Prior to the trip, I had not played a hand of serious poker, and had not studied up on same, for more than six months (aside from the one poker strategy session and game with @txcardslinger and @halltxholdem). So, it was a sketchy start to a promising weekend of some good poker.
If you’ve never been to Choctaw, well, all I can say is that it’s not Paradise Island, Bahamas,
but it’s also not Kickapoo in Eagle Pass.
The rooms were fine, the hotel is small, the food was terrible (except for the lone steak joint, more on that in another post), and the poker room was freezing. But, the tourney structure was a good value and the fields were such that we should have stood a chance.
There are a lot of good players around the Dallas/Oklahoma border and there were hoodied and head-phoned young men from Houston to Tulsa and all points in between. @txcardslinger and I drove down early on the morning of the 25th and made it in enough time to late reg the noon event and still have 40+ bbs to work with. Alas, it was merely a warm up - both of us busted to not much fanfare.
The interesting part of this first event to me was playing both TJ Cloutier and Scotty Nyguen (the birthday boy for whom the tourney was played). I mean, come on! They’re famous! They’re pros! A poker noob’s dream (theirs too, I’m sure). Wheeee!
Turns out, well, TJ’s a curmudgeon. I was able to play with him three separate times over four days and from what I saw, if he’s raising or re-raising pre, he’s got a monster hand. I didn’t see him play anything worse than Ts+ or AQo+ during all that time. (Which is why my later play against him was so shameful…but more on that later).
In addition, he rides the dealers hard. If he runs a few orbits and doesn’t catch a hand he feels he can play, he asks the dealer for a wash, which is not something the dealers were doing until they would move and rotate in to a new table. Refused by one dealer who had just washed the cards and dealt a few hands, TJ called the floor in a huff. Ultimately, the floor backed up the dealer, but TJ was not happy about it and he let everyone know it for the next ten hands.
TJ also had a tendency to blame the dealer if a hand he had beat on the flop caught up to him and beat him on the river. He told stories about this, remembering hands from 5 years ago. I remember the “5 years” part because when TJ brought up one particular story, that’s what the dealer said: “TJ! That was five years ago!” He knew the hands in play and what was in the pot, street by street, five years after the fact. It was pretty amazing, actually, but also kind of a bummer to see him rail on dealers the way he did. If TJ was not at the table, dealers were not shy about voicing their dislike.
Scotty Nguyen’s Dream Catcher World Poker Challenge, was being played in honor of his birthday (which he said was his 29th). Scotty is known by many as The Prince of Poker, but may be remembered most recently as something else entirely. Knowing that history, but also following him on Twitter where he just seems to be a sweetheart, I didn’t know what to expect.
What I saw was a true ambassador for the game. Obviously he had some interest in drawing a crowd, but I’m sure he didn’t have to work the room the way he did. Every day after the start of the noon event, Scotty walked around the entire room, posed for pictures, and made people feel welcome. In fact, he went to each table and shook four to five hands at each and every table in the room during play. Remembering names and faces from days prior and if you’d run deep the night before, he’d ask "how'd you make out, baby? You playing good, baby? Keep building that stack, baby!"
On my first day, I was seated immediately to TJs right at a 10-handed table and nearly doubled up right off the bat when I had to post the BB from LP as a late entry. Folded to me, I check with 5s. One caller and the blinds come along. I flop my set and get to hear BB count out some chips for a bet, “This will be your first mistake if you call this bet.” I look at my cards and call, saying, “well I just sat down, maybe I’ll get lucky, since I don’t really know what I’m doing here next to TJ!” Everyone else folds, and BB seems confused, but unconcerned, by my call.
Turn gives him another opportunity to lead out, this time with “And this will be your second mistake.” I min-raise in silence and he reluctantly calls, while TJ says with a laugh, “I think she knows exactly what she’s doing.”
River pairs the board, giving me a boat, and BB checks to me. I put out a little less than half the pot. BB stammers and hems and haws, and finally says his two pair just got negated. He folds, and everyone waits to see if I’ll show (I don’t) and then proceeds to give BB hell, talking about how I either bluffed or had a monster. Two hands later I get moved to Scotty’s table.
As I said, he’s doing a lot of ambassadoring and since we’re not at antes yet, he’s not missing much by working the room and having the dealer fold him. When he does return from time to time, he raises blind, PF, and this induces some fun action and crazy poker. He would raise pre and check to the callers. If they bet, he’d look at his cards (by flipping them up for all to see and then making his decision after that, often folding). He cracked As once doing that, and in one remarkable hand he went bust when he turned trip 7s to a guys FH (both checked the flop). Playing with him at that table was a blast. I was able to get him to rethink his blind PF raise when I was in the BB by kind of looking pitiful and shrugging at him right before he put in the chips – “but Scotty, it’s my big blind? Have pity!” He did! (I still lost the hand).
I ran deep in only one tournament and played acceptable (to my noobie standards anyway) in only two out of the four tourneys I played. I milked a short stack all day long in my third event, in a series in which I showed down only two hands during nearly six hours of play – a BB special early on (Ks, in which I got to tell the table: “well, that’s pretty much my range, boys”) and my bust out: Ac8c with less than 10 bbs, I called a Button raise that was essentially putting me all in. He had Q7o, but turned a Q, so that was all she wrote. I was 60%+ favorite going in (against your typical internet looking young dude who I assumed was playing as he should’ve been) and would make that call again all day long.
