I'm back for Day 2 of the $3k, this time playing at the Bally's convention center. There are 407 players remaining, and I have a healthy 70 big blind stack to tackle the day.
A few hands in, I open from the button with AK. The big blind jams on me and I snap call. He turns over pocket queens, taking a quarter of my stack when I can't improve.
That's by far the best hand I see for hours, and my stack whittles away as we reach the end of the rebuy period. I use the time to practice my breathing, reminding myself that this is part of the journey — I've been card dead before, I'll be card dead again.
At our first break, I'm walking down an empty hallway and Cliff "JohnnyBax" Josephy turns the corner. He's one of the very few poker players I fanboy over, as I looked up to him when I first started playing poker online in the '00s. I'd watch him climb to the top of the leaderboards, and studied his training videos religiously.
While we pass in the hall, I decide at the last minute to say hello. It turns into an awkward mumble of words, startling him. He's confused, and I have to explain that no, he doesn't know who I am — I'm just a fan. I scurry away, my face turning red.
As we return from break, I'm the short stack at my table. I open from the hijack with the K9 of diamonds and both blinds call. The flop comes KJ4 with two clubs and a heart. Both blinds check, and I bet a third of the pot. They each call.
The turn is the 7 of hearts, putting two flush draws on the board. The small blind leads out with a bet, and the big blind pushes his remaining stack in.
I'm stumped. I have top pair with a not-so-good kicker. The small blind has been very aggressive with check-raises, so it's likely that he would have check-raised the flop if he had a better king. It's unlikely the 7 improved either of their hands, but I could see the big blind jamming with a strong flush draw.
I think through dozens of variables, and decide to re-shove. The small blind reluctantly folds, and I'm dismayed to see the big blind turn over K7 for two pair. I need a nine on the river for a better two pair.
It doesn't come.
I start to stand up and gather my things, disgust overwhelming me. The words from my morning meditation are long forgotten: be gentle to yourself.
The player to my right looks up at me, "you won."
I glance at the board again and an expletive slips my lips. A jack paired the board on the river, giving me KKJJ9 against his KKJJ7.
A few hours later, at a different table, my stack heads in the opposite direction. The blinds are increasing as we inch toward the money bubble and I'm not winning my coin flips. By the time we're on the bubble I'm the shortest stack at my table again, down to 12 big blinds.
I squeeze through, making the money, and now need to double up or go get some rest. A French pro on the other side of the table obliges me, I double with KJ versus his QJ. Then a second French pro doubles me up again when I jam my AT on the river with top pair, and he calls with a worse kicker.
It's not an easy table, especially when Adrián Mateos sits down with a giant stack two to my right. But I grind the last few hours, ending the day with about 27 big blinds.
Out of 1,240 entries, I'm one of the 77 players remaining to play Day 3. We're all guaranteed at least $7,660, but without question everyone's fighting for the $558,616 first place prize.