While almost the entire poker world was fixated on the World Series of Poker final table, other players were playing poker on the East Coast. The World Poker Tour's World Poker Finals was well under way at Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Connecticut. I was glad to return to these familiar and comfortable confines where I had won my first two titles over the past two consecutive years. In 2005, I won the $5,000 no-limit event, and in '06 I won the $2,000 no-limit event.
However, entering this tournament, I had not cashed in seven consecutive events, which was my longest non-cashing streak ever. I had played well recently and was making solid decisions, but one key error in judgment during each tournament often cost me valuable chips and kept me out of the money. Because of my previous success at the World Poker Finals, I was hoping for some good results to end this dubious streak.
My first event was the $600 no-limit hold 'em modified shootout. In my two previous tournaments at Foxwoods, I have played in this event, cashing both times, placing 19th and 13th, respectively. I hoped to continue this upward trend and possibly make a final table. This tournament's structure is unique: Each player plays a typical sit and go during the two qualifying rounds held at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. The top three players advance to the next level and after all the tables battled down to their respective final three, these "winners" returned at 4 p.m. to play in a standard no-limit hold 'em event.
I played in the first qualifier, hoping to finish in the top three so I could have some time off before the 4 p.m. start. On the very first hand, I looked down at Ah-Jh. Sitting in mid-position, I limped into the pot and the button subsequently raised to $225. After the blinds folded, I decided to call. After the dealer revealed a flop of As-Qc-5s, I decided to check. After my opponent led out $350, I called. The next card was -- bingo! -- the Jd. After I checked once again, my opponent this time bet $550. After a moment, I pushed all-in. Unfortunately, he instantly called, and given the lack of time he spent on making the decision, I was pretty sure I was beat. My fears were realized when he flipped over Ad-Qh. When the 7h fell on the river, I was gone. Wow. One and done! Fortunately, I came back during the second session and won my seat in a relatively straightforward fashion, winning my first five hands and coasting into the top three.
At 4 p.m., 114 of the total 330 players who tried to qualify reassembled to play for the title, with 40 players making the money. Beginning with $5,000, we would play 50-minute levels until midnight or the final table, whichever came first.
The first level (blinds $25/$50) did not start out well, as I lost my first three hands. Thankfully I only limped in each hand, so I did not lose much of my stack. Midway through the level, I was dealt 5h-5c in the small blind. After the button limped, I completed the bet. However, the big blind would not check his option, raising to $225. After the button folded, I decided to call the bet, hoping for a good flop. The dealer obliged with Qh-Jd-5s, giving me bottom set. After I checked, my opponent led out with $350, which I called. After the turn came the 6d; it was my turn to lead out with $450. However, my opponent did not believe me and raised to $1,250. After a moment, I declared "I'm all-in." However, there was no suspense as my opponent quickly folded, providing me a nice pot to start the tournament.
After winning another hand with pocket jacks, I ended the first level with $7,475 with 106 players remaining.
Over the next three levels, I won seven of 11 hands, steadily increasing my chip stack. The most memorable hand occurred at the beginning of the second level (blinds $50/$100). Sitting under the gun and with a healthy chip stack, I decided to take a chance by limping with 9s-6s. After two more players limped along with both blinds, the dealer flipped over an incredible five-player flop. 8d-7d-5h. Before I truly saw all three cards, the small blind instantly pushed all-in for $2,100. After confirming that I had flopped the straight, I also pushed all-in. After the remaining players quickly folded, the small blind flipped over 7c-5s for two pair. After the 9s and 10c completed the board, I took down another nice pot. I ended the fourth level with $10,225 with only 72 players remaining.
During the next three levels I only played five hands, but won them all. Each level had a significant moment:
" Level 5 (blinds $200/$400, antes $50): Dealt Jh-Jd in the cutoff, I raised to $1,150. After the button and big blind called, the dealer spread Js-5s-4d. After the big blind checked, I led out $1,450. After the button folded, the big blind stubbornly called. When the 5d was turned, we both checked. Next, the dealer flipped over the 6d on the river. After the big blind once again checked, this time I bet out $2,600. After a few moments, my opponent called, but was shocked to see when I turned over my full house.
