Sunday, September 23, 2007

He Doth Bestride the Narrow World: The Madcity No-Limit Poker Invitational Report

The Before: Between those of us in the poker crew, we have eight sets of poker chips, most of them having been acquired right around Christmas. Once we grasped that fact, it was only a short time before the idea of hosting a poker tournament was discussed. My big bro has a big room at the back of his crib that’s mostly used for storage, and it would be perfect, we conjectured, as a location for said poker tournament.

We toyed with the poker tournament idea for months, but it took my June poker trip to Las Vegas to really get things moving. One night, at the end of a Friday-night poker game, Bert, inventor of the Bert Classic and four-wheel drive, Ivan, poker player deluxe and designer of this here site, and myself started planning and running the variables for what it would take to host a good tournament. We got the structure roughed out, picked a date, 3 July 2005, gave it a name, The Madcity No-Limit Poker Invitational, and started getting the word out. It was only a few days later that we realized that we’d have to move the MNPI to 2 July 2005 because my big bro works on Sunday, and there was no telling how late the thing would go. Once we got that sorted out, there wasn’t much left to do until the day before the MNPI.

So, that Friday, Bert, inventor of the Bert Light and rhythmic gymnastics, and Ivan met up with me to partake of some Chinese food at Joy Luck (the name is weak, but the food is decidedly not) and to discuss the rules and procedures for managing the MNPI. Afterward, we went to my big bro’s to get the tables set up and to get the chips bagged. We were playing $40 buy-in, no-limit hold 'em, so each baggie had to have twenty white 50¢ chips, twenty red $1 chips, and two blue $5 chips. It took us much less time to set up than we had anticipated, so we decided to get in a few hands, you know, to break in the room. We played until almost one in the morning, and I lost a little bit.

I should have gone to bed at that point, but I needed to write an e-mail to Sonya C., fellow writer/art nerd and former Husky. She’s gonna meet up with me in Seattle for part of "The Pacific Northwest Museum Tour,” and I needed to run some stuff by her. Writing that e-mail took me until 3:30 in the morning. The plan was to wake up at 9:45 and get ready for the MNPI. I can function, barely, on six hours of sleep if I mega-dose on caffeine (caffeine: hell, yeah), so I wasn’t too worried about the late hour.

How was this plan wrecked? My cellie rings at eight in the morning, and it’s Ivan. Do I want to have breakfast? Breakfast? Dude, it’s eight in the morning. My taste buds don’t even turn on until noon. I try to go back to sleep, but it’s too late.

I’m pretty sure that this was a part of Ivan’s plan all along. Everybody who was going to play in the Madcity No-Limit Poker Invitational probably got a phone call form Ivan at some ungodly hour inviting them to breakfast.

The During: Just prior to the MNPI, I, as MNPI co-director, host, and sponsor, went over the structure of the tournament. Cards were in the air at 12:30 and everything seemed to go pretty well.

There were two tables, so I was only seeing half of the action. Next year, I’ll hire a young reporter to work the floor and do minute-by-minute updates on my website, but that wasn’t in this year’s budget.

Once we were down to the final table, though, it was much easier to describe the action. With a total of six re-buys (I was the first one to go down to felt and have to re-buy), the entire prize pool had swelled to $640, all of which was in play. That's right, no cut for the house. Players got eliminated slowly, and there weren’t any major moves of chips from one player to another.

At this point, we were down to five: Ivan, Jesse, Bert, Ivan’s father, and me. I had about $135 in chips, which, with six players, put me in decent position. Then, however, I got a cold run of cards just as we were going into the seventh round. The seventh-round blinds were $4 for the small, $8 for the big, along with a two-dollar ante for everybody else. What did that mean? Because I wasn’t catching cards, I was getting chewed up by the blinds. By the time the came back around to me, it was costing me $18 just to fold my crummy cards. Couple that with the fact that we were down to five players meant that the small and big blinds were coming around pretty quickly. Add all of that up, combine it with three beatdowns I took when I had really strong hands (two from Ivan and one from his dad), and my$135 in chips was cut down to about $60 without my having misplayed a hand.

