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Live from the WSOP Circuit

With no specific East Coast tournament held in February, I decided to travel a little west and play in the WSOP circuit event in Council Bluffs, Iowa. My plans had me flying out on Friday in order to play the $1,500 no-limit event on Saturday and the $5,000 no-limit main event on Monday.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans as she blanketed the Boston area with nine inches of snow on Friday. Thus, my flight to Iowa (actually the flight is into Omaha, Neb., a 10-minute taxi ride away) was grounded and rebooked for Sunday morning.

Although I missed the $1,500 event, I arrived at 10:15 a.m. on Sunday and was able to play in both mega satellites. Unfortunately, both events were almost mirror images of one another. After making it past half of the field and sitting in the small blind, I ran into aces in each event. The first time, I was holding Ks-Kd, the next time Qd-Qc. Hopefully, my run of coolers is over just in time for the main event.

ESPN.com and I thought it would be interesting to follow my main event level-by-level with a blog. We hope you enjoy (and that I don't get eliminated early).

Day 1, 12:45 p.m.: I registered at about 10:15 a.m. to avoid the long lines that inevitably occur right before the starting time (which is noon). I went back to my room and reviewed my notes and previous tournament sheets. After a little rest, I arrived in the tournament room about 11:45 a.m., seated at Table 22, Seat 7.

Due to the L.A. Poker Classic, there haven't been many familiar faces to me around here, but if I see any, I'll keep you updated.

We are about to begin. Wish me luck!

2:35 p.m.: Nearly 100 players started in today's field. It seems like it's a lot of locals looking to hit it big. I had a good steady Round 1. On the sixth hand, I picked up aces in the big blind. Someone raised to $225. I made it $875 and he called. The flop came queen high and I fired out with $1,200 and he folded.

In the small blind, my queens also held up. The button raised to $150 and I reraised to $550. The flop came 10 high and I led out with $700 only to see my opponent call. The turn brought a meaningless 3 and this time I bet stronger with $1,600, which got him to fold.

I picked up aces again toward the end of the round and only won the blinds. Anyway, after the first level, I played six hands, winning four. I feel good. It was a decent start. I'm sitting with $12,150, up from the initial $10,000.

4:00 p.m.: For the first 40 minutes I only played one hand and it was a blind versus blind, which I ended up winning. At the end of the level, I played five hands, won four, the last being the most significant.

I held Kd-Qh in the big blind. The button and small blind limped in. I decided to test the waters and raise to $450 (the blinds are $50/$100). The button called and the flop came Js-10s-3h. I led out with $625 with my open-ended straight draw and two overcards. He raised to $1,625 and after some deliberation, I decided to call.

The turn was the Qc and I checked. My opponent bet $1,500 and I made the call with top pair. The river brought the ace of spades. I had broadway, but was worried about the flush as well. I made a mistake here and checked, allowing my opponent to check behind me. I showed my straight and he mucked. After thinking about the hand, he probably wasn't on the flush draw since the ace of spades came out and I probably should've put a value bet on the river. Hindsight is 20/20, right? After the second level, I'm sitting with $15,625 and 88 players remain.

Slow and steady. Five more levels left for the day.

5:30 p.m.: What a level! It was a little more active for me, playing eight hands and, although I only won four of them, each was very significant.

In the first hand, a player raised from under the gun to $625 (blinds $100/$200) and I decided to make the call with A-K. The flop came A-Ks-2s. My opponent made a continuation bet of $1,100 and I decided to smooth-call, hoping he'd commit more to the pot. The turn was a king, giving me a full house and we both checked. The river was a 10, putting a possible flush on the board. He checked, I bet $1,700 and he folded.

In the second hand, I had 3-3 in the cutoff seat. A player in middle position moved all-in for $750 and making the call, I saw I was against A-J. The flop came A-K-2, the turn was a 10, and just as I thought I was shipping him some chips, the river was a 3, giving me the pot. Even better, another player at the table said he folded K-3, which means I had just hit a one-outer.

Although I didn't win this next hand, I felt like it gave me the motivation I needed to finish out the round confidently. I had Ah-Kd and was second to act. I raised to $625 and a player two to my left called. The player in the cutoff reraised to $2,250 and I went into the tank. Eventually, I folded my hand, as did the other caller who showed big slick as well. The raiser flipped over queens and both of us felt great about our laydowns.

