My shot at a poker title

For a few years now, I’ve been on my buddies’ e-mail list for a poker tournament.

Logan Ingalls photo, via Wikimedia Commons

All you need is a chip and a chair to play in the NCPT. Oh yeah, and $20.

Called the NCPT (for National Capital Poker Tour), a group of them get together once a month to play No Limit Hold ‘Em. It’s been a goal of mine to play in a poker tournament in Vegas, and I play online, but mostly for play money.

So even though this wasn’t Vegas, I finally decided to take a shot this past Friday night, and see if I could hang with poker people at a table.

The play was a little different than I thought it would be. Since many of these guys have been playing for years, I expected more aggression. But everyone seemed to play a passive style of poker (at least at my table). There weren’t very many raises preflop, as most people were content to simply call to get a look on the flop. So any time I had a good preflop hand, I raised. Most of the time, I won either there or with a continuation bet on the flop.

One guy wouldn’t raise preflop for 15 or so hands in a row, but then raise four hands in a row, with big continuation bets on the flop.

I don’t think I made any real mistakes. I never got called on any of my bluffs, and I let people trap themselves often. I was good at mixing up my play (I had pocket aces three times, and played them differently every time).

The only thing I wished I had done differently, is explained in hand #2 below.

I was doing pretty well for while, but started to run cold at the end. Eventually I was blinded out, as for the last hour or so, I was dealt absolutely nothing. The best I had was A9 suited, but everyone folded preflop. Except for that, my next best hand during the last hour was probably J6 offsuit (I know, sad right?).

But in the end, I came third.

There were a few notable hands that I was involved in. I thought I would show them here and let you in on my thought process. To the best of my memory, this is how the hands played out. For cards that were shown that I can’t remember, they didn’t have any impact on the hand.

Hand #1:

This was easily my favourite hand, and it happened about five hands into the night.

I was dealt 54 of hearts, and since a couple of people had called the minimum already, I decided to play along. The flop came 9C, 3H, 2H. Pretty sweet for me. I already have a straight draw and a flush draw. I think I raised, and everyone folded except for Jason. The turn then showed a 8H. So I now have a flush, with a possible straight flush draw, but I think I checked (I know I raised either the flop or the turn, and checked the other, but I can’t remember which). Jason checked as well.

Then the river came, and it showed AH. Beautiful card for me, as it now gives me the straight flush. I’m really hoping Jason has something. I placed a bet of about half the pot, and he calls, flipping over the KH. I still have no idea why he didn’t raise with that hand. As far as he knew, it should have been the nuts, since the AH was already on the board.

Later on, he told me that he remembered raising on the river, but I don’t remember going down that way. I’m pretty sure if he had raised, I would have re-raised him with a straight flush. But again, it was the right call by him, since he saved himself a lot of money.

Photo by flipchip / LasVegasVegas.com, via Wikimedia Commons

Even Daniel Negreanu thinks I played a set of fives wrong.

Hand #2:

I had 55 preflop. It was me and Mike. On the flop came a five. I think there was a bet by Mike and a call by me. Then there were two checks on the turn, and he raised on the river. With a set of five, and no real scare cards on the board (no flush or straight possibilities), I simply called. This was the only mistake of the night I wish I could redo. I won the pot, but I should have re-raised at least the minimum. If he had any type of hand, he would have called or re-raised again. If he was bluffing, he would have folded, and I would have won the pot without showing my hand. But I obviously made the wrong move.

Hand #3:

It was me and Jason again. Everyone folded to Jason, who simply called the minimum. Then everyone folded to me, who was in the big blind with K4 offsuit (not sure if it were a four, but it was low card). I checked.

The flop came KK9. I checked, trying to lay a trap. Jason went all-in, and I insta-call, immediately show my K for the set (I’m not a believer in slow-rolling at all: I always show my hand within a second or two of calling). Jason had a nine for two pair. The turn didn’t matter, but the river was a 9, which gave Jason a lower full house than my full house.

