So Close

This week I came within a whisker of making my very first WSOP final table, in the $2,500 No Limit Holdem event. I had a roller-coaster ride of a tournament and got very lucky a couple of times, so although I was a bit disappointed to miss out on the fame, glory and extra money that goes with a final table appearance, I was more than happy to settle for the $50,000 that went with my 12th place finish. It was also a great confidence boost for me, proving that I can not only play my way through these huge fields, but also push all the way into the serious money once again.

I had a good start to the tournament, for once not facing any recognisable pro players on my starting table, and hitting a few hands early. In fact I doubled up in the first level, calling a small raise with pocket eights, hitting a set on the flop, getting all my chips in against pocket aces, and making quads on the river for good measure. Over the next few hours I steadily added to my stack to stay comfortably above average in chips. However a couple of mistakes and a bad run of cards during level 5 saw my comfort level decline considerably, relegating me to a short stack and nearly putting me out of the tournament.

Fortunately for me, two-time WSOP bracelet winner Mark Seif came to the table, and came to my rescue, giving me all his chips while on tilt after losing most of his stack in a previous hand. Having limped under the gun, Mark quickly pushed all in when I re-raised him from the small blind for half my stack, in a misguided attempt to get me to fold when I was clearly pot-committed. He winced when I called, and sheepishly turned over A-7 offsuit which failed to improve against my pocket tens. Not long afterwards I busted another player eager to put all his chips in with not much of a hand, when I slow-played a flopped top set, inducing an all in push on the turn from a guy with an underpair to the board. All of a sudden I was back in business, and went to the dinner break with an above average stack of around 13,000.

Aside from a hand I played against Erik Seidel ~ re-raising him out of position and facing a scary staredown before he folded ~ the remainder of the evening was fairly uneventful. I didn’t hit many hands, and when I did, they always seemed to run into bigger hands, eventually leaving me again as a short stack when play finished for the day. Although I’d made the money, with less than 16,000 chips I was sitting towards the bottom of the 96-strong field, and knew I would have my work cut out for me if I was to survive for long.

I returned the next day determined to make some quick gains, and the opportunity came in the very first hand. I was in the big blind and three players limped in. I looked down hoping for a big hand but instead found 7-5 offsuit, which I checked, hoping for a ragged flop that would hit my hand, or that I could at least bluff at. When the flop came 10-6-4 and it was checked to me, I figured I had a good chance at winning the pot right there if I pushed all in, which I promptly did ~ but my heart sank when I was called instantly by the big stack on my left who showed A-10 for top pair. The turn came a blank and I was getting up to leave when the river brought the 8 I needed to make my straight! A few hands later Lady Luck smiled on me again when my raise with pocket aces was raised and re-raised all in by two short stacks. They didn’t improve and I had quickly tripled my stack to more than 90,000, to be back in the game again.

By this time players were dropping like flies ~ I think we lost a third of the field in less than an hour’s play ~ and before I knew it we were redrawing for seats having made the final three tables. With some monster stacks on my table and no real hands (aside from pocket jacks which I was forced to fold to an all in re-raise from what turned out to be aces), I had played cautiously, picking up a pot or two but basically going backwards against the rising blinds. So when we kicked off with the last 27 players I was one of the shorter stacks again, and knew any re-raise I made would almost certainly be called by Terrence Chan, the big stack on my table who was raising every pot. I sat tight, stole a few blinds, and waited for an opportunity to double up as other players were eliminated.

Among the first to go was Erick Lindgren, who went out in one of the stranger hands I’ve seen. He had put in 5,000 for his big blind and everyone had folded around to the button before the dealer noticed that there were actually two big blinds out there. Lindgren had made a mistake, but was forced to keep his money in the pot and play the hand through ~ calling a raise from Chan (the real big blind) for a third of his stack, and pushing all in on a flop on A-2-3 after Chan checked. Chan instantly called, and was well ahead of Lindgren’s A-4 with 3-2 for two pair. Chan’s full house on the river sealed Lindgren’s fate, and he left the table shaking his head.

With 16 players left I was running last in the field, but managed to double up twice in quick succession to give me yet another fighting chance. First I pushed all in with A-5 of spades and was called by pocket fives, hitting a flush on the river. A few hands later I pushed in with A-10 and doubled up against chip leader Anthony Reategui’s K-J, which put me back to 120,000 ~ still short but no longer on life support. If I’d just spent the next 10 minutes finding the 9-2 / J-4 / 8-3 hands I’d been picking up for most of the final few levels, I would have kept my head down and survived the last couple of eliminations to make the final table. As it was I managed to find a real hand, pocket queens, which I didn’t hesitate to go in with after being re-raised by Reategui, who with more than a million chips could have had just about anything. But in a re-run of my exit from last year’s WSOP main event, he turned out to have pocket kings, and I was out.

I had narrowly missed out on the final table, but knowing that I was a long shot to make it even half as far as I did I was still thrilled with my 12th place finish. I headed to the nearest bar to celebrate my win in the delightful company of Chris Newton, Neil Channing and Rory Liffey, who had all sweated me at various times during the tournament ~ thanks again guys!  Maybe next time I’ll make it all the way.