It was while I was on this losing steak that there was a hand that involved the movement of a lot of chips, and that probably set up everything that followed. Bert, inventor of the Bert Death Spiral and low-fat cottage cheese, battled with Ivan. The betting after the flop put them both in the pot for at least fifty dollars. After fourth street, Bert checked it and Ivan made it fifty to go. At this point, Bert had already put roughly a third of the chips that he had had in front of him into the pot. Now, he would have to call with approximately another third, leaving him with around fifty dollars for any post-fifth street action. It was a huge decision. If Bert called and lost, he would be wounded and out in the open. He could only really call if he had a nearly unbeatable hand, which was exactly why Ivan had made his aggressive bet. Bert laid his hand down, which, though it was the smart play, still had to hurt, especially since he had put a third of his chips into the pot pre-fold and he was now down to about ninety.

Shortly after that hand, we went into the eighth round ($5 small blind, $10 big blind, a $3 ante), Ivan’s dad got knocked out, we were down to four, and it had turned into a knife fight in a phone booth.2 Those of you who have been in a phone-booth knife fight know that it’s intense, that it’s incredibly brutal, that you don’t really have the room to make big moves but that the small moves that you can make have the potential to be lethal, either for the person who’s being attacked or for the attacker because his attack failed, was countered, or left him exposed. Only three players would get paid off; one slight mistake and you would finish barely out of the money. It was stressful and it was terrifying, but it was a whole hell of a lot of fun..

After the Bert vs. Ivan hand, Ivan had quite clearly become chip leader, it wasn’t even close, and it was going to be really hard to mount any kind of attack on him. Ivan was like Godzilla now, and we were the tiny creatures underfoot that were trying to fight each other for the scarce food that was available while at the same time trying not to attract Godzilla’s attention and get stepped on. What am I saying? Jesse, Bert, and I had to try to cut each other’s throats (we’re friends, sure, but this was business) because, since we were all down to around fifty in chips each and Ivan had about five-hundred, there was no way to mount an attack on Ivan (at this point, it was pretty much a given that, unless something really improbable happened, Ivan was going to win the MNPI), and one of us lesser creatures needed to die for the other two to cash.

The problem for Jesse, Bert, and me was that Ivan wouldn’t let the three of us battle amongst each other for the blinds. Remember, at this point, the big and little blinds per hand added up to fifteen dollars, so for a player down to fifty-something chips, winning the blinds would be a big boost to one’s stacks and could put some distance between you and third and fourth place. Ivan, though, just needs to use some classic poker strategy in order to let us hang ourselves. Nearly every time one Jesse, Bert, or I made a move at the blinds by raising, Ivan would come over the top with a raise that would put the original bettor all-in. All of a sudden, playing a hand that wasn’t absolutely unbeatable could cost you all of your chips and leave you out of the money.

Bad Beat of the Night: Of the night? No, of the year. On my last hand, I was the $10 big blind. We were playing four-handed, I had pocket eights (medium pairs are pretty strong when playing four-handed), and so I made it twenty to go. Bert folds, Ivan calls, and Jesse folds. Since Ivan didn’t bet it up, I’m pretty sure that he doesn’t have a pocket pair himself, so I think that I’m in pretty good position.

The flop comes J-6-4 rainbow, I've got two of the cards covered, and I think that it probably didn’t help him. I figure that he’ll check it to me, I’ll bet the ten (in tournament poker, the minimum bet has to match the big blind or the previous bet), he’ll fold, and I’ll end up with about a $70 stack. I still wouldn’t be a threat to Ivan, but I’d be in second place and in much better position to finish in the money.

