You could sense the high nerves as players made their way to the Rio for Day 3 of the main event. More than 250 players would be eliminated Friday without making the money, despite two full days of tiring, meticulous play on the green felt. Short stacks would be looking to double up early while medium stacks would be looking not to screw up. I figured I was in good shape with my 142K as it put me in the top 140 of the 1,159 players remaining.
I made my way to Table 39, and had to wait several minutes to unbag my chips as the big stack to my left, Bill Gustafin, sorted his black and pinks and yellows. That’s one thing I had not experienced before – in truth, I never thought about it. It takes several minutes to empty those bags of chips and stack the chips by proper denomination if you have hundreds of them, like Bill and myself. To my right sat Mark Lawler, dressed in a coat and tie and a bowler with a feather peeking out of the brim.
“I bought it in the gift shop this morning,” he said of the cap.
I asked him if he was trying to play up to the cameras, but Lawler said he just wanted to look good today. I choose to wear my white Poker Share polo and straw hat I picked up at the party at the Palms. All I needed was a piece of straw to chew to complete the country boy look.
“You’re name is Mark, right?” I asked Lawler. He was surprised before I told him I had researched him and the other players on the Card Player Web site the night before. I didn’t mind telling them because I thought it would give me the appearance of someone they should fear at the table.
“I imagine you found nothing on me,” he said. He was right.
But it was the guy without the acclaim that would take more than 40 percent of my stack early and it was a foreboding start to the day. Here’s how the hand came down: Lawler raised to 3,600 and I called with Qd-Jd. The flop was a Q-J-9 rainbow and Lawler bet 5K. Wanting to play the hand for value, I raised to 12K rather than shut my opponent out of the pot. That turned out to be my undoing. Lawler pushed all in and I called. He showed T-J and hit an 8 on the turn for the straight. I missed the re-draw on the river and pushed about 60K Lawler’s way.
Despite that hit, I remained composed with my remaining 80K and built it back up to 89,500 at the first break (only one hour in since we stopped mid level on Tuesday.)
Before going back in, I felt a pat on the shoulder. I turned around to find Gustafin with a grin on his face. “Hang in there buddy,” he told me. I was delighted that this big stack to my left, who could create headaches galore for my now slightly below average stack, was such a nice guy.
The field narrowed to 910 players during the second level. Only 37 more players to go before the money. Play tightens further and I become more aggressive. Here’s two examples:
1) I’m in the small blind with Jc-8d and Lawler limps. He checks the Qs-2h-3c flop and I bet 3,500 and he calls. A Kh appears on the turn and he checks again. I fire another 9K and Lawler folds.
2) Two hands later I’m on the button and try to steal the blinds (now 800/1,600) with a 4,500 bet with K-7 off and a big stack calls in the big blind. After a flop of J-2-3 rainbow he checks and I fire another 6K. He mucks 6-6 faceup and we go to break.
I’m at 107,600 at the break and feeling good. Even the big stacks are letting me push them around. It’s a friendly table and I seem to be ruling it. So of course my table is broken minutes after we return. I take my new seat at Table 51 and find several young, aggressive players with monster stacks. It’s my worst WSOP nightmare come to life.
I’m forced to completely change my game strategy, going from the aggressor to the passive player. There’s no playing these guys without a hand and I don’t want to bubble. We narrow to eight hundred eighty something and we begin playing round for round. After each dealer deals around to where the big blind started, he or she stands up and waits for all the tables to complete the action. After one round, we are down to 876 players and have to continue the round for round. Finally, after round two we are all in the money.
Tournament director Jack Eiffel announces the fact and the room is filled with cheers and claps. A man at the table to my right, British apparently as he’s wearing pants with the Union Jack, stands on a chair and shouts to the rafters.
“That’s step one,” I tell the man to my right.
“Did anyone tell you you look like that actor?” he asks.
“James Spader,” I reply.
“Yes, that’s him,” he says.
Unfortunately, step one would be the only step for me. We play a few more hands and players drop like flies. The floorpeople bring racks over to our table as they’re about to break us. In fact, I have nearly all my 80K in chips in racks when this table’s final hand is dealt. Matt Maroon raises the 2K blind to 6K and an aggressive Asian guy on the button makes it 16,700. I look down and find K-K. Finally, after waiting this table out, I pick up a hand with a chance to double up or more before moving to new digs. I think for a minute before pushing all in.
Maroon calls quickly, making me think I might be screwed. When the Asian guy calls too I know I’m screwed. Maroon turns over Q-Q. The button turns over A-A. No one improves and two of us go home.
You hear stories of how people react when they’re knocked out of the main event, but I took it in stride. It was that tranquility that allowed me to keep an even keel through the first two and a half days and I kept that same attitude upon being eliminated.
I didn’t care much for the guy on the button. He was a bit of a dick and he had a haircut that could have sprung from an Archie’s comic, with hair shaved close around the sides and parted in the middle on top. But I bit my tongue.
I just shoved my racks of chips over.
“Nice hand, sir,” I said before being escorted to the payout desks.
My final showing was 768th, though I really should have been 767th since I had more chips than Maroon. It’s irrelevant really since all of us in that group got $16,493 for our efforts. It’s not $12 million, but it beats a kick in the shins.