The Stakes Increase: Bellagio $2500 No-Limit Hold 'Em Tourney
Having packed Shortstack's parents safely away on Carnival's new non-smoking cruise ship, fondly dubbed the Ventilation, we flew back to Sin City for the second of three No-Limit Hold 'Em tournaments in Bellagio's Five-Diamond World Poker Classic. Having played like a moron in the first one, a $1500 buy-in, my goal here was to play smart, take my time, and see if I could read people to make good decisions on whether to hold 'em or fold 'em. Having signed up the night before I showed up around 11 and had a buffet brunch with on-line star Jim "Krazy Kanuck" Worth, Aruba champ Erik "E-Dog" Lindgren, and his friend Josh, whom it turned out I had played against on PartyPoker without knowing it. We ate light so as not to slow down our brains for the tourney.
I got seat seven at table 40 and brought my reading glasses with me to help me distinguish 4's from A's. We started with 5000 chips, twice the dollar value of our buy-in. Two empty seats were to my left, which usually indicated pros, and to my right was Mel Judah, winner of the big event at the Bicycle club earlier this year to be broadcast on the World Poker Tour show in the spring. He played extremely tight in the early going so he wasn't much of a factor for me yet. Arriving a few minutes late in the empty seats to my left were the famous Bob Stupak, who built the Stratosphere hotel, and the very dangerous Surindar Sunar, who was at my table at the Sands. Across the table were Steve, a doctor who was playing a lot of pots with hands like King-Jack offsuit, and a nice lady with a foreign accent who smiled apologetically whenever she won a pot. Since those two were playing almost every pot I decided to wait until I had a powerful hand to beat them with. Soon enough I saw two black Kings and made a small raise in early position. It folded around to the nice lady, who called, and the Flop came Queen-Queen-Six. I bet out the size of the pot, 700, and she re-raised me, only she didn't re-raise me enough so the dealer made her put in the minimum raise, making it 1400. I looked into her soul and I couldn't think of a thing she could possibly have except a Queen. "You have a Queen?" I asked, and she gave me a Mona Lisa smile. I mucked the cowboys and she proudly showed me the Queen of Clubs. I had lost 20% of my stack but that was probably the least I could have lost with that hand so I felt OK.
I got Ace-King a couple times and the nice lady called me. Both times the Flop came Jack high, she bet, and I folded. One time she showed me the Jack; the other time she may have been bluffing but all I had was overcards so I didn't see a reason to push it. Then I got a Pair of Jacks in the hole in early position. I made a small raise and got re-raised by a Chinese gentleman wearing logo apparel from a California card room. I looked into his soul and decided he had me beat, especially since it was his first re-raise of the day and he was experienced enough to know I was playing tight. He showed me the same black Kings I had lost my first 1000 with. "Nice hand," I said.
By now I was down to 3600 chips when I saw two red Aces on the button. I raised and Surindar called. The flop came Ace-Eight-Four rainbow, giving me a Set of Aces. I tried to remain calm as I pondered. Since Surindar was very aggressive, when he checked I decided to represent a bluff by betting the pot emphatically. "Seven hundred!" I said, slamming the chips down in front of me. He didn't bite and I took the small pot. Perhaps I should have slow-played it, the traditional course of action when flopping a Set of Aces.
One round later, once again on the button, I raised Surindar's blind with Ace-King offsuit. He called and the Flop came King-Eight-Six, two Diamonds. He checked and I once again bet the pot. This time he re-raised me all in, perhaps starting to smell a rat. I thought about the five tournaments I had recently lost with Ace-King but I looked into his soul and decided he was bluffing and if he had flopped a Set, so be it. "I call," I said, and flipped over my hand. "Nice call," he said, and showed Nine-Eight offsuit. He had five outs and they didn't hit so I doubled up to 6250.
The blinds went up and Bob Stupak, having lost a few pots, was down under 2000 chips. He was moving all in frequently, which he did with any ace or pair, and getting some back. I saw pocket Queens on the small blind, made it 700, and Bob reraised me all in. I forgot to look into his soul and called right away, thinking he just had an Ace overcard on me, but he in fact had two of them and I was once again down to 3000.
The guy to Surindar's left had busted out to Steve with a bad all-in reraise and a bad call that hit the river. An Italian-looking gentleman replaced him and when I found Ace-Queen of Spades in late position I bet a third of my remaining chips, 900. The Italian gentleman reraised me all in. I looked into his soul and decided he was weak so I called for my remaining chips. He turned over Ace-Jack suited, making me a big favorite, but a Jack came on the flop and I was out of the contest, finishing 159 out of 297. "Good game," I said, and hung out with superstar Andy Bloch, who was out in the first five minutes, until dinnertime. We wandered over to watch Phil Hellmuth, Jr., make an amazing recovery from 2600 chips to around 70,000. I wondered if I could learn to duplicate his skill.
Dinner was at Aqua with Andy and Rounders co-star Erik Seidel, who showed up five minutes after we had left him with 35,000 chips but got eliminated on a horrendous bad beat of pocket Kings to Vinnie Vinh's Queen-Ten when he flopped two pair after all the money was in. Howard Lederer passed, showing his iron discipline in his daily workouts that help make him one of the most telegenic of the poker stars. Dinner was good, washed down with a bottle of 1989 Pichon-Loungueville Bordeaux. I bid the two world-class pros farewell and told them I'd see them next week at the big event.