With 10-10 on the button came another big hand. The player in the cutoff seat raised to $600 and I called. The flop came K-10-8. Bingo. My opponent bet $1,000 and I called. The turn was a 6 and my opponent bet again, this time for $2,100. Figuring that he only has $4,000 behind him, I felt that I could reraise him and get all of his chips into the pot. I reraised to $3,500 and he folded A-K face up. Great laydown, but I cost myself some chips here as well.

Everyone was leaving the table during the last hand of the level and I looked down to see pocket kings. I raised as usual and both the small and big blind called me. The flop came Ad-Jc-9c and everyone checked. The turn brought a 7 and the small blind fired out $1,300. Putting him on a jack, I made the call. The river paired the board with another 9 and my opponent bet again for $1,800. I felt that he didn't have the ace and after much deliberation, called to see him muck immediately. I ended the level at $24,150 and 75 players remained.

7:15 p.m.: After an up-and-down level, I ended with $25,550 and only 67 players remained heading into the dinner break.

I played nine hands this level, but only won three of them. Unfortunately, some of the hands I lost this round weren't just hands where I limped in, but instead, they were hands in which I opened the pot with a raise. In many of these situations, the flops simply missed me. For example, I had A-Q versus K-10, and the board came K-8-8. Then I had pocket 6s and raised from the button to see a board of A-3-2, perfect for the big blind's A-J.

I did make up the lost chips with two big hands. The first occurred when my pocket kings held up against my opponent's pocket 7s. After an ace flopped, both of us played tentatively and I was only able to get some chips with a value bet on the river. The second major hand occurred holding a drawing hand of 6d-5d in late position. A pretty straightforward player raised and I called thinking that the small or big blind would call behind me. Unfortunately, it was heads up to the flop which came K-6-8. My opponent led out for only $400 into a $1,500 pot. I made the call given the small bet.

The turn was a 3 and he bet $400 again. I'm not sure if he had a king and was value betting, but he bet so little that he gave me an opportunity to make my hand. The miracle 5 hits on the river and he raised his bet to $600. I had to figure out the perfect value bet and came up with a raise to $2,100. He went into the tank, made the call and mucked his hand.

Off to dinner …

9:30 p.m.: If the previous level was a roller coaster, I don't even know how to explain this level. Although I lost some chips, I'm still above average with only 47 players remaining.

I started the level out nicely, winning the first two hands with A-K in the small blind followed by a walk in the big blind. A couple of hands later, I raised to $1,200 (blinds $200/$400, $50 ante) from middle position with 8s-7s and received two callers. The flop came As-Js-4s and I flopped the flush. This was one of those "bingo" moments, but instead of slow playing, I decided that betting was the right decision. I bet $1,200 and the player next to me raised to $4,000, the third player folded and I called. I knew that my opponent had a big ace and if I could avoid a spade, I'd be golden. Unfortunately, the king of spades came next. I tested the water here and bet out $4,000. My opponent immediately pushed all-in for nearly $6,000 more and I folded face up. My opponent turned over his hand as well: Ad-Qs.

Shortly thereafter, I got moved to a table with Brandon Cantu. I had aces on the button and raised with Cantu in the big blind. Apparently, he didn't believe me and reraised to $3,900. Trying to figure out how much more I could get out of him, I re-reraised to $7,400 and he let his hand go. After winning another pot uncontested with A-K, I was back to where I began the level and happy with the progress.

10:50 p.m.: What a frustrating level.

This level was the round of big slick. I played eight hands, won five, but four of which I won only the blinds and antes with a preflop raise. The other hand I won came as I reraised my opponent preflop with pocket queens.

The three hands I lost were all while holding A-K. Amazingly, the flop never showed a card higher than a 9. Two times my opponents, out of position, led out and I folded. The third time, I checked, then folded my hand to my opponent's bet.

Talk about frustration.

Fortunately, I ended the level about even with $23,400 with 38 players to go. With one level left to play, I bet we'll be down to 27 by the time the action concludes this evening.

12:45 a.m.: Play concluded for the night and there are only 27 players remaining heading into Day 2.

