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One Card Away from the Final Table at the World Series of Poker

What a difference a day makes.

I blogged yesterday about my first foray into World Series of Poker action. It started and ended very badly, with me failing to win a single hand.

Who knows why I signed up for another day of punishment at the hands of the poker pros the very next day. The structure of this tournament was different: a shootout. That means that the ten players at a table play until one has all the chips. Then that player moves on to the next round. After two rounds of this, the field of 900 is whittled down to 9 players who make the final table.

My pessimism was only enhanced when I discovered that David “the Dragon” Pham had been seated next to me. He has won over $5 million in poker tournaments, has two WSOP bracelets, and was the defending champion in this very event! My table of ten had at least five full-time poker professionals.

Amazingly, after some good luck, I emerged the winner five hours later.

I needed to win one more table to make it to the final table, which would provide me bragging rights for life. I was lucky to have lunch with Phil Gordon, probably the best poker teacher in the world. He explained something to me over lunch that is fundamental to good poker, and probably somewhat obvious, but I had never understood it. (It’s too valuable an insight to give away for free over the blog; you’ll have to buy one of his books.)

The combination of that insight and a lot of good cards had me rolling at the second table. Unfortunately, I had to knock out my friend Brandon Adams, one of the very best poker players in the world and a great writer as well. Brandon is a classic example of opportunity cost … he makes so much money playing poker that he will likely never finish his economics Ph.D. at Harvard.

I found myself with a chip lead as the table was reduced to just two of us. I built my lead up to about 2-1 after 45 minutes. Then I lost a bunch when I had Ace-King suited and probably played it completely wrong. That made our chip stacks about even.

Not long after was the hand that undid me. I think this is how the hand went down, although it was such a weird hand, I may have some of the details wrong (the description of it on the WSOP website is definitely not accurate, but you can read the Pokerworks account here):

My opponent, Thomas Fuller, made a standard raise pre-flop. I called with King-Seven. The flop came King-Queen-Eight, all of different suits. I bet 7,200 chips and he called. The turn card was a seven. There were now two clubs on the board. I checked, hoping he would raise me and then I could re-raise him. That is exactly what happened. He bet 8,000 and I re-raised.

Much to my surprise, he then re-raised me. What could he have? I was hoping he had a queen. But maybe he had K10, KJ, K8, AK or even two pair. Still, I forged ahead. I re-raised him again. Then he pushed all-in! I figured I was beaten, but I called his all-in raise. I was stunned when he turned over a six and a nine. All he had was a straight draw. He was bluffing. There were only eight cards in the deck that would make him a winner … I had an 82% chance of winning that hand. If I won that hand, I had over 90% of the chips, and was virtually certain to make the final table. A five came on the river, he hit his straight, and the cinderella story had come to an end. I was out.

I have to say, though, that even as antisocial as I am, I really enjoyed the ride. It was one of the best gambling experiences I’ve ever had. The morning after, however, I feel like I have a terrible hangover, despite the fact that I didn’t have a drop of alcohol. I know myself well enough to know exactly what that hangover is all about. Like any “good” gambler, I don’t care very much whether I win or lose, as long as there is more gambling action on the horizon. But when the gambling is over, the crash comes.

Today is the crash for me. No more WSOP. No more gambling for a while. “Just” a family trip to the Hoover Dam and a long plane ride back to Chicago.

And maybe a little teeny pick six ticket at Hollywood Park.