Bubble Boy at the Bay 101 Shooting Star Mar 1st, 2004
Just call me Bubble Boy. A sucker if you want to be mean.
If you don’t play poker, you may not have heard the term “on the bubble.” Basically, in any tournament structure, there’s always a line drawn where people get paid and people don’t. When you reach the point where you are one player away from the money, this phase of the tournament is known as the bubble. You don’t want to be on the non-paying side of the bubble. It’s as sickening a feeling to get to play the game all day and miss the money payouts by one.
Yesterday, I played a $1500 no-limit hold ‘em tournament at the Bay 101 Shooting Star. I had won my seat from a $220 satellite, so I was playing cheaper than most. We started the day at 11:15 am. By the time 9:30 pm rolled around, there were 19 players left, with only 18 players getting paid. There were two short stacks left in the game. I was one of the short stacks.
And I got the bubble prize. I cracked out in 19th position.
Read on if you want to hear my account on what was one of the more interesting days of tournament poker I have ever played, from my point of view.
How I won my seat
I’ll start this account with how I got my seat back in November. It’s a bad beat story, but one I find somewhat humorous.
I bought in to a 30 to 40 player satellite, and out of the group, 4 players were getting paid. First place was to receive the $5000 seat to the World Poker Tour event, which happens this Wedensday. The other 3 players got $1500 seats, the game that occured yesterday. With 4 players left, I was second in chips, sitting around T31,000. The chip leader, a dealer named Chang who I had played with often, had T32,000 in chips. The other players, one of whom was Dick Corpuz, a local pro and high on last year’s money list, had approximately T18,000 and T15,000.
We had just come back from a break and sat down. I was in the small blind, and Chang was in the big blind. With blinds of T3,000 / T6,000, both Dick Corpuz and the other player mucked their hands. I looked down and found A K. I made it roughly T15,000 to go, not expecting Chang to call. To my surprise, he looked down and within a split second, moved all in.
I was a bit dumbstruck.
I had just put half my chip stack into the pot, so I had no choice. I called behind him and expected him to turn over a low pocket pair. But he turned over A 3 ! I was loving this. Why on earth Chang had risked his entire stack on an A 3 was beyond me, but I love the move.
That is, of course, until the flop came 2 4 5.
So, with that brutal beat, instead of playing the $5000 game this Wednesday, I was relegated to playing the $1500 game.
Yesterday started out rough. I drew easily the toughest table in the entire tournament. Of the 15 tables and 150 players, I was at table 3, seat 9. In seat 3 was Amir Vahedi. You can catch Amir in the repeats of the 2003 World Series of Poker on ESPN, where he played tough, but managed to bluff at he wrong time to take 6th. In seat 5 was Scotty Nguyen, and to his immediate left in seat 6 was Layne Flack. You can read about my encounters with each of them before in my other poker articles on this site. In seat 8 to my immediate right was Tony Ma, another solid tough player.
Needless to say, I did not like my table draw.
Confrontation with Amir
I had one great clash with Amir early on in the tournament. I think it might have been level 3. I was in the cutoff (one next to the dealer button) and limped in behind Tony Ma with 8 7. Amir was in the big blind if I recall. The pot had four of us in.
The flop came down J T 4 . The small blind checked, as did Amir, as did Tony Ma. So I decided to make a play at it and bet something small, like T500. The small blind folded, and Amir raised to T1,000. (It might have been T1,200, I’m forgetting off the top of my head.) Tony folded, and I had been pushed around all day up to this point, so I decided to call the raise to see if I could make a play at Amir on the turn. (That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.)
The turn was a 9. I hit the bottom straight. I expected Amir to check to me, at which point I would bet strongly. But Amir wasn’t about to back down after his check-raise. He bet T1,500 into the pot. I thought about raising him, but I wasn’t entirely sure is he was playing a Jack only, two pair, or a flush draw. He had me covered easily, so if I raised all in and was wrong on what he had, there was a chance after all he had K Q or Q 8, I would be done for the day. So I flat called behind him.
