Well, that was definitely an experience. I was pretty nervous the whole time, and ended up chewing gum like a madman. Towards the end of the game there, my jaw started hurting because I was just chomping away like a starving cow. I didn’t touch any booze, and so all I really had was the gum.

Oh, and did I happen to mention this took place at a bar? All told, 40 guys and one really scantily-clad waitress (think French Maid outfit sans the skirt). It was definitely weird being in a bar, but the space was decent and the tables were plentiful. I paid my $65 and then sat down with Mike to chat for a while, as we waited for others to show.

Rumor was that there were 100 prospective people, but really it came down to more like 40. They extended the deadline (they were going to close the doors at 1:30 PM) until 2PM, and then we were off to the races.

I played fairly conservatively throughout, though more towards the end out of necessity. The overall atmosphere was good – somewhat friendly, but definitely competitive. When guys got some bad beats, you’d hear somebody cuss or walk away from the table… but nothing that escalated beyond the typical reactions you’d have when something like that happens. For the most part, everyone carried themselves cordially and respectfully, and I didn’t feel uncomfortable in the slightest.

We started with 2000 in chips, blinds at 25/50, going up every 30 minutes. During the first round, I got excited by a pair of pocket eights, and started betting heavily. The guy next to me kept pace, and I was blinded by my pocket pair. Instead of realizing how strongly he felt about his hand, I kept firing and he ended up taking the pot (he had pocket tens). From then on out, I was low on chips and played catch-up.

That said, I did really really well. Conservative again, but I lost track of how often I went all-in. It got to the point where people were commenting on how I kept winning, each time I went all-in. After a while there, I became known as the guy who couldn’t lose the all-in’s. At one point, I went all-in with Ace Three unsuited, and the guy next to me had something like Ace Ten. I lucked out there, as two pair showed up on the board, and we split the pot. Every time I thought I was done for, I caught something and either stayed alive or doubled up.

I met a guy (to my right) named Peter, who I enjoyed talking to. He was fairly laid back, and we were both joking around a fair amount. He seemed like a pretty smart guy, talkative about his hands, and reacted in the same positive way regardless of whether he won or lost the hand. I liked him a lot.

There was another guy (whose name I didn’t get) at our table, who joined maybe two or three rounds in. He was older, I’d say maybe in his forties. He knew a lot of folks, and the organizers of the event frequently went to him with questions, looking for advice. This is a guy to watch out for, right? If he’s someone who’s directing the way the tables should be re-seated, directing the chipping-up process, all that good stuff. He was a bit surly, but played well. Like me and Peter, he seemed to be fairly conservative, but went in when it was strategic to do so. He was a grumbler, someone who would call people out for not having their blinds, interested more in keeping the momentum of the game going.

I talked to Mike midway through the games, and he unfortunately got knocked out. He went all-in on a big straight, and the guy who called him ended up getting two running eights to land the full house. That’s a terrible beat, and a hard one to take… especially when you’re holding a straight in your hands.

I saw a lot of change at my table. Two big chipleaders got dwindled down to nothing, and booted from the table. I was pretty amazed I lasted as long as I did, and felt like I spent the last hour and a half trying to just stay alive. In my head I planned on playing a fairly tight game – staying patient, trying to make good decisions and not losing control in the heat of the moment. I attribute this strategy to how well I did in the end. While I would have liked to have been a bit more aggressive (I only really ever bluffed once), given how many chips I had… the conservative approach was the best.

Here’s something I’m quite proud of – I made it to the final table! After the field of 40 got cleared out, they re-seated everyone when it was down to ten players. I sat down with the surly guy to my right, and continued to try to stay alive. Lo and behold, one guy gets knocked out, and then there were nine.

At this point, I was down to about 1600 chips, with the blinds at 500/1000. I kept waiting and waiting, until I wound up with the big blind (and had to put 1000 in). It went around the horn and one guy, three seats to my right, called all-in.

The two guys between us folded, and I looked down at my King Three, unsuited. I should have known he had a strong hand, seeing as he went all-in when there were three other players left in the queue. I debated for a long while (and here’s the only instance where I felt a bit of pressure from the table to hurry up and make a decision), and ended up going all-in as well. I figured I had to take the chance.

We turned our cards over, and the surly guy next to me looked at my hand. “Got a king? It’s a no-brainer when it’s heads-up.” And while he’s right (I’m sure I passed on a lot of hands that I should have played, given my conservative strategy), I didn’t feel good about it. My opponent turns his cards over and he’s got King Ace. The flop was of no consequence, and he ended up winning with Ace high. So it goes.

So 9th place for m. All in all, I’m really happy with how things turned out. Sadly, the top 8 people end up getting money (1st place was like $550, and it went down from there to 7th and 8th, who both got $50). It would have been nice to have made it to the money, but I think getting to the final table in my first ever tourney is something to be proud of.

I didn’t get my lunch handed to me (like I did when I played poker at a casino for the first time). But I also noticed how my gameplay was affected, playing with strangers and playing with real money. I want to say that I’ve slowly gotten comfortable being more aggressive when I play with friends/coworkers, but felt myself playing quite timidly. Conservative play got me to the final table, but it didn’t leave me with the ability to do much, once I was there.

Lots to think about and reflect on. I’m looking forward to talking to Mike tomorrow, and the two of us re-capping our experiences and our strategies. I learned a great deal about tournaments today, as well as my actions in a live tournament environment. While I’m not about to run off and start a new life as a professional poker player (let’s remember that I lost $65 today), I do have a newfound confidence in my own skills and abilities. I played smart, and lasted to the final table. While there were small things here and there, I’m generally happy with how I played my hands.

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