This whole journey started with a strange feeling. I don't get them often, but if I've learned anything from history, it's that when I do, I need to listen to my better angels. I'm not religious, psychic, or otherwise gifted with ESP. I'm a bankroll nit and after getting sacked from my full-time writing job in October, I'm among the 20-or-so percent of Americans that are currently underemployed. Less than a week ago, I was wondering how I would make it three more months without finding a new source of income. To put it lightly, I probably had no business even playing satellites for the $1,100 buy-in Ladies Event at the 2011 PokerStars Carribbean Adventure. But sometimes I do find myself believing in destiny.
Off an $81 satellite investment, I found myself touching down at Nassau airport last Wednesday evening, my hand clutching Pauly's as our too-small-for-my-tastes aircraft shuddered to a stop. 36 hours later, I was sitting behind my 10,000-chip starting stack in a 96-player field that included pros Kathy Liebert, Vicky Coren, Veronica Dabul, Maria "maridu" Mayrinck, Lauren Kling, Olympic gold medalist Fatima Moreira De Melo, actress and talk show host Ricki Lake, and author/chess champion Jennifer Shahade, whom I'd finally met the night before after being a fan of her writing for some time. I was also so pleasantly surprised when I ran into Pauly's little step-sister Mo, aka @DiscoSisII. I had no idea she was going to be at the PCA, let alone play in this event and I was thrilled to finally meet her face-to-face.
At my starting table were two other women I'd never met but had wanted to for some time-- Maryann Morrison, the editor of Woman Poker Player, and Alexis Gilbard, who worked behind the camera on the first season of the PokerStars.net Big Game and now freelances for Fox Sports. Alexis is a fellow Angeleno, and as it turns out, we live ridiculously close to one another. She is also an aggressive, thinking player and sat two to my right for nearly all of Day 1. I had to make a big laydown to her on the turn in an early hand where my A-T flopped top pair on a pretty wet board. Between that hand, and a two pair over two pair hand I lost to Maryann, I was down to 50% of my starting stack by the end of the first two levels. It wasn't ideal, but I didn't let myself worry about it too much because the structure was excellent and I still had over 50 big blinds.
I got back to a little better than my starting stack after doubling through Alexis. She had been playing very aggressively, opening more than a third of her hands and since I'd made that earlier laydown, I was actually trying to stay out of her way. With about 24,000 behind, she opened from middle position, I three-bet with two black kings in the cutoff, and she made the call. The flop was J-9-baby, all spades, giving me an overpair and the second-nut flush draw. She checked, I c-bet about 60% pot and she moved all-in, having me well-covered as I started the hand with a little less than 6,000. I called pretty quickly and she showed As-9h for middle pair and the nut flush draw, putting us in a 51/49 flip going into the turn. I dodged her 13 outs twice and was back up to a far more comfortable 11,500.
Just as I was getting ready to relax a little, Lauren Kling was moved to my direct left. She's a lovely woman with a badass collection of Chanel purses, but there were maybe 93 other players in the field I'd have rather had in that seat. She's aggressive, aware, and has probably played hundreds of $1k tournaments in her career while I can count mine on one hand. Lauren had already chipped up to 45,000, which at that point was about triple the average stack. As much as I didn't want to get involved with her right away (and out of position to boot), well, I did.
With the blinds at 100/200/25, the action folded to me in the small blind. I opened for 525 with Jh-Th and Lauren called. The flop was K-Q-x with one heart. I c-bet 850 with my open-ender and she called. At that point I'm giving her credit for a queen at minimum. The turn, however, was another small heart, giving me a flush draw to go with my straight draw. I decided to check with the intention of calling anything other than a weird overbet and she bet 1,800 into the 3,000 pot. I called and bingo-bongo-bango the river was another heart. I was fairly certain that my flush was the best hand at that point but (a) would really really hate getting raised if I bet out and (b) would really really hate having her fold if I bet out. I thought there was a very good chance she'd bet again if I checked, so I did and she made it 3,700. I called and Lauren wasn't pleased at all to see my hand.
"I had you on the flop and the turn!" she said with a sigh.
