Return to Rio

I already miss the company of my wife, the laughter of my children, the comfort of home. I watch myself step back into my old routine, but my mind is two thousand miles away.

Cab from the airport, unpack luggage, Uber to Rio, register for the $600 Deepstack, swipe my card at the kiosk, print out tickets, find my table in the Pavilion.

I squeeze into the 10-seat. The table is crowded, the lights harsh. Memories flash. Bad beats and coolers and missed draws and short stacks and bubbles and worse kickers and all-ins and long nights and heartbreak.

A few hands in, I defend my big blind with A7o. The flop is A97 with two diamonds. I check, and the opener makes a continuation bet. I check-raise, hoping to get value from another ace. He thinks for a moment before moving me all-in. I'm not thrilled about it, but I make the call — he could be doing this with a hand like AK, or flush or straight draws. But he turns over 99 for a flopped set and neither the turn nor river rescue me. I pick up my bag and head back to the kiosk to get my one re-entry ticket.

I take a deep breath, try to get into a better headspace. I let the other memories come. The full houses and nut flushes and chip towers and day 2 bags and soul reads and colorful characters and well-timed bluffs and hot streaks and the thrill of victory.

I sit down at my new table and a big stack puts me to the test right away. I 3-bet him pre-flop, and when I make a continuation bet on a T97 rainbow board he check-raises me all-in. I make a reluctant call with pocket queens, but am happy to see his A5 bluff. I hold through the turn and river, and double up.

A few orbits later I'm again holding pocket queens on a T97 board. A short stack in early position moves all-in. I call, ahead against his AT. And again, I hold through the river.

I now have the biggest stack at the table, in a comfortable spot for the next several hours. I open up with the table, join in the conversations. There’s a man from Tahiti, showing pictures of his wife and daughter. A boisterous business owner from Florida, teasing the dealers. A chef from Australia, boasting about his recipe for koala.

Our table breaks, and I’m moved to a new one in Brasilia. I hover around the same stack size for a few levels, but the blinds are getting steep. I lose a big chunk when I unsuccessfully bluff a missed straight and flush draw. But win it all back later when my pocket kings bust a short stack with AJ.

It’s up and down like that for a few more hours. The cards start to blur. With the exception of the staccato nap I took on the flight, I’m on track to be up for 24 hours straight. But I make it through the money bubble, and I survive until the end of the night.

It’s 1:30am when I bag up my chips and wish my table luck. Out of the 3,916 entries, I’m one of 450 people who’ll return to the Rio for day 2.

Buy-Ins: $38,100 (32)
Cashes: $16,385 (8)
People I saw falling asleep at the table: 3