"You gonna win this thing for us?"
"I'm gonna try. Lifestyle change, remember?"
Just as I turned to head out the door for the Ladies Night tournament, Showcase stopped me. He grabbed the Brazilian voodoo rattle thing a friend had jokingly given us after the robbery to "purify" the apartment. He shook it, sang an impromptu chant and I spun around in circles. Then he grabbed all four aces out of the deck on the coffee table and rubbed them all over me. I promised to call in on breaks and headed for the car. I had given myself a whole hour to get to the Bike and just crossed my fingers that the freeways weren't a mess and that the air conditioning would hold up in the 90-degree heat. I fired up Prodigy and the White Stripes for the drive. 10 East, 5 South, 710 South.
I arrived with twenty minutes to spare. I signed my life rights over to Steve Lipscomb, bought in, and grabbed a Red Bull and a Zone bar from the gift shop. As I walked through the main poker room toward the Pavilion area where my table was located, I noticed a cloud of smoke hanging over the room and realized it must be the dry ice pouring out of the WPT set, which was not-so-subtly concealed behind tall black curtains in the far corner. The WPT Legends final table was in progress, broadcast throughout the casino via closed-circuit TV, albeit without hole card cameras, but with Linda Johnson's blow-by-blow announcing. Both bars were packed with people watching the action and chattering nonstop, speculating about what hands each player had.
"Kenna made his flush there."
"Nah, he's just betting the scare card. That other dude has about second pair."
I found Table 53 and got settled into seat 6, discovering that I narrowly avoided a VERY bad table draw. Alexandra Vuong and Sharon Goldman were seated only one table behind me. Sharon wore both a nose and a belly button ring to my surprise, her Birkenstocks further enhancing her hippie-girl vibe. She talked animatedly to a friend of hers about how much she hates playing live. We were about 20 minutes late getting started, so I just sat and tried to focus and calm my nerves a bit. Having not played a big tourney since the WSOP, I was physically shakier than I had expected. Sweaty palms and such. I was starting to regret the Red Bull. I breathed deep, threw Radiohead on the Ipod, and shuffled my stack of pink $5 chips. Were they specially made for us I wonder because aren't they usually red? As the cards went in the air, I noticed Pokerwire's Jen Creason at an adjacent table, WPT press badge around her neck, being sweated by Andy Bloch. There were a lot of male "sweaters" there, hanging onto the rail six feet above a pit full of poker-playing women. What a nice reversal. I was in heaven.
I picked up exactly two hands in the first two levels. I had AK in middle position, raised it up and was called. The flop missed me, but I threw out a continuation bet and my passive opponent folded. I was able to make a late-position steal with K8o a few hands later, but otherwise, nada. Just deuce-fours and jack-threes and other garbage. I went to the first break with pretty much what I started with, 800, give or take. I called Showcase from the bar and told him I was still alive. Still a little shaky, I decided that it was time to cure my sweaty palms syndrome with what one of my favorite dealers at Commerce calls my "Magic Corona" as it tends to loosen me up a little and unleash my inner Layne Flack. Which is what I needed if I was going to survive much longer. Rounds were only 30 minutes and the blind levels were pretty steep.
My table broke almost immediately after the break and I was moved into the main room. It looked like there were still about 30-35 tables left. Now I got a good look at which "stars" were in the house. Kathy Liebert was still in. So was Karina Jett. Barbara Enright had on one of her tradmark hats. I spotted Erica Schoenberg, the former MIT Blackjack payer who appeared on the Poker Royale: Young Bloods show a few months ago. Also Jeena Burnett from the final table of the 2004 WSOP Ladies, Allyn Jaffrey Shulman, Shirley Rosario, Shannon Elizabeth, and a stunning, tanned Isabelle Mercier who wore a cool customized black Pokerstars hoodie with the words "No Mercy" Mercier in white on the back.
At my new table was An Lee, who finished second to Jennifer Tilly in this year's WSOP Ladies. Several of the other women at the table seemed pretty intimidated by her. Since I was playing so few hands (because I was still not catching ANY cards whatsoever) she was giving me some respect. When I finally did pick up AQ and reraised her all in with 600 left in my puny stack, she folded pocket sevens to me. An was sweet and friendly, but very tough. She's only been playing for "six or seven" months. I asked her how she learned the game. "Books... and TV. That's really it. No one taught me." My heart sang.
Finally I caught a few hands and won a couple of uncontested pots and a couple where my opponent folded on the flop. Then no hands again for two levels. Just nothing. 24o three times in a row. 25. j6. Nothing I could do anything with because the blinds were getting to a level where any raise would commit me. Tried a couple of late position steals but got action and had to dump it when I missed the flop.
Down to only 425 with 50-100 blinds, I got A6 off and pushed. I was called by a steely blue-eyed lady in the big blind with A8. Flop was no help for me but I turned a 6. I literally jumped out of my seat and yelled "SIX!" I was still alive! I did the same with K9 of spades a few hands later and was called by A4. I doubled up again when I made a flush on the turn. It took tow hands where I was all-in with the worst of it, but now the cards started coming a little bit and I chipped up to about 6000 when the ante hit. An Lee went out after two brutal hands-- both times she had her shortstacked opponent dominated and both times she was outdrawn on the flop.
