Harrah’s Cherokee casino in Jackson County, N.C., hosts one of the most popular stops on the World Series of Poker Circuit each spring, drawing thousands of players from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, western Virginia and Kentucky as well as the pros who travel the circuit. The casino is essentially in the midst of a poker oasis with no competition for hundreds of miles.
This year’s circuit stop began April 14 with event No. 1, a standard NLHE, $365 tournament. I had a fortuitously arranged business trip to the mountains of western North Carolina for April 13-14, which put me within easy driving distance of the casino for the first day. I had a 9 a.m. meeting about 30 minutes away, and after wrapping it up before lunch hustled over to the casino. I got there after the tournament had started, but managed to get registered and find my seat before the first level had ended. The tourney was listed as a one-day event, so I figured I would play for a few hours, bust out and head for the five-hour drive home around dinner time. But as they say, the best-laid plans can sometimes go awry.
My first table was filled with a mix of players, from retirees to a couple of young guys who appeared to be circuit regulars to recreational poker players like myself. I settled into seat 5 on table 77, ready for the long grind. I had played one circuit event before in the April 2015 circuit stop at Cherokee and lasted until level 11, so I was hoping to beat that record this time. I didn’t have a lot of luck early and soon found myself down to about 7,000 chips from the starting stack of 10,000 by the time level 3 started. I was beginning to think I might not even make it to the first break!
About halfway through the third level (BB at 150) I got pocket 4s in an early position and jacked it up to 350. It folded around to the cutoff, who re-raised it to 625. It folded back to me, and I called. The flop came up K-8-4 rainbow. My opponent had played a lot of hands and liked to bet, so I decided to check the flop and see what he would do. He bet 1,000. The turn was a 2, which completed the rainbow and also made any straight draws highly unlikely. Again, I decided to check, fairly confident he would bet. He obliged and put two 1,000 chips on the table. By now I was certain he had hit the king, so I shoved all-in. He thought about it for a minute, then folded and showed me his ace-king. In hindsight, I should have just called his turn bet and then led out with a bet on the river. I think he would have called the river bet.
This was my first big win and I put my chip stack back over the starting stack for the first time, allowing me to breathe a little easier. I won a couple more sizeable pots on this table, although I made a big mistake that cost me 4,500 chips. I had Q-7 on a board with a Q-Q-9-A-6 rainbow. I was confident my opponent had an ace (he bet 5,000 on the turn after checking the flop and had basically played every ace he had seen that day), so I threw a single 5,000 chip into the pot and called out “five.” The dealer correctly ruled that it was a bet for 500 and not 5,000, even though it was clear that I had intended to bet 5,000. It was my fault for not wording it correctly.
The dealer apologized to me after the hand and said he should have called the floor over, but I knew he had made the correct ruling and told him there was no need to apologize. My opponent called and turned over an ace. I showed my queen and scooped another big pot, but one that could have been 4,500 chips larger.
Shortly afterward, I was moved to another table. I didn’t stay there long, but I did see the lady who was the chip leader at the table when I joined donk off 70 percent of her stack chasing a gut straight draw. That was one of a string of questionable moves I saw by players throughout the day. There may be a lot of pros in these events, but there are a lot of inexperienced players as well.
I got moved two more times in the next hour, all the while maintaining my stack between 30,000 and 40,000 chips until we hit the dinner break after level 12. At that point, I had bested my previous record of going out on level 11, and for the first time, I started thinking about making it into the money.
Next installment: Trying to nurse my stack through the money bubble.