Thursday, April 16, 2009

Playing for the hurricane victims



Greetings my friends,

For most of the past 30 years or so I have spent Labor Day weekend playing in chess tournaments. Both the New England Open Championship and New York State Championship have traditionally been held this weekend. Along the way I have been fortunate to occasionally win my section in each of those great tourneys. I have always looked forward to playing chess and renewing friendships in one or the other of these events. But this year I decided to do something different!

I moved to Cambridge NY from Massachusetts this past May in order to be closer to a couple of the volunteer projects that I am working on. The move pulled me further away from Foxwoods but brought me closer to Turning Stone Casino in upstate NY. Like Foxwoods, Turning Stone has modest buy-in poker tournaments nearly every day of the week. Unlike Foxwoods, it is not necessary to get there three or four hours in advance to register for a seat. I consider this to be a major attraction.

Meanwhile, during August I enrolled in thehazyone's 4-week mentoring program on PSO. I feel the program benefitted me greatly and I wasted no time planning a trip where I could test out my new bag of tricks in live play. So a few days ago, I headed out on the 2 1/2 hour drive from my new home to my new casino.

On the night I arrived I stayed in the Hotel Utica in order to have wireless Internet access. I didn't want to lose contact with PSO. I am glad I made that choice because I noticed a forum post by partaker (Dave) concerning help for the hurricane victims. Like everyone else I have been feeling powerless to have any kind of meaningful impact on the recovery process. We exchanged
private e-mails and agreed to meet yesterday at Turning Stone.

I had dinner last night with Dave and his lovely wife, Valerie. They are a delightful couple blessed with tons of energy and hearts filled with compassion. All three of us have spent most of our professional careers in the health care service industry. That gave us some common ground for discussion. Together, we came up with a plan that could potentially be of benefit to PSO-member casino workers (or their friends) who are out of a job (at least temporarily).

Essentially we will provide a network of free transportation (to and from the airport, job interviews, etc.), free places to stay, and free meals for those individuals who fly into Syracuse or Albany to interview at Turning Stone or the other nearby casinos (if necessary, even as far away as Connecticut and New Jersey). The plan is still a work in process. More details of this will be available elsewhere in the PSO forums, or you can contact partaker or ChessSafari by private message. We will also keep Tina (MrsPokerPages) and Jane (NewJane) informed so that they can better coordinate PSO's collective efforts. Additional suggestions, of course, are welcome and will be appreciated.

As you might imagine, our dinner conversion eventually switched to poker. We agreed to play in this morning's 11 am $100+$20 buy-in NLHE tourney and tomorrow's (Labor Day) $50+$10 buy-in Limit HE event. We discussed strategy and poker theory with the focal point being Dan Harrington's recent two volume work on tournament hold'em. In one of those magic moments where two people open their mouths simultaneously to say almost the exact same words, we agreed that any prize money that we each might win will be sent to PSO to be distributed to the hurricane victims together with the proceeds of the special tournament. It was the obvious thing to do given the nature of our discussions.

I admit that the thought occurred to me that it might be better to send in the entry fees and skip the tournaments. I reconciled that particular personal dilemma by deciding to play in the $100 max no-limit cash game for a few hours prior to the start of today's tournament. I decided that I would send any winnings from that game to PSO. This allowed me to play in the tournaments with a clear conscience.

I am dividing this into multiple parts (probably six) for a couple of reasons...but mostly so that I don't get bumped off the wireless Internet and lose what I have typed so far. Also, the excitement took place over the course of two days. In other words, it is more than a mouthful. Hopefully, you will enjoy the journey and the outcome as much as we did.

Part II - The Cash Game

My experiences with NLHE cash games before this week have been rather dismal. Prior to two days ago, I have never left any NLHE cash game with chips... I busted out every time . I have tried my luck in Connecticut, New Jersey, Mississippi and New York. Each time I have chalked it up to 'tuition in life'.

