Poker AARP-style at the WSOP

By Randall Rapp

I had been looking forward to this for almost a year. When your humble Ambassador hit the half-century mark last Fall, I realized that if I played diligently over the course of the year and increased my bankroll accordingly, I could take a shot at the $1,000 buy-in Seniors No-Limit Hold’em Championship at the World Series of Poker.

Turns out it was a pretty good year, poker-wise, so I gathered up the cash and made the drive to Las Vegas. Sure, there are advantages to flying, but I absolutely hate dealing with airports these days and would rather have my car since I’m too cheap to keep forking out 20 bucks every time I want to go a couple miles down the street.

I arrived a day and a half early, with designs on entering a few tournaments to get my feet wet in Vegas and hopefully take some of the sting out of that WSOP buy-in. Apparently the best-laid plans are filled with crappy cards, bad beats, and brief tournament appearances.

Fortunately I had taken care of my seniors event buy-in the day before it began, right after busting out of a sit-n-go which followed busting out of a satellite. If I had known what the rest of the day would be like I would have been too afraid to pony up the dough for the big one. (I know the Seniors Championship is not really the “big one,” but to some of us any tournament with a buy-in over $200 qualifies as a “big one.”)

When the event began on Friday morning, June 15, I can’t say I was nervous. After all, I was the veteran of exactly one previous WSOP tournament (see July/August 2008 issue of The Cardroom).

After a boring speech that may have been a pitch from the AARP, they finally called “shuffle up and deal.” With only 3,000 chips to start, but hour long levels, the tournament would be an interesting mix of needing to accumulate chips while also having time to be patient.

On the third hand of the tournament these two forces would collide and the adrenaline rush was immense. I looked down at pocket queens and raised appropriately (blinds were only 25/25). Three players called. The flop was all below my queens, with no pair but two hearts, and I bet appropriately again and got two callers. The turn was a blank so I bet and got it down to one caller.

This pot had gotten too big. We both had about three-fourths of our chips in the pot. I had position on my opponent and decided that if a blank came on the river and he checked again I’d check behind and save myself the early exit if I was beaten. That’s exactly what happened as my neighbor showed a busted a flush and my queens took down a huge pot, virtually doubling me up.

On the very next hand I looked down at pocket deuces and decided to call a standard raise to see the flop. As Mike Sexton would say, “bingo, bango, bongo” the flop brought another deuce. The other guy made his continuation bet and I raised. Without even hesitating he announced “all-in.”

Now the blinds are still only 25/25 and we’re only about 15 minutes into what should be approached as a marathon. There are about 500 chips in middle when he ­comes over the top for his tournament life with a 2,000 plus overbet.

My previous WSOP adventure ended prematurely when I lost a set-over-set battle, but if that was the case here I had enough chips to take the pain and move on, so I quickly called. He turned over his pocket aces and turned ashen when he saw that he was about to be done in by pocket deuces. The board ran out with no help to him and he made his early exit. Meanwhile, I was sitting on nearly three times the starting stack with about 40 minutes left in the first level.

It would be nice to report that it just got better from there, but poker is seldom that kind. After two rounds I was still at about 10,000 chips, but at the end of the third I was down to 4,500. One round later I had it back up to 10,000 and from there I maintained a fairly slow-but-steady upward trajectory.

It was about this time that the entries were closed and they announced that, with 4,128 entries, this was the largest single-entry-day tournament in the history of poker. That was kind of cool.

There were plenty of familiar faces from television making a run at this bracelet. Without even trying I spotted Marcel Luske, