5 days of poker — and 5 lessons

Mrs. Sortal flew to California for a week to see an ailing friend, so I took the opportunity to play five straight days of poker at five different venues. During that time, I suffered a terrible beat, found the poker gods compensating me not once, but twice, and learned a lesson every day.

I started with a $70 buy-in 7 p.m. Monday tournament at Gulfstream Park, generally a little too late at night for me to commit to hours and hours of poker (if I’m lucky!) but, hey, my house was empty and Gulfstream runs a tournament every night. I got enough hands to advance through the field of 46 (including rebuys) to the final seven, and even though I was on the lower end of the chip stacks, I saw great promise of making the money (top five) when I was dealt A-A.

So you know how that turns out. I got it all in after the flop against a player’s A-9 and a board of 9-x-x, unworried about his two diamonds and just one on the flop. I even celebrated after the board apparently ran out clean – except that turn and river was diamond-diamond and my opponent yelped with joy. Had another 9 hit, I’d have been OK with the loss, but boy, going home with two cards out of nowhere, when I actually would have been in the mix to win? Ouch. Lesson: The poker gods are cruel.

The next afternoon I sat down to play $1-$2 no-limit at the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, where I grinned as I saw the action. Lots of big stacks, lots of big raises. The Hard Rock’s max buy-in for $1-$2 is $300, higher than most everywhere else, but so what? My $120 would do fine.

I got bullied, and bullied. And too many times I flat-called, not wanting to get into a race for my final $70 or so. I ended up losing only $74, and was lucky to keep it at that. Lesson: Stack size is always relative; don’t go in undermanned.

The Isle in Pompano Beach runs a $2,000 free-roll a morning or two a month (actually in April it’s every Wednesday), and as I settled in Wednesday morning, I saw the field grow to 177. But generally those fields have plenty of softer players, and I watched as the remaining players board trimmed down to 25 or so. The tournament has a mandatory chop at 10 places – meaning finish in the top 10 and you win $200, regardless of stack size – but I could see there were plenty of stacks larger than mine. I needed more chips.

So I shoved all-in with 6-6, maybe my third all-in of the tournament. But this one got called, by an above-average player with 9-9. I slapped my hands in anger, at my perceived misplay.

But of course, the poker gods showed up now on my side, and a 6 on the turn crippled the opponent, and gave me enough life. Another all-in, with my A-K suited vs. 9-9, was met with K on the flop, and my stack of 100K or so chips was enough to fold my way into the money. A win! Lesson: Maybe things even out over time.

I have always liked playing at Hialeah Park because the players are impatient and stubborn. They don’t want to believe I have a better hand. The only problem is greed: I shove with A-Q too many times, getting into races against players I am better than. (At the Isle, for example, I’m OK racing because many of the players are better than me, but why race here?) Today, I raise when I have the best hand, fold if I’m not sure. I end up plus $75. Lesson: Patience, patience, patience.

I hadn’t planned on playing five days in a row but I ran an errand to Coral Springs Friday and Seminole Casino Coconut Creek was 10 minutes away. It seemed like a steady table, so if I played by the math, I’d be fine. That math dictates a call with J-9 suited in late position, and K-10 of clubs put me on a nice flush draw that was completed on the turn with a 5 of clubs. Of course, I held out hope for a Q Clubs to complete a straight flush and a high hand, but… I GOT IT! On the river. A two-time $250 rollover meant $750 me. That A-A loss at Gulfstream has been washed away – and more. Lesson: Poker is not one or two or even five separate days, it’s one long session. And I’m on house money for a good, good while now.


Epilogue: The next week I hit Magic City Casino and my K-K turned into a full house of 3 Ks and 2 9s. They have only a full-house minimum so I hit a high hand for $250. Still on a run, I find a soft table the next day at the Seminole Hard Rock, properly armed this time with $200 to play $1-$2 NL. I run my $200 up to $400 or so, then miss on a jackpot of (my) lifetime when my A-A is called by K-K and guess what hits on the flop (thank goodness he had only $200 to call my shove with). The gods then apparently smile back upon me when my 10-10 finds two more 10s and I shout “high hand” at 5:35 p.m., then learn that it’s the first half-hour of $1,000 high hands. (Sick.) My sweat endures until 5:59:21 (seriously), when across the room someone hits quad aces and my $1,000 (less drinks for the table and a tip) goes away. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. And I remember: One long session, Nick, it’s just one loooong session.

Twitter: @NickSortal

email: NickSortal@BellSouth.net