When I visited Turning Stone in May for the PSO Invitational I was feeling confident as a result of my finish in the prize money...over-confident as I soon realized. The first mistake I made was sitting down at the NL cash game late in the day when several players at the table had been able to build up formidable chip stacks. In the first hand that I played (AQ) I hit top pair with top kicker on the flop. As first to act I tossed in a half pot bet. The only other player who called my pre-flop raise immediately pushed all-in. "He hit a set", I thought to myself. "Nice hand," I said. So I folded (my second mistake). He turned over his 7-5 offsuit hole cards while everyone at the table but me laughed. After that I climbed into a defensive shell (my third mistake) and eventually lost my entire buy-in without seeing another showdown until the last one. I justifiably felt outclassed. It was not a pleasant feeling.

Subsequently Aaron and other PSO members have helped me appreciate the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between NL tournaments and cash games. I was determined on this visit to leave the NL cash game table with chips!

On the first day here this week I was able to hold my own by playing super-tight. I played only pairs 77 and above, AK and AQ. I threw all my blinds away unless they married the flop. I managed to hit a few sets and accomplished my first objective: I left the table with chips...more than I started with. But it was a pretty boring grind.

This morning I arrived at the cash game table just as they were opening it up for play. Everyone started with the same $100 max buy-in so at least it was a level playing field. My strategy was to open up my play more and play my 'usual' game while giving special consideration to the following five (sometimes conflicting) factors:

1. I would not chase with nemesis
2. I would not be led allin when the board pairs w/o a full house (my most common tournament bust-out scenario)
3. I would not pursue a flop when three suited cards hit the board if there is any kind of action
4. I would not be bullied. In other words: I would be aggressive, not timid
5. I would steal some pots when the situation seemed right

Overall, I was determined to win some money for the hurricane victims. I kept that in the front of my mind.

It didn't take very long for reality to set in. I was dealt AQ in the big blind. UTG+1 raised the $2BB to $12. Everyone folded to me. I called, making the pot $25. The flop was K-8-T rainbow. I bet $12 and he raised to $30. I called (implied odds, I reasoned). Now the pot was $85.

The turn was nice...a Jack, giving me the nut straight. I decided to check raise. I checked and he....checked behind me. Damn...I gave him a free card. Now the self-doubt started rolling back in. But the nuts is the nuts! The river was my worst nightmare, an eight. So now we had a board of K-8-T-J-8.

I bet $35 and he raised me all in. Three fourths of my stack was gone in that one hand. Remembering my own caution about the paired board, I said "I fold", but turned over my nut straight. The rest of the table looked at me like I was an idiot....until my opponent did us all a favor by turning over his pocket kings. Whew...still some chips left.

A few hands later I got pocket aces in middle position. Two EP players limped so I moved all in. They both called and I tripled up. A half dozen hands later came the hand that would define my session. I was dealt 53s in late position. When I read Sklansky's The Theory of Poker I adopted a single randomized (so to speak) pre-flop hand that I have almost always thereafter played (and acted) as though I was holding pocket aces. It is random in the sense that I never know when it might come up. Its primary purpose is deception. Its secondary purpose is an opportunity for advertising. Its tertiary purpose is an occasional steal. Often it is an investment that goes without any short term reward. But I am convinced that my game is better because of this little wrinkle.

So, in my 'usual' game, I play this unique hand in a unique way. My challenge today was to see if I had the courage to do it here. UTG and two middle position players limped in. I raised 5xBB to make it $12 to go. The blinds folded and UTG re-raised to $24. The other limpers folded and I made it obvious that I was counting the other player's stack. I had him covered...only slightly....but I could put him all in. He knew that I knew that. I did what I would have done with aces: I re-raised 1.5 the amount he brought it to, making it $60 to go. He tried to stare me down but I looked around the room as though I was more interested in finding a hot cup of coffee. Finally he folded with a sigh. I showed my 53.

After that, I got more respect than I can ever remember. Each time I raised pre-flop, everyone folded...for about an hour. Then I was dealt pocket tens on the button. A limper and a raiser came in ahead of me. I flat called the raise, hoping for some action for a change. The initial limper folded so we were heads up. The flop was T-8-5. He checked. I bet half pot. He called. The turn was a 4. He checked. Once again I bet half pot with my set. He called again. The river brought another 5. He checked and I moved all in. He called and everyone saw my full house. For the rest of the session, I won every time I threw in a bet.

