For an entire week after my ninth-place satellite finish, I kept second-guessing myself and thinking how close I came to winning my seat into the Foxwoods Poker Classic $10,000 main event.
I repeatedly reviewed the hands I had played (I write down in detail all the hands I play). As I analyzed and reanalyzed, I concluded that overall I played fairly well. I made a good laydown early. I made it to the final table, fighting back from an early short stack (geez, it would be nice to get off to a strong start once in a while). But maybe I should have pushed all-in with the jacks OK, let's put that satellite to rest! It's over. Let's move on to the next one. Flipping through the calendar, I figured that I could play in only four more satellites before the main event. Over the past two years, I had been averaging one win (earning a seat) in about every four satellites. Hopefully, this trend would continue. But you never know.
Satellite No. 2:
As I drove south to Foxwoods, I was ready to hit the felt again, finally fully recovered from last week's near miss. This time, the satellite had 94 players participating, which calculated into nine main event seats, three buy-ins into a later Act III (Foxwoods' version of a super satellite), and cash for first through 13th place.
The first round (blinds 25 and 50) began like any other tournament: bad cards and folding. I have often waited through numerous hands before even entering a pot. However, on this day, things would be slightly different. On the seventh hand of the tournament, I looked down to see Ah-Jh in middle position. Folded around to me, I decided to raise to 200 and an older gentleman seated two places to my left decided to call. I had played with the gentleman previously and remembered that he was fairly aggressive. We were headed to a heads-up flop, which delivered 4h-2h-7c. Thinking this flop probably missed him, I decided to try to take the pot right there, betting 375 chips. After he quickly called, I became suspicious that he may have a pair higher than the 7 or maybe two overcards. The turn brought a beautiful card: 3h. Bang! I hit the nut flush. Now, how do I extract as many chips as possible from my opponent? After I decided to check, I did not have to wait long for my answer. The gentleman quickly declared "all-in." After instantly calling, he flipped over Qh-Qs. Alas, the perils of slow-playing a big hand preflop, as he was drawing dead when a meaningless 7s came on the river.
Wow, I just doubled up! The last time I doubled up this early, I won the satellite. Without question, this gave me a boost of confidence, but I still needed to play solid and selectively aggressive poker. For the next few rounds, I did just that. I took down the blinds with solid hands (J-J, A-K, 6-6) and won some sizable pots; my J-J survived a short-stacked K-Q and my A-A vs A-9 had to sweat out an open-ended straight draw on the turn (8-7-5-10), but survived when the river paired the board's 7. My chip stack neared 20,000 chips by Round 9, where the blinds were 600 and 1,200, antes 150. With 32 players left averaging about 12,000 chips, I was in good shape entering the second break.
However, the break seemed to kill my momentum. After sitting back down, my hands completely dried up as I did not see a card over a 9 for almost two rounds. Additionally, every time I thought about stealing the blinds from late position, someone had already raised, usually all-in. As we entered Round 12 (blinds 1,500 and 3,000, antes 400) with only 22 players remaining, I began feeling the pressure as my 13,000 chips had dwindled below the average stack, which was now about 17,000. Fortunately, I was able to steal a blind with A-10, enabling me to survive another loop around the table. However, I knew I had to make a stand eventually. As we headed into Round 13 (blinds 2,000 and 4,000, antes 500) with 16 players remaining, I was "fortunate" to be the big blind. After everyone began folding around the table, I looked down to see 3-3. After the button folded, I was prepared to push all-in if the small blind called. However, before I could act, the small blind put the onus on me by pushing all-in himself. After counting my chips, I had only 8,000 left, which had the small blind covered, but by only 1,000 chips. If I called, it would be my last stand. I knew it was a 50-50 hand, but I wouldn't be able to last another round and I may not get a better opportunity. If I won the hand, I had a great chance to win my seat. I decided to call. After he flipped over A-9, the race was on. Anxiously awaiting the flop, my heart sank when 9-Q-5 hit the felt. When the turn (4) and river (10) provided no help, I was left crippled. On the next hand, I was eliminated in 16th place when my A-8 ran into A-10 and couldn't connect.
Great. Another close one. This time I didn't even get a buy-in or cash. Driving home, I began my usual frustration of second-guessing, focusing on my fateful 3-3 hand. Oh well, three more to go.
Satellite No. 3
In this satellite, 96 players were competing for nine seats, five buy-ins and cash for first through 15th place. As I took my seat, I recognized two local players at my table who both had made tremendous finishes at Foxwoods recently: Kevin Cantwell (the defending champion) and Lenny Cortellino (Foxwoods Fall 2005 main event sixth-place finisher and the $5,000 no-limit hold 'em champion). As long as I had to play against tough players, at least they were nice guys I knew pretty well. Fortunately, both were sitting to my right (Kevin next to me and Lenny three to my right), so I had position for most of the hands. I had hoped I could avoid any battles unless they were necessary.
