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No Limit Texas Hold 'em Poker Tournament

Last night I played my first No Limit Texas Hold 'em Poker Tournament. Like about 10 million other Americans I first learned about Texas Hold 'em poker while watching the World Series of Poker on ESPN about two years ago.

Shortly thereafter, I was talking with a friend who plays poker regularly. Jerry told me about a website where you can play free online poker; Hold 'em, Omaha or Stud. I started playing for free, then a couple small online poker tournaments for cash.

Then, one of SunFyre's readers who lives in my city, sent me an invitation to a Lions Club International fundraiser poker tournament. It had a $100 "donation" and the first prize was $3000. The top 10 players win money ranging from $100 to $3000, with a maximum of 200 players.

I figured that this would be a good first-timer event for me for a couple reasons:

  • The total payout was only about 30% of the proceeds, so I guessed it wouldn't attract many hard-core gamblers.

  • It was being organized by the Lions, so I assumed it would be a bunch of old guys dealing cards, and they'd tolerate a newbie.

  • Free food.

  • I had 100 bucks.

So I called to register. The Lion I spoke to told me that they weren't expecting to get 200 players. The good news is that the competition would be lessened, but so would the prize money.

We got to the fire hall at six, and filled our plates. The food was provided by a local restaurant call Bixler's Lodge, a very smoky bar with excellent food.

Then we sat down at the poker table. I drew table #1. We were each given $1000 in poker chips. I'm starting to realize at this point that this event is a little more professional than I expected. It was run by a professional poker club, called the Four Aces Social Club.

They ended up with nearly 200 poker players, 182 to be exact. Sixteen tables of 10 and two tables of 11, including my table.

I, incorrectly, assumed that I had to knock off the 10 people at my table, then be placed in a semi-final table. Unfortunately, they did things a little differently. Whenever a table dropped to seven players, they broke up the table and distributed the players into empty seats. This disappointed me, because the end game, down to four or less players, is where I excel. My first goal is usually to survive, then get aggressive with the last 3-4 players.

I played quietly, folding most hands, even several good hands. Finally, I got a great hand, pocket aces and pulled another ace on the flop. One guy, I nicknamed "scruffy" in my head, had been betting on virtually every hand. He'd won a couple hands early, but since had lost several smaller hands. The was just a little below me in the chip count.

When I pulled the two aces, I'd been in the big blind. Rather than betting, I simply checked. When the ace came on the flop with two low cards, he bet a couple hundred. I just called. Then he kept betting, and I called. Each time I hesitated, just a little. Finally, he only had about $300 in his pile, and the pot was over $1500. He presumed I had an ace, but he had Ace-King. He checked, I think to save the "guy-in-a-wheelchair" a few chips.

I went all-in, which actually put him all-in; I would have had less than $100 left.

He about choked when he saw my aces. Scruffy was the first to fall.

Shortly thereafter, "Orange Crush", who had a bright orange polo shirt that slightly matched his complexion, lost to me on two hands in a row. Then "Billy Joel", who looked amazingly like the Piano Man, took a couple in a row.

"Weasel" went all-in with his last $400, three times in a row. No one called, so he stole the blinds the first two times. Finally, I got king-queen suited, when he went all-in with $520. Orange Crush and I both stayed in. They both had ace-jack, and an ace popped on the turn. I lost over a quarter of my pile. Luckily, they were both down substantially, and had to split the pot.

Not only did I lose some of my poker chips, but I lost a little game too. I'd been the tall stack since the first twenty minutes. That King-Queen loss came at the end of a session, so I had a 15 minute intermission to think it over. It shook me for about an hour, and I became very conservative.

I was down to just above my original $1000. Then I looked around the entire room, which had grown noisy. The noise was coming from all the people now milling around, all the players knocked out of the poker tournament. The original eighteen tables was down to eight. I made it past half-way and still had a decent pile.

At the break Kristen had asked who I felt were the best poker players at my table. I told her "Grizzly Adams with Glasses" and myself. Later, I played aggressively against everyone but him, and he never really challenged me. We both took a couple small hands and blinds.

Gradually, Billy Joel, Orange Crush, "Hottie", the only woman at our table, and "Fireman Jabber" who wore a fire company tee-shirt and talked incessantly to Hottie, all fell out of the tournament.

Throughout hour #2 poker players kept filling in empty seats. At one point we were down to seven, and I assumed they'd break up Grizzly Adams and me.

That's when it happened. Three new players joined our table, one with only $400, but two with huge stacks. I was in second behind table #1 chip leader, Grizzly Adams. I immediately was dropped to fourth place with lots of ground to make up. The guy next to me had nearly $6,000. I got really nervous when the two tall stacks both shook hands with the dealer, and he greeted them by first name.

The next hand I ended up head-to-head with Grizzly Adams. I can't even remember the cards, I just remember him raising, me calling, then I'm saying "all in". He called, and I won, virtually eliminated the big hairy guy. Suddenly, I had $3400, and was back in the game.

One guy I nicknamed "Doughboy" just kept hanging around. He played with less than $500 for most of the evening. Finally, he went all-in, and about four players called him. He won about $2500, an knocked out Grizzly Adams.

The next hand had a decent pot. I had pocket jacks. An ESPN commentator once said he hated pocket jacks, because you can't fold them, yet they lose too often. "Big Stack Mike" was the one that came to the table with $6000, and the dealer said "How's it going, Mike?" Big Stack bet $1000. I couldn't fold. A single queen popped up, then another, then Big Stack turned over his third. I was down to $1800 again.

The very next hand I pulled pocket 10s. Doughboy jumped all-in with his $2100. I'd seen him bet with garbage before, so I stayed. We were the only two in the hand. We flipped our cards; my 10s and his pocket Queens. My chances were about one in 26. The dealer flopped three hearts, none of tens, because I had the 10 of hearts. Neither of his Queens were hearts, so that meant 11 cards in the deck would give me the win, and I had two shots at it. Even the queen of hearts would win it for me. My odds jumped from roughly 4% to slightly over 50%.

It wasn't meant to be. The poker gods said, "Not in your first tournament, Rookie." A six and seven of spades was no help to either of us. Doughboy knocked me out.

At first I was pretty disappointed. I thought I'd played well, but two hands of poker later, I'm out. I wasn't going to win any money in my first Texas Hold 'em tournament.

Then I looked around. The tournament was down to four tables with 7-8 poker players each. Of 182 players I finished around 32nd and lasted for 2 1/2 hours of fast paced poker.

I watched for a little while. The dealer at my table got a relief break, and was calling in to the club, updating somebody on the progress. After he got off the phone, he said "Sir, you played very well." (He called every player 'Sir', probably to avoid inventing obnoxious nicknames.)

I thanked him, and said "it was my first time."

"You'd never have known it." he said.

Later I asked him if he knew where I could play more regularly. He gave me his number, and offer to accompany me to the Four Aces Social Club. I am not sure I'll go, but I took it as a complement.

The good news is that the Lions will be putting my "donation" to good use.

The bad news is, I really enjoyed myself, and I found out I'm just good enough to be tempted to donate more frequently to the poker gods.

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