Finally it came time for the tournament to start. I cashed out with a $250 profit. I folded five fifty dollar bills and stuck them in my wallet behind a photo of my daughters. I was pleased with the knowledge that I had something set aside for the hurricane victims. No matter what happens in the tournaments, the trip will not be a total failure!

BTW, self-centered person that I am, I forgot to mention that Dave went home after dinner last night and won the the PSOC NLHE tournament (against some really tough opposition)! He showed up this morning really psyched...

Next...Dave & I play in the NLHE tournament

Part III - ChessSafari and partaker accumulate chips before the break

Dave and I were pleased to find out that we were assigned to different starting tables. The 77 entrants were separated into 7 tables of 11 players. The total prize fund of $7,700 was spread among the top ten finishers with approximately $2,400 going to first place. Everyone at the final table gets at least their entry fee back. Starting chips were 2,500 plus a voluntary 300 add-on for anyone who wished put $5 in the dealers' tip box prior to the start of the event. 75 players took advantage of the add on so we began with 215,000 chips in play. Initial blinds were $25/$50. Rounds were 15 mins. The only break was scheduled after Round VI ($300/$600). No antes until Round XI. Our first goal was to accumulate some chips and survive until the break. We wished each other good luck and sat down to play.

I started on the button with pp8. Everyone folded to me and I raised 2xBB to $150. Small blind folded and the big blind decided to defend. If this had been an Internet tourney I wouldn't have been involved in the first pot. There are just so many people who seem to want to double up right away or get out. I have no desire to be their first victim. But it was safe here. Or was it?

The flop came A-9-8. My opponent checked and I casually threw in a half pot bet. He called without hesitation. The turn was another 9. Once again my opponent checked and I bet half the pot. This time he started counting out his chips. I thought to myself, "Oh no, here we go. If he has a nine in the hole my set of eights are dead. Wait a minute, no they're not... I have a boat!"

So I started counting out my chips to mirror him. He paused; so did I. He started counting again and I did the same. Finally he released his hand saying, "I guess you probably have my kicker beat." I answered, "Yeah, I probably do," as I mucked my hand and stacked my chips. So much for the first hand of the tournament.

I looked over at Dave's table just in time to notice all of his chips in the middle. It was looking like this might be a short day for both of us. Nevertheless, we came to play. Dave had raised 2xBB in early position with JJ. A player to his left moved all in. Everyone folded. Dave looked at his opponent long enough to believe he was making a move on him. So he took a deep breath and called. The guy flipped over KQs. The board brought no harm and Dave had quickly doubled up.

A few hands later Dave was on the button with T9s. Multiple limpers, including him, entered the pot for the minimum. The flop was 789 with two of Dave's suit. As last to act he fired in a big raise which put an immediate halt to all the speculation. He took down a nice pot without a fight. On his next big blind, Dave was dealt 42 and checked his option after no one raised pre-flop. He flopped the nuts with A-3-5 giving his nice stack another boost. From there he was able to coast to the break. Mission accomplished.

My next confrontation didn't come until Level III ($75/$150). I was dealt KJ in the small blind. A couple of people called so I threw in the extra $75 to see the flop. The big blind (with about half as many chips as me) raised to $300. I called. The flop was K-J-4. I bet $450, he raised to nine, I raised all in, and he called. He showed A-K. I managed to avoid an ace on the turn and river.

I made a few FTA raises pre-flop and took down some blinds uncontested. Had pocket aces twice and they held up, each time with plenty of action. My chip stack climbed above 10,000 and I was feeling confident. Then my luck changed. Twice in ten minutes I flopped a set and lost to a flush. Then I got AK and a short stack behind me went all in. His AQ survived the initial domination when QQ6 hit the board. Yikes. Down to 5,100 chips with the blinds increasing to 300/600.

Luckily, last hand before the break I caught pocket queens. I showed strength with a big raise. I picked up the blinds and caught a couple of limpers with their pants down. So we head into the break...

