When you turn on the radio during your trip to a casino and hear The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Don Henley, U2 (80s version), Pink Floyd, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, all in succession with no commercials, you’re likely to think it’s going to be a good day.
And it indeed started out as a good day with an early morning cash session at a table full of all-nighters. I finished that session +$346 after almost exactly three hours. But please allow me to rewind a moment.
The last time I had visited Cherokee for the April WSOP—one year earlier—the parking lot was closed due to construction. This tends to happen when the roof collapses more than once and turns at least one pickup truck into a metal pancake. This led to me parking in the outdoor lot.
As I walked on that sidewalk that leads to the casino while happy birds chirped as if greeting me hello, two construction workers approached. (This construction didn’t relate to the parking lot collapsing the year prior.) I nodded and said, “Hey.” This is sometimes my version of “Good morning.”
The dude closest to me had no reply. He stared at me as if I was the one that stole the He-Man figures from his toy box when he was a kid and buried them in my backyard. He brushed my shoulder as I passed. I didn’t retaliate (poor risk/reward). All I could think about was a song by Weird Al Yankovic’s, The Fish Head Song: “Fish heads, fish heads, rolly polly fish heads, fish heads, fish heads, eat them up, yum!”
I never knew what was so significant about fish heads that he needed to sing about them, but he’s a lot weirder than me. Anyway, I altered those words in my head as those construction workers passed: “Dickheads, dickheads, rolly polly dickheads, dickheads, dickheads…” I stopped there since the remainder of the song wouldn’t be an appetizing fit.
Back to poker. I simply grinded my way higher in the 6-Max tournament. I made one big laydown with top pair/top kicker vs. a shove. For some reason, my opponent showed his cards, revealing a set. I think most players make that call, but I had a read on my opponent and opted to wait for a better spot. I believe that making these kinds of laydowns can mean the difference between a long-term winner and loser.
Unfortunately, after being card dead, I was short-stacked for a while. Eventually, I was dealt a relatively strong hand: AQ-off in the Small Blind. With no raises and three callers to my action, I shoved with only eight BBs remaining.
The Big Blind called.
Everyone else folded.
Once he showed AA, I knew it was game over. The odds of someone in the Big Blind waking up with AA in this spot are miniscule. While it’s not always AA, I can’t tell you how many times the Big Blind has had an overpair to my shove in these spots. On the other hand, I knew it would eventually even out.
In order to provide myself with some hope, I bought a ticket for the 8-Max the following day, then headed for the cash games. Once again, the same pattern unfolded: Lose in the tournament, win it back in the cash game. I would usually close up shop in the cash game after recouping my tournament buy-in total. This would lock in a break even for the day/night.
Note: I was so tired that night due to poor sleep and long sessions that on one hand I asked the dealer, “Who raised to $10?”
The other players at the table looked at me quizzically because I was the one who had raised to $10 only a few seconds earlier.
After losing my finance writing job and bleeding money, my mind was all over the place, but my book sales had doubled and then doubled again since losing my finance writing gig. I hoped I was headed in the right direction.
In fact, I’ll borrow a quote I heard another poker player say at the table one night. He was talking to a third party about his life. He spoke of losing a good job and then being “lost in the right direction” for the next 18 months. Eventually, he ended up doing what he loved. I don’t know if I will follow the same path, but I sure hope so. I know not everyone will enjoy my books, but I’m putting my heart and soul into them. That’s all I can do.
Morning push-ups. I was trying to be sexy for my boxer short/bathing suit outfits, but it wasn’t easy.
-$200 cash session.
Didn’t win one hand over the course of 1.5 hours. QQ did me in.
In the time between the cash game and the tournament, I entered a bathroom stall, but there was a knocker from next stall. Did it mean: “Go Away!” or “I Love You!”? Either way, I was out!
Tournament: 200th of 635. Ran it up a little to 30k. Nothing to play at higher blinds. Pretty much all correct decisions (tough calls + laydowns) but I couldn’t win. It happens.
The walk of shame.
Sat down and had the Not-Nut-Straight (in my jeans). I stood up to pretend to look at something on television (really an attempt to adjust myself), but when I sat down, I crushed my nuts again.
A 30-something guy with a shaved head, glasses, and a sweater vest, who I later learned called himself Value Joe, took my mind off my nuts when he said, “You’re my savior.”
Value Joe talked and talked and talked. The other players hated him, but I thought he was a weapon because he was getting the entire table on tilt without me having to do anything. He rattled off at least two-dozen movie quotes, then laughed while looking at me so I would approve of each quote and how it somehow applied to the poker game or our conversation (it never applied).
