The Main Event has much more of an exciting atmosphere than the earlier events. There is large circular room as you enter the convention center in the Rio coming from the casino. Normally this area is deserted. But when I walked through there this time there was loud music with heavy beats, a guy building a huge house of cards (he was on a ladder working on it that's how big it was), tourists taking pictures by huge WSOP signs and (I swear I am not making this up) two go go dancers on platforms! It just felt like something big was going on.
When play was about to get underway U.S. congressman Barney Frank (who is the author of several pro online poker bills) addressed the players. He talked about how the government shouldn't have any right to tell us what we can and can't do with our money. He also asked us all to write our Representatives and tell them that they are a bunch of spineless, turtle humping, shit for brains, weasels if they don't get on board with supporting online poker!
I was a little surprised that once we started playing I wasn't nervous at all! Years ago after I'd started playing poker, but hadn't been to the WSOP, I felt like playing the main event was what I would choose if I had a terminal illness and could choose one thing to do before I died. Now, for the most part it felt like just another tournament.
It makes me sad to realize that. My friend Matt (who is also a poker pro) and I were talking about this recently. When we first started playing, poker was such a rush. If I could relive any ten days of my life the first day I played poker in a casino would easily make that list (the day my son was born, my wedding day, days 2-4 of my honeymoon, Christmas day when I was 8, 9, and 10, and a few days involving unmentionables are some others that would be on there).
I have as good a life as anyone could reasonably hope for. My wife and I have been together for more than 10 years and I still love her to death. My son is all I ever dreamed he would be at this age. I have enough money to buy the things I want, a job that I enjoy, and wonderful friends and family. But I still miss that thrill that I got when I first started playing. It was all I wanted to do and I don't really have anything like that in my life now.
In college I'd sit in class listening to my professors talking about forces or integrals or metal fatigue and I'd be sitting there thinking about hands I'd played the night before. Going over and over them again and again.
On spring break when I was 21, Jen was at her parents house for 5 days. I went to the Oaks club 8 times in those 5 days (I won 7 of the 8 sessions!). Twice I played for however many hours drove home, realized I already wanted to play more and drove right back!
So I wasn't feeling the thrill, but it was still tied for the most important poker tournament I'd ever played and I was focused on playing my best.
I got a tough table draw with 1998 world champ Scotty Ngyuen to my right and Lee Watkinson to his right. The rest of my table was a mix of fair players and only one or two of them seemed really nervous. Since Scotty (who is a great player and usually good for an interesting sound bite) was at my table the ESPN cameras were practically parked there.
We started with 30,000 chips and blinds of 50/100 so there wasn't much drama early on, but I won a few small pots and my stack crept up to 32,000.
Now on to the hand I played like a moron that I mentioned in my text update! Watkinson was playing a lot of hands. If he was the first one in he was raising maybe 50% of the pots. Five or six times the action had been folded around to him on the button (when I was in the big blind) and he'd raised every time. I'd gotten garbage every time and folded every time.
I had a fairly tight table image and I decided I should play back at him. So the 7th time he raised my big blind I called with J8 suited hoping to hit, but planning on going for a bluff otherwise. The flop came down T 6 4 rainbow and I checked. Watkinson bet out 400 and I just called planning on check raising the turn or betting the river if he checked behind me on the turn.
The turn was a 3, I checked he bet 1,000 and after 15 seconds or so I slid three yellow $1,000 chips into the pot. He thought for about ten seconds and called.
The river was a 5 making the board 3 4 5 6 T. I should have given up here. In order for a bluff to be a good one it has to make sense. If I didn't have a straight it was very unlikely that I'd bet here. But there was no way for me to reasonably represent a straight since there are very few hands that I would call preflop that contained a 2 or a 7 and none of them would have been anything worth check raising on the turn. Also since he called the check raise on the turn he had to have something. It turned out that something was AT and he quickly called my $5,000 river bet. ACK!
So now I was down to 23,000 or so. But I made two pair twice and stole a few other pots and got myself all the way back to 30,000.
The hand that really did me in happened about 3 and a half hours into the tournament. The blinds were 100/200 and I had about 28,000 chips. A player in early position made it 600 to go and got called by Watkinson. I was in the small blind with AQ and I made it 2,500 to go. I was expecting to win right there, but to my surprise both players called.