The river was a harmless 6. Again, I expected Amir to check to me. But he bet T1,500 at me again. I had T4,000 left at this stage, and rather than putting it all in, I played it safe and just flat called behind him. He turned over K J , and my straight won. He looked quit a bit upset when he saw my 8 7, obviously wondering how in the hell I could first make a bet at the pot with it, and then calling his check-raise on the flop.
I don’t have good answers other than I needed to play something, and not look like I was getting bullied out of every pot. I just happened to hit this one. Out of all the hands I played in this tournament, this was the only one I misplayed, but got lucky to win it. It also put a nice question mark over my head on what I would play and when.
Aces to the left of me, Aces to the right
One aspect of my play I’m fairly happy with from yesterday was that I escaped not from one pair of Aces, not even two, but four hands where my opponent held pocket Aces. In two of those hands, I had an Ace with a face card myself. In total, I lost the minimum amount I could up against those hands, somewhere in the range of T2,000 total.
I spent the first 6 levels doing nothing but dodging bullets it seemed, never able to move beyond the T10,000 starting chip count.
Cracking out Layne Flack
If you have never played with Layne, just know that he can be a real pain in the ass. I completely understand what he does and why he does it, but it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with him at the table. His appearances on the World Poker Tour make him look like a fun loving guy. But at the poker table, he shoots every angle possible, talks trash as much as he can, and does his best to completely disrupt the flow of the game. At one point, he even reached over and flipped up both of my cards after I had revealed only one and mucked the other. Uncool and a sleazy move at best, something that would have pissed off many players. I shrugged it off and was committed to not letting his antics get the best of me.
Layne tries to make everyone play off balance, which works to his advantage. Besides, yesterday’s $1500 game was a pittance to the games he normally plays in.
When he sat down to play at 11:15 am, Layne already had a Budweiser in hand. He had managed to play a rollercoaster game, raising pre-flop some 75% of the time for the hands he was dealt, and 25% of the time not even looking at his hand. Or claiming not to look, but I caught him doing so quickly a few times. Ask anyone at the table. He was in full maniac play mode.
Here’s some choice examples of Layne’s maniac play. In early position, Layne raises pre-flop a standard 3x to 4x raise. He gets called by player on the button. The flop comes 6 6 4, and Layne moves all in with a short stack. Player on the button calls him, and turns over A K. Layne turns over 6 3.
A player in late position makes a standard 3x to 4x raise. Layne on the button instantly goes all-in. The player who made the initial raise thinks a moment, then calls, turning over A Q. Layne turns over 9 3. The flop comes 6 6 2. The turn spikes the 3, the river is a harmless 2. Layne cracks the guy out of the tournament on that hand.
Against, me, I limped in small blind with K 6, and four way action. Flop comes K K 5, I check, big blind checks, Layne in middle position goes all in for T4,800 or so. Folded to me and I call his all-in bet. He turns over 3 2. I turn over my K 6. Turn is a 4, river is a 9. I double Layne up.
There was much more than this. So much more.
But Layne finally ran into two walls. The first occurred in level 6, when he got all of his chips in with K K to a player who held 9 9. A 9 spiked on the turn, and crippled Layne from T30,000 or so down to T13,000 or so. The second wall came up against me in level 7. We had just come back from a break, and Layne goes all in from the button when it is folded to him. I look down in small blind and find Q Q. I think for a good two minutes, mostly because I was fairly sure Layne had at least an Ace, but probably not a King kicker. I thought much too long about it, but finally made the call I needed. Turns out Layne had A 5. The flop came a Q and the rest were bricks. I double up and Layne hits the road.
Once Layne left the game, things got back to normal. His impact on a game is markedly noticeable, as Scotty played much more conservatively while he had Layne on his left. As soon as Layne exited the game, Scotty changed his entire style. It was interesting to watch a player like Scotty work the conservative angle which is not his normal style due to having a player like Layne to his immediate left.
