Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Goodbye Atlantic City

When I made it over to the Taj just before 10 Friday morning, the line to enter the no-limit hold’em tournament stretched all the way around the outside of the poker room. I guess that should have come as no surprise given that this was the first NLHE event of the U.S. Poker Championships and was but a $300 buy in, plenty affordable for most players.

I snaked my way slowly to the signup desk and chatted with a young guy from Atlanta who was up to visit a buddy in Baltimore. He was shocked to find out that levels are 40 minute long as he’s used to the 20 minute levels in most weekly casino poker tournaments. Just wait until he plays in the World Series and gets a whole hour before the blinds increase.

After 45 minutes I’m in and turn back to see an even longer line behind me. As I grabbed my seat I lamented to a neighbor at another table the fact that the folks at the Taj don’t take signups until two hours before the tournament starts. They, in fact, would eventually cut the line off this day and a couple of hundreds players didn’t get to enter until after the tournament had already started.

After a few minutes I realized my neighbor was Arnold Spee, who won last year’s Reno Poker Challenge on the World Poker Tour. What’s he doing in this chicken shit $300 tournament then?

As my table filled, it didn’t appear to be the toughest table, but you know how looks can be deceiving. The guy to my right wore a Borgata bracelet around his wrist. He explained to us that he won a limit tournament there in 2003. I want one of those.

You frequent readers of this blog know I don’t post many hand histories. Personally, I think they’re boring. The up-to-the-minute reports on things like the WPT final table I attended on Thursday are only for the true poker geeks. I’m more interested in the characters.

But here’s one hand you can decide for yourself if I played correctly. A woman who was short stacked, and who kept pushing all in, raised the 50-100 blinds to 1,050 and put herself all in again. I held JJ and decided to just call with about 2,000 left behind me. I wasn’t happy when I got two callers behind me.

The flop came Q-7-7 and the action was on me. I pondered for a few seconds and decided to push all in. My reasoning was that the two guys behind me probably either had A-K or a pocket pair and I didn’t want them to see the turn or river. The only hand I was really worried about one of them having was A-Q, but I didn’t really expect that after she had gone all in and I flat called. I would expect a hand like that to go into the muck.

They folded and the woman turned over pocket fives. My jacks held up and I built my stack up early. We started with 3,000 in tournament chips and I eventually got my stack up to 12,000, but they eventually began to melt away. I was done in by K-9 suited (yes, I realize this is not a good hand.) I twice tried to steal blinds in the cutoff with this hand after all had folded to me. The first time I was re-raised all in by the big blind, mucked and was shown pocket rockets. The second time was my final hand. I was called by the small blind and I flopped a flush draw when two diamonds hit the board. He bet 2,500 into me and I added another 1,200 to put myself all in. He showed A-Q and had no pair, giving me 15 outs. But those outs stayed hidden in the deck and I was busted around 165th out of 723 entrants. Another top 25 percent finish for me (but the pay sucks.)

I walked out onto the boardwalk and found a path down to the beach. As I let my feet sink into the sand and listened to the roll of the surf and the call of seagulls, I could care less that I had just busted out of a poker tournament. I was just happy to be here and not sitting behind a desk typing a newspaper story.

I decided to leave the next day. I’d had enough of Atlantic City for now. I called my old boss Greg, now the managing editor at the Spartanburg, S.C., paper and arranged to stay with him and his family. As we chatted about life Saturday night, I said I didn’t want to do this forever. He asked why. Because sitting behind a computer winning money at online poker doesn’t provide much of a sense of accomplishment, I told him. I may have gotten tired of the newspaper gig after six years, but it provided a strong feeling of accomplishment at times.

I finished my drive Sunday, arriving at my parents’ house in Cullman that afternoon. I’ve spent the last few days up here to recharge and visit with the family. Yesterday, I was picking up sticks knocked down from the weekend’s rain and wind in the shadow of my old tree house, near where our old dog Chubby used to roam. After 13 years in our lives, he was killed by cancer a few years ago. As I picked up the sticks, I recalled all of the good times I’d had playing in this yard and noticed how much the trees had grown and the wood in the tree house had rotted.

Time moves on, ready or not, and it will escape your grasp if you let it. Before you know it, you’ve grown up, your parents are getting old and you’re still not sure what you want to do with the rest of your life. I’m nearly 30 and I still have no clue. But that’s still okay. I’m healthy, not quite wealthy and sort of wise. I’m a dreamer. I envision all sorts of things for my future. It’s healthy to dream, isn’t it?


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