« Kevin Ngo

Poker Session #1: My First Live Cash

22 Nov 2013

I went out tonight to Encore Poker Club, a casino style poker room, in NW Portland to play in a $500-guaranteed, $30 buy-in NLHE multi-table tournament (MTT). It was my first ever real live poker tournament. There were enough people to fill three tables, for approximately a pool of 30 players. At each table were the handsome dealers, with regulars seated around, many donning the Unabomber look complete with shades and cap. I came in with the mindset to play just like it was online, no strings attached. I performed alright, considering. I ended up finishing in 5th out of about 30, just past the bubble, walking away with $80 from a prize pool of $1300.

For those curious enough to click through, I have written before about my history with online poker. Given the banning of online poker in the States, live poker rooms were one of my only options to play. I had been looking forward to visiting the place for a while. After a uneventful day at work, I figured tonight was the night to try my hand.

Arriving at the Poker Club

At 9pm, I started walking half a mile from my studio towards the Encore Poker Club. I checked the schedule online, the $500-guaranteed was to start at 10pm. Now, I was well-rusted, having not played poker seriously since freshman year of college. I had earlier flipped through my copy of Harrington on Hold’em, Volume 1, the Koran for NLHE multi-table tournaments, hoping for all of my former studies of the game to come back. I arrived at the front desk to register.

“First time, here, huh?”, the lady asked.

“Yeah”, I sheepishly responded as I looked around the room. Half of the room was lined with red-felted tables, the other half blue. TVs filled the wall, each televising a different sport.

I took a seat to wait for the tourney to start. I pulled out my laptop and started coding a bit for work while I watched a Chicago vs. Denver basketball game. It was sort of intimidating, being in this sort of atmosphere. Chips clinking with players at the tables bantering. I wasn’t exactly sure how things worked, but I waited and finally sat.

A TV near our table displayed the status of the tourney. It showed where my seat was (seat 4), stack sizes, blinds timer, payouts, etc. I felt pretty lost, I wasn’t even exactly sure where seat 4 was. But I made my best guess.

This is seat 4, right?

Yes, sir.

Oh okay, I see. One, two, three…four“ as I pointed at my seat.

Great! Next thing to learn is how to count your chips“, another player joked.

Several people sat down, not many, but more showed up late as they were knocked out from an adjacent tourney. Cards in the air!

Early Game

Throughout the game, I was aware my image was as a complete noob, making frequent faux pas such as string betting, forgetting to pass the button, throwing in incorrect amounts of chips. But I used that image to my advantage by playing dumb. While I sometimes messed up phyiscally managing my chips, I was a bit experienced with the game itself as a former micro-stakes grinder.

By the book, I started off tight. I observed how the table worked, how to make calls, little things that players have to do live that they don’t have to do online.

My first hand, a few hands into the game, was some suited connector. I think I was the preflop raiser, but I was check-raised by a middle pair on the turn, getting pushed off my flush draw that would have hit.

I barely said a word at the tables. Half because I am a pretty shy guy already, half because I was in a new environment where everyone seemed to know each other. They were comfortable, I wasn’t completely, but I was getting there. Few more hands passed, no pots won yet.

It was then break time, which I used to Facetime my girlfriend a good night as she wished me good luck.

Inducing a Value Bluff

I get dealt A9o in middle position. I raise the standard 3xBB and get one call from the small blind. He was a regular that briefly introduced himself to me before the game. He seemed the most comfortable of all the players, simply listening to music on his earbuds. The flop hits Axx, a dry board with top- pair. He leads out with a bet. I think a bit, whether I should raise with top- pair. Given how dry the board was, I opted to slowplay so I flat-call. The turn is a blank. He checks, indicating that his lead was a semi-bluff. I check back, not wanting to scare him away and seeing if I could induce a small value bluff. Indeed, he makes a bets on the river and I call. He shows a low pair, and I take a healthy pot.

Stacking with AA

Later, I was dealt AA. My hands shook. I open preflop and get a call from a young Indian shortstack. A few bets and raises, and he was all-in. The aces held, and I stacked him, bringing me to about 8.5k chips (started with 7k).

