My poker tournament experience has ended. I didn’t win. That’s not to say I didn’t have a god time or I didn’t play well. Except for one small move early on, which I now question, I was pretty happy with my play.
I got to bed early (for me) last night. Sleep was not very good and I was up just after 6:00 AM. I left the house around 8:00 and drove the 70 minute trip to Foxwoods.
Though the roads around the casino were reasonably busy, I realized as soon as I got to the valet parking area that Thursday morning was not prime time. Mine was the only car there and a nice young woman quickly walked up and gave me a parking ticket.
If you’ve never been to Foxwoods it is a world unto itself. The complex is immense. It was, and may still be, the world’s largest casino. As big and bold as Foxwoods is, the area surrounding it is the opposite. Surrounded by the town of Ledyard, there is still plenty of farmland and low density housing and businesses in the area. As you approach from the north, the high rise hotels dominate the rolling terrain of eastern Connecticut.
I got to the poker tournament desk at 9:26. I know this because it’s on my receipt. I said hello, paid my cash, chose between a hat, t-shirt and $10 in food coupons (food – though not used) and headed toward the tournament.
How fitting is this for a seniors poker tournament, we were in the Sunset Ballroom!
I walked into the ballroom. It was a breath of fresh air because I felt, I looked, I (probably) was the youngest person in the room. I’m used to being the oldest at work. This is more fun.
I scouted the room and didn’t see anyone I knew. Then I spied Jimmy Christina.
I have described Jimmy here before, so let me be brief. Jimmy is not tall, though he easily stands out in a crowd of people. His gray hair is pulled back in a ponytail. He has a Southern New England accent¹ delivered in a voice reminiscent of a gravel road. Standing in his tuxedo, he is the absolute height of incongruity.
When I grow up, I want to be Jimmy Christina.
There’s one more thing about Jimmy. If you watch him from afar, you will see a constant stream of people coming up to him, saying hello. All of them are smiling. Jimmy is smiling. He is charming.
I moved to my seat at table 30, seat 8. The room was filled with long, narrow, Texas Hold’em tables. Each was set to comfortably seat nine players. The dealer sat in what looked like an executive’s office chair. I am told they hate it because it has no back support.
This tournament was ‘sponsored’ by “Oklahoma” Johnny Hale. Johnny is old school poker, back when it was all guts and instinct. It was the era before mathematicians quantified the game’s nuances into a series of odds and ratios. Johnny introduced some other older players, shilled his own line of merchandise and books and led us in the Pledge of Allegiance and a moment of silence. He is everything you expect from someone who goes by the name Oklahoma Johnny.
In a poker tournament, you buy in for a fixed amount and then get tournament chips, in this case $1,500. They’re not good anywhere else, just in a tournament and can’t be turned into real cash. You keep playing poker, hoping to survive as more and more players bust out.
Today’s tournament had 295 players. The top 25 would win money, starting at $777 and going up to better than $40,000. The goal in tournament play is survival. Survivors are paid. Winning is of secondary importance. I hope that makes sense.
Since the game was No Limit Texas Hold’em, anyone could bet all of their chips on any card. It didn’t take long until someone did – and walked away the first loser. I was one player closer to the cash.
Compared to online play, live poker is very slow. And compared to online play, I’m not multitasking. The game at hand gets my undivided attention.
With forced bets and a few cheap peeks, I quickly turned my $1,500 to $1,350. I was somewhat uneasy, though it didn’t affect my play. I was very self conscious. I didn’t want to be out early. I didn’t want to look like I didn’t know what I was doing.
At the far end of the room a big screen TV displayed the current stats. What were the blinds (forced bets for two players each round)? How much time was left at this limit? How many players were left?
Table 30 was one of the first to get broken up. As players leave, and some tables have empty seats, tables are combined to allow everyone to sit at tables with a similar number of players. I was sent to Table 8, Seat 1.
Around me, the room was alive with the sound of cards being riffled and chips clinking. It is a steady castanet sound which permeates the room. It is actually reassuring to hear. I looked down at the stacks of chips in front of each player. Already there were huge differences with some players close to busting out and others amassing fortunes.
Life at Table 8 didn’t go much better. Slowly, as if I had a leak, chips were disappearing from my stack. Before long I was down to $320.
With a forced bet of $75 and a number of players already calling in front of me, I went all in with a pair of 4s. Being dealt a pair is good – but 4s… well even a pair of them… is no bargain. If anyone else matches any card other than a two or three (unlikely they’d be played anyway) you’re dead meat.
On the fourth common card, ‘the turn,’ a third 4 was dealt. I had a set (three of a kind) and was now back to nearly the $1,500 I started with. A few more good hands had me up to $2,000.
Meanwhile, on the TV screen the numbers were changing. As tables were consolidated the player count went down – 225, 200, 175, 150. My chip count had me below the middle of the pack, but I was still playing.
And then, I drove into oncoming traffic at full speed.
The limits had gone up to $100/$75. A few players limped in with minimal bets when the action got to me. My cards – two red Aces. In Hold’em there is nothing better to have than a pair of Aces. I raised to $300.
A few players dropped out and then, across the table, another player pushed his chips toward the center. He was all in. In order to play my Aces, I’d need to match his chips.
I had Aces. There is nothing better.
I pushed my chips in as we both turned over our cards. He showed another Ace and a Jack. This was wonderful. Additional Aces wouldn’t help him. He needed two Jacks or some ridiculous out of the blue miraculous one in a million shot… and there would only be five common cards with which to accomplish this.
The dealer rolled three and then one and then one more. Of the five cards exposed, four were 7, 8, 9 and 10 (the 8 coming on the last card, know as the River).
I still had my Aces. He had a straight!
I was left with a few hundred dollars. It didn’t take long to lose that when my King, Queen was beaten by a Queen, Jack.
I had played four hours and fifteen minutes, finishing 102 of 295.
Good play can get beaten. It is, after all, gambling. Yes, there is skill, but skill tempered by chance.
I’m glad I played. I enjoyed the tournament. I wish I would have come home with some more money.
¹ – Usually limited to far Eastern Connecticut and Rhode Island, this regionalism makes a Boston accent sound soft and gentle.