Mantra

I'm exhausted, but wide awake. When I fall asleep, it’s not for long. I don't dare to look at the clock. At some point, I notice that the sun is shining through the curtains, and tap my phone to look at the time. My alarm will go off soon — I have to be at the Rio in a couple hours. I give up and force myself out of bed.

I get to my table a couple minutes before play starts. I’m the last of my table to arrive, the dealer has already torn open my bag of chips and put them in front of my seat. I have headphones in, music playing to help me focus.

A player taps me on my shoulder. He’s wearing a giant grin. “I just want to say, I’ve really been enjoying your blog.” I’m taken aback, flattered. He had looked up each of the players at our table, found my Twitter profile, which led him to the blog. I thank him and wish him luck. I hope I don't have to write a paragraph later about how he busts me.

I’m the third shortest stack at the table, but a couple double ups will put me in contention. We’re playing one hour levels today, so I have plenty of time to wait for the right spot before blinds go up. I repeat a mantra: survive.

Players around us are dropping every few seconds. Tournament personnel are shouting table numbers into walkie talkies to organize payouts. Our table is calm and steady.

Twenty minutes in I get my chance. An early position player has opened, and I look down at pocket aces in the big blind. I elect to flat call, and check the king-high flop. I'm deflated when my opponent checks back — he's supposed to bet his entire range there. The turn is a scary card for me, and I have no choice but to open shove. He folds, losing the minimum.

I fold some borderline hands that I might otherwise 3-bet jam, waiting for the right spot. Most players seem to be opening tight, and I don't want to fall into a trap. My best candidate is when I pick up KJ of clubs in the big blind against a button open. He calls with KJ of hearts, and we chop the pot.

By the second level I'm below ten big blinds — I can't be picky. My new mantra: double up.

A player opens from middle position and it folds to me in the small blind. I look down at A8 of clubs. I'm not excited about jamming this, but it's an easy decision. He calls with two red sevens, and I'm happy for the coin flip. I brick the board though. Out in 299th place, for a $1,310 payout.

I decide to head over to Venetian for the $1,100 DeepStack Championship. It'll be my first time playing there this fall, even though they've been running a strong series, and it's one of my regular spots to play.

The structure is nice and slow, giving me the chance to play patient poker. But I decide to play a very loose, aggressive style instead. I'm still focused and calculated, but I push thin edges in an attempt to build a big stack.

I start off strong, betting a Js3s2h board when an early position opener checks to me. He calls, and checks to me again when the 5 of hearts comes on the turn. I bet again, and he check-raises me all-in. I read weakness and call. He turns over AK of hearts for the flush draw. I need to fade another heart or a king, but make a straight on the river with the six of diamonds.

My stack oscillates over the next few hours. Sometimes I hit my draws, sometimes my pairs hold, sometimes my bluffs get through. Sometimes they don't.

I lose half my stack when my pocket tens can’t beat the big blind's two pair with 73. I build it back up over the next few levels. Then lose it all back when I call an all-in with AQ on an AT3A board, disappointed to see my opponent flip over pocket threes.

I grind a short stack for a few hours, now fighting through fatigue. I try to stay focused, keep myself awake. I double up with pocket kings versus AK, giving me some life, but not much.

It folds to me on the button and I jam with pocket threes. Not an ideal spot, but I know it's theoretically optimal. The big blind asks for a count of my chips, studies me for a while before reluctantly making a call with A9o. Another coin flip, I'm slightly ahead.

An ace on the flop sends me home. I can't wait for my head to hit the pillow.


Buy-Ins: $39,200 (33)
Cashes: $16,644 (8)
Times a guy at the other end of the table shook his head and squinted at me after I raked in a pot: 5