Without question, this was the best level of the day. I played seven hands, winning six, including a fantastic final hand of the night. A couple of highlights include calling a raise with A-J in position and finally flopping an ace when the board came A-Q-10. My opponent folded to my bet and showed his pocket nines.

In another hand, the cutoff raised to $2,200 ($400/$800, $100 ante). I had queens in the small blind, reraised to $6,200 and watched my opponent's cards go instantly into the muck.

With five minutes to go in the night, I raised from middle position to $2,300 with Ah-6h. The chip leader at the table, sitting in the small blind, made the call. For the second time of the day, I flopped the flush! 9h-5h-2h! We both checked the flop and after the turn brought the 10d and my opponent checked, I bet $2,600. My opponent made the call. The river was the 3s and now I decided to bet it as if I was trying to steal the pot. I fired out $7,100 and after he deliberated for a minute or so, he finally made the call and I won my largest pot of the night.

What a great way to end Day 1. I have $42,400 heading into the second day of play and the action will continue on Tuesday until the final table has been set. See you then!

Day 2, 10:45 a.m.: It's a pretty big day today. It's crazy to say that, but making the final table of a circuit main event is big. No matter how small the field is, making it to the final table will be pretty important. I feel like I'm really focused and I know that I played very well yesterday. I'm sitting in eighth place out of the 27 remaining with the chip leader directly to my right.

My strategy for today is just like always: make it through the day. I can't worry about the final table until I make it through today. I'll keep you updated after the first break!

2:20 p.m.: This last round was up, very up and then down, very down.

On the third hand of the day, a player under the gun raised to $3,600 ($600/$1,200, ante $200) and I looked down to see pocket kings. I reraised to $10,100 and the big blind surprisingly pushed all-in for $9,300, a little less than my bet. The original raiser decided to make the call (which scared me a little bit) and we were off to a flop of 8-6-3. The player under the gun checked and I decided to make my move and push all-in. He folded and the big blind showed K-J. After an eight came on the turn, I was up to $63,000 and feeling great.

That feeling quickly changed …

I was next to the cutoff with As-Qs and raised to $3,300. Both the cutoff and the button called. The flop came A-J-4 and first to act, I bet $6,700. The cutoff folded and the button went into the tank, finally deciding to raise to $15,000. I thoughtfor a minute and called. The turn was a 7 and I bet $7,000 to see where I stood. I found out immediately as my opponent instantly pushed all-in. I sat and thought for a few minutes and the range of hands that I put him on definitely included 4-4, A-J and A-K. I rationalized I was beat and folded.

At that point I was down to $32,000, and after getting blinded down, I'm down to $24,600 with 19 left.

Although I'm disappointed, I'll take way the fact that if I didn't play a hand the entire level and got blinded down, I would've been in the exact same position as I am right now. It's time to walk away from the tables for a second and get mentally ready to play another level.

4:05 p.m.: Entering this level I felt dejected. I was frustrated. I needed to adjust my game to play as a short stack, which I'm accustomed to, but still, it's never fun.

The first 20 minutes were agonizing. I couldn't pick up a playable hand and meanwhile we lost one player and did a redraw for the final two tables. I played my first hand about a half an hour into the level when I had K-J suited in the cutoff seat. I raised to $4,500 and the big blind reraised me all-in. I folded, leaving myself with only $13,000 chips and in need of a double up.

Jackpot.

Three hands later, I was in the big blind with Ad-8d. The button raised and I pushed for only $10,00 more, mathematically committing him to a call. Thankfully, I had him dominated as he showed K-8. My hand held up and the run had started.

Back in the big blind the next time around the table, a middle position player raised. I looked down to see pocket kings. I moved all-in and although I didn't receive a call, I was happy with my progress. Two hands later, I was on the button with As-Qs, the same hand that crippled me a round earlier. The same player who folded to my kings' reraise moved all-in for $14,500 and I made the call. Once again, I was in a dominating position as he showed K-Q. After an ace flopped, I was up to $58,000.

The last major hand of the level occurred with me in guess what position … the big blind! A player in early position raised to $5,000 and the button called. Continuing to catch cards, I looked down to see pocket aces and moved all-in. I hoped they would've put me on a squeeze play and a weak hand, but unfortunately, they both folded and I ended the level at $68,700 with only 16 players remaining.