Once the ante hit people dropped like flies. I kept the music on, kept focused on my table, and tried to ignore where we were in terms of the money. I've had a recent history of not only bubbling a lot of tournaments, but becoming EXTREMELY emotional after doing so. And in most of those bubble situations, I wasn't playing aggressively enough when the money was in sight. I was playing to cash, not playing to win. I told myself that this time I was playing for first. That's it. I would not be a pussy when it got down to the bubble, I'd go out swinging. That focus helped me play very aggressively through the first three ante levels, even though I stll wasn't picking up big hands. I didn't see a pair higher than eights for the entire tournament, and the AK I got in the first level would be the only AK I got all night.
I had an M between 6 and 10 through most of 150-300/50 and 200-400/75, kept vigilant track of where it was and when it was getting critical, and realized that at least seven of my ten opponents had no concept of inflection play or low stack play. They seemed only willing to go all in once they were down to a desperation level. As a result, I picked up a lot of pots by reraising all-in before the flop and on the flop. Going to the third break I had about 8000. I called Showcase again and he was so psyched I was still alive.
Break ended and I was moved to my third table. Eight tables remained and five paid. Blinds are 300-600/100, so it's 1800 a round. About 15 minutes into the level, I picked up J9 of diamonds on the button after everyone folded to me. I had just won a nice pot, so I decided to just raise and hope to pick up the blinds and antes and bust the big blind, who would certainly be all in on this hand. I made it 2600 to go and the small blind, a very chatty, very butch lesbian gave me a "what the heck" look and called. She was playing a lot of pots, but could be moved off a hand when she missed the flop. The big blind pushed in as I thought, which didn't even cover the raise.
The flop came 8-T-6 no suits. Lesbian checks to me, BB is all-in. I feel like lesbian missed with big cards. She would have certainly bet a pair. I have a little less than 6000 left. Lebian has me covered, but not by much. I move in on the flop. She thinks for about 30 seconds before saying "I think I need to gamble" and calling. Now I know I'm toast. Lesbian turns over AQ, BB has 26 of hearts. None of my 14 outs hit and after an excrutiating count by the dealer to make sure she had me covered, I'm out in 54th place. Nine out of the money. A WPT camera recorded my entire bustout, even following me out of the tournament room. Thankfully I was graceful, took it very well, and wished the other ladies good luck. I stepped into the Ladies' Room and saw myself in the mirror as I waited in line. I was smiling. I hadn't even noticed.
After washing all the chip scum off my hands, I peeked back inside the room to see if I recognized anyone still remaining. Karina Jett and Barbara Enright were the only "name" players left. I had outlasted Liebert, Mercier, Goldman, Vuong, Lee, and 91% of the field. So what if I wasn't taking home 170 bucks had I clammed up and folded into the money. I probably could have done that. But it was never the plan for me. I was giving myself the chance to win the thing. Had I hit that last hand, I would have had well over $20,000, been top ten in chips, and really could have gone somewhere with it. But I felt fine. And that was so strange. I guess it's like when a runner makes his first 9-minute mile. It's faster than he's ever ran, but now he's set a new record to beat.
So that's what I'm looking at last night as. A personal best. 54th out of 566 is nothing to be ashamed of. Percentage-wise, it's my highest finish in a major live tournament and I've played fewer than ten. I've had dozens of online final tables and three outright wins, but I feel better about this finish than any of them (well, maybe except for winning my WSOP seat) not only because I played well and never gave up, but for the way I handled myself psychologically and emotionally. There were no tears for Change tonight.
At valet parking I saw Mike Sexton and the new Shana Hiatt, Courtney Friel. She looked sort of plastic and had a clear affinity for spray-on tanning. Shirley Rosario also waited for her car, puffing on a clove cigarette. I spotted a cute redheaded girl who was at my table and went over to her. She had busted only four out of the money, but also seemed OK about it. She asked me what I had when I pushed in on her preflop a few hands before I had busted. I had AJ. Turns out she made a good fold, mucking A9 suited. We chatted as we waited for our cars and she told me I should try out the 2-5 NL at Commerce. In turn I told her to show up around midnight on a weekend and check out the limit games if she ever felt like taking on some intoxicated donkeys.
I drove home with "Transatlanticism" by Death Cab for Cutie on repeat. The freeway was clear and the city quiet. I arrived at my door shortly before 2 AM. Showcase was asleep and for the first time in weeks, it wasn't unbearably, psychotically hot inside my apartment. I was wired and more awake than I'd felt all day. I was never going to sleep tonight. So I smoked a fuckload of pot, fired up Party Poker, and destroyed a SNG. This time, there was no need for a Magic Corona to turn on the Layne Flack switch. I just left it all out on the table. Unbelievable, I know, that I'd want to play MORE poker after six hours in a tournament, but I did. I love this game. I love learning it, I love knowing that I've improved a lot this year, and I love that it's hard. I love that 566 ladies showed up and played some great poker last night. Most of all, I love that I met so many great women who love playing as much as I do. Though I don't think I've seen so many lesbians in one place at one time outside of a bar on Santa Monica Boulevard.
So no lifestlye change tonight, but perhaps an even better mental one.