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The Long, Winding Road to Tournament Poker Victory or Heartbreak City?

  • nit3runn3r (Noah)nit3runn3r (Noah)
nit3runn3r (Noah)
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  • Tournaments gave me the glory... and the heartbreak.

Hello again, PokerNews. I was actually a little shocked when I saw my first blog posted on here back in April.

And so, I thought to myself, why not start submitting a few more blogs from my heyday? I probably have about 20 or so in the vaults (Google Drive). But this one is the one that has special meaning to me. In honor of the WSOP starting soon, I want to share my story in tournament poker. Cash games made me money, but tournaments gave me the glory... and the heartbreak.

I mostly blogged about every tournament I made a final table on and would then analyze my play. Except this time, in the year 2007, it was all about raw emotion and proving just how badly I wanted to win. I love poker, and this is my story.

Tournaments gave me the glory... and the heartbreak.

It's time to touch 'em all! Reach back and see what I'm made of. Can I do this? I just want one more run and then we can move on from our weekly poker tournaments up in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. I want this more than anyone else, but my patience is wearing thin at this place. I feel like me and Matthew are on our last leg here. It's just time to move on to bigger and better poker things.

I began playing all of two hands the first hour. I limped in with {k-}{q-} once and hit nothing. Absolutely nothing! Another time I had {5-}{3-} in my big blind and lost to a better two pair to a really good player named “Cibi.” Touche.

I know this is quick, but really, nothing happened in that first hour except my friend Matthew going busto. What else is new, right? He started pounding those drinks the instant he was knocked out. It would definitely be one alcoholic ride for him tonight. Sorry buddy.

I'm now sitting with around 2,000 in chips and the blinds are 100-200. Time to make a move already. Ha. The first hand back, I take the blinds with a raise, holding {a-}{10-}. Alright, first pot out of the way. After that a few people would limp in and I go all in with {j-}{j-}. Things are picking up now, as everyone folds. One guy said he was thinking about it with {a-}{j-}. Damn.

So I'm right around 3,000 now and as the second break nears, I would play one more hand. The blinds are now 200-400 and I'm looking at {k-Clubs}{7-Clubs} in the big blind. Our toothless friend in the small blind limps in, and I told myself if he came in raising, I was going to push all in.

Well, he limps, I check, and the flop comes out {k-}{10-}{q-}. Not exactly a perfect flop, but pretty decent. He checks and I bet out the minimum. He calls as the {7-} falls on the turn. Bingo! He checks again and I decide now is the time to go all in. He folds and said he had ace-high. I fully believe him. Break time.

All I ask is for a fighting chance.

After break, my friend is starting to get a pretty good buzz going and I'm actually kind of excited. At this point in the tournament, it's really all in or nothing for stacks like mine. That’s the exciting part, going all in and putting your tournament life at stake. Although I'm not up there in chips, but big enough that if I can double up once or twice, I'll be a chip leader at whatever table I'm on. All I ask is for a fighting chance.

I would get that chance right away, as I hold the {k-Hearts}{6-Hearts} in my small blind. I limp in as Wood (his nickname, honest to God) thinks for a while and checks. The flop comes out {a-}{k-}{4-}. I bet out the minimum and he calls. The turn is a {6-} and I check, hoping he has an {a-} and bets, but he checks back instead. Oops, missed value there.

Well, the river is a {7-} and I go all in with my two pair. He calls with {k-}{j-}! Taking him out to the woodshed! Yes, I realize I played that horribly on the river, but I was lucky he was dumb enough to call.

I'm doing alright with about 8,000 now and the blinds are 300-600. I would steal a few more blinds with {a-}{j-} and then {k-}{k-}. Any little bit helps, but I also need chips if I want to stay in contention. Now is when I need calls. I also missed out on quads and the chance to triple up as I folded (obviously) a random {k-}{4-} and saw two players go nuts on a {k-}{k-}{a-}{k-}{8-} board. They held {j-}{j-} and {a-}{3-}.

