A Day at the Venetian

After a good night’s sleep, I headed over to the Venetian and entered the $1,060 buy-in two-day tournament. The game is no-limit hold em, same as the World Series main event, with a sold out field of 450. In addition to the touring professional players, there is a large group of local Vegas pros that support themselves playing poker in the medium stakes games and higher buy-in tournaments. All of the big-name touring pros were over at the Rio playing in the $10,000 buy-in No Limit Omaha world championship, so this was mostly the local Vegas crowd mixed with a lot of amateurs. I recognized a lot of the Vegas pros from my last trip, playing in the WSOP Circuit tournament at Caesar’s Palace (I finished that one 23rd out of 350 for my first major tournament cash).

The Venetian tournament was scheduled to go 2 days, with everyone starting with $10,000 in chips. My opening table had a couple of the local pros mixed with several tourists. It became pretty clear early on who the players were and who was going to be feeding chips. My strategy was to start slowly, using only strong hands to build a stack while developing a very conservative table image.

To my immediate right was a nice guy named Carlos from New York: very chatty, and very aggressive. Carlos raised right out of the blocks on the first hand. I was all set to fold, but found KK. I re-raised and Carlos folded with a “so it’s gonna be like that, huh?” I showed the kings so everyone understood I was there to play premium hands only.

Over the first two levels, Carlos went way up and then way down, while I slowly but surely added $5000 to my starting stack, some with strong hands and some with situational steals. I hadn’t had to show down a hand since I showed the kings and Carlos noted at one point two hours in that “hey, you haven’t lost one damn hand …”

We took a lunch break at around 3:00 pm and I was feeling very comfortable at the table. There were two pros with whom I’d played at the Caesar’s tournament, but it wasn’t clear whether they remembered me (always good to be anonymous in such situations). We had three tourists at the other end of the table who were just bleeding chips on busted draws and silly, transparent bluff attempts. All in all, things were looking very strong for a long day and another second day effort.

A no limit game, however, affords very little room for error. I managed to make a big one that in retrospect I should have avoided. I found myself in middle position with AK and I made a standard 4x the big blind raise. I got one caller, a local pro I’d seen briefly before. The flop was perfect: A-8-3 rainbow (meaning all different suits). There were no straight or flush concerns and but for a freak set (if my opponent had a pair of 8s or a pair of 3s), I felt I was clearly ahead. I led out with a a pot-sized bet. The pro thought for awhile and then called. Could it be that he has an ace as well? If so, I’d have him dominated. I didn’t believe he would call the preflop raise with a weak ace so my read at that moment was that he was calling with an intent to take the pot away on the turn with perhaps middle pair or back-door flush (3 cards with the same suit needing to get very lucky on the turn and river).

The turn came a queen. I led out again with a big bet. Mr. Pro raised without a lot of thought. To me, that smelled like weakness. I put him on perhaps middle pair or just an all-out bluff. He didn’t push me all-in, just a very significant re-raise. I did not take enough time to think it through, calling off a big chunk of my chips, thinking my aces were still good. The river was a 5 — no help to anyone. I checked and he checked. I tabled my AK for top pair, top kicker, and he tossed the dreaded AQ for top two pair. Ouch.

I should have taken the time to really evaluate the progression of that hand. I should have gotten away from the AK when he re-raised. I was too focused on not getting outplayed that I over-thought the obvious. No doubt unlucky to lose AK to AQ, but it would not have been catastrophic had a mucked instead of calling the re-raise. Oh well. Can’t dwell on such things, particularly when you still have chips to play.

At that point, I was down to about $4,000, well below average, but still enough to mount a comeback if I could get some cards. I’ve come back to win a tournament with one $100 chip so the old maxim that you only need a chip-and-a-chair to win is not just hypothetical to me. Today, however, was not that day. An A-10 didn’t develop, costing me another $1,000, and I got my last $3K in with KK in early position. Feeling I caught a break and would at least scoop the blinds and antes, it folded around to the big blind who insta-called. I was initially happy to get a caller, particularly the tourist in the big blind. Unfortunately, she turned over A-A. Ouch again. No miracle king and that was my tournament.

I didn’t see the player count but I was somewhere in the top half of the 450 entries. Several hours of solid play and one major mistake. If I ignore the last 20 minutes, I had a a great time (I guess most tournaments are like that). I’ll see if I can find a one-day tourney tomorrow before the WSOP Academy starts on Tuesday. Otherwise, maybe just a day relaxing, reading, and sitting by the pool.

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