36 players remaining
Average chip stack: 5,972
partaker: 8,800 chips (Q = 1.5; M = 7.3)
ChessSafari: 7,300 chips (Q - 1.2; M= 6.1)
where Q = ratio relative to average stack,
and M = no. of orbits each stack can make it around the table given the existing blinds & antes per orbit
next level: 400/800 (level VII)
We are both due for the BB next hand

Part IV - Conclusion to Day 1...lessons learned & suggestions

During the break Dave and I took a walk and had a quick bite to eat. It wasn't quick enough, however, as we arrived back in the playing room about one minute too late...just in time to witness our hole cards being folded and our big blinds converted to dead money. Since 800 chips was close to 10% of each of our stacks, this was a pretty dumb mistake. In my own case the hand was won by trips, so I'm confident that I would not have won the hand anyway. But still...that's Lesson 1!

The M's and Q's at the end of part III were listed to help make a point about this particular tournament structure in comparison to the valuable tournament practice available on PSO. There is no doubt in my mind or David's that all the play on PSO is tremendously helpful in preparation for live tournaments...with certain limitations. Today's final stages, we agreed, highlighted one of those limitations. That's Lesson 2.

For those who haven't yet had a chance to read Dan Harrington and Bill Robertie's work, specifically Volume II: The Endgame (which we HIGHLY recommend to anyone who is serious about live tournament poker), a little explanation about M's and Q's:

In the chapter about inflection points, Harrington discusses the Strong Force (M), the Weak Force (Q) and the Zone System. Please note the following, in Harrington's own exact words:

"Be advised that playing correctly around inflection points is the most important single skill of no-limit hold 'em tournaments."

My only reaction is : "Amen!". (That's Lesson 3)

M is the ratio of your stack to the current total of blinds and antes. It is the number or times (orbits) your stack can make it around the table at the given level. It is the number of rounds you can survive before being blinded off.

Q is the ratio of your stack to the average number of chips left in play for each remaining player.

Both are important, but M is more important than Q.

Knowing your own M, as well as the approximate value of M for each of the other stacks at your table is critically important.

There are five playing zones, according to Harrington, in a NLHE tournament. He defines them as follows:

Green Zone - you have M equal or greater than 20
Yellow Zone - M is between 10 and 20
Orange Zone - M is between 6 and 10
Red Zone - M is 1 to 5
Dead Zone - M less than 1

Loosely defined (the book gives much more detail, of course) these Zones mean:

Green - All styles are open to you
Yellow - You lose the ability to play conservative poker
Orange - You lose the ability to make certain moves
Red - You've lost any ability to make a bet other than all-in
Dead - You appear to be alive but you are not

Harrington adds, "Another way of looking at M is to see it as a measure of just how likely you are to get a better hand in a better situation, with a reasonable amount of money left."

So, believe it or not, these concepts were the entire focus of our 31 minute lunch period discussion. The reason was simple: The blind structure in our present tournament had already put the majority of remaining players in the Orange Zone and would soon move us and others at our tables into the Red Zone. It was both a factor to be aware of, and a catalyst for the final phase of the tournament becoming a virtual crap shoot.

Four tables left. Dave now has 7,600 chips; I have 5,700.

Now another challenge associated with this kind of tournament showed itself. There were 32 players left who were distributed 9-9-8 & 6. My table had the six players and the blinds hit us again before the other tables. I asked why and was told that we were the next table to break and would be combined with the other three tables as soon as two more players busted out. I had 23o in the big blind and QTs in the small blind. I saw both flops. They missed me completely...down to 4,100. Dave still had 7,600.

Two players went down and, finally, I was sent to a new table. But, omg, I'm right back in the big blind! The seats were chosen randomly...but there's got to be a better way. For the first six rounds I never had the blinds more than once. Now I got them three times in the same round. That shouldn't be allowed to happen. To make matters worse (psychologically, at least), the guy UTG at my old table, who was scheduled to be the BB, moved to the same new table as me...on the button. The swing caused by the luck of the draw seemed blatantly unfair. Oh well, I wasn't going to let it put me 'On Tilt'. But it sure eroded my ammunition for further action.