This is a very critical level coming up with the blinds at $1,000/$2,000 and a $300 ante.

5:35 p.m: What a great round. A fantastic level! I played six hands, won four, lost one and chopped one. The big win came with pocket eights and a little luck. I raised from the button for $5,300 (blinds: $1,000/$2,000 with a $300 ante). The player in the small blind moved all-in for $36,000. I went into the tank, but this player had repeatedly made a similarplay with small pairs and I felt like I was ahead. I made the call and he flipped over Ah-Qd. We were racing and I needed to win this one. The flop came A-J-7, putting me way behind, but the turn and river brought a 10 and 9, respectively, and gave me the straight! Wow!

If there was ever a time to be happy with a chop, this next hand was that time. My opponent in middle position raised to $6,000 with only $35,000 behind him. I have Ac-Kc on the button and raised to $27,000. Reluctantly, he decided to move all-in. I made the call and he showed As-Ks. The flop came Qd-Js-6s and I was hoping I didn't see another spade. Amazingly, I dodged the spades and we chopped the pot.

I ended the level at $115,300, sitting second at my table, probably third in chips and ready to play another level before dinner.

I said this before, but with 14 players left, this is a critical level.

8:00 p.m. After the best level of the day came the toughest level and to make things worse, we only lost two players!

Every time I tried to raise, my opponents would reraise me. I had eights, fours and K-J and each time, opened the pot with a raise. Every single time that happened, I was reraised and forced to lay my hand down. Although it was taking a good chunk of my stack each time, making the call wasn't the correct decision.

I did pick up aces again which greatly helped my cause. I raised and received one caller out of position. After a flop of 10-9-4 and my opponent checked, I bet and got reraised again! I decided that I was ahead and pushed the rest of my stack to the middle, putting the pressure on my opponent. He let his hand go, which I assumed was top pair, and I was back up to nearly $100,000.

A few orbits later, I was dealt pocket jacks and went heads-up with a raiser from under the gun. I was on the button and felt my position was valuable against this player. The flop came K-10-7 and my opponent bet $10,000. I didn't feel that he had a king and made the call. The turn was a 3 and my opponent moved all-in. It just felt awkward to me. It was a strange bet at this juncture of the hand and I knew I had to let my hand go. I folded my hand face up and my opponent commented on the laydown, flipping over pocket threes.

I'm down to $67,000, but still alive! Off to dinner!

9:30 p.m.: We're down to the final table and finally, all the times of getting reraised finally played right into my hands.

I'm second in chips heading into the final table with $155,500 and I am psyched right now. After a crazy up-and-down day. Wow!

Full recap to come shortly.

10:35 p.m.: With 12 players left I needed to get off to a good start. Unfortunately, I raised from the cutoff with K-8 and was reraised again and obviously I had to lay it down.

From here on in, any hand I decided to play would be one that I would to commit my entire stack to as I was down to $40,000 (blinds $2,000/$4,000, ante $500).

About 10 hands later, my time finally came. The action folded around to me in the small blind and I had 10-8. I limped in and the big blind checked his option. The flop came A-10-5 and I knew that he didn't have an ace based on the preflop action. I was very confident that I had the best hand with my middle pair, but since they were reraising me all the time, I led out and hoped to catch him making a move. I bet $10,500 and after asking for a count, my opponent declared all-in and I instantly called him. He said, "Nice call" and flipped over J-2 on a stone cold bluff. The turn and river came 7-K and I had doubled up to over $80,000. Now I was back in the tournament.

Shortly thereafter, with chips, I decided to raise from the cutoff with J-3. However, I was called by the big blind. The flop was, in my opinion, a great flop: Jh-7d-6h. The big blind checked and I bet out $19,500 and he surprisingly called. Here, I put him on a flush draw. The turn was a miracle 3, giving me two pair. After his check, I decided to not let him draw for the flush and pushed all-in. My opponent went into the think tank and folded A-J face up. Shocked, I showed him my J-3.

After this hand, I was at about $120,000 and decided to pressure my opponents. After three uncontested raises, I ended up at the 10-player final table with $145,000. From that point, I won one pot with A-J and then got a walk in my big blind. Finally, the short stack pushed all-in with A-5 and was eliminated in 10th place as he ran into his opponent's A-Q.