The flop looked great - Q 8 5 with two diamonds (I had the A of diamonds). I bet out 5,000 into the 7,700 chip pot, the original raiser made it 10,000, the other player folded and now it was back to me. Looking back I should have folded rather than put almost all of my chips at risk. My opponent had about 10,000 chips behind so it was unlikely he'd fold and if I'd folded I'd still have 20,000 or so chips left.
More importantly I didn't have a good feel for what he had. It was a possibility that he had AQ, KQ, QJ, AA, KK, JJ, TT, 99, 88 a flush draw, or was on a total bluff. That is a pretty wide range.
At the time I chose to use this line of logic "He knows it's likely I'd bet the flop here with just about any hand and he's probably raising to take me off a hand that missed this flop. I'll move all in and win right here or get called by a strong draw" The line of logic I should have used was "He made the minimum raise. I don't know what he has, but it's got to be good. If he was trying to take me off my hand he'd have moved all in."
When I moved all in he looked like he was about to puke. At that point I felt like he also had AQ. But after 60 seconds or so he called and turned over AA. The turn and river were both bricks and I was down to 4,500.
On the next hand two players limped in, I moved all in with AJ and won a small pot.
On the hand after that a player in early position made it 600 and got two callers. I looked down at 77 and moved all in for 5,000. The last of the callers was Scotty Ngyuen who after some thought called me with T9 suited. A 9 came on the flop and that was it.
I didn't feel that bad at the time. I only had about half my action so I'd only personally lost about $5,000 and also at the time I was feeling like I couldn't have played the hand much differently. I've had a dozen days (maybe even 20) in my career where I've lost that kind of money and I did have a strong hand. But as the minutes and hours rolled by I started to feel worse and worse.
I made the long ten minute loser's walk out of the convention area back to the casino and I still felt ok. I talked to my wife about coming home that night or the next day and for the moment I felt just fine. I made plans to meet Matt (who was still playing) for dinner.
Then I made my way to the Casino tables. And I started drinking. A lot. The mopes at my table were even more mopish than usual. The dealers seemed even more than usual like they just couldn't wait to get out of there. The reality of my spectacular failure in one of the biggest tournaments of my life began to sink in.
Sometimes when you look at Vegas it looks like pure excitement. Beautiful women walking around everywhere, people laughing with drinks flowing and money flying. Other times it looks like total despair. Unhealthy people who look ten years older than they are, smoking constantly, and angrily betting their last dollars with long odds and no hope. It definitely looked like despair to me this time.
I was winning, but it brought me no joy. I sure as hell wasn't going to win $10,000 playing $25 a hand anything, but I'm no where near self destructive enough to try to get that kind of money back playing table games. And since I was still wearing my pokerstars shirt and the Rio was swarmed with poker players everyone kept asking me if I was playing the main event. "Yes God Dammit! I played already and I went broke in three fucking hours! It couldn't have gone any worse! Can't we talk about something else?" I honestly can't remember the last time I was so depressed. It's been years.
I had an enormous BBQ dinner with Matt which sobered me up quite a bit and I started feeling a little better. Matt got eliminated a few hours later and we did a little more gambling. I ended up in my room by midnight, watched a movie and went to sleep.
The next afternoon I flew home and my wife and son Peyton met me at the airport. When Peyton saw me coming down the escalator from a distance he got a really excited look on his face and pointed to me as if to say "Look Mama! There he is!" When I got to the bottom he ran up and wrapped his arms around my legs giving me a big hug. Now that is a moment that was pure joy.
So how do I feel now? I feel just fine. In fact I feel good and hopeful about the future. I've always said that one of my strengths as a poker player is bounce back. Losses don't stick with me. I'm more upset about the end of the $3,000 HORSE tournament (even though I made the money) and a key hand I folded in the 2006 main event (and probably 20 other results) than I am about the 2009 main event!
I have a week before I'm off to Iowa for 5 days for a friend's wedding. I plan on doing my normal cash game thing and playing a few tournaments. I'll let you know if anything interesting happens.
There's always next year!