A group of young women in matching shirts jaywalk in front of Paris as cars blare their horns. The laggard yells out, “so if we don’t get arrested then we gonna die? Is that the plan?!”
I'm here for my final tournament of the summer, the $10k 6-Handed Championship. With only six players per table, you can’t be patient, wait to play only premium hands. The action will be fast and aggressive, and I expect the field to be filled with some of the toughest tournament players in the world.
At my starting table is British high roller Ben Heath, with over $12M in tournament earnings. A French pro is to my left, and a Swiss pro to my right.
But I peer quizzically at the one-seat — a middle aged man wearing a short sleeved work shirt. On the left pocket is the name and logo of an automotive repair company, on the right a name patch reading "Mike." As we get started he seems confused by the blinds and antes, and the dealer has to point out when it's his turn to act.
I fish for some information: "is your name really Mike?"
"Yes sir." I introduce myself and prod some more. He finally admits, "this is the first tournament I've ever played.” He adds with a flourish, “I'm just a country boy from Georgia."
I can't ask him outright, but I'm astonished that he picked one of the toughest tournaments on the schedule as his first. He owns the automotive company, and "always wanted to come out here." It's his first time in Las Vegas, and he seems to be enjoying himself. I wish him luck, and silently root for him to run deep.
There's an empty seat that's getting blinded out. We speculate on who it could be. A couple players are sure that it's a pro. To be contrarian I make a bet that it's a recreational player.
An hour and a half in, a septuagenarian sits down. The Swiss looks to me with a smirk, "you win."
I'm in a hand but when it's over I turn to the newcomer and welcome him to the table. He responds with a gruff, "you always do fifteen second tanks on every street? You seem like a nice fella but...."
This should be interesting.
But a few hands later I'm moved to another table. There are no recreational players. James Chen is to my right, the #1 Taiwanese player on the money list. There's a lot of pre-flop action, big pots, and tough decisions on every street.
I hold my own the first couple hours, pick up hands at the right times, add chips to my stack.
I run into Mike during a break and ask how he's doing. "They keep saying I'm getting lucky!" I laugh, and offer him the old saying in response: "better lucky than good." I spot his new table as he sits down after the break. To his left is Eric Seidel, Poker Hall of Fame inductee and #6 on the money list. I wish this was being televised.
Back at my table I take a hit when I double up a short stack and my pocket nines don't hold against his ace-queen. Then I fold a big pot where I 3-bet bluffed pre-flop and can't get my opponent off a presumably better hand.
A few orbits later I'm on the river of a queen-jack-nine-three-king board. Chen opened pre-flop, bet all three streets, and now put me all-in. I have king-jack for two pair, but am in the tank for a few minutes — there are a lot of hands he could have here with a ten, and any one of them will send me home.
I'm clearly in agony, and he goads me: "at least at this point I know you're not thinking about going all-in." Against a normal player I know this would be a clear sign that I should fold. Bluffers typically don't want to signal weakness, talking their opponents into making a call. But Chen knows this, and maybe he knows I know this, and maybe he knows I know he knows I know this. After a few circles I decide to throw his speech play out of my calculus and go back to the fundamentals.
I call, and he turns over ace-nine off-suit for third pair. I double up, good for 120 big blinds.
I coast for the next few hours, then lose a big pot when my king-high flush loses to an ace-high flush. The deck runs cold for me. When I pick up pocket kings everyone folds. But when I open with mediocre hands like king-jack off-suit or queen-seven suited, I get three callers and don't hit the flop.
I'm whittled down, but I make it to the end of the night. I'll come back on Day 2 with 36 big blinds.
I look around the room on my way out and I don't see Mike. I assume he made an early exit, his luck turned.
I hope he still had fun.