it was the poor chap on my immediate right, a fellow who very politely confided in me that he was from Sweden, and who quite possibly had never played in a live poker tournament before. He knew some poker basics, of course, but had no clue as to proper table betting actions. We literally had to help him out step by step,and he couldn't even tell which chips he needed to throw in the pot when posting blinds.
He also tended to be a very passive player, and that meant he bled chips at this table, and there where two open stacks off to my left, representing players who hadn't yet shown up. Odd, that, I thought, not figuring anyone for stylish Hellmuthian entrances in the $190 buy-in category. My new Swedish friend doubled up to above par when he found aces and accidentally played them right to double through against an aggro player who had kings. But this was like the Hunt brothers messing with silver prices -- a temporary spike in price. Two levels later he was gone for good, every bit the dead money that even I expected.
I was pleased with my start, and was put to a severe test right away. I found A-K in MP and was looked up by the big blind, a guy about 30 who mixed it up more than anyone else at the table. The flop came K-J-J. I am either way ahead or way behind here. I bet about 80% and he smooth-calls me. A four comes off on the turn. He checks, I bet, and he smooths again, and I'm sure I quake a bit. Another four hits on the river, for a board of K-J-J-4-4. He fires a bet of 1,600 at me.
Back when I played the HPT satellite at Majestic Star, another player tried the same thing on me early on, but in that hand I had less invested in a pot, had pocket tens on a board of four babies and a king, and decided after long thought to lay it down to a check-raise that I then knew was wrong, for I received that cat-caught-the-canary tell from the thief that Joe Navarro says most people who pull off a bluff subconsciously emit.
Here there was something wrong as well, and it just didn't feel right to me. I couldn't put him on on a jack, despite his efforts to represent one, and I was sure he didn't have a four. Most everything else I beat. I felt like I was being tested here. So after hemming and hawing so long I thought I was going to have a clock called on me, I made the call. "Good call," he says, and flips up 10-3 for total air. I'm so relieved I almost accidentally muck my cards, but I remember to show the king and rake it in. I'm over 8,000.
For the longest time, I would climb no higher, as player after player was busted from our table and new players and chips joined the fray. I drifted downward to about 6,000, then 4,000, and just couldn't get any action when I ventured in... even on my steals. I dropped one healthy pot with two pair -- no good -- and just kept looking for a chance to double up, and finally, when we down to about 20, I'm able to re-raise all in over an EP opener with pocket kings. He's got a worse pair and my kings hold, and I'm back up near 10,000.
We slowly, very slowly, shed players, and since only five players cash the money is a long way off. I'm still below par, too. Then I get my break -- I get the chips in bad with my own pocket pair attempting to bully a pot, but suck out a set of eights to crack jack and double through again. Now I'm in the hunt at about 20,000, if not exactly comfortable.
After four and a half hours of play, we coalesce into a final table, and since almost every player rebought, there's something like $7,800 in the pool. Tasty! I catch another pair of kings and bust a short stack and I'm starting to feel good about my chances. The blinds, though, are already 1,000/2,000, and no one can be comfortable.
I find A-K suited in the hi-jack and make it 5,000 to go a few hands later, and the short-stacked big blind, the other woman at the table, pushes all in for something like 10,700. I'm priced in, but dismayed when I call and she flips up kings. Kings were my friend most of the night, though and I flop an ace to bust her. She steams off... and I mean at high speed.
Across the table, a sunglassed dude who I learn later is a local pro or semi-pro named Adam Zinn, says, "You never got a chance to play against her, or you might have folded that A-K there." I ask for more, and Adam says, "She was super-tight. She played like three hands all night."
I'd rather be lucky than good, I guess. Babe in the woods. My luck, though, wouldn't hold. We've moved up again in levels to 1,500/3,000 and there's another young aggro player here who's been mixing it up as often as possible in a "double up or go home" manner. He wants to win this now. He's in the cutoff to my big blind, and he raises to 9,000, with 13,000 behind. Fold, fold... I peek and find the dreaded A-Q suited. I want to win, too, and against this guy's range, I figure to be ahead. I push, he snap-calls and turns up his kings, which hold, and after sneaking over 40,000 myself and likely into the lead, I'm back down to 18,000 and in trouble again. (Later on, we review the hand together. What does he do in my spot, given his range? The same thing, he says: "Insta-push.")
Kings are so fickle.
But there were problems in Venetialand. We had played so long that the blinds got stupid, and no one -- no one -- could land the huge knockout to open a big lead. A couple of the players started pushing for a deal of some sort when we had nine (!) players left, and when we finally got down to seven, the communal pressure became too much and we called it a night, doing a straight chip-chop deal. I was technically sixth, with my roughly 16,000 in chips translating to $581. Good enough, I guess. Even Adam across the way said he would never normally do a deal like this but it was just such an exasperating final that he let it go.
He kept talking at me, too, swearing that he knew me. I have encountered a small number of folks who either remembered me from the '06 WSOP or perhaps saw my disastrous outing on PokerDome at roughly the same time -- which thankfully seems to be the one poker broadcast in all of television history that cannot be found on YouTube. (Thank you again, Lord.) But I've gotten that several times out here from folks this year already. I would also run into Adam the following day in the satellite room at the WSOP.
No huge win. Still, I was pleased. It could have been a big win, if an unlikely one. It also could have been a long six hours of poker for no money whatsoever. This was a happy medium and a nice bankroll boost to start my Vegas run.