Meanwhile, Dave passed through another set of blinds without a hand and had 6,400 chips remaining. It seemed like someone was moving in on every hand at all three tables. On the button, he was dealt Big Slick. One limper, with more than 10,000 chips, called with QT. Dave raised to 2,400. The flop came K5Q. His opponent checked. Dave moved all in and mistakingly flashed his cards in the process. His agitated opponent called the TD who ruled it an obvious accident. No harm done. The turn was a Ten. The river was a rag and, as if struck by a bolt of lightning, Dave was eliminated in 28th place by his opponent's two pair.

I was left with 2,500 chips and the blinds had moved up to 500/1000. My M was now a measly 1.6. I had to take a stand as soon as I got anything ace, a king, two paints, a small pair; something with a shot at taking down a pot. I would prefer to be first to act so I have a chance to raise and pick up a set of blinds. One hand before my BB, I got my wish: pocket tens. I moved all in. One player went all in with 99 but only had 200 chips left. The small blind folded and the big blind called with cheese. The tens held up and I was breathing again with 5,700 chips...still in the Red Zone but not yet dead.

The problem with getting that hand UTG was that I immediately confronted the blinds again. A big stack went all in on my bb and I was dealt 97s in the sb and called. No help...back down to 3,700.

A few minutes later we were combined into two tables. As I walked by Dave he said, "you're in my old seat." I saw two open 2 and seat 8. Seat eight was UTG so I instinctively headed for the other. As soon as I sat down, another player was tapping on my shoulder. "You're in my seat." When I got to the right place, Dave was already in a chair behind with a big smile. "Damn, I'm in the blinds again," I said to no one in particular.

At this point the average chip stack was 10,750 which was not hopeless in relation to the absolute size of my stack, but frightening compared to the rapidly accelerating blinds. Uneventfully, the blinds went by, leaving me with 2,200. In theory, I had a little more than one orbit to live. Practically speaking, it was one more hand. Could I have hunkered down and survived into the money? Possibly, but probably not. In any event, I really wanted to play to win.

One by one, I counted down the hands (and the players) as we went around the table. 19 players left, then 18, then 17. UTG+3 my cards were 74. UTG+2 it's J6. The blinds went up to 600/1,200. UTG+1 it's 92s. "Any two suited cards...I'm desperate...should I do it? Nope, I'll be patient." Five players entered the pot. The flop was 229. I could've quintupled up! Expletive deleted.

UTG and I was dealt A5. "I'm all in." Both blinds called and there was 6,600 in the pot. Flop was 9-6-8. They both checked...the cooperation play was in effect. Turn was an ace...there's hope. King on the river. Big Blind bet and small blind folded. My opponent showed his A8 and my tournament was over...out in 16th place.

"Oh well," I muttered to Dave, "there's always tomorrow." "Yes there is," he said as he extended his hand. "You played great."
"So did you, buddy."

As for our suggestions:

1) We feel that there is no tournament structure at PSO that prepares us for the kind of accelerated structure like the one we played today. For example, in order to be comparable, the rounds would need to be 10 minutes (roughly one orbit each). To be specific, with 2,500 starting chips they would need to be:

Level / Blinds / Antes
I 25/50 ---
(for 5,000 starting chips, multiply blinds & antes by 2; for 10,000 chips multiply by 4, etc.)
II 50/100 ---
III 75/150 ---
IV 100/200 ---
V 200/400 ---
VI 300/600 ---
VII 400/800 ---
VIII 500/1000 ---
IX 600/1200 ---
X 800/1600 ---
XI 1,000/2,000 100
XII 1,500/3,000 200

We respectfully request that a similar structure be put in place on PSO to prepare for this kind of accelerated format. Thanks.

2) We recommend that every PSO member who can afford it dedicate a portion of whatever prize they win at their next live tournament to help the victims of hurricane Katrina.

Part V - The Limit tournament - in the money...finally!!

