Sports Nut

I Finally Win With Pocket Aces. Plus: the Dread F-Word.

A confident European raises to $600 in first position. I re-raise him to $2,100 total from the button. He counts my chips down and then declares he is all-in, a re-raise of $15,000 more. I call instantly. “Do you have aces?” the poor guy asks. The pope is Catholic, bears crap in the woods, and when I call another $15,000 that quickly, I have aces.

I’m 82 percent to bust his pocket kings and send my stack to nearly $40K, putting me in an excellent position in my first day in the WSOP’s main event. But there’s another factor to consider—the dealer is the same woman who dealt me my consecutively cracked pocket aces in 2001. I’m not a superstitious person, but as we sit with our aces and kings face up, I’m half expecting to bolt upright in bed, drenched in sweat and panting. But this time, the aces hold up. My 2001 nightmare is over. In about nine hours, I’ll have new faces to haunt my dreams.

At 11 a.m. on Friday, about 1,800 of us rise from our seats for a live performance of the national anthem. Take that, all of you who say that poker isn’t a sport. I’m looking forward to Giant Foam Finger Day at next year’s WSOP.

My first table is very weak, but I fail to dominate—when we get broken up, I’ve taken my $10,000 stake to $12,700. Table changes are very, very dangerous. The nine people who are already in place have established the dynamics of play for hours, but you’re dropped in cold and have to adjust immediately. I try to play extremely cautiously until I feel like I’m a “full member,” but there is always a devil on the other shoulder telling me to be unpredictable. There is one hour remaining in the level, the last hour before the antes begin. After antes are introduced all our stacks will be under a constant drain. It’s critical to hang onto enough chips that I don’t get driven into desperation mode.

Instead, I donk off most of my stack. I raise with an A-7 of hearts, not much of a hand but strong enough to open. I’m called in two spots and see a flop of 10, seven, and four, with two spades. The big blind bets out, and I think about it awhile before raising him. Since he didn’t raise before the flop, I think he has a relatively weak hand—at best either a 10 or a flush draw. Because I showed strength before the flop, there’s a good chance I’ll be able to make him fold a 10. But he just shrugs and moves all-in.

Now, I’m fairly sure I have the worst hand. The pot has become big enough, though, that it may be worth it to try to catch a lucky card. It’s not a proud moment to call an all-in bet with second pair, but sometimes in poker you have to throw good money after bad if you have outs. If he has A-10 or three of a kind, I am nearly dead. If he has a better pair than my sevens, I’m a 4-1 underdog. But if he only has a flush draw, I’m a big favorite, and a flush draw is still his most plausible holding to my eye. I call and he shows two jacks. By not re-raising his jacks before the flop, the big blind fooled me into thinking he didn’t have an overpair. I don’t get any help on the turn or the river. My horrible play has cost me most of my chips—I’m down to $3,800 and the ante rounds are only 45 minutes away.

I’m the shortest stack at the table, but most of my opponents are too inexperienced to know how to use that against me. At one point, I have only $5K left and bet $1K into a pot after it was checked to me. Two players with larger stacks just call my bet instead of raising, then both fold to my small bet on the turn. Any raise here and I would have folded, not wanting to put my tournament life at risk on a weak hand. After chipping my way upward with a series of small pots, I flop top set against a flush draw, which takes me back to $14K when no more clubs hit. And on the last hand of the level, the dream hand—AA vs. KK—leaves me with $38K, placing me among the chip leaders for the day.

For most of the day, I’m focused entirely on my own playing. But I do have one ear open for F-bombs. There’s a moronic new rule this year that gives players a time penalty if they use the dread F-word. Still, people are cursing like unlucky sailors. At one of my tables, a nice guy takes a sick bad beat as an 11-1 favorite, leaving him to make a good-natured (under the circumstances) comment about “those f—ing aces.” Any of the rest of us and the dealer have the right to invoke the rule, which could force him to be anted out of the tournament while he takes the penalty. We all keep our mouths shut. I know those f—ing aces.

Tomorrow: The road to the bottom.