My last tournament (on Sunday) was a $50k guaranteed. There were a lot of young guys and as I sat there and profiled my table for the first hour, it was fun to watch real poker being played. I learned after the fact that two of the young men at my table had won previous tournaments at Choctaw in a past similar series. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was obvious they knew what they were doing and were thinking players. This helped me quite a bit, especially when I had position and was able to 3-bet (and even 4-bet shove on at least one occasion!), value bet rivers, and fold when beat. I was playing poker!
Or so I thought.
This kind of cocky thinking (i.e., me thinking for a second that I knew how to play) got me in trouble when I got moved to my final table, four seats to the right of TJ.
I was in fine shape: ~25 bbs and didn’t need to get crazy.
Yes, no need to get crazy.
Famous last words…
As I said before, I was able to watch TJ play in several hands where I could just observe. He played back at aggressive, younger players only when he had a real hand, and his mode of defense was to raise (or reraise) 5 and 6 times the original bet/raise. He would often show these hands to make clear, “I ain’t messing around!” And he wasn’t.
He would check/fold flops when he didn’t hit.
He would bet flops when he connected or when his hole cards had the best of it post flop.
Fairly transparent, right? Seemingly easy to play, right?
To sane players - maybe. To spewtards like me - not so much. This is why it's so hard to stomach my playing a hand against him out of position (from the BB no less) with a truly horrific holding.
Now, I hadn’t been at the table long and so the only one I really had any info on was TJ. Normally, I sit tight, watch and learn, and try to get some reads before I start getting involved in things. But no…I had just been playing poker with the big boys and holding my own! I knew what I was doing! I am a poker player!
Not only was I feeling (too) good, I was talking at this table, and I rarely talk, unless I’ve been there awhile or am trying to make friends with the person on my left.
I hadn’t even been there long enough for any of that to be the case. Oh no, instead, I was Miss Chatty Cathy. And on this particular hand, the player on my immediate right (the SB), is also female, so OF COURSE I feel the need to lean over to her, as the dealer deals the hand, and say: “Just so you know, we are sitting here with targets over our head at this table.” She smiles and nods, and guys down on the button and CO kind of laugh and nod, “yes, yes you are.”
Har, har, har, I’m thinking…I know what you guys are doing. And now that I’ve said that – you guys know that I know that’s what you’re doing. Harumph. I’m sooooo smart. Watch out!
So…it folds to TJ in LP and he puts out a 4xBB raise. Button calls, folds to me and I look at (oh god I don’t even want to say) 8s5s.
Fold, right? (Yes. Fold. Please. For the love of God, FOLD).
Flop comes 286r.
I check. TJ bets the pot. Button folds. I count out my chips and tell myself “He’s playing AK. I’ve got him here. If I shove, he’s folding.”
“I’m All In!”
TJ snap calls as fast as he can (he has Ks) and starts dragging the pot as the board plays out and I don’t improve (which is actually a good thing because he would’ve torn me a new one if I’d turned or rivered two-pair or a flush, and rightfully so).
It was embarrassing. There were guys at the table who watched it play out with their mouths hanging open in shock.
I think I clapped my hands (applauding my stupendous play, I guess) before jumping up, grabbing my bag, and walking off as fast as I could.
I was mortified.
I immediately went outside to the parking lot and walked about five miles, all while asking myself “What the ______ was THAT? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!”
About fifty times. As I paced back and forth in an empty portion of the parking lot.
I saw one poor guy smoking on the corner pick up his phone, probably to call the paddy wagon, because I was clearly acting like a crazy lady. He probably thought I lost the mortgage at the slots.
No sir...just my dignity and pride.
It was bad. Real bad.
@txcardslinger and I had planned to stay the night (we'd hoped that one of us could run deep), but when I texted to ask if she wanted to stay or go, it seemed we both couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
We packed quickly and in silence (this is why packing with paper bags can sometimes come in handy. #youmightbearedneckif) and didn’t talk for the first 45 minutes of the ride. I was still steaming with embarrassment and didn’t want to tell her how bad it actually was.
The silence was good, soothing.
It really helps to have a friend in the middle of these things and @txcardslinger is one of the best. When I was finally able to talk about the hand, she did the best thing she could’ve done – she laughed her ass off.
And rightfully so. Rightfully so.
In the face of these facts, and the play at this week's WSOP Final Table, it seems so damn far fetched to think that someday she and I could be laughing our asses off at a final table we’ve won. Far fetched, sure. But I know we're going to keep trying.
The title of this post is appropriate given the poor play I exhibited throughout much of the tourney. It’s also the title of one of my favorite movies of all time. Most people know Daniel Craig today because of the James Bond franchise, but this is one of his lesser known works that I think is better than all the Bond movies combined. The story it tells implies that even when our choices lead to really bad outcomes, we can learn from our mistakes and be better. After this trip, I sure as hell hope that’s true.