Instead of checking, Ivan bets $20. What the hell is he holding? I still don’t put him on a pocket pair because he would have re-raised and put me all-in pre-flop, the board is no good for a flush or straight draws, so I figure that maybe he thinks that all I’m holding is overcards that he has beat. Maybe he has me on K-Q and he’s holding A-Q or even A-K. Maybe he's got nothing and he thinks that he can bluff me out. If I call, I’ll be down to $6 for any post-fourth street betting, so I couldn’t just call; I’d have to go all in. What are the odds of my 8-8 beating A-Q? I’m a 55.7% favorite. What about A-K? Against that, I’m still a 55.7% favorite. I don’t really have a choice, so I go all-in.

If I win the hand, there’s a good chance that I’ll finish in the money because I would have put some distance between my self and Jesse and Bert. If I lose, I get to watch Ivan, Jesse, and Bert battle it out for he money I barely missed out on. What does Ivan turn over? J-6. He’s flopped top two pair, and I’m in deep, deep trouble.

Pre-flop and with the cards each of us is holding, I was a 71.4% favorite. You would think that Ivan would see that if I’m betting twenty of my forty-six in chips, that I’m either holding a pair or at least two high singles or at least something better that J-6. In fact, if I run a simulation of Ivan holding J-6 and me holding J-7 (that is, if I’m barely better), I’d still be a 63.6% favorite, almost two-to-one. If I barely have both of his cards beat (if I’m holding Q-7), then I’m a 63.6% favorite. If I’ve got only his top card beat (if I’m holding Q-6), then he’s dead to sixes and I’m a 74.1% favorite. If he only catches a six on the flop, I’m a 72.9% favorite. Hell, even if I’d had the weakest possible pair, 2-2, I’d still have been a 52.2% favorite to win it at the showdown. What does all of this mean? That my hand was strongest pre-flop, and that I should have gotten all my money in then. Even if he’d been holding big slick (A-K), I would have been a 55.2% favorite with my pocket eights. After the flop, only the two remaining eights helped me and I had become a ten-to-one underdog. The board bricks out and my pocket eights get cracked by J-6 when Ivan makes top two pair.

My Mistake: I should have gone all in pre-flop for my $46 and tried to make Ivan’s decision a little tougher. He may still have called (at this point, $46 represented less that nine percent of his chips), but the possibility of him calling becomes much less likely. Strategically speaking, it’s surprising that Ivan called my pre-flop bet of $26 considering what he was holding, so maybe a $46 bet wouldn’t have changed his play.

I finish in fourth place, one place out of the money. Before the invitational had started, I had joked that the fourth place finisher would get a copy of my book (I’ve got a big-ass box of author’s copies back at my crib), since it’s apparent that nobody is ever going to pay for a damn copy. I called it the Bitch Prize.

So, after planning and purchasing and moving stuff and being sleep-deprived (thanks a lot, Ivan) and keeping the Madcity No-Limit Poker Invitational running smoothly and getting knocked out on a painful-as-hell hand, what did I get? A copy of my own goddamned book. I went to my computer case that was sitting in the living room, pulled out a copy (is it lame that I carry a few copies around with me?), went back to the Madcity No-Limit Poker Invitational floor and awarded myself my free copy of my book that I had already gotten for free to begin with. On so many levels, that's just screwed up and pathetic.

More hands are dealt. Winners win. Losers lose. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Who cares?

Madcity No-Limit Poker Invitational Final Results:
First Place, $320: Ivan
Second Place, $192: Jesse
Third Place, $128: Bert
Bitch Prize, Book Already in His Possession: Blas Manuel De Luna