The next thing I know, the blinds are moved to 500-1000 and I'm right around 7,000 in chips. Definitely time to make some moves, as we're also nearing two tables. I don't know how I've made it this far, but I'm straggling around. I need a double up and I need it now. Here we go.

This old man goes all in and I look down at {k-Clubs}{q-Clubs}, so... all in! Right after me the big stack shoves too! Oh no, I ran into a monster, didn't I? Yep. The big stack has {a-Spades}{k-Spades} and the old man has {q-}{10-}. There go my outs. Wow, am I playing poorly or what!? But wait, the flop has two clubs in it. Alright; so any {q-} or club and I can triple up. The turn is no help and I start to stand up, anxiously awaiting that river card. It's a {q-}! I did it, I hit my river card! Oh man, I haven't done that in months! We're still in this thing folks!

After that, I start raising it up with any ace I see. Then, I would get someone all in with tens, only to see the same hand. Yes, he also had pocket tens. Boo. I also would knock out this lady with {3-Hearts}{4-Hearts} after I called her all in with a flush draw on the flop. Yes, I hit a flush tonight too. Things are on the up and up here in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. We are on a roll and suddenly, I hear it, "Alright, final table!"

We are on a roll and suddenly, I hear it, "Alright, final table!"

Now, I've made final table after final table here, except this time, I'm just about chip leader. There is one other player close in chips to me, and he’s pretty good; his name is Paul. My plan is to stay out of his way, and let us both get the chance to knock people out.

The first hand I get is {8-}{8-} and raise it up. The blinds are now 1000-2000 and I'm sitting around 20K. Not too great, but the blinds freeze, we're told, and if I can gain some ground, I'll be OK. Besides, everyone else is around 5-6K, which is why two players went all in over my raise.

Since it was nothing to call, maybe another 1,000 or 2, I called and prayed. They held {6-}{6-} and {10-}{7-}, respectively. Or is it "disrespectively?" They bricked off and just like that, we're down to six players (eight make the final table here).

I'm sitting pretty with over 30,000 now and would add a few more to my stack when I knocked someone else out with ace-high to their king-high. Paul knocks someone else out too, and we're down to four players. Definitely in the money, but my friend is dying of alcohol poisoning over here. Hang in there Matthew, I'm doing it buddy! I'm pushing it, but we're on our way.

I would play {a-Hearts}{4-Diamonds} to a raise, only to have a man in a hat call me. Let's call him Hatter. Mad Hatter. MH, Doogie Howser, Ph.D. Ok Ok, Hatter it is. Anyway, I raise and he calls. The flop is {k-Spades}{10-Spades}{7-Spades}. Well, I'm done with this hand. Or am I? He checks and I quickly check back too. The turn is a {4-}, giving me a pair.

This really doesn't change anything though, because my pair is the lowest on the board and ace-high was either good already, or if he has anything out there, it doesn't matter. He checks and I toss out a pot size bet now, planning to take it down. He looks at his cards and the board and then calls. Uh oh! After he called, I noticed his legs started to kind of bounce up and down, like shaking.

I just finished reading "Read 'em and Reap" by Phil Hellmuth and Joe Navarro, and it had this exact tell in it: the nervous movement of feet (or in this case, legs). Now, does he have me or is he nervous because it's a big pot and he wants his flush? The river does not bring another spade, and he checks a third time. OK, I got him now, as if he had hit a spade or lead out this time, I'd know I was beat.

But I still can't risk betting and having him check-raise me, so I check back and he shows ace-high, with the ace as his spade. My pair of fours is good! Wow, thank you, Hellmuth!

Hatter goes all in and there is still someone else to act, but I'm just looking at him.

After that, I'm finally breathing again, as that pot was pretty big and it could have gotten ugly real quick. I would pick up on Hatter's tells once more though, as I raise with {3-}{3-} (four-handed, remember, so any pair, ace or even two face cards are good). Hatter goes all in and there is still someone else to act, but I'm just looking at him.