Jack Ten is my new friend
I’ve always enjoyed playing Jack Ten, but yesterday, it was the hand that got me through a lot of tough spots. Out of the ten or so steals I made in the latter stages of the tournament, I remember at least half of them being with Jack Ten.
On one key hand, it actually paid me quite well. The hand was against a local player, Ravi, who has played against me many times. I made a steal raise with J T on the button, only to have Ravi come over the top and raise me from the big blind. I decided to play the hand, and I flat called him.
The flop came T T 9. Score! Ravi checked to me, and I made a slightly smaller than pot sized bet at him. He thought about it for a bit, but called a bit more quickly than made me comfortable. The turn came a 7. Ravi checked to me and I immediately went all in. Ravi hemmed and hawed a little, but again, he called me rather quickly, saying something to the effect of “I have invested a lot of chips already in this hand, I have to go all the way.”
Ravi turned over a A 2! I was a bit shocked he called me down with this hand. The river was a 8, and my trips turned into a straight. I doubled-up and felt great.
Big Slick strikes again
I proceed to blind and ante off a lot of hands, eating into my medium size chip stack. I felt the need that I couldn’t coast, and needed to catch one more big hand to make it to the final table. So, I got what I thought would be that hand in the form of A K. A middle position player, with about T16,000 in chips made a raise to T4,000 pre-flop. The blinds were T600 / T1,200 at this stage, with T75 antes. It was folded to me, and I made the hand T10,000 to go.
He thought about it, and flat called my raise behind, leaving him with only T6,000 left. I have no idea why he didn’t just raise all-in, but he didn’t. The flop came Q 8 6, and I moved all in in first position. He beat me into the pot, turning over 6 6. I lost that critical hand, knocking my stack down into the T25,000 range.
I never recovered from that hand.
Further, the player went on three hands later to knock out Scotty Nguyen with pocket Aces, and built his chip stack up into the T80,000 range.
So I battle my way to 19 players left on three tables, short stacked and desperately looking to double up. But it was not happening. Worse, with 19 players left, it was taking forever to knock out the bubble player. A deal was passed around at the other two tables to go ahead and take $1,500 off the prize money and give it to the 19th place finisher, in an attempt to get the game moving again.
But at my table was Diego Cordovez, and he would have none of it. No deals is his policy, and wouldn’t budge.
So, shortstacked, and Diego sweating me, I am dealt 9 9 and go all in to a big stack pre-flop raiser. He turns over Q T, and the flop comes K Q J. No Ten appears to save my hand, and I bust out on the bubble, having played all day and nothing to show for it except this blog entry.
As for Diego, I have no idea if he’s playing on the final table today, which is playing cards as I type this. But if he is, I hope he gets his Aces cracked.
Sour grapes? Probably. But I’ll get over it.
Maybe Diego has given me what I need in my poker experience — a tough bubble finish to sharpen my play. Maybe that was his plan. Doesn’t make this pill any easier to swallow.
Always next year
I had played with as much heart as I knew, only to have my cards go dead near the end. I made next to zero mistakes in my play in the tournament, save the hand with Amir. I was not able to catch a really good rush of cards, or take advantage of positions for the most part, especially considering I was seated to the left of Scotty Nguyen and Layne Flack for 3/4 of the day with no way of getting my table broken up.
So, another year, another game. Out of the four big tournaments I’ve played to date (each having buy-ins of $1500), I’ve managed to place in the money twice, busted out cold in one, and grab the bubble in the other. I know I can play, and if I played as much as the pros do, I know I could win my share of big prizes. But there’s obviously far more important things in life than poker, so I’ll have to be content with what I’ve done so far.
But boy is this game fun sometimes.
So, call me Bubble Boy for this month! I’m gonna wear it like a badge of honor.