After a rough couple of weeks of illness and mostly-recovery, I took a day to play in the $40 No-Limit Hold'em tournament at my usual club. Roughly 18 players, which is exactly the right size for their live tournaments on weekdays. They probably won't run much past midnight, and the prize pool is decent.
At the end, I ended up taking second after several rough patches. I would have had a serious shot at first, but I blew that pretty hard.
Over the weekend I played some casual dealer's-choice games with my Dad and brother, and lost about ten dollars in assorted change. I have never been that card dead. I couldn't get good starting hands and when I did, I couldn't improve to save my life. Luckily that streak did not hold over to the tournament, beacuse I caught pocket aces twice in the first hour. Both times I raised 3x the big blind, and both times I was called by three other folks. Both made it to the river, one made it to showdown. Both held up. It's great to have a little padding early on!
In the second hour, my top two-pair ran into someone's small-pocket-pair-turned-full-house which nobody saw coming. That took away a good chunk of my stack. I was down to about $6k, a $5k chip and a handful of $100s. There's a big psychological blow when your chip stack physically becomes that small, and I had to calm myself down and do the M-calculations in my head to convince myself I wasn't dead yet.
A few more bad hands really did put me well below the average. I woke up with pocket jacks and one of the medium stacks took a big hit trying to take me out, which put me roughly around the average. I don't remember the specific hand, but I later ended up knocking out the 11th player, and the club decided to form the final table with ten players.
Final table fun
At the final table, I'm not the big stack by far, but I'm probably average. The small stacks are going to get picked on and the few big stacks probably don't want to tangle with one another, so I figure if I just play a little tighter against the big stacks then I'm probably safe.
One gentleman, whose name I can't recall but was in construction and property in the 60s, was the overwhelming big stack. This guy just couldn't lose a hand, or if he thought he was going to he bailed quick. Tight, solid player, who has the chips to bully players around but does so infrequently enough that you can't tell.
I end up taking a few hits on some bad hands against Mr. Construction (and various other players who shoved on my 3-bets when I couldn't call), and took a bit of a dip. I swung back up big when a medium stack with roughly the same amount I had -- around $20k at $800/$1600 with a $300 ante -- pushed all in and I called. Ten-Jack vs. King-Queen, flop King Queen Blank which had me reaching for my jacket, but the turn 9 gave me a King-high straight. Don't let anyone lie to you kids, tournament poker requires a little luck at the right times.
Now we're three-handed with one short stack, one medium stack, and Mr. Construction with probably 70% of the chips in play. The prize pool apparently didn't bother him; he'd been calling for an even split of the money since we were six-handed. It sounded to me like he was tired and just wanted to be at home. In addition, every time I make it this far I always end up taking a deal, so I was determined to play it down. At this point I'm already making money on the tournament.
Mr. Construction sends our short-stack packing, and it's just me and him, him with a gigantic lead.
He offers an even split deal, which I refuse.
First hand I pick up King Ten suited. I figure I have to get my chip stack up quickly or he'll just bully me out of every hand. I shove. He insta-calls with pocket queens. Seriously, I've never seen someone with so many good starting hands. They hold up, and we're done.
At several points my stack was devestated. I was either the short stack, or I thought I was close. My M told me that I wasn't in the red zone yet, so keeping my head and slowly building my stack back up was a win. Figuring out whose blinds I could steal or who would fold to a solid continuation bet was critical to staying alive, as was avoiding aggressive players who would just put me to a decision immediately. Normally I'd just pick a decent spot to shove and see what happens, but I think I did pretty well at not spewing off my chips when the going got tough.
However, I completely blew heads-up.
Taking the deal would have been the +$EV move -- over the long run, I stand to win more money by taking the deal there than I do by playing it out. I think it's important to notice that even though it doesn't affect my decision.
Shoving KTs was a mistake. A huge mistake. If my plan is to play the tired older gentleman down, making big moves like that isn't the way to do it. I could have easily made a solid raise and gotten away from that hand later, but I didn't give myself that chance. As the shorter stack I wanted to avoid all-in confrontations unless I was sure I had it. Why the hell I decided to shove there, I'll never know. Maybe I was tired. Maybe I sincerely thought he'd fold. Whatever the case that was a poor move.
Aside from my disastrous closing, I'm happy with the way I played. I exploited my good hands and got lucky when I needed to get lucky. If only all my tournaments were like that.