I pretended to know what he was talking about and nodded. Then he stared at me when I was not playing a hand, which was awkward. He told me he thought I was a celebrity. I said, “Not even close.”
+$488 for that cash game. Thanks Value Joe!
After that cash game, I went to use the secret bathroom, but when I entered, I heard someone moaning in the last stall, with his feet FACING the toilet. I debated leaving and decided to do so, but he must have heard me and peeked his head out to investigate.
It was a middle-aged out-of-shape and balding janitor. He stared right at me after a very personal event. This was another level of awkward. I needed a poker face in that moment, but I couldn’t help it and laughed. In order to save him further embarrassment, I quickly exited the premises.
If you don’t get it, he was jerking off.
Cashed in this one, but I shouldn’t have. I found all my chips in the middle with KK vs. AA and hit a king on the river. The confidence, patience, and momentum kicked in from there. Funny how that works.
As a side note, I understand that it’s difficult to be profitable playing tournaments, and I’m definitely still learning (I’ll probably always be learning), but if you can afford to play in poker tournaments, they require a lot more focus than cash games. This is meant in many ways.
One such way is simply not blowing up. I continue to be astounded by how many people—including many pros—blow up by making really loose calls or overplaying a hand after a bad beat. It happens much more than you think. Very few players can avoid this, and not coincidentally, those are players I know to be profitable on the felt.
I don’t know what they do with those winnings, though. Hopefully, they don’t blow it against the house by playing blackjack, craps, and/or roulette. These pros blowing up also proves that professional players are human beings. For example…
I’m not going to name any names, and I’m not even going to offer a nickname on this one. So, there will be no clues. There is a player that I have played with several times, and I have respected him a great deal because of his demeanor and play.
However, on one particular day (in the Monster Stack), I watched him call off a ton of chips with second pair three times to big river bets. This ended up costing him approximately 80% of his stack, which led to a desperation shove. He won that hand, but lost the next one.
It was likely obvious to everyone at the table that he was holding the losing hand in each one of those situations. Then again, to give him the benefit of the doubt, it’s always easier to read a hand when you’re not involved in it.
He wasn’t the only player who did this. I didn’t quite understand what was happening in this tournament. Several pros were tilting as we approached the money. Ironically, the pros that were playing the strongest were card dead.
Prior to being in the money, UTG went all-in pre-flop (not a professional player), which would put me at risk for half my stack. I looked down at TT in the Big Blind. I tanked for a bit, then called. He had 22 and my TT held.
I only called because the player was low on chips, making some crazy panic moves, and the break was approaching. He was probably one of many players that wanted to accumulate some chips prior to the break.
I ran into Cotton during the break. We talked about his book: When the Dealin’s Done. His book is about poolrooms, underground poker, hustling, and family. It was the first time I had met Cotton personally, and he is one cool dude. Very down to earth. I also think I connected with him because we have similar pasts in regards to underground poker experiences (see: The Dark Side of the Felt).
Furthermore, Cotton is passionate about his story. If someone wants me to help them with a project, they usually say, “You do it.” Either that or they are overbearing. Cotton is the polar opposite of overbearing and has excellent people skills. He wants quality with his book while remaining completely calm and friendly. This is a rarity.
I played uber-TAG toward the end of Day 1. This was effective because my image was very tight (only played premium hands). This led to a lot of opponent folds and uncontested pots. The problem at those blind levels is that one bad hand and your stack takes a significant hit. I minimized my losses all night but still only bagged 120k. The average stack was 340k. I was 82nd of 92 players going into Day 2.
My devastating hand the next day was NOT shoving pre with AK-off vs. the chip leader. I used to be too aggressive with AK, and recently I had been too conservative with it. That’s called playing not to lose, and it’s a bad habit. This was only happening when I was in the money, and I think it might have related to my job situation at that time.
50th for $1,262 (+$897 net)
Cherokee Main Event
The chip leader at the table kept asking me if he was playing his hands correctly. Hmm…
I hit two full houses on Level 1. I asked myself an obvious question: What the hell am I doing playing Level 1?
This happens all the time. I had been running hot early in almost every tournament, then fading. This had led to me changing my policy to a late buy-in. After attempting this in many small tournaments, speaking with other professional players, and researching the topic, I had learned that buying-in late makes a lot of sense.
I didn’t take many notes on this tournament for some reason. Here’s the short version: I was knocked out after the dinner break. Yes, that was anti-climactic for a Main Event. My apologies, but I’m not going to make anything up.
Cash Game late that night: Crushed it for $1,105. Another player: “This guy has the entire table confused.”
Looking back on that night, I should have stayed at that table. I didn’t get my entire buy-in from the Main Event back, but the cash games and cash in the Monster Stack made it a profitable week (barely).
Result (overall): +$104