The After: After the distribution of the prizes, we decide to go eat at Fergie’s 50’s Diner, It’s gonna be on Ivan (you’re goddamned right), and as I got out of Jesse’s truck I said that I was going to order two steak and lobsters (I’m not trying to get all up in your bidness, but don’t eat lobsters; it’s cruel how they get all boiled to death; it's just cold), and that I was going to throw one of the plates out onto the street. What did I really order? The turkey dinner. I needed comfort food to help me recover from my mind-numbing, heart-breaking, soul-destroying fourth-place finish, and what’s more comforting than a turkey dinner? Well, the turkey tasted like it came out of one of those little plastic bags that you throw in boiling water; the stuffing was watery, like the cook had just grabbed a handful of stuffing mix from the box, eyeballed the amount of water that he would need for the aforementioned fistful of stuffing mix, threw the hastily made concoction in a microwave-safe bowl, stirred it up with his index finger, and hoped for the best; the less said about the cranberry sauce, the better (here’s a hint, though, to all you restaurant owners out there: don’t try to make your profit on the cranberry sauce; if you have to serve cranberry sauce that came out of a can, upgrade to a brand that vaguely looks like, smells like, and tastes like cranberries); and, in conclusion, the dinner roll was less than adequate.

I thought about it, though, and what the hell was I thinking ordering a dinner plate at what is essentially a burger/sandwich/breakfast joint? It wasn’t like they were gonna have a roast turkey waiting just for me. The truth is that I eat at the 50’s Diner all the time, about three times a week, and it’s really good diner food.

Because I’m always thinking about my loyal readers (all three of them), I was going to get a picture of my food to link to this entry, but I was so bummed out that I was barely functioning. I kept leaning my head against the wall and saying, “I'm so depressed.” Seriously, even today, eight whole days later, I’m still beyond depressed. Whatever’s between really depressed and stepping into traffic, that’s where I’m at.

The Best Part of the Whole Experience?: My new ice chest. That thing is awesome. On Wednesday, there was still ice in that bastard from Saturday morning. How tough is that? As of Thursday morning, though, the ice has melted, reminding me again that death comes to claim us all. We are the ice cubes and the ice chest is the sad and relentless world of loss. Sorry if that got bleak for a second. I’m a bleak person, that’s my thing. What isn’t bleak? Ice cold drinks out of my bad-ass ice chest, that's what. Igloo rules, no doubt.

1Sponsorship Ain’t Cheap: one folding table, square, beige: $35 one ice chestA, rectangular, silvery, with a white lid: $20 snacks & drinks, various shapes and colors: $34 a chill environment, no discernable shape or color, unless one wants to go metaphorical: that part, thank Jesus, didn’t cost me a dime.

ABack to the ice chest one more time. In general, I have no idea how much stuff costs. I was broke-ass for forever (It turns out that there’s no green in the poetry biz; who knew?) and I’ve never been into the acquisition of stuff anyway (fight the power), so I’m constantly surprised by how little I have to pay for stuff that I need. For example, I thought that a folding table was going to run me something like seventy bucks. Come on, a table that folds? That’s sweet. I was way, way off. The ice chest? Something that keeps your drinks secure and cold as a Republican in a homeless shelter (in your face, Republican bitches)? I was thinking in the neighborhood of at least fifty dollars, which seemed reasonable to me. Twenty dollars, my friend, twenty dollars. Since the purchase of said ice chest, I’ll sometimes get up from my worktable (these posts don’t write themselves), just to go and look at it.

2I Demand Recognition: As far as I know, I created, and thus hold the copyright to, the saying, “It was like a knife fight in a phone booth.”B If you use it (what, you can’t come up with your own material?), I want attribution, goddamn it.

BOkay, this is embarrassing, but I just Googled "knife fight in a phone booth" and found out that that very phrase appears as the title of an article in Salon. The article came out in March, 2003, and, while I think that I was using that phrase before then, the context of article makes it pretty clear that the phrase has been out there for a while. Also, I read Salon daily, and I must have seen the article, even if I have no specific recall of having read it. Furthermore, I'm a language geek, and I tend to remember cool phrases that I have either read or heard. In the face of all this evidence, I can no longer demand recognition as the creator of the above-mentioned phrase. However, could you at least acknowledge that you encountered the phrase on my website? That would be the cool thing to do. You're cool, aren't you?

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