Back to Bally's
My fever's been gone for a few days. Except for some lingering congestion and the occasional cough, I'm doing fine. I’ve fulfilled my requirements to the CDC, and eager to escape the confines of quarantine.
I'm at Bally's for the Millionaire Maker, a $1,500 tournament with a guaranteed $1M first place prize. At my starting table I caress the felt, riffle my chips. My brief brush with the virus leaves me even more grateful for the time I have here.
It's 10am, early for most poker players. We start four-handed as we wait for the rest of the seats to fill up. The action starts fast and chips change hands quickly. We get a fifth player and he busts his first hand when a straight cracks his flopped set. Then a few hands later we lose another player when his kings run into aces. We're down to three.
By the second hour I'm not sure where my chips have gone. The cutoff opens and I three-bet jam from the small blind with a short stack. His ace-queen has my ace-jack beat, and I leave to use my one re-entry.
My new table is in the Paris ballroom, and it doesn't go much better. I get pocket aces and open under the gun. Everyone folds. I open with lesser hands like queen-ten off-suit, get four callers and whiff the flop. I'm back to a short stack after an hour.
On the last hand before break the big stack opens and I three-bet with pocket aces. We see a 742 rainbow flop and he pushes me all-in. I call without hesitation but cringe to see his 65o open-ended straight draw. I side-eye the turn and river, fearful of spotting one of the eight cards my opponent needs to win. I fade them all, and double up.
A few orbits later I'm back up to a starting stack. A player from middle position opens and I call from the hijack with suited ace-six. The player to my left makes a small three-bet. The original opener calls and I'm priced in so put a few more chips in for the call.
Ace, jack, six. Dream flop. The opener checks, and I check behind. I'm hoping the three-bettor stabs at the pot so I can put in a big raise, but he checks behind also.
A king comes on the turn, and I get worried. What if he has ace-king for a better two pair? The opener checks a second time, and I check also. Now the three-better makes a pot-sized bet, leaving himself with not much behind. The opener responds by moving all-in.
I could triple-up. But I pause for a moment before making the call. As I stare at my opponents it's hard for me to imagine what hands I can beat. My heads drop and I throw my shrunken cards to the muck. The opener turns over pocket jacks — a flopped set. The three-bettor responds with pocket kings — a set on the turn. I was way behind. Sometimes the luckiest hands are the ones you fold.
My stack oscillates over the next few hours before our table breaks and I'm moved back to Bally's. The blinds are increasing fast, but I'm getting good hands at the right times. My pocket tens hold against ace-king. Then my pocket queens bust ace-jack.
It's only a couple hours before we're done for the day when I'm moved to yet another table. Across from me sits Ryan Reiss, the 2013 Main Event champion. By now I have quintupled my starting stack, in a comfortable spot to coast to day two.
But I don't try to coast.
I play a big pot with pocket nines on a KK532 board. At showdown my opponent turns over KJs for the flopped set.
I play another big pot against Reiss on a QQ84J board. I see the bad news again at showdown when he shows me KQo.
My stack is cut in nearly half.
I keep stabbing at pots, chip up a bit more. I pick off a big river bluff and add more to my stack. I claw back up, just shy of my highwater mark.
The tournament director makes an announcement — five more hands before the end of the night. Some players order beers to celebrate. Others tense up.
Queen-six off-suit. Queen-four off-suit. King-three off-suit. Queen-seven off-suit. Ten-six off-suit. All unplayable hands given the action. I fold them all.
I bag up my chips around midnight. It's good to be back.