Fumbling with the Nuts

The poker gods later deal me AA again. I stay a bit more calm than the last time, and make a preflop raise. One caller, a sort of tomboyish lady with the vibe of a regular. The flop comes Axx, the nut top set. I slowly go to make a bet. Though I made a mistake, I counted my chips out above the line, which I could have been called for. I even put in the wrong number of chips that I verbally called. Though, the dealer gave me a break as I was clearly like a virgin here. I glanced over and saw she had barely any chips remaining and moved to put her all in. Third mistake of the hand, I was too eager and moved out of turn. Though she was going all in anyways, smiling at me “You’re fine, honey.“. The top set held, and I stacked another player.

Somewhat funnily remarked they had only seen me play two hands, and both times I held aces. “Not much to it“, I said.

There was a player to my left. We’ll call him Phil since he had a deeply voice like Phil Laak, wearing shades and a beanie. “I can’t believe this is his first tournament“, Phil remarked at my faux pas as I gathered my chips, “Though, he’s obviously good online“, he said to the other players.

Side-Pot Etiquette

In the mid-game, I opened in position with 56s. A really short stack, raised me for not much more to go all in. Phil calls, creating a side-pot. The flop doesn’t hit, but I make a standard continuation bet. Phil folds, telling me he caught a piece of the flop, and that I better have something to knock the other guy out. I showed revealed, and people sort of groaned as I had blank. More groans came as I caught a 5 on the river to knock the guy out.

It’s poker etiquette to not bluff when a third player is already all-in since the goal of a tourney is to knock players out. The correct move is usually to check it down. So Phil gave me a friendly explanation about it. I used to be a cash game player so my only thought was to win hands, but in tournaments it is often in the best interests to knock players out. Though there was some warrant to my move, he said, as I gained a healthy amount of chips. He later apologized and said we had gotten off on the wrong foot.

I then knock out a middle-aged man with QQ over TT all in preflop after my 3-bet.

The Final Table

When it got down to 10, the three tables combined into the final table down to

  1. Though not for long. Two players quickly get knocked out. Then two more. Only four get to be in the money here.

My stack replenished as I was dealt AJ and deal continuation bet against two players as I hit Jxx.

I knock out Phil from the small blind in a coin-flip with JJ over AKo where I had 3-bet him against the button. I thinking somewhere inside he was a little bit tilted, a noob like me seemingly to be lucking out while he was dealt coolers.

Good playing with you“, I mutter, one of the few words I mutter for the whole tournament.

Yeah, good luck. You’re a good player“, he replied kindly, though I’m not sure there was a hint of sarcasm.

And then there were five. Final hand before the third break, I open with QAo. The flop misses me, though wet with all clubs. I check through to the turn, seeing no value in c-betting. I was going to poke the turn as the board paired, though an older guy with a mustache wearing a Ducks hat pushed me out with an underpair. Break time.

Walk of Shame

After the break, all the players agreed to pay the bubble, meaning the next player to get knocked out would still walk out with an agreed-upon amount of money, $80. First place would receive $550, then $360, then $240, then $160. I had a healthy stack at this point and thought I would make it to at least the top three.

But the blinds raised viciously, I wasn’t getting good enough hands to steal blinds to stay alive. Before I knew it, the blinds were $3k/$6k, and my stack dwindled down to only 3 big blinds.

I shoved on the button with A2o, hoping to get a quick blind steal. But the small blind, a late-20s Asian guy with a leather jacket, called with KK. He had almost been knocked out several times, but doubled up several times all in as the poker gods smiled on him. “Good luck“, everyone wished, well, wishing I would get knocked out to guarantee them more money.

An ace hit on the flop, only to be crushed by a K on the turn. And that was all she wrote. “Good hand“.

I received the payout and walked home in the cold, a bit upset about how that ended, to go so far. It was sort of like blue balls, being close to a large sum of money. I regretted not being more aggressive in the later rounds, thinking I could sit my way to more cash.

But, you know what, I finished 5th out of 30 at my very first live poker tournament, where people actually knew how to play. I’m excited to get better, learn the etiquette, and come back again sometime. Maybe even tomorrow since tickets to the basketball game I wanted to see costs the same as the buy-in the a $5,000 guaranteed tomorrow. Fortunately they air the basketball games there.

If nothing else, tonight was good practice for the day I test my fishing at the Bellagio this holiday season.