Sunday, November 25, 2007

My heart is pounding. It has been 45 minutes and I am still on a high.

A few months ago, I bid farewell to my old online poker haunt, Empire Poker to join the throngs at Poker Stars. I did this because I found Empire Poker to be problematic and because my friends were playing at Poker Stars (I am a sucker for peer pressure).

Late Friday night I was thinking about playing in a fake money tournament, where I always play, and I went to check my fake money balance before I decided how expensive of a tournament I would enter. To my astonishment, I noticed that in addition to just over $9000 in play money, I actually had $5 in REAL money in my account. I was perplexed. I asked around. Nobody else had mysteriously received money. I checked my “deposit history” and it said it had been deposited earlier in the week, but it didn’t say how or by whom.

I played my fake money tournament, and won. I was happy, and I went back to my account and there was the $5 still sitting there looking at me.

I started poking around the real money tables to see what I would have to do to capitalize on this micro windfall. After minutes of investigation, I found some $1 + $0.2 buy-in tournaments where first prize was $14, and the top 7 players all got SOME money back. All I had to do was beat 38 people and my $5 would grow. I know I can win, based on my experience in the fake money tournaments. I did some research and found that I have finished “in the money” 8 times out of 24 attempts in the fake money tournaments I have played, exactly 1/3rd of the time. My fake money chip stack has grown from its original $1000 to nearly $40000 in the months I have been playing there.

I started thinking about these $1.20 tournaments. I could play in 4 with my $5. If I won all 4, I would have $56 at my disposal. If I then started playing $10 tournaments, I would be getting $140 every time I won. I figured all I would need to do is win 1 a day and I could quit my job. It was an alluring prospect.

Today, I hatched my plan. Soon after getting out of bed, I dropped my $1.20 down and entered a tournament.

Things were different here. Despite the miniscule stakes, people were playing much more conservatively than in the fake money tournaments. I buckled in because I knew it was going to be a long ride. I am a conservative player, but I am also a bit of a newcomer, and I made a few mistakes. I ended up finishing in 18th place out of 45 players. Not bad, but FAR from the money.

I took a break. I chatted on MSN. I went out and got a roast for my dinner, and got it cooking. It had been a few hours, and I decided it was time to try again. I had 4 hours before my roast would be done, and nothing else to do with my time. I dropped down another $1.20 and prepared to get back into it.

This tournament went better. I won some big hands, but again, I made some mistakes. Eventually I wasted away all my chips and went out in 13th place. This was a lot better than my previous result, but still out of the money.

I still had hours left before dinner and I still had two more cracks micro buy-in tournament supremacy. I dropped my third $1.20 and was off to the races. The race did not last long. I was out by the 5th hand, mere minutes into the tournament in 44th place. It was demoralizing. I knew I could do better.

And so I found myself staring at my last chance. I had $1.40 left in my account from my mysterious free $5. I felt I had no choice but to dive right back in. I was not going to beat myself up. I was going to proceed with my plan. I dropped my last $1.20 and got ready to play.

I won a few small hands early on and was slowly moving up the ladder. You always lose some hands along the way, but I was winning more than I was losing. I had more than doubled my chips when I got caught up in a very strange hand. I had over $4000 in chips when I got into the hand. I had good cards, but the flop missed me. I bet anyway, and got called. On the turn I did the same thing, but this time got raised. By now I had only $881 left. I had burned through over $3200 in the few moments this hand had lasted. A little voice in my head reminded me of the mistakes I had made earlier in the day. I decided I was better of with $881 than most likely nothing. I folded.

Things soon changed for the better. Within minutes I doubled up, and then I tripled up. I looked at the leader board. I had gone from short stack to chip leader in only 3 hands. I was ecstatic.

In due course, we arrived at the final table. The final table has 9 players, but only 7 will finish in the money, so you are in good position, but you are not safe. I had over $25000 in chips at the beginning of the final table. My next closest competitor had just over $10000. I was in good shape. Slowly players were eliminated until we were down to 7. I breath a sigh of relief because I know now that I will get SOMETHING back from this tournament, but my stack had not changed much since the beginning of the final table. More hands were played, and more players were eliminated, but as it came down to the wire, my luck changed. I was losing chips like mad. I lost the chip lead, I dropped positions, and I retreated. I reverted to ultra-conservative play with hopes of hanging on for higher position. The strategy worked. It came down to myself and one other play… “heads up.” I was in very bad shape. I had $10000 in chips and my opponent had $55000! I needed some VERY good cards.

At the same time, I could relax because I knew that second place would get me $10. That means the worst I could do was have doubled up my money on the day. Not too shabby, but I wanted to win.

And my fortune would turn. I got some cards. I played aggressive, and shortly I found myself with about the same amount of chips as my opponent. I was excited, but that would be short lived. The tide would turn again, and I would find myself in the same position as before, less that $10000 to over $55000. I would have to fight my way out of the basement again if I was to win.

I was undeterred. I bit the bullet and went for it. I went crazy. I raised anything. I battled my way out one hand at a time. I fought and fought and eventually found the tables had turned. It was now me sitting with $55000 and he had only $10000. I stepped back and went conservative again. I had a huge lead and I could wait for the right opportunity to pounce.

It came over 2 hours and 20 minutes after I had sat down. I got my opponent all in, and I had the better hand. The tournament was over, and I was the victor.

When I checked my account balance, I had $14.20. I had increased my balance by 180% in a single day of playing. No, I had not attained my fantasy balance of $56, but I do have somewhere to build from now. I am on my way.


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