Shortly after this, we had our first break of the evening. I could added on to my stack by putting in another $20. But since I had $72 in chips (after starting with $30), I figure I just save the money and see how I could do. For the record, I was informed about half the people there get the add-on, while the other half keep their original $20 buy-in.

Hand #4:

At this point, we’re at the final table. A few people have been eliminated. I’m guessing we’re down to six people or so. I’m dealt AA, and put in a 3X the blinds raise. The small blind and the big blind are the two only two callers.

The flop comes J73 rainbow. Don checks, and the big blind moves all-in. I take a few seconds to make it seem like a tough decision (in actuality, I want Don to call as well, so I’m trying to make it seem like I’m not as strong). Eventually, I re-raise all-in myself. Don has to take a few minutes to think about it. He decides to fold KJ.

The big blind shows a J (with an Ace, I believe, because I think only the jack could have helped him, as another ace would give me a set). He gets no help on the turn or river, and someone else is eliminated.

Hand #5:

To set this hand up, we need to go to a couple of hands before this, when Paul moved all-in as first to act (there were four of us left). I had 88, and had to debate. We were pretty close in chips, so this may have been the end for me. Eventually I decided he must have a stronger starting hand, and fold.

(After the game, Paul told me he had K8 offsuit. I don’t know if I believe him, because I never tell anyone the truth either. If you don’t see my cards, and I tell you what I had, assume I’m lying).

So now, I’m in the big blind, and Paul is in the small blind. Everyone folds to him, and he moves all in. I look at AH  JH, and know I have to call. Paul turns over AK offsuit. I’m devastated. An ace plus garbage comes on the flop. More garbage on the turn. And then the miraculous jack hit on the river. It was a brutal beat. I feel elated, but ashamed at the same time. It turns out, I had a little more chips than Paul, and he was gone.

I still believe I made the right move there. AJ hearts is a strong hand, especially four-handed. I later looked it up, and while I was only a 22% favourite to win, Paul was only a 33% chance. There was a better chance of a tie. There was no way I could have folded it. Maybe if there was a raise and a re-raise, but not in the big blind with him all in.

Not seen at the NCPT: A girl

Hand #6:

This was a hand I had to think a lot about. We’re three-handed.

I was dealt K6 offsuit, and in the big blind. The first guy to act folds, and Chris, in the small blind, decides to call. I check.

The flop comes K72, with two hearts. Chris moves all-in. I’m left to debate this hand for quite a while. In the end, I fold top pair.

Was it the right choice? In my head, it made sense at the time. If he had a king, he surely had a higher kicker than I did. If he had two pair or a set, I was pretty much doomed. I didn’t think he had a hand like pocket Qs, Js, Ts, etc., or he would have raised pre-flop. If he had two hearts, he had a 40% chance of winning, with me holding a 60% chance. I didn’t think he had a hand like AQ, or AJ, because again, he would have raised preflop. And I ruled out that he was bluffing.

In the end, I decided the only thing I could really beat was a flush draw, and even then, it’s not great odds. So I folded.

They taped the hand for Youtube for some reason. He showed his hand to the camera. He had K9. I’ll post the link here when it’s up. But I obviously made the right call there.

After that, I got nothing. No aces, no pairs, nothing. The other two people I was left with, they were getting half-decent hands and playing pots against each other. But anytime a lot of money got in the pot, it went to the river and they split it (I think it happened three straight times at one point). If one of them had won one of those pots, it would have crippled the other, leaving me with a better chance of at least making the final two.

I ended up getting down so low that I had one big blind left. I lost that hand, and finished third.

But in the end, it was a lot of fun. I eliminated four of the 13 people there, and won some cash. I’ll definitely be back again, and hopefully get a little more money next time. Of course, now that they know my strategy, I’ll have to change it up somewhat, so we’ll see how successful I’ll be.

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