My Biggest Poker Win Ever

A couple of weeks ago I played in a poker tournament at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church in Zionsville. It was my second biggest live poker tournament winning ever. I promised my friends on Facebook I would write a blog entry telling more about the event. I’m just now getting around to doing that.

I think this was the fourth tournament I played at that church. My friend Jack Brake goes to that church. The tournament director a guy named Gil Keller also frequented the St. Gabriel poker tournaments and is a really great guy. He also plays that Jack’s home game which I’ve been to a few times.

St. Alphonsus has a very large complex of buildings on them quite beautiful. I’m not been inside their actual church but considering the quality of their parish hall send other facilities my guess is it’s gorgeous. The parish hall we played him look like it might’ve been a chapel or sanctuary that had been converted to use as a hall. They have a large video projector screen and a pair of 2 large flatscreen TVs. Gil hooks up his laptop to the screen to display the time left in each blind level. He has a really nice app that he can program in all the details of each level. It also tracks the number of players remaining in a number of rebuys so that it can report the average chip stack size. I found myself looking at that number frequently to see where I stood in relationship to the field.

The buy-in was $50 which got you 20,000 chips. Blinds started out 100-200. You are also allowed to rebuy to bust out before the first break. Each blind level is 20 minutes and the break was after the fifth level. A rebuy would be $50. After the first break, anyone could do an ad on for an additional $50 for 20,000 chips or half of an add-on $25 for 10,000 chips. They had 33 players on the one guy didn’t show up so they put his chips in play and posted his blinds until the first break. He never did show so they removed his chips at the break.

I had a reasonably good hand the first hand of the game. I forget what it was but it was a face card with a decent kicker and the opportunity to play the first hand was irresistible. I think I ended up with a pair of Kings that ran into three of a kind. It was disappointing to have a decent hand right off the bat and get beat. It was a sign of things to come. The entire first four levels of the tournament I did not win a single hand. Most of the time I would get marginal hands out of position. Of course every time I would limp in, someone would come over the top. I basically sat there for the first hour and a half and watched my chips dwindle away.

As we got closer to the break in the end of the period in which you could rebuy I decided to play a little bit looser having already made up my mind that I was probably going to have to rebuy or with a big pot if I was going to be any kind of competitive for the rest of the game. Late in the fourth level I went all in and lost and is the rebuy. That meant I now had $100 in the game. That’s what I plan to put in because I expected I would do the initial $50 plus the add-on for $50. I only had $140 with me and I had already spent $5 on a 50/50 drawing. If I was like to do an add-on it was going to have to be the half add-on for $25. By the way I really like the idea of having an option to do the half add-on. Even if I hadn’t already done the rebuy and been short on cash, I might only done the half add-on.

The very first hand after the add-on I got in a very big pot against three other players. One of them was all in and the other two we checked down the remaining cards. I ended up winning the entire pot and although I didn’t count the chips completely, it was very nearly a double up for me. So in two hands I went from being nearly out of the tournament to having almost double the starting chip size.

Since I had won that big pot, I considered not doing the add-on but in the end I decided to do the half add-on anyway. That meant my total investment was now up to $125. At that point they were introducing a new red chip that was worth 10,000. Most of the people who did the add-on got 2 red chips. When I sent my dad up to the chip table to buy my add-on, I expected him to come back with one red chip. Instead he came back with five yellow ones which were worth 5000 each. They had given him 2 ½ times more chips than they should have. I thought about just keeping my mouth shut and I would like to say that it was my sense of honesty that prompted me to speak up but that really wasn’t it so much. I was more concerned that other players were similarly getting the wrong amount of chips. In the end I did tell him that give me the wrong amount and I gave back the extra chips.

From there on out I just took it easy and picked my spots carefully. It was clear that many of the players were staying on marginal hands. That told me that the right strategy was to wait for a premium hand and let them go at it with their marginal hands. If I would happen to catch a flop on a good hand I would be able to take them big. Because I was playing only a few hands, I think I developed a reputation for only playing premium hands which was in part true. But on a couple of occasions when I missed the flop or perhaps played position and really didn’t have much, I was able to bluff my way to winning a few pots that were total bluffs.

There was a guy sitting to players to my right played a lot of pots and won a lot of chips. He knocked out several players and had amassed quite a big stack. As I looked around the table I could see I was doing okay compared to the other players and I was maintaining average or better stack size according to the big screens. But I really wondered how things were going at the other tables.

We were playing about eight players per table on average. However when it got down to two tables they decided not to merge to a final table until there were actually eight players. Most tournaments I’ve managed and most that I’ve played in add an extra player for the final table. Even the World Series of Poker Main event which plays nine players per table, merges to a single table when there are just 10 players remaining. They don’t call that 10th place player a member of the “final table” even though he does sit at the final table. It was really rough playing with just four players while we waited for the ninth place player to go out at the other table of five. I’m going to have to recommend to Gil that next year the go-ahead and put nine or 10 players at the final table.

