Note: The first part of this saga, and capsule descriptions of the players named below, can be found here.
THE CARDS WENT IN the air shortly after 1 p.m. I wiped my moist palms dry on my slacks and took a peek at my first starting hand of the day: a Jack and a 7 of different suits. Easy fold there. Half the table placed two chips in the pot, indicating that they were as loose and fold resistant as I had anticipated. I intended to play very tightly until I had a starting read on how my tablemates truly played. Opening impressions, as I had gleaned from our pregame table chat, were only the beginning. I was going to have to see some play before settling on how best to handle them when we got into a hand together.
For the first few hands, my cards obliged that goal. They were all trash, most of them including a Jack and a small card. I folded dutifully, even on the big blind, when the Club Player raised and I had to toss a lone Ace with a 5. No free flop for me. The Club Player and the AC Player both tended to raise the proper amount and with pocket pairs, whereas the 18-Year-Old called with just about any two cards, raised weakly, and bled off his chips over the course of the first 20-minute round. The Fat Guy was willing to call raises with any piece of the board. Jack and the Mystery Man both tended to get out of trouble when it reared its head, though the latter did take a good hit early on when he failed to notice a flush draw that came in and took a third of his stack. The Filipina seemed to have been trained by AC, but was less skilled in betting in ways that denied drawing hands the proper odds to keep going and to fold instead.
And me? What info was I giving my tablemates? Not precious much aside from folding just about every hand. In three rotations of the deal, I saw exactly one pocket pair, 66 in the small blind, for which I completed the bet (the pot was unraised) with the hopes of catching a 6 on the flop. No such luck: Jack Queen King, with two spades. No point in proceeding here. I tossed it to the first bet. What I was getting a lot of, was Jack-rag, both suited and unsuited. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I saw a shitty Jack combo at least a dozen times in an hour.
In the four levels I spent at that table, from the 1/2 starting blinds to 10/20 later on, I had exactly two chances to make decent hands. They were both suited Aces, with which, at this table, with this many potential callers, I would have taken to the river had I hit a mere Ace on the flop with one or more suited cards. Instead, both times, the flop came all the wrong suit, in one case all spades when I held A9 of diamonds. With no Ace on the board, I was done. Between abortive starts like this, and some straight draws that never came through and for which I had to fold against massive raises, my starting stack of 150 was half gone by the 10/20 level.
This was exacerbated by some poor tournament administration. When a swift loss of players at one table leaves a significant deficit as compared to the remaining tables in the game, the director is supposed to take one or two replacements to keep the afflicted table full or close to full. In our case, we started with eight players (vs. the nine on the remaining tables), and lost two within 10 minutes (Mystery Man and, as he predicted, the 18-Year-Old). With fewer players, the button will rotate faster relative to the other tables, thus unfairly forcing more frequent payment of blinds. (Mathematically, one can also make the case that it forces a change of play style, as with fewer players, the chance of having enough preflop limpers to allow odds to bet a starting hand with straight or flush potential will be smaller than at a full table. This cuts down your starting hand range.)
With the tournament director also a player, we had a problem getting her attention to address this deficit. The Club Player and I saw eye to eye on how damaging this situation was, and we both tried to get it fixed. No dice; the director's table had the same problem, and she seemed to have a lot of folks there who needed significant hand-holding to get through the basics of poker, so her attention was not on the larger tournament. This points up the need for directors in large groups like this to be nonplayers. With two or three tables, as with the tourney I used to attend in Wyckoff, the host handled these issues with no problem at all (he actually had comprehensive, printed tournament rules). In our case, we went just about a full round of 20 minutes without it being addressed. With blinds of 10/20, this was cutting into my already diminished stack. I sensed an early exit.
At the break, our table was broken up, with three pairs of players sitting in at tables with open seats. Again, this could have been handled more easily by randomly choosing a table to send one or two players over. There is an accepted tournament procedure for selecting the exact person to send to a player-deficient table, down to selecting someone from the same position to assure continuity of deal. Not a concern in this event, it seemed. As it turned out, I and the Filipina sat down at an adjacent table, where mine was one of the two shortest stacks.
With a stack of about 85 chips, and the need to pay in 30 per round even if I did nothing but fold, I was going to have to make a move quickly. I thought my chance had come when I looked down two hands in to see my second pair of the day, Queens. Against a raise and a call, I reraised all in. To my disappointment, both opponents folded. I picked up a few more chips, though.
My end came quickly. After giving those chips right back with absolute crap in the blinds (a raise knocked me off of the big blind, and in the small blind, I got another goddamn Jack-rag), I caught King-Ten of clubs in the cutoff. The first player in raised, all others folded, and I decided to push. He flipped up Aces, actually the first rockets I'd seen all day. I caught precisely one club toward the flush draw, shipped him my remaining 64 chips, wished the table luck, and headed to the food table to recoup my losses calorically.
I would like to find some flaw in my play, but in this case, I truly had lousy cards from the first deal. With the blinds representing more than 30% of my stack on that last hand, and a strong late-position holding, an all-in was the only option. My opponent, roughly my peer, said he would have done the same. Even when I had chips, one thing I knew about this crowd was that bluffing was not going to get a fold-around if they had a remote chance of hitting the flop. I've always gotten at least one person to call, and then either I had to hit a great flop or go all-in regardless of what fell. And third-tier hands like King Queen offsuit were death against this sort of player, who is going to hang onto any Ace, and when one comes on the flop, what then?
So for now, it's back to the usual cash games for now. I did have fun, even if my cards were deader than Elvis. My urge to hit Atlantic City or Foxwoods is still there, if only to make up the $25 fee for the tournament. Felix is brewing a plan for our return to AC, possibly in late March. If I can make some solid headway on the job horizon between now and then, I will be able to reward myself with a relaxing, guilt-free trip to the gamble palaces. If I can find a cash-game table made up of some of the less-skilled players I met at the tournament, I might be able to supplement my severance pay through the fall.