Once again, Dave and I were pleased to find out that we were assigned to different starting tables. The 78 entrants were separated into 8 tables. The total prize fund of $3,900 was spread among the top ten finishers with approximately $1,400 going to first place. Everyone at the final table gets at least their entry fee back. Starting chips were 2,500 plus a voluntary 300 add-on for anyone who wished put $5 in the dealers' tip box prior to the start of the event. 75 players took advantage of the add on so we began with 217,500 chips in play. Initial blinds were $25/$50. Rounds were 15 mins. There were two scheduled breaks...after Level IV ($100/$200) and Level X ($800/$1,600). No antes in Limit. Like yesterday, our first goal was to accumulate some chips and survive until the breaks. We wished each other good luck and sat down to play.

Despite the similar structures, there were some significant differences today. First of all, the lower entry fee seemed to bring (superficially at least) some weaker competition. Secondly, the relative importance of Harrington's Q vs M seemed inverted. In other words, chip stack compared to the average was paramount. Thirdly, the all in weapon was neutralized. Good cards that are played strongly should prevail. Fourthly, most players would still be playing after the first break. The bust outs became more frequent AFTER the break. Finally, there were many more showdowns and far fewer successful bluffs. Still, at certain tables, pre-flop raises were the norm rather than the exception. Unlike the ring games I have encountered, though, I rarely saw the action capped pre-flop.

My starting table was extraordinary. I decided to play tight while the blinds were low and observe the play of the others. I was in seat three. I recognized the player in seat 10 as a very strong player who I chopped prize money with at a previous final table in July. Seats six, seven, eight and nine were all women who I never met before. But their ages seemed to go up gradually from 50s to 60s to 70s to 80s. The woman in seat nine seemed to be right out of the movie, Driving Miss Daisy. I heard the dealer address her as Cookie. No doubt, Cookie (who I later learned is 83) has played before. In the first six hands, every single pot was pushed to someone in seats six through nine.

On hand #7, I was dealt 33 in the big blind. Cookie raised and the action came around to me. I said, "I'd like to play this hand but I'm not sure I can survive Murderer's Row down there." The guy in seat 5 (who I will refer to as 'Mr. Politically Incorrect') responded, "You mean Estrogen Alley don't you?"

"Actually, no, I'm afraid of them," I said. "Ah, don't worry, they're all hard of hearing," was his light-hearted retort. To which Cookie prompltly answered, "Do you have a death wish or something?". I never laughed so hard at a poker table in my entire life. In any case, I called...and lost after a short tussle to Cookie's pocket rockets. Seven in a row and counting...

Mr. Politically Incorrect leaned over to the woman in seat six and said, "You will protect me if she jumps out of her seat won't you?" "Sir," she replied, "if she comes after you, all the people in this room won't be able to protect you." Hearing the commotion, the tournament director came over to make sure things were under control. "Pete, get me out of this hellhole," spouted Cookie....her big stack looking pretty impressive.

In the background I could here a familiar voice. It was a player known as "Big Bird". I had played with him at Foxwoods. His style was familiar but nonetheless annoying. In the earlier rounds he is in every pot, constantly chattering and commenting on every move by each player at his table. Quite frequently he plays the lowest blind levels without looking at his cards, all the while raising the pot. But make no mistake, Big Bird knows how to play poker. At one point he responded to an opponent's jab with, "If anyone wants to chip in and give me third place money, I'll gladly leave." After person at every table got up and started taking a collection. To which Cookie responded, "He's a jackass. Let's play." Priceless! Only one problem though...he was at Dave's table.

Dave managed to stay out of Big Bird's way. Then he caught some hands. Thankfully, the cards started to come my way also. AJ suited was greeted by a JJ3 flop. AK actually got help for a change. My A5s flushed out on the river. 8,000 chips and counting... Cookie even called me a bully and folded her blind to my pre-flop raise. The first break came. 52 players left...Dave and I both had double the average chip stack. We took a walk, but skipped lunch. Predictably, we were the first ones back. Lesson learned.

We made a pact to play solid poker and stay out of trouble. One of us HAD to make the money...there was no alternative. An obstacle arrived when a big stack showed up at my table when we were down to 30 players. I referred to him as SAM for 'super aggressive maniac', but he also had a beard resembling Uncle Sam. He raised every single pot when he was first to act. I knew he couldn't have good cards every time, but I was helpless to stop him. SAM was on my left, and I didn't get cards to challenge his raises when he acted before me. Still, he did an ample job of thinning the field. That was to our benefit.