However, I clashed with Kevin right away in the first round. Under the gun, he raised to 200. I looked down to see K-K. After capping my cards, I reraised to 850. Everyone else folded to Kevin and he reluctantly called my bet. This instantly made me worried. Kevin and I have played together often and he knows I wouldn't make a move on him, especially this early in the tournament. Since he raised under the gun and called out of position, I figured him for a strong pair, and I was definitely worried about aces. However, after the flop of A-10-3, Kevin checked. The good news was I was actually slightly relieved since the odds of him having aces in the hole just plummeted. The bad news is if he has A-K, I'm dominated. As I contemplated my move, my mind said check, but my right hand grabbed for chips. Before I could stop, I had pushed 1,100 chips into the pot. Kevin instantly went all-in and I knew I was dead. Since it was only 550 more to call (Kevin had lost a decent hand just before), I completed the bet. He calmly flipped over the improbable A-A. The turn (8) and river (7) confirmed the pot for Kevin. Not the start I was hoping for. I was also disappointed in my play. I should have checked the flop, and depending on the betting, may have been able to get away from the hand.
However, no time to sulk as I was short stacked once again. Well, let's see if I can get back into the tournament. It has almost become a rite of passage and once again, I took on the challenge head-on. In Round 2, I pushed all-in postflop (K-J-10) with K-9, outlasting my opponent's A-J when a 3 and 4 completed the board. In Round 3, I followed my double up with a string of premium pairs (A-A, Q-Q, A-A). Although I did not get any action, I did pick up the blinds and built my chip stack back to the initial 4,000. After a fairly uneventful next few rounds, I headed off to our first break after Round 6 with 3,350 chips.
After the break, I started Round 7 (blinds 300 and 600, antes 75) as the big blind. I looked down to see J-10 suited, not my favorite hand but a hand with lots of possibilities. A player in late position raised three times the big blind. As it was folded to me, I contemplated my next move. Although I could have called the bet, I sensed weakness and thought I could take the pot down. I declared, "all-in." After counting his chips, he had me covered, but would have taken a huge hit in his stack. Nevertheless, he emphatically called and flipped over his A-9. Although I was a slight underdog (48-52) going into the flop, an A-9-3 flop all but closed the door on my tournament. Needing runner-runner for any hope, a Queen on the turn prolonged the drama, giving me eight outs. However, the ace on the river punctuated my exit and ended my night in about 45th place. As I headed for my car, I thought, "Only two more to go."
Satellite No. 4
For this satellite, there were only 65 players vying for six seats, four buy-ins and cash for first through 11th place. With an accident on the highway, I was running a little late. I sprinted to the registration table just in time, but still ended up missing the first couple of hands. After folding my first dealt hand, I was the big blind for the second. Wiping the sweat from my forehead, I looked down to see 4-4. While a young player in middle position raised to 250, everyone else folded to me. I decided to take the big blind discount to see if I could hit a set. Flop: 5-4-2. Bang! After I decided to check, he came right out with a 300 chip bet. I countered by reraising him to 1,600 and, after a few moments, he called. I put him on an overpair or possibly two overcards. After the turn brought the K, I threw all of my remaining chips into the middle. After only a few seconds, he called. He flipped over A-K and was drawing dead. Double up! What a great start! I ended Round 1 with about 8,200 chips. Just as Round 2 was about to start, our table was the first to break.
When I arrived at my new table, I was easily the chip leader and decided not to play crazy because I had not established my table image and it was very early in the satellite. We still had a lot of poker left to play. However, in the next eight deals, the following three hands were the worst combination I have had ever experienced in my career:
(1) As-Ks vs. Kh-Jh. I flopped top pair with Ad-3h-Qh only to have my opponent turn a 10h to catch a flush.
Lost: about 3,800 chips.
(2) K-J vs. Q-9: About five hands later, four players limped into the pot. A flop of K-J-10 induced both of us to push all-in. His straight held up after the turn and river did not produce a king or jack. Lost: 2,800 chips.
(3) A-10 vs A-K: Two hands later, I was about a 30-70 underdog, but was rewarded with a Q-10-7 flop. However, my pair was run down when the river filled in his straight with a king. I guess bad things really do come in threes.
Lost: remaining 1,600 chips.
Three up, three down. I was out of the tournament after losing over 8,000 chips in less than one cycle around the table! I was left in shock; I don't think I would have done anything different. Maybe it was not meant to be. I only have one more chance left to qualify. I drove all the way home in a daze, frustrated by another lost opportunity.
I was knocked out so early that when I arrived back home, my son was still awake. After reading him a story, my son leaned over, gave me a big hug and a good-night kiss. "I love you Daddy." As I turned out the light, I smiled and forgot about my trivial poker worries. I am so grateful to have three beautiful people back at home who can help me keep perspective on life.
Bernard Lee finished 13th in the 2005 World Series of Poker and is the weekly poker columnist for the Boston Herald.