When we finally merged to the final table I was pretty proud of myself for making it that far the second year in a row. Last year I think I went out eighth but they only paid five or six places. This year they were going to pay six places however sixth was only going to get $40. Fifth was $90. For someone who only did the initial $50 entry, at least they got some money back for sixth place and would possibly turn a profit at fifth. But considering I had $125 invested I knew I was going to have to get to at least fourth to get in the black.

We had about three minutes left in the level when we merged to the final table. We took a break after that and they did a color up of chips. Someone use the phrase “chip up” and so I got on my soap box and started preaching. There had been a running joke going around the table about people whining about how poorly they had been doing. I said to the group “It’s my turn to start whining”. I wasn’t whining about how I was doing in the tournament. I was whining about the misuse of language. I explained to the group that this was a pet peeve of mine. Technically “chip up” is a process where you win a series of pots and gradually build your stack of chips. What we were doing was called “color up”. That’s where you trade in your low value chips of one particular color that are no longer needed for chips of a higher value and different color. But I hear people call “color up” by the term “chip up” frequently and it really bugs me.

Among the chips that were added with a new 25,000 chip that is a rectangular plaque like the ones that they use in European casinos. We all joked about how we felt like we were James Bond playing Bacharach against an evil villain. It was kind of fun to have these unusual chips in your stack even though after the color up I only had one of them. The guy who was sitting to places to my right had about five or six. The advantage to color up is it makes it easier to see the relative stack size of each player. Amateur players don’t always keep their chips very well organized and do not keep them in easily countable stacks. At this point it was easy to work around and just look at the number of 25,000 plaques each player has to judge their stack size. I turned to my dad and said “can you believe it? It looks as though I’m currently in third place!” Considering that I didn’t win a single hand for the first 100 minutes or so and it had to do the rebuy, it was amazing enough that I made it to the final eight but to be sitting third at that point was just unbelievable. Dad reminded me that in fact I was really only in eighth place. The way that game goes, you could get kicked out at any minute.

Considering the size of the stack that the one guy had with his six or seven 25,000 plaques, I think we all figured that he had the win tied up we were all playing for second place. The problem was his strategy was a mess. He had been bullying people because he had such a big stack and it had been working. But now rather than going after the shortest stacks, he was going after the larger ones. Because the blinds were so big and he was playing so loose that whenever he would lose it would cost him 10% -15% of his stack or more. Of course some people were going all in with a short stack because they didn’t have any other choice and he would call because he figured they didn’t have much. Occasionally they would double up and that would cut his stack even more.

I tried to lay low as I could because I needed to make it into the money. When we finally got down to sixth place I was still in third or fourth. At one point I ended up all in against one of the other shorter stacks. I barely had him covered. It was classic coin flip where I had a small pair and he had two over cards. The odds of winning one of those are about 50-50 so that’s why they call it a coin flip. I ended up winning that one which kept me alive a little bit longer. As I saw the guy with the big stack begin to lose his and the guy who had been in second place take over the lead I realize that those two weren’t afraid to go at each other. That really worked to my advantage so I picked my time when to get involved. Once I got down to fourth place I don’t recall what it paid but it was more than the $125 that I had invested. I was so happy to be that far along I didn’t really care what happened after that.

When we got down to just three players I turned to dad and said “I told you I was in third place”. He said “you can say that now that you couldn’t say it before. You could have just as easily gone out in eighth”. Of course he was right. The guy who had had the big lead at one point probably had more chips than all of the other players combined. Now he had about half the stack of the new chip leader. I just let them go at it and occasionally picked up some blinds when I had position. I knew the two big stacks would go at each other and eventually they did. The guy with the big stack was gone in third place. If he played a little bit smarter he could’ve won the whole thing. That left me heads up against a really smart player. He had about a 10 to 1 lead over me. We’ve been playing over four hours and were both very tired. He had indicated he might make some sort of deal which I probably should’ve taken. I doubt he was going to take first and second place money combined and split it even with me but he might’ve given me more than I would’ve gotten for second place on my own. But it’s pretty rare to get a chance to play heads-up for good money and I asked him if we could just go ahead with it for a few more hands. “I’m probably going to go all in pretty soon here to see if I can double up. If I don’t it will all be over. Let’s given a few hands.” He agreed.

Sure enough a few hands later I caught a couple good cards and pushed. He called and caught a pair on the flop. I never did improve and it was all over. Second-place paid $460. Subtracting out the $125 that I had invested gave me a profit of $335. That doesn’t include the $5 I spent on the 50-50 drawing. I count that as separate. First place paid $740. I don’t know if he did rebuy or add on. My guess is he did the initial $50 plus a $50 add-on. I don’t think he did a rebuy.

Overall I had a great time. And winning my second biggest live tournament ever made it even better. For the record my biggest live win ever was at a tournament at brother-in-law Joe’s club that he belongs to in Danville. They had 64 players paid $50 each and I got second place which was $650 total or $600 net. My biggest win anywhere was a limit hold‘em game on Poker Stars. It was a $5 entry against about 4000 players. It took about five hours to play. I got first place which was about $545. Although that was less than the $650 that I made in that other live tournament, I still consider it my biggest win as a percentage.

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