I stayed out of SAM's way until I was dealt 33 in the cutoff position. I was first to act and hadn't been in a pot for quite a while. I raised and SAM called in the big blind. The flop was 3AT. He checked and I bet. He called. It was so unusual for him to check and call that I immediately became suspicious. Next was an 8. He checked. I bet and he called again. Hmmm. The river was a T. No flushes or straights were possible. He checked and I contemplated whether I could get some chips from him with my full house. Then it occurred to me...this was one of those hands that I would only be called if Sam could beat me. And he was the type of player who might raise me with anything on a bluff. So I checked. He turned over AT for a higher full house. OMG, I dodged a bullet. Thank goodness this was Limit!

Every time I looked over at Dave's table he seemed to be in a pot. Most were small and he took them down without much of a struggle. Some pots got pretty big. But, as luck would have it, Dave had to settle for a split pot. So many of these happened that the other players started calling him 'Mr. chop-chop'. He just shrugged his shoulders and said, "Hey, I'm still in it." Great attitude! One monster pot at his table culminated with quads over two full houses. Fortunately for Dave, he wasn't in the hand.

I stayed ahead of the blinds with some small victories. But, the second break couldn't come too soon. Players were busting out, it seemed, in every hand. We needed a break. It was time to race off the black chips. This gave us a chance to evaluate our status:

partaker: 12,000 chips
ChessSafari: 7,000 chips
15 players remaining
average chip stack: 14,500
next round: Level XI ($1,000/$2,000)
prizes to the final ten finishers

Part VI - The Final Table

This break was only ten minutes. The remaining players assembled in the hallway to stretch and compare notes while the tournament director counted out the chips for the prize money. Sadly, none of the woman were left. Cookie and Mr. Politically Incorrect had busted out on the same hand in 16th and 17th places. As we opened the door to the corridor to start the break, we could hear Cookie's voice shouting, "Wait, I'll ride down on the elevator with you." It was pretty funny.

One player noticed my PSO shirt and came over. "Do you know Al Spath?" he said. "Well, yes I do," I responded. "I mean I know who he is, although I have never met him in person." The guy (whose name I didn't catch...sorry Al) who I'll refer to as Young Al said, "He taught me how to play stud and limit hold'em. He's a great guy." I answered, "Yes, I'm sure he is. I played in a few of his LHE bounty training tournaments. I can still see the chat box in my mind's eye when he said...'Chess, you've got to raise there as first to act. That way you will thin the field and pick up a few pots when you lead out after the flop'." "Yep, that's him", said Young Al as he flashed a knowing smile.

A player named George was wearing a sweatshirt from my old home town. I asked him if he was from Massachusetts and he nodded. It was a pretty friendly atmosphere...every bit as warm as the chess tournaments of my past. I was thinking how much I was enjoying my new playground in the poker world when the Casino Shift Supervisor, named Charlie, walked straight at me.

"Hey, I just wanted to thank you guys who are playing for the hurricane victims. We really appreciate it. Make sure if any of your friends come up to interview for jobs that you get the media relations people here involved. I'm sure they will be helpful. I'm not supposed to root for anyone but, today, I hope you guys finish first and second."

Then George interjected, "I'll contribute part of my prize if I win anything." "Me too," added Young Al. "We've gotta hang in there so at least one of us collects some money," I remarked to Dave. "Don't worry, I'm there" he replied. The doors opened and play resumed.

SAM picked up where he left off. He seemed on a mission to singlehandedly eliminate all the short stacks. He knocked out two players on the first hand, as one simultaneously went down on Dave's table. So now there were twelve players with 10 prizes, four of whom were committed to help the hurricane victims. I did the matter what happens now, we'll have at least $100 to send in from this tournament.