Is he making a move? His feet aren't shaking this time, which tells me he isn't nervous now, and then BOOM, he seals it. He doesn't say anything and starts looking around the room. Like, "Oh me? I'm all in, eh, what else is going on around here?" I just laugh inside as the other player calls and I quickly fold. Sure enough, hatter has {q-}{q-} and has the other guy dominated with {k-}{q-}. Hatter knocks him out and we're down to three!

I would get my opportunity for heads-up play, as Paul blows up and loses two straight monster hands to Hatter. Once again, Hatter gets {a-}{a-} and doubles up through Paul. And then right after that, Paul tries to win everything back by bluffing, but runs into the two pair of Hatter.

Matthew and I are just sitting back, being amazed at what's going on here. This is right out of Casino Royale. You get a hand, I get a hand, we all get a hand! Regardless, I'm now heads up with the guy I wanted. I'm down in chips to him, like 3-to-1, but Paul was the better player of the two and I want the guy I can read (or needs hands to win), Hatter.

Blinds are frozen at 1000-2000, remember, so we don't have too much, but we have a little play in us. Not necessarily all in every hand.

Right away, I start to breath heavy and have a million thoughts racing in my head. I'm heads up again, and it's been almost two years since I started playing live tournament poker. I have yet to win an official, live, structured poker tournament. Home games notwithstanding, this is what has eluded me so far. I want this so bad and I'm locked in on this guy. I need this.

I play {k-}{10-} to a minraise of his and we see a flop of {a-}{j-}{j-}. I check, planning on calling actually. He leads out and then decides to go back to his stack and add more to the pot. String bet! Right away we call him on it and he shrugs his shoulders, knowing he f***ed up.

Right away we call him on it and he shrugs his shoulders, knowing he f***ed up.

So I take that as an obvious sign that he wants to get all his money in, but screwed it up, so I fold. He mentions how he missed his chance and shows {a-}{j-}! Wow, so he flops a full house and messes it up horribly!

After a couple more folding of hands by us both I look down at {a-}{k-}. I announce a raise, but am deciding how much, if I should go all in or make some kind of enticing raise. As I'm doing this, I see his hands are on his stack, ready to call, so I pick up on this and just go for it all. I obviously want a call here. All in! He calls right away with pocket sevens.

I would have too, if I were him, but I also love my hand, as we're heads up now, so I couldn't ask for more. A truer coin flip of a hand has never been shown! Haha. But I still need to hit my card to stay alive, though. The flop doesn't bring me anything. The turn? That bricks off too. And then, I stand up, and say the words, "I'll never get there..."

And just as I said it, it happened: the ace on the river! I pulled it out! I hit my miracle card to double up and stay alive! Right away Matthew starts cheering, spilling his beer and I'm high fiving the few who actually want me to win finally. They know how hard I've been playing and how I haven't won here, or anywhere, really.

I just doubled up, so I'm not there yet, but we're inching our way. I now have the chip lead and all I need to do is win one more hand to knock him out. Finish him!

I would get {q-}{3-} offsuit in my BB and check it as he limps in. The flop is {q-}{4-}{5-}, and after he min bets it, I decide he wouldn't do that with nothing, so I go all in. He calls with {6-}{7-}. I guess he would, ha. So no {3-} or {8-} and I will achieve what I've been waiting so long for. This is it.

The turn is a {j-}. No {3-} or {8-}... no {3-} or {8-}... no {3-} or {8-}... it's another {j-}! I did it! I won! I'm fighting back tears (even as I type this) and Matthew is hoisting me on his shoulders carrying me around, just as Brett Favre has done so many times after his TD passes.

They all knew what this meant to me. I finally did it.

We were like a bunch of kids just having fun in the moment. And no one was upset with it either, because they all knew what this meant to me. I finally did it. All I wanted to do was win. This was the greatest moment of my poker life.

After almost two years of playing my heart out, just devoting all I could to winning, I would finally feel relieved. Just standing there with my best friend, totally sharing this moment with him. We kept pushing each other, and now, we're tied at one win apiece. I want to thank him for actually supporting my poker dreams. I'll never forget this night and I owe my poker life to you. We did it man!

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