After a good night's sleep, I checked my e-mail, made a few calls, ate a good breakfast, showered and dressed and headed to the Rio for the $2,000 No Limit Hold'em event. A total of 1,579 players entered the tournament — almost a 50 percent increase over last year's field.
I took my assigned seat and surveyed the rest of my table. There was only one world class player. Don Zewin finished third in the championship event in 1989 and has made countless final tables since then in World Series and other major tournaments.
The good news was that he was not seated to my left. He was all the way across the table from me, so it would not be hard to stay out of his way except when I had a big hand. I could not figure on outplaying him, so I would have to plan to show down the best hand if I tangled with him in a pot.
After fourth street, one of my opponents moved all in and I called. He turned over A-K, and I lost a lot of my chips. Soon after, I tried to double up with a small pair (5-5) but ran into A-A and was eliminated early. Not my day.
I was very disappointed to bust out early again. At this point I had played in four tournaments and not finished in the money once, let along made a final table.
Perhaps I would have felt better if I had read the blog entry by Daniel Negreanu (one of the 10 best players in the world) posted on Card Player's Web site the next day. Writing about his early exits in a dozen World Series events so far this year, he said:
"Most of the tournaments I've played have seemed uneventful, as I've been unable to muster up a big stack of chips on day one. It's been quite a while since I've been able to cruise through day one of a tournament as one of the leaders.
"I kept my streak intact, going broke later that day. The only time I made it out of day one this year in a tournament, I went all the way to the number-one spot. On the other days, I've had to make a flight change every time!"
If Daniel Negreanu has not made it beyond the first day in a tournament all year, playing every single week, perhaps my expectations need to be adjusted. On the other hand, we play very different styles. My conservative style is better suited to surviving into the money. His super aggressive style is designed to either build a big stack and put him in position to win first place, or send him home early.
I cruised the tournament area to see how my buddies Adam Green and Matt Matros were doing (both were still alive with a decent supply of chips), then signed up for the next $525 satellite table.
While standing in line, I ran into a law school classmate, Mark Weinberg. Mark is a tax lawyer who has his own firm in Bethesda, Md. A former IRS attorney, he is one of the country's leading experts on tax-exempt organizations and represents some of the most prominent charitable organizations in the world.
He was in Las Vegas for the weekend, and knew he would find me at the World Series. We caught up on things, and made a tentative date to get together that evening.
(Note: Anyone who expects a poker junkie to leave the tables at the World Series to keep a dinner or social engagement is smoking something more powerful than tobacco. I let Mark know that I may or may not be available, and promised to call him if I was free.)
When they called me for a table and I saw the rest of the field, I considered waiting for the next one. It was a very tough group of experienced, successful tournament and satellite players. But I decided to play. Much of what I enjoy about the World Series is testing my skills each year against the best players. No point backing away from the challenge.
I was doing well until my A-8 ran into another player's 6-6 when there were six of us left. The flop came 8-6-2, which looked great for my hand. He slow played his three 6s nicely, and I was eliminated.
I played two more satellites and the 5 p.m. second chance tournament, all without success. But at least I was not beating myself, as I had in the Seniors event and at the Bellagio tournament. I felt I was playing well, getting my chips in with the best of it most of the time, but could not seem to catch the cards I needed at the critical times (or caught what I thought were good cards, only to be out-flopped by another player as when my A-8 lost to 6-6).
Since I did not plan to play in Saturday's event ($3,000 Omaha 8-or-better), I decided to take a shot at the 11 p.m. mega-satellite Friday night before going to bed. In a mega-satellite there is no limit on the number of players who may sign up and play. Each of us paid an entry fee of $1,000. For every 10 players who entered, one seat in the $10,000 championship event would be awarded. If you had already won or purchased a seat in the championship event you would be paid in cash.
Fifty-two players entered the mega-satellite. That meant you had to finish in the top five to win a seat (or $10,000 cash in my case, since I had already bought into the main event). The remaining cash would also be divided up among the five winners. Unlike a single table satellite where you must eliminate all the other players to win, in this one all you had to do was finish 5th.
Once 47 players were eliminated you won a seat if you were one of the last five players standing — it made no difference if your chip count was 100 or 10,000, all five remaining players would be winners.
Each player started with 3,000. The blinds increased every 30 minutes. After two rounds, I had doubled up to 6,500. Even though I was dealt few strong hands, I played position well and aggressively took several pots away from weaker, cautious opponents.
Then I won a big pot with A-Q, beating a player who moved all in with Q-J when a queen came on the flop. By the sixth round, my stack was up to 11,000 with about 36 players remaining.
A while later my 7-7 held up against two other players, one of whom was all in, and my chip count increased to 17,000. A bathroom break was called after two hours of play.
I took a bad beat right after the break, but luckily I was able to recapture the lost chips in short order. I was dealt Q-J in the big blind. A player with 4-4 moved all in before the flop. Though he was a slight favorite, you have to be prepared to take these "coin flip" gambles in the late stages of a tournament if you hope to win. I called and won, busting him and building my stack back up to 17,500.
When we got down to nine players I made a flush on the river (holding Ah-Jh) to bust another player and increase my stack to 25,000. At that point, I had a large enough stack that I felt I did not need to play another hand and take any risk at all. With luck a few more players with short stacks would gamble and lose, and I would coast into the final five without having to risk any chips. That is pretty much what happened.
When we got down to six players, a deal was proposed. We would divide the total prize pool ($51, 440) six ways with each player getting $8, 573. Five of us consented, but the sixth guy said he could not do it. He was playing for a backer (in his case, probably someone he owed money to).
It looked like we would just have to play it out, but then the guy with the shortest stack, who was desperate to work out a deal, proposed that we carve the objector out of the deal, let him have one seat, and divide the rest ($41,440) five ways. We would each get $8,288. Most of us were willing to do it, but then a bizarre situation developed. One player (from Ireland) said he could not take a seat, as he had to return to Ireland the next day and would not be in a position to return to play the championship event at the end of the month. We were stunned.
Why was he playing a mega-satellite if he could not play in the main event? In effect, he had nothing to gain by playing out the tournament and winning a seat which he couldn't use. The seats are non-transferable, and they are very careful about checking photo ID so there is really no way to sell a seat you have won. He did not know that, and was not sure whether to believe us.
We called over the head floorman, who confirmed to the Irishman what we had said. At that point he understood that the only way he could recoup his entry fee and make a profit was to agree to a six-way deal in which the other five players took the five seats and paid him to lose.
We asked him what he would take. He had no leverage, as we could just play it out and he would have no chance of winning anything of value. On the other hand, if we played it out and he survived, two of us would end up with nothing — the winning Irishman and whoever got knocked out in sixth place.
It was a bizarre situation. Finally he said he would take $7,000. So four of us paid him $1,750 each and the deal was sealed. I ended up with $8,610 net.
It was 4 a.m. before I made it back to my hotel, but it felt great to make a major score.
By Ken Adams