The NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship is in Vegas this week, which means most of poker’s “it” guys and girls can be found at Caesars Palace during filming of the tournament. It’s a cool event that stirs up conversation among the poker community about who got snubbed from the 64 person, invite-only event (save for a couple qualifiers). It’s very well produced too. I actually much prefer the style of production used in capturing and presenting the NBC event, compared to ESPN’s vision for the WSOP. While ESPN has managed to use the slide guitar intro, everyman style of show to bring the game into a solid number of homes across the country, I personally prefer a little more polished of a product. If you watch a lot of televised poker and even go so far as searching out European shows on the Internet you might know what I mean… those shows just seem so much more slick and give a much more styled look to the game and the players.
It’s a fun atmosphere in the Caesars poker room while filming is going on. The Caesars room is so big that they are able to film the entire show in the tournament section, and still offer plenty of tables for cash game action in the main section. All of the participating players have to walk through the main section to get to the tournament area, often with cameras in tow filming their entrance.
The tournament follows the March Madness formula and uses bracket style elimination to determine a winner. A draw party is held every year the night before the tournament begins, which took place last night. (Previous years the party was at Pure… this year at Cleopatra’s Bar. Economy downsize?). My original plan was to stay in Summerlin for the evening and play a session at Red Rock where I had booked a good $2/$5NL win a couple nights prior. However when looking at the Bravo Live app on my phone, it showed not a single $2/$5 game going. Further digging around in the app showed a $1/$3 pot limit omaha game running at Caesars. Whenever a PLO game is going at a property not known for spreading much PLO, it’s almost always a good game.
I topped off my stack to $500 and won a couple smaller hands here and there before playing one of the bigger pots of my live poker career…
I arrived at the Caesars Palace poker room and asked for a seat in the PLO game. There was a seat open but as I walked up to the table Dave, a player I had gotten to know through grinding and later through his dealing at this room, informed me that they changed it from a $1/$3 to $5/$5PLO with no max buyin.
PLO plays bigger than NL–about twice as big–so this was a big game, for me. But I did a quick scan of the table and didn’t recognize anybody else which is always a good sign. “Chris Moneymaker is in the empty 8 seat,” the brush informed me. Hmmm…
I’ve played with Chris twice before. Once at the Venetian during the temporarily-on-hiatus NAPT in a $2/$5NL game, and once at the WSOP in a random $235 Daily Deepstack event. Two traits were common about his presence in both of those encounters. 1) He was very cordial, jovial and conversational, and 2) he gave lots of action. Both traits I would learn would be present again in today’s encounter.
I bought in for $500, which might be a standard 100 big blinds in a lot of games but was among the shorter stacks at this table. One guy had what looked like $10k, a few guys had between $1k and $3k, and a couple were shorties like me. When Chris returned to the table, after learning he would be facing Jason Sommerville in the first round of the NBC event, he plunked down about $10k as well.
I lost $100 on the very first hand I was dealt in, opening the action for $20 with QhQdJd8d. The gentleman with the same Tennessean accent as Chris made the call on the button, and the gentleman with yet another southern accent and $10k in front of him potted it from the big blind. I made the call, as did the button. The Ac9c5s flop killed all further action.
I lost a couple small hands whiffing flops and watching chips and bills get tossed into the middle like they were worthless. I topped off my stack to $500 and won a couple smaller hands here and there before playing one of the bigger pots of my live poker career.
Chris limped up front and I looked down at AhAcQh8c on the button. Not wanting to draw too much attention to the hand’s strength (although these guys, I would learn, probably couldn’t care less) I made a less-than-pot sized raise to $20. The small blind, who’s chip “stack” looked like a toddler had gotten a hold of it and had been amusing itself with the several thousand dollars worth of money, made a pot sized raise to $110. Vowing to not miss a moment of action, both the big blind and Chris cold called and it was back to me. I had about $900 in front of me and making the maximum raise would put about half of that in the middle. That route seemed optimal and no sooner than had I announced “Pot” did all 3 of my opponents make the $460 call.
The 4 of us saw a flop of Kh7h2d and I looked to be in good shape when everyone checked to me. I sent the remaining $460 I had in front of me into the pot, and again, all 3 southern gentlemen saw no reason to fold. The pot, which originally consisted of $10 in blinds, had swollen to just under $3700 before we even reached the turn card.
The action was just too good and the game was too substantial of an opportunity.
The Qc took that spot which I didn’t love but didn’t hate. It could very well have provided someone with two pair but I had a blocker in that regard. I felt good when all 3 opponents–players who don’t need much reason to bet–checked. The river card was far more ugly: the Kc. First to act, the small blind lead into the other two players for $1k. I knew my hand was ruined even before the big blind and Chris folded and the small blind proudly showed his KT86 with 3 diamonds. The floorman had to come over and lend a hand to the winner in helping to cleaning up his now gigantic and multicolored pile of playing chips.
It’s not an easy task to shake off losing a pot that would have increased your liferoll by a significant percentage, but I did my best. I rebought for another $500. The action was just too good and the game was too substantial of an opportunity. I lost a pot and won a pot and was hovering around the $500 mark when all of those chips would be put to use again.
Chris and the fellow with the giant stack on his right had been going at each other relentlessly, to the tune of several high 4-figure sized pots. The Texan would raise blind and the Tennessean would re-minraise blind. They were both loving every minute of it as were the rest of us around the table, waiting somewhat more patiently for the right hand to invest in properly. Eventually I found AdKcQcQs and tried to figure out the best plan of action.
The Texan made his standard blind raise and Chris did his thing by minraising. I decided to flat his 3bet in the small blind and hoped the Texan actually liked his holding enough to reraise. He apparently did enough to put in a 4bet, which Chris obviously and immediately called. Crushing their ranges and not wanting to make any mistakes on tricky flops, I put in almost all of my stack with a 5bet: $550 with $60 behind.
“This is your fault Chris,” the Texan blurted out before casually making the call.
“You’re probably right,” Chris replied before following right behind with his call.
I put my remaining $60 out across the betting line before the flop came down: T95 rainbow. Trying to make light of my situation I showed my hand to Jered who was sitting on my right, and told him he could sweat the action from home. He’s a Vegas regular and a very solid player who has some sort of mechanism installed in his brain to alert him anytime a PLO game starts anywhere in Vegas.
“I know what card you’re rooting for,” he said.
“Yep… I’m thinking of a card.”
Both players called my $60 dark bet and we headed to the turn. The Jc. It put a second club on the board and resulted in a bet from the Texan and a call from Chris, so I wasn’t home free just yet with my nut straight. However, when the 6d came on the river and the Texan check folded to Chris’ $1k bet, I knew I was scooping the $1600 main pot and getting back in the black.
I stuck around for another hour or so looking for anther opportunity but none presented itself. When the Texan called it a night I did too, after wishing Chris good luck in the tournament and booking a $400 profit. There is very little difference between that size of a win and breaking even in a game with that much action, but I will happily take it. Sometimes big opportunities lie just outside your reach as a professional poker player and you simply file them in the variance drawer, hoping the next session is when you can make the full grasp.