A long time seemed to pass before anyone else was knocked out. The tournament director made each table play hand for hand so that the blinds were equalized. Six players remained at each table. There was an open seat between me and SAM. Now he was two seats to my left. That made it even tougher to get in a hand. I had to act knowing that he would raise me no matter what. He stole both my blinds...I was dealt nothing to fight him with. Then I got 55 on the button. Blinds were 1,200/2,400. It was time to make my stand! He was in the big blind and everyone folded. I raised to 3,200 and all in. Small blind folded and Sam called, of course. He had AJ...a coin flip. The board came Q-6-9-4 and......a dagger ----> one of the three Jacks! Everyone else at my table booed. I put my head down on the felt. I wanted to cry. Just like that...out in 12th place. Dammit, that's poker...

Young Al got eliminated on the bubble a few hands later. It was time to redraw seats for the final table. Dave was in Seat 7 and I tucked a chair behind him, just as he did for me yesterday. He had 22,500 chips; the average stack was 21,750. Immediately, someone proposed a ten-way chop with SAM taking first prize and everyone else splitting the remainder. That would give each of the nine others $401 each. "I'll take that", said George. Dave nodded agreement. One guy in Seat 3 objected. He didn't have a particularly big stack and his friends who drove up from New Jersey with him had all been eliminated. They wanted him to take the deal so they could head home. Confidently he said. "Let's play awhile." No deal.

Guess who was eliminated in 10th place? "Happens every time!" noted Pete. He gave New Jersey Boy his $78 in chips as he and his grumbling buddies headed for the Thruway. Nine players left and Dave was dealt pocket sixes. SAM was on Dave's right and, as usual, entered the pot first for a raise. Dave re-raised and SAM capped the action. I held my breath. The flop was a sight for sore eyes: 64J, giving Dave a set. SAM bet and Dave raised all-in. SAM called. Finally, we all got to look at what kind of cards SAM had been bullying the table with. He flipped over K-3. The turn was an ace, the river a king. Dave stacked up the $38,000 pot while SAM mumbled, "I just can't push anyone off a pot anymore." duuhhhh! Way to go, Dave.

The blinds increased to 2,000/4,000 and a few players were forced to make desperation moves with their short stacks. Dave avoided the skirmishes as the field was whittled to five players. Pocket tens gave him a chance to get back in the fray. K97Q and the board looked very scary. SAM bet and Dave raised him on the turn with his pp and gut shot str8 draw. This time, SAM ran away. Dave mucked without showing. He turned around and I winked. A guy named Franco busted out in 5th place and, to our great surprise, placed three red chips on the felt next to Dave and said, "Give that to the hurricane victims for me."

Four players were left and the average stack was 54,375. Dave had 48,000 chips. His next big blind of 69o inherited a dream flop: 758, tainted only by two clubs. A player named Jeff moved all in with A7s. The turn was a queen and the river brought the three of clubs. Dave started to whisper the PSO chant for 69o and stopped abruptly when he saw that the flush had wiped out his flopped straight. Ohhhh my... Jeff was still in it. Dave's stack was now crippled.

Soon thereafter, SAM attacked and eliminated George and Dave on the same hand. George entered the pot with the higher stack and was awarded third place money. Dave finished fourth. George handed Dave $20 for the hurricane victims. As Dave was walking away, Jeff said, "Wait, I want to give you something too." SAM, with his 7 to 1 chip advantage busted Jeff out pretty quickly. Jeff tossed Dave a $100 black chip. "Add that to the hurricane fund for me".

Dave went home, kissed his wife, fed the horses, and changed the photo in his profile to reflect his new mood. Great job, my friend. All at PSO are proud of you!

Bottom Line:
Frank/ChessSafari's cash game winnings................$250
Dave/partaker's tournament winnings.....................$340
Contributions from other final table players.............$135
Total garnered for the hurricane victims..................$725

That was very satisfying. We hope you enjoyed hearing about our trip. Once again, we encourage all at PSO to take our cue and donate at least a portion of their next live tournament prize to the victims of hurricane Katrina. And let us know if you are ever in the area for any reason at all...there's some horses that need to be fed, and some chips at Turning Stone with your name on them.

Best wishes,
Frank (and Dave and Val)