The RP: Playing in the World Series of Poker

One of the many thousand reasons why I am glad to be a recovering politician and not a real politician anymore is that I no longer have to hide one of my favorite passions:  playing tournament poker.  Back in the days when I represented the constituents of a Bible Belt state, I’d have to play incognito, never at a nearby riverboat casino where I could be recognized, and certainly not in a public, highly publicized event like the greatest poker event around the globe — the World Series of Poker, held annually at the Rio Casino in Las Vegas.

But that’s all history, so this Independence Day, I freed myself to check off an item on my bucket list, and I entered the $1000 no-limit Texas hold ‘em four day event, featuring more than 3,500 of the world’s best poker players.

I arrived in Las Vegas Tuesday night with two goals in mind:

First, I wanted to have a “respectable” finish.  For me, that meant to try to survive until Day 2 of the four day tournament.  Second, I wanted to wear the new No Labels hat that was ordered especially for these purposes.
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Even if I never appeared on ESPN’s TV coverage, at least I’d get a good picture for the Web site.

On Wednesday (July 4), the two goals intersected.  The No Labels hat had arrived via UPS in Las Vegas on Tuesday night, but my hotel would not accept delivery until Thursday AM.  So I HAD to get to Day 2 of the tourney to play with my new hat and give our booming movement a little publicity.

Over the 12 hours of Day 1 — from Noon to Midnight, with a handful of breaks — I played in a style’s called “tight” in poker parlance: I took few risks, and entered the pot only when I had a very strong hand.  I built up my stack slowly, lost a little bit, and by hour 10, I was furiously treading water.  Fortunately in hour 7, I was dealt two aces — the best hand in the game…went “all-in”…was called…and I won, collecting 15,000 chips.

I knew then that I didn’t have to play a single other hand to make it to Day 2 — just ante up, contribute my blinds, and lose chips slowly.  With a few minutes to go before Day 1 expired, I had about 12,000 chips.

Then, the tournament director announced that this would be the last hand.  I looked down, and I had two tens.  Pretty good.  The betting started, a lot of folks made bets, and I called the moderate raise of the guy sitting directly to my right.  Just two of us remained.  
The dealer laid down the “flop”  (the first 3 cards) and they were all small numbered cards, with no chance of a straight or flush.  I knew that unless the other guy had a monster hand — jacks, queens, kings or aces — I was ahead.

I’d been playing next to this guy for at least 4 hours.  I had a feeling about him, and I didn’t think he had a big hand.  He put in a few thousand chips.  My instincts instructed me to go all-in. No way would he call me with the small hand I believed he had.
Then…the delay.  He probably thought about his next action for no more than a minute, but it seemed like a fortnight.  I began to experience piercing regret.  It was the right decision, the mathematical decision; but if I lost, I would have been out of the tournament, and both of my goals would not have been fulfilled.

He called.  
Crap.
We turned over our cards. I had him beat.  I was right; he had a very small pair. He had to have believed that I was bluffing.  After the final two cards were exposed, I had won.

Not only had I survived elimination, I would now enter Day 2 with nearly 28,000 chips.  Of the more than 3500 tournament entries, there are 251 of us left, and I am currently in 60th place.  Click here to check out my name on the leader board.
(Fellow poker geeks:  go down this list to see some of the big name pros who are already eliminated from the tournament.  I beat Phil Hellmuth, Huck Seed, Andy Block, Barry Shulman, Erik Seidel, and Carlos Mortenson. Pretty cool.)
I’m now in terrific shape to make a great run through the tournament.  Or I could lose it all on the next hand.

Most importantly, I look forward to wearing my No Labels hat proudly tomorrow.  And If I win big money — I promise to pay No Labels back for the hat.

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