I got up just before 9:00, showered, checked my emails, made some office calls, ate breakfast and headed for the Rio to play in the Seniors $1,000 No Limit Holdem event at noon.
The Seniors tour is the creation of Oklahoma Johnny Hale, an old timer who ran with Amarillo Slim and Johnny Moss and Doyle Brunson in the 1950's when beating the games was the easy part – getting out alive with the money was the main challenge. It's hard to imagine how it must feel to Johnny and Doyle to see how the game has moved from illegal back rooms to lavish casino hotels with thousands of middle class citizens competing for millions of dollars and commercial sponsors competing to market to them all.
Other sports have been through the same transition from amateur and amateurish competitions with little monetary reward to huge commercial enterprises with rock star pros making more from endorsements than from winning on the field of competition. Golf and tennis are the most apt comparisons. As a kid I used to go to Forest Hills each year with my mother, who was an avid tennis player and fan. We would watch the greats of the day – Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Tony Roche, Margaret Court Smith – none of whom earned in a lifetime of great tennis what Anna Kuornikova earns from clothing endorsements today. It was the same in golf. One of my grade school classmates was Doug Ford, Jr. His father was a professional golfer. Doug senior traveled the professional golf circuit in a mobile home, to keep down his transportation and housing costs. He came from 3 strokes behind to beat Sam Snead and win the Masters in 1957. I doubt he earned in his entire career what Tiger Woods gets for just showing up at a charity event these days.
Every major poker tournament now has a Seniors event. You have to prove that you are at least 50 years old to play. I viewed it as good opportunity, because the field would be smaller and because all the hot young stars would be too young to play.
At the outset Johnny announced this year's inductees into the Seniors Hall of Fame, and read the roll call of great players who have died during the past year. Once the formalities concluded 1,184 of us began the hunt for a World Series bracelet.
I found myself seated next to Dr. Will Noyes, a country doctor and retired surgeon who volunteered to help treat wounded civilians at an understaffed hospital in Kosovo and was so moved by the experience that he spent the next several years raising money from professional poker players and ferrying much needed medical supplies back and forth to the Balkans. He is highly respected in the tournament poker community for his tournament successes, but even more so as a human being. I looked forward to spending the day getting to know him at the table.
He had the hand I was representing.
As soon as he turned over the ace, I mucked my hand, said goodbye to Dr. Will (as he calls himself), and left the table stunned and angry with myself for making such a dumb move.
I tried to redeem myself by playing a $225 STS, but lost most of my chips in the first round when my opponent went all in with a flush draw. I called with the best hand, but he made his flush. After that I had no choice but to take big risks in the hope of rebuilding my stack. It didn't happen.
I spent the next hour cruising all the hospitality suites and taking notes for an article I was thinking of writing for CBSNews.com, rating the suites in various categories (best food, best freebies, etc.)
By 5:00 I had mostly gotten over being upset with myself, and decided to make another run at the daily second chance tournament. I was focused and determined to play better than I had in the Seniors event. By the beginning of the fourth round I had increased my chip count from T1500 to T3175 despite being dealt no premium hands.
Best of all, I had achieved that without showing a single hand, meaning that I had won a number of pots through aggressive betting and forcing my opponents to fold, sometimes when they had the best hand. In the parlance of the trade, I "earned" a number of pots (as distinct from winning them by showing the best hand).
I lost a lot of chips when my 9-9 took a bad beat from another player's 8-8. When the flop came out 10-7-6 the only way he could win was by catching one of the two remaining nines in the deck, and even then I would win if the board paired on the river. (He could also win if both the remaining eights in the deck came on the turn and river, but the odds of that happening were extremely low.) Like magic, a nine came on the turn giving him a straight and giving me three of a kind. The board did not pair, and I was short stacked. I set about rebuilding my depleted stack, and was making progress when I took another beat. My 3-3 was ahead of my opponent's A-7 all the way to the river, but she caught a seven to beat me. At that point I was down to T750.
An hour later I had rebuilt my stack to T9000, with 20 players left. The blinds and antes had risen to the point where it cost T2000 each orbit if you folded every hand. When I picked up 7-7 I moved all in hoping to capture the T2000 of blinds and antes in the center of the table. Another short-stacked player called with A-K. I was a slight favorite before the flop, but when the dealer put A-K-4 on the table, my only hope was to catch one of the two remaining sevens in the deck. That did not happen, and I finished 15th. I was "in the money", but just barely. The payout for 15th place was $540, exactly the amount of the buy-in. I didn't make any money, but I didn't lose any either, and I restored my confidence that I could play well enough to win.
I had a late dinner with a friend who plays in my monthly home game, relaxed with a little blackjack (where I won $160), and went to bed around 1:00 am.
By Ken Adams