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Poker Takes Its Toll In Atlantic City

This report by Ken Adams is part of a series for offering commentary on the world of poker.

I am in Atlantic City this week to compete in the World Series Tour event at Caesars.

Yesterday I played in a $500 buy-in tournament against 450 other players. It was not a good outing for me. During the first round of play I had a chance to double up with A-Q versus another player's 9-9. The flop came: Q-J-5. He was all in, and I was a 9 to 1 favorite. The dealer brought a 10 on fourth street, reducing my odds to 6.5 to 1. My opponent needed an 8, a 9 or a K to overtake me. And that is exactly what happened. He caught a third 9 on the river.

From that point forward I was very low in chips and had to gamble in an effort to rebuild my stack. I stole the blinds a few times (in poker parlance, when you raise before the flop with a mediocre hand hoping everyone will fold so you can capture the blinds and antes it is referred to as stealing the blinds), but eventually I got caught.

I moved all in before the flop in late position with A-7. Ordinarily that is not a situation in which you want anyone to call, as anyone who calls is likely to have a better hand. I was not happy when the player in the big blind called. But when he turned over the K-J of spades, I felt better as I was a slight favorite (53 to 47 percent). That changed when the flop came Q-10-4 with the Q-10 of spades. He was now a 2 to 1 favorite, as he could overtake me with any one of 21 cards on fourth or fifth street – any spade, any ace, any 9, any K or any J. When a meaningless 3 of clubs came on fourth street, the worm turned as I became the favorite once again (54 to 46 percent). Alas, he caught a K on the river, and I was eliminated early in the tournament. Twice I had been a favorite, and twice I had been outdrawn on the river.

That's the way it goes in no-limit hold'em. All you can do is try to get your opponent's chips in the pot when you are a favorite, then hope that your hand holds up.

The next opportunity to compete was four hours away, so I decided to get some exercise. One of my poker buddies (a real estate broker known as "Real Estate Larry" in Washington poker circles) busted out shortly after I did, and we decided to go bowling. It was an excellent decision, as we had a good time, got some exercise, and got our minds off our disappointingly quick exit from the tournament.

We returned to Caesars in time to get back up on the horse, as they say, and compete in the daily 5 pm "second chance" tournament. Every day there is a second tournament, with a $200 buy-in, starting at 5:00 for those who have been eliminated from the main event. Yesterday 145 of us went once more into the breach. I got very little to work with in terms of premium hands (only one premium pair in 7 hours of play), but I made the most of what I got and outlasted 93 percent of the field.

In every poker tournament, the number of people who get a share of the prize pool (also referred to as finishing "in the money") depends on the number of players in the tournament. Ordinarily you have to finish in the top 7-10 percent in order to be in the money. In this second chance event, with 145 competitors, only the top 9 finishers would be in the money. Whenever the number of players remaining is one more than the number who will get paid, the players are said to be "on the bubble". The next player eliminated (the "bubble boy") gets nothing, and the rest are "in the money".

Busting out of a tournament "on the bubble" is arguably the most exasperating of all tournament experiences. You play your heart out all day long, and end up in exactly the same position as the player who busted out in the first 5 minutes of the tournament.

In the main event of the 2005 World Series of Poker, more than 5,600 players paid $10,000 apiece to compete for a share of $60 million in prize money. The last 560 players would be "in the money"; the rest would get nothing but memories. After three days of play, the field eventually got whittled down to 561. No one wanted to be the bubble boy, but eventually someone went all in and lost. The tournament sponsor felt so bad for the guy they awarded him a free $10,000 buy-in for the 2006 main event. The entire room broke out in applause, as the remaining 560 players breathed a collective sigh of relief to have made it into the money.

Well, last night at midnight I busted out on the bubble, in 10th place. But no one awarded me anything. My only consolation is that I played well to get that far, and had no choice but to move all in when I did. I waited as long as I could, in the hope that someone else would bust out before me. In the ten minutes preceding my elimination, one player went all in three times and won all three times, and another player also went all in and won.

I was not that fortunate.

I pushed all in with the 8-7 of spades, and got called by the big blind. He only had Q-3, but there was already 4,500 in the pot of which 1,400 was his (200 ante plus 1,200 big blind) and it only cost him 500 to call my all-in bet. In short, he was correct to call my raise as the pot was offering him a return of 9 to 1, and his hand was not likely to be that big an underdog no matter what two cards I held. In fact, he was a slight favorite (51 to 49 percent). He caught a Q on the flop and I was out on the bubble.

Another event is scheduled today at noon. Hopefully I will fare better than yesterday. Since my arrival two days ago I have only been dealt two premium starting hands. I got A-A once (I raised before the flop and everyone folded), and A-K (I raised before the flop and had to fold after the flop when three small cards came and my opponent made a sizeable bet).

Perhaps today I will get a whole bunch of premium hands. Of course that is no guarantee of victory. Yesterday at one point in the space of 10 hands I watched A-A lose to A-K (he flopped a king, and caught a second king on the river) and J-J lose to 7-7 (he flopped a 7).

Wish me luck. I will need some.
By Ken Adams