" Level 6 (blinds $300/$600, antes $75): The money bubble burst midway through the level, ending my consecutive non-cashing streak. Thank goodness it's over!
" Level 7 (blinds $400/$800, antes $100): Sitting in the cutoff seat, I looked down to see Ah-Jh, the same hand that eliminated me from the first qualifier. As if there were any question, I raised to $2,450! After the big blind called, the dealer flipped over a very good flop for me: Jc-7d-5s. After the big blind checked, I decided to bet out $4,250, and surprisingly, my opponent instantly pushed all-in. Hoping he did not hit a set, I decided to make the call. When he turned over As-Ks, I was poised to double up. The turn (6d) and the river (4h) did not help my opponent catch up, increasing my stack to $31,000. Overall, I ended the level with $30,300 with only 26 players left in contention.
" Level 8 (blinds $600/$1,200, antes $150) was another successful level. I won five of the six hands played, as all my wins came preflop with hands such as Js-Jd, Kh-Qh, and As-Js. However, at the end of this level, with only 20 players remaining, an unusual proposition was put forward by one player to all the remaining participants. With about $145,000 left in the prize pool, every player would be guaranteed $5,000, while the rest of the $45,000 would be distributed among the top four finishers. This prize structure would mean that everyone would be guaranteed better than 8th-place money. After some discussion, all 20 players agreed, and the deal was in place.
I ended this level with $36,700, and although I was somewhat reluctant to accept the deal, there was a positive result to the agreement: Players did not concern themselves about the money. Thus, throughout Level 9 (blinds $800/$1,600, antes $200), players were taking chances and moving all-in at a rapid pace, trying to position themselves heading into the final table. Fortunately, I caught two huge hands near the end of the level, which allowed me to gain significant chips:
" With 12 players remaining, I was sitting under the gun and looked down at Qd-Qc. After raising to $4,600, the very aggressive player directly sitting to my left surprisingly called. After everyone else folded, I prayed that no ace or king would hit the flop, but the dealer did not hear my plea as the he flipped over Kh-Jd-8d. After I decided to check, my opponent bet $9,000. Although most of the time I would have thought about folding here, I took my time to analyze the situation. Since he was very aggressive, I did not put him on A-A, K-K or A-K, because he would have reraised preflop. Since I held two queens, it was unlikely that he held K-Q. (Although he could have had K-J, but I truly felt he was on a draw.) After completing my analysis, I decided to call his bet. The turn was the 10c, giving me a open-ended straight draw, and I decided to go with my read and pushed all-in. Unfortunately, my opponent insta-called. UGH! He must have a king, right? Nope. He surprisingly flipped over 10d-9d for an open-ended straight flush draw and a pair of tens. When the Jh fell on the river, I had faded all the possible outs, doubling up to about $85,000.
" One orbit later, I was sitting under the gun once again and was dealt Ks-Kh. Once again, I raised to $4,600, and apparently the table didn't believe my image, as two players called me. After a flop of 9h-3d-2c, the big blind led out with $9,000. After a moment, I decided to try to trap my opponent by just calling. The third player in the hand folded. When the dealer turned the Js, my opponent pushed all-in, and I immediately called. After he revealed only Ad-9d, he needed a miracle card to stay alive. Instead, the dealer dealt a king on the river, and he was eliminated in 11th place.
After this pair of amazing hands, we completed play for the day as we were down to our final table. I ended the day with $141,700, the chip leader heading into Day 2 by over $30,000. Now that I had ended my non-cashing streak, I hoped get deep and potentially extend another streak, winning my third title in as many years.
Bernard Lee is the weekly poker columnist for the Boston Herald and author of "The Final Table, Volume I." He also hosts a weekly poker radio show, "The Bernard Lee Poker Show," on Rounders Radio and in Boston on 1510 AM. The show can be heard from 6-7 p.m. Tuesday and is repeated throughout the week. For questions or comments, e-mail him at BernardLeePoker@hotmail.com.