Wednesday, July 16, 2008

In lieu of the World Series

Somewhere out there on the road, the Pie in the Sky tour took the wind out of the M&M poker sails. Still not sure what happened -- some bad cards, some bad beats, some bad play -- but we didn't exactly set the world on fire. That's not the only reason we cut our trip a bit short without a return to Las Vegas, but let's just say our vision of capturing the World Series of Poker was requiring rosier glasses than we had packed in the Excellent Element.

When we got home though, Michelle set to work on a screenplay idea she's been kicking around that involves a poker tournament. As part of her research she began reading the three volumes of "Harrington on Hold 'em," the bibles of tournament poker. It all must have rekindled an interest, or maybe she just needed some color for her story, but a few weeks ago Michelle suggested we drive down to the Muck to play in one of their Tuesday night tournaments.

Supportive guy that I am, I agreed to go play.

Michelle has always been a good tournament player -- better in tourneys than in live cash games -- and I wasn't at all surprised when she began building a formidable chip stack and scaring the bejezus out of her opponents, me included, with her ice-cold staredown from behind and under big black sunglasses and that shock of crazy hair. Also the giant raises.

Before too long I busted out, in about 20th place, and went to play in my normal $4/8 cash game. But hours passed and still Michelle was in the tournament. Finally I went back to check on her and she had made the final table, where she played like one of those cancer patients you read about in the newspaper (she fought courageously, battled tenaciously, blah blah blah) before eventually finishing in fifth place, good for $125. Nice little return on the $65 buy-in, and an excellent showing against the 50-player field.

At the casino we heard about a larger promotional tournament scheduled for later this month, July 20, with a $500 buy-in and a $100,000 prize pool including $30,000 for first place and $20,000 for second.

We also began to catch wind of some friends' recent success in tournaments. David McCumber, who has been on fire all year, consistently has been making the money at Diamond Lil's here in Seattle, and my pal Joel Rubin in L.A. has made a couple tasty little scores against the degenerates there. Best of all, our former P-I reporter colleague Sam Skolnik, who now works at the Las Vegas Sun, has broken through with several final-table finishes at Caesars, Bellagio and elsewhere, taking down wins in the five figures and barely missing six figures or more. He even has an official ranking now in Card Player Magazine's "Player of the Year" contest.

Michelle and I looked at each other. Sammy's pretty good -- we've both played with him plenty -- but he's not that good. If he and Joel and David can consistently beat these games maybe, with a little practice, we can do the same.

So we decided to try again a couple of nights later, at one of the Muck's $70 buy-in events, this time with 97 entrants. It would be like practice. And who knows, if we felt confident and made a few bucks, maybe we'd take a shot at the July 20 event.

We both did well again, with me outlasting Michelle this time and making the final table myself. I finished in eighth place, with a payout of about $180.

Fast-forward a couple of weeks to last night. The big July 20 event is approaching -- that's this Sunday -- and we wanted one more practice session at the lower stakes. When we got there and were assigned our seats I gave Michelle a little fist bump and said, "See you at the final table."

Lo, as players busted out to the left and right of us, every time I looked over my shoulder Michelle was stacking chips. And I got off to a great start, more than doubling up on the first hand of the tournament with pocket aces. A few hours later, as six tables were combined to five, and then to four, three, two, we found ourselves still in the game. Before long we were drawing for seats at the final table, just as we had "predicted."

Michelle, unfortunately, came in with a short stack among those 10 players and finished in ninth, good enough to get her buy-in back but not to make a profit. I had a healthier chip stack but played poorly in the final few rounds and felt almost lucky to exit in sixth place, with a $160 payout.

We didn't pull down giant wins -- and in fact we both could have made a larger profit if I had agreed to a proposal to "chop" the total prize pool 10 ways (stubbornness, greed) -- but we feel like we're playing in a different universe than we did out on the road.

Who knows what this weekend will bring. My good friend Mike Stahlberg, who taught me this stupid game, is planning to come up from Eugene to play on Sunday, and I think McCumber's going to give it a shot too.

We'll see each other at the final table, I'm sure. And if the subject comes up, I'll vote in favor of the chop.


Ronelle said...

Since your visit, I now understand your poker blogs! It is almost like I have learned a new language. With Christin in Brazil I am having trouble finding playing partners...but I just found a poker fanatic at work who promises to teach/practice with me. Who knows, maybe one day I will meet you both at the final table
On a different note, Mark, this is for you. I just heard on a cable sports chat show that the Yankees are considering signing SEXSON! I thought you would enjoy hearing that.

Mark said...

Ronelle, thanks for that Sexson news. On behalf of Mariners and Red Sox fans everywhere, I say: Good for the Yankees.