From Last in to Last Man Standing

The Maryland Live poker room shortly before its opening in August 2012.

I had to go to Washington, D.C. for a meeting in October 2013, about a year after Maryland Live had opened. I checked the tourney schedule, and found a no-limit hold-em tourney starting at noon on the day I was to drive up.

Given that it’s a five-hour drive from my house to the casino, I thought I could drop my son off at middle school and still get there well before the late registration ended at 2 p.m.

I did. Just barely. From getting a speeding ticket shortly after I crossed into Virginia to running into unexpected (for me, anyway), traffic beginning an hour south of D.C., it took me all of six-plus hours to make it to the casino. The late registration window closed while I was waiting to sign up, but they let me play since I was already standing in line. I was literally the last person to get placed into the tourney.

 Overcoming my First Short Stack

Given that the tourney had been already running for two hours, I found myself short stacked right away and started thinking I should have just waited for the 7 p.m. tourney instead. The starting stack for the turbo tourney (20-minute levels) was 8,000, and by the time I finally got seated, the tourney average was up to around 12,000. Most importantly, the BB was up to 600, almost 10 percent of my stack.

Right away I had a decision to make – pay the BB and jump in immediately (I was under-the-gun plus 3 when I took my seat), or just chill out for three hands and try to garner some intelligence on the table. I should have chosen the latter.

An old military maxim is that time spent in reconnaissance, which is seldom time wasted. Instead, I chose to pay the BB and got dealt some junk for my first hand. Just like that, I had lost almost 10 percent of my stack.

After one circuit around the table, my stack was down to less than 6,000 and I had seen only one flop, which I missed completely. The BB was had gone up to the next level (400/800), which meant I had less than eight BBs. It was desperation time.

I was dealt A-8 off in the cutoff spot, and when it folded to me I shoved. The button and small blind folded, so I thought I was going to get away with it when the BB called and turned over AQ. Certain this was going to be a short day, I cursed at myself under my breath. Lo and behold, I hit an 8 on the turn and got a much-needed double up. That allowed me some breathing room.

Missed Opportunity

After my first win I slowly started building my stack and my confidence. I executed a nice bluff to win a good-sized pot and I correctly guessed that when a small stack shoved, he was playing any ace. I shoved from the button with pocket 7s to isolate him and beat his A-5.

Then I had the only hand of the night that left me kicking myself. With my stack up to about 35,000 (right at the chip average), and blinds at 1,000/2,000, I was dealt A-10 in the BB. The field of 161 was down to less than 30 at this point, and the top 15 paid, so play was starting to tighten up. UTG+2 raised to 4,000. He had only about 20,000 chips, so I decided when it got to me I would shove all-in.

Action folded to the small blind, who decided to flat. That caused me to reconsider, especially because he had a much bigger stack than I did and I had played with him on another table earlier, and he struck me as a very solid player. Instead of shoving, I decided to flat as well.

The flop came out As-Jc-6s. The small blind checked, as did I.UTG+2 bet 6,000 and the small blind responded by check-raising to 12,000. I thought about it for a long time and decided to fold, certain that one of them had an ace with either a better kicker or two pair, and also certain that the original better was going to shove his remaining chips instead of just calling the 6,000 raise.

I was right on the second part (he did shove), but wrong on the first assumption. The initial bettor had an A-8, and the small blind was betting a flush draw with two spades (which did not come). I would have won a huge pot but instead lost 4,000 chips.

 Shifting Gears

After that hand, my philosophy changed. I decided to shoot for getting into the money and basically tightened up. I folded almost everything for the next hour or so, until we got down to the bubble and started playing hand for hand.

By this time, I was down to 20,000 chips (BB was 4,000) and it was obvious I was just hanging on. Fortunately for me, a player to my left was doing the same and his stack was even smaller than mine.

He eventually got pocket 4s and shoved but lost when two higher pair came out on the board, counterfeiting his pair. I could breathe easy. I made the money. Given that I was starving, I decided it was time to go, so I shoved a few hands later with an A-J, not too concerned if I won.

I would just pocket my winnings, go get dinner and head to the hotel. Another player hesitated for a long time, then called me with an A-10. My J held up, and I got a pretty big win.

Final Table

I got another double-up a few hands later, and the next thing I knew, I was at the final table. My chip stack was still growing and I was no longer hungry. An hour of battle reduced the field to six players (I scored two of the knockouts) when one of the players suggested that we chop the pot.

First prize was scheduled to pay around $2,900, while sixth place was only about $400. Chopping the pot would give everybody $1,200 plus or better than 3rd place money.

I was second in chips and wanted to keep playing, but everybody else was willing to chop. I didn’t want to be the one guy to hold everything up, so I somewhat reluctantly agreed.

When I got back to my hotel that night and started assessing my experience, I felt pretty good about my play. There was only one hand that I folded when I probably should have played and I had overcome being short stacked twice, when I first entered and again at the bubble.

I probably should not have changed my strategy after the missed opportunity and gone into super NIT mode, but in the end it all worked out. I had enough to pay for my speeding ticket with some leftover, and I got a free Maryland Live baseball cap! It was all good.

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