Going into Wednesday and the final nine, I'm second in chips. The chip leader has $214,500. I look forward to tomorrow and proud to have extended my cashing streak to seven months in a row. See you then.

Here is the seating assignments for Wednesday:
Seat 1 - Ron Koenemann - $43,000
Seat 2 - Ben Hock - $122,000
Seat 3 - Nicholas Manganaro - $75,000
Seat 4 - Michael Martin -$ 214,500
Seat 5 - Keith Murrell - $116,500
Seat 6 - Samuel Shamburg - $117,000
Seat 7 - Howard Wolper - $63,000
Seat 8 - Dan Jensen -$ 83,500
Seat 9 - Me - $155,500

Wednesday, Day 3, 3:30 p.m.: Announcements have just begun and I'm ready to sit down at the table for a very big day. As hoped, I made it through Day 2 and I couldn't be more pleased, sitting second in chips. The chip leader has had some good success over the last nine months so we'll see how he sets the pace.

I'm very humbled by everyone's outpouring of support from emails and I just wanted to thank everyone for sending well wishes my way. I'll do my best for everyone, including my family, and will give you an update after the first level. Also, if you want to watch the action, you can head to worldseriesofpoker.com and watch live from there!

5:40 p.m.: I'm playing real well right now and I just have to keep my head on straight.

We only had 20 minutes left from the last level of last night and during those last 20 minutes, I only played one hand when I called from the big blind with sixes. The flop came Q-J-9 and I folded after a postflop bet.

When we started the next round ($3,000/$6,000, $500 ante), I played seven hands and won all of them. Five of them I won preflop, but the biggest hand came from Qc-Qs under the gun. The player next to me pushed all-in for $24,500 and when the action returned, I insta-called and was glad to see I was far ahead against his Ah-6h. The board came 5c-9d-Jc-8d-2d and I was able to knock out my first player of the day.

One of the hands that I am very pleased about is a preflop laydown in middle position with K-J. We're playing shorthanded so this hand in middle position is pretty playable, but I felt that the chip leader was in the small blind and I decided not to get into the action. The flop came ace high and there was a bet and a call. The turn was a four and the river was a king. Had I played it, I would've lost about $60,000 chips, maybe even more. I'm just pleased that I let it go as the chip leader showed A-7.

There are only seven players left. I have $222,000 at the end of the level and the chip leader is at around $315,000. Everyone else is pretty low, so this could be an action-filled level. I couldn't have asked for a better start!

7:30 p.m.: It was a pretty tough round. I played 11 hands and although I won seven the big hand that I lost ironically may have saved my tournament. One of the short stacks with six players left moved in from the cutoff for $58,000. I looked down to see As-Kc and I had about $258,000 left. Instead of pushing all-in, I decided to call. After that, the small blind immediately called and I knew he had a very, very big hand.

The flop came J-10-4-3-9 and we checked the entire way down. The small blind flipped over queens and had I pushed all-in to isolate, I would've been eliminated from the tournament.

It's been tough without question and I lost a couple small blind to big blind confrontations and with four left, I'm back to the short sack with $110,000. Although I'm short, I'm feeling pretty good right now for two reasons:
1) I should've been eliminated with the A-K and,
2) In addition to that, I'm comfortable playing the short stack.

I'm not disappointed and hopefully this level will go well and I'll be in at the end of the level.

7:55 p.m.: Well, I'm out. I pushed with Q-J and the big blind called me with A-5. The board came K-8-3-K-3 and without any help, I was eliminated. I'm not upset about it. I'm disappointed, but I really don't feel like I could've done anything else. For fourth place I earned $38,965. At this stage in the game, it is what it is.

Thanks so much for following along and we'll look to do this again for another tournament.

Bernard Lee is the weekly poker columnist for the Boston Herald and hosts a weekly poker radio show in Boston, "The Bernard Lee Poker Show," on Tuesday at 6-7 p.m., Thursday 9-10 p.m. and Saturday 10-11 p.m. on 1510 AM "The Zone". For questions or comments, e-mail him at BernardLeePoker@hotmail.com.