I was up to 21,000 after that pot and hovered right around that amount seemingly forever. Card dead at an increasingly aggressive table, I pretty much tread water and got away with one three-bet against Alexis that got her to fold pre-flop. I was getting a little frustrated and bored, until a hand came up that nearly stopped my heart. We'd just come back from break and the blinds were up to 150/300/25 when I found my first pair of aces. I opened from middle position for 750 and Stacey Sullivan, a Foxwoods regular and one of the tougher players at the table, called from the big blind. The flop was Q-T-7 with two clubs. Stacey checked, I c-bet, and she came in with a check-raise. I put her on a top pair hand like A-Q or K-Q or a strong draw and there is certainly a good case for reraising right there given my equity against those hands, but I had a very tight image at that point and thought I might prematurely blast her out of the pot. I sold it a little before making the call. I instantly regretted my decision when another queen came on the turn. God I hated it. She led out for a bit more than half the pot and I called. The river, however, changed everything. It was another queen, making it much more unlikely she had one in her hand. Now, aside from the flush and straight draws that didn't get there, I had her on a very narrow range of pocket pairs that could potentially call a shove-- K-K, J-J, T-T, or even the other two aces. If she had quads, well God bless her. Stacey checked and I moved all-in for my last 6,700. When she didn't snap-call, I knew I was fine and focused on remaining as calm and still as possible while she thought through her decision. After close to five minutes in the tank, she folded.
Shortly after we tangled in that hand, Stacey asked me for my screen name. It turned out that she had read my blog shortly before departing for the PCA.
"Oh man, sorry about your cat," she said.
I hit the dinner break with 41 players remaining and a bit better than the average stack. Pauly and I went over to the PokerStars party and I downed some pork tenderloin, caesar salad, and tortellini with pesto sauce along with one Bahama Mama (a tasty pink rum concoction) to settle my nerves. My friend Ryan always tells people not to forget to eat during tournaments and I'd done just that. Aside from the 16 oz. Jamba Juice I'd started the morning with, I'd been operating on pure adrenaline.
My table broke shortly after we returned from dinner and my new seat found me two to the left of one of my favorite people on tour, Maria "maridu" Mayrinck. I still had to contend with Alexis as well, along with Megan Milburn, who recently made a runner-up finish in the Ladies' Event at EPT London. Megan was on my left and a tiny dark-haired slip of a girl named Kristen was on my right. All four were strong players. After a bad run where my stack dipped as low as 10,000, I chipped back up to 59,000 after knocking out a short stack with A-A vs. A-2 and eliminating Alexis with Q-Q. Then came the hand that changed everything.
Maridu was a bit frustrated after enduring a nasty beat where she got it all in with a set of eights and her opponent runner-runnered a flush. I also knew she had a 1:20 pm flight the next day that she really wanted to be on. With the action folded to her on the button, she made a standard opening raise and I looked down at Ah-Kh in the big blind. I three-bet and Maridu didn't waste much time before moving all-in. Our stacks looked pretty close. I eyeballed her chips and counted her down at 47,000. I had just short of 60,000 to start the hand. If I called and lost, I'd still have a reshove stack. If I called and won, I'd be the chip leader with 20 players remaining. If I folded, I'd be below average and seriously sweating the money bubble. She did want to catch that flight.
She turned over pocket kings.
I wanted to puke.
The flop was ten-high with one heart. The dealer burned and turned, flipping over the 5h, giving me a ray of hope with a flush draw. An ace or a heart on the river would win it for me. I closed my eyes as he burned again and picked up the river card. I couldn't watch. The screams cued me to open my eyes.
It was another heart. OMFG.
As the dealer counted down our stacks, I realized that I'd completely miscalculated Maridu's. She had 57,000, not 47,000 and had I called and lost I would have been left with two big blinds rather than 12. Suddenly I was the chip leader with about 120,000. Holy. Mother. Of. God.
I bagged up 102,700 at the end of the night, which was still good for the chip lead. 16 players were left, eight would be paid. I was just happy to be alive. Among the Day 1 survivors were Veronica Dabul, Vicky Coren, Ricki Lake, Megan, Little Kristen, Foxwoods Stacey, Lauren, and Mo (yay!). The rest of the evening was spent in the Coral Bar with Pauly, Otis, and a slew of poker media friends. The pride on their faces was already better than a min-cash. I allowed myself one more Bahama Mama before popping a Xanax and drifting off to sleep.
There was still work to be done.
(To be continued...)