I came to Day 2 with a decent stack and a much better table draw than I had seen yet during the previous day. The older woman on my right had clearly run quite hot the previous day, and at first her luck continued, with her 4-big blind open raises being called surprisingly often. She always showed big pairs or AK, but eventually she ran cold and lost several pots.
My fortune followed the opposite trend. I lost a few small pots in the beginning of the day, but as we neared the money bubble I was able to pick up more and more pots uncontested. It came almost unexpectedly for me – suddenly we were in the money.
I didn’t have the chance to be as excited as the other players. In part, because I was in for two bullets and also because I was entirely focused on playing. It took another couple levels to get myself to breakeven since a min-cash was worth less than two buyins, but I soon found myself up a couple hundred bucks, then a thousand, then a couple thousand. As the tables were whittled down to the final three, I was sitting with a comfortable 35 big blinds and a still-soft field.
The field was definitely tougher than when the tournament had started though. I 4-bet preflop a couple times – with big hands – and got folds all around. That was an unfortunate outcome, but I was also able to take a few hands down postflop with bluff lines that never would have worked early on Day 1.
As the field narrowed from 40 to 30, most of the knockouts were happening on my table, but eventually that changed and I was moved from Table 1 to Table 3. Moving with me was Leon Morford, a veteran of the game, and a relatively respected grinder. My opinion of his game was not quite so high though. Most older players are tight, and I was pretty sure he was abusing this type of assumption. He seemed loose preflop, aggressive post flop, and his default motion seemed to be putting tons of chips in the pot. I hadn’t played many hands against him, but I had seen him run good time and again, quickly becoming the chip leader in the remaining 27 or so players.
Finally, we got into a pot together. The action folded to me in middle position, so I bumped it up with the A5dd. Morford was the only caller in the big blind. The flop came the beautiful AT6 with two diamonds. Morford checked to me, and with top pair and the nut flush draw, I had an easy bet. Morford thought for a bit and check-raised to about half the size of the pot, leaving an effective pot-sized bet on the turn if I called. I thought about shoving but decided that just calling would let him bluff the turn if it bricked out. I flatted. The turn came, the perfect K of diamonds, and Morford didn’t hesitate to shove all his chips into the pot. I quickly re-checked my hole cards and called all in.
We both flipped our cards over. Morford had J8dd, which meant he was drawing dead, and I was about to become the chip leader. The river bricked out, and I suddenly found myself holding over 80 big blinds and the chip lead with only three tables remaining.
I pretty much coasted after that. Most of my plays were straightforward, but I abused my chip position a little. In one hand, the action folded to the small blind, who completed. I was in the big blind with 95o, so I checked it back. The flop was the perfectly ugly 865, and the small blind led into me. With bottom pair and a gutshot, I wasn’t folding. The turn brought an offsuit ten, and he tanked a little before betting again. At this point, I had a little bit of a live read that he wasn’t pleased with how the hand was going. I called again. The river brought an offsuit 4, bringing in a straight for any 7x hand. He tanked forever this time, with only a 3/4 pot-sized bet left in his stack. I was ready to snap call if he shoved, but he ended up checking and I checked behind. He announced “just A high,” and I chose to just turn my hand over since I could beat that.
He went ballistic.
He was angry at himself, not me, but it was still a little disconcerting to have him shouting expletives right next to me. He eventually calmed down and asked me if I would have called a river shove. I just nodded. I’m unsure whether that made him more or less mad, but he didn’t shout after that. When our table broke, I wished him luck and he seemed calm enough. I wasn’t sure whether to expect to see him later on, but it turned out that I would soon enough.
It took absolutely ages to get down from 20 players to 15, but once we did, somehow everyone started dropping like flies. It took under half an hour to go from 15 players down to 10 and I found myself guaranteed a spot at the final table.
The next half hour after that was surprisingly boring, with the MSPT requiring us to fill out waivers about being filmed, information sheets about ourselves and several other forms. I sheepishly filled in “Biggest Cash” in the information sheet with a sadly accurate $2,300.
Once we’d filled everything out, we had a quick briefing session on the table we would be playing on. It was a custom, RFID table with the MSPT logo and demarcations for where to place your cards so they could be electronically read. I paid attention but was looking forward to our dinner break. After a request for the whole final table to receive free MSPT t-shirts was declined (“you’re guaranteed almost $8,000!”), we were given a 45-minute dinner break.
Calm Before the Storm
I headed to the food court, where I comically had some trouble purchasing my dinner. The whole “second bullet” debacle had left me with under $10 in my wallet and with the combination of waters and sodas I had been drinking, my tips left me only four singles left. Next, I tried to use my player’s card to pay for the sandwich I wanted, but my driver’s license had been surrendered to the poker floor people when we made the money. In the end, I just used my credit card instead, but the irony of being guaranteed my biggest tournament score to date and simultaneously not being able to afford dinner was not lost on me, or the cashier, who had asked whether I was still in the tournament.
The break ended up being significantly longer than I needed with my meal (including the monetary exchange) only taking about twenty minutes from the forty-five that I had available. I touched base with my backers, a couple poker friends, Dozo, and my parents, giving them all the website information for the final table, which would be live streamed. But even with that I had time left.
I was feeling a little gross at this point, after two entire days of nothing but poker. I decided to take a walk back to my car and grab… my toothbrush and toothpaste. Silly as it might sound, I felt like my teeth needed the attention, and besides, if my teeth were enough to distract me then, I might as well brush them so that I wouldn’t care about it at the final table.
So it was with shiny teeth and minty breath that I approached the final table once again. I set my phone aside, we weren’t allowed to use any electronic devices except on break and settled into seat 10, right next to the dealer. The others began to file in. In seat 1, Richard Bai, a tough opponent who had been on my first table from my second entry. Seat 3, Leon Morford, the surprisingly aggressive older gentleman who had doubled me up and secured my spot at the final table. In seat 4 was a friendly guy named Marty who I’d chatted with a little on an earlier table.
On his left in seat 5 was Jason Mirza, a serious tournament grinder, and someone I’d been talking to a fair bit at the table when we were down to 30 players. Dan Goeppel, the explosive regular I had called down with 4th pair was in seat 7. The others I mostly recognized from the final few tables, but hadn’t played with and had no information on, other than this was everyone’s first MSPT final table. Most everyone was guaranteed their biggest tournament score to date, with Bai, Morford, and Mirza the notable exceptions. I learned from a friend that they each had a decent amount in lifetime tournament earnings, with Morford holding the biggest single score. Rather than being intimidated, I settled in. I knew that while I had very little live tournament success so far, I was still going to be amongst the strongest players at the table.
As the final table kicked off, there was an immediate, almost tangible level of discomfort amidst the players. Half-hearted banter and random side remarks were frequently interspersed amidst the sounds of chip shuffling and the dealer calling out the action in a careful monotone.
It was clear quite early to me that no one was interested in fighting for the position of table captain, and most of these players cared about the pay jumps. There was a factor difference of almost 20 between first and ninth place, but the others seemed most focused on the first ~$3,000 pay jump from almost $8,000 to a hair over $11,000. While I was well aware that each pay jump from here on out was larger than my biggest tourney cash to date, I was also aware of the opportunity I had to exploit people’s fear of being the first to bust, and their general tightness.
I went to work, opening many hands in late position, and widening my middle position opening range far beyond what I was able to do at any point earlier in the tournament. In addition to changing my opening ranges, I also started to use 3bets to put pressure on the few players who were opening somewhat close to correctly (in other words, more than 10% of their hands). I got comfortable, I got chip-healthy, and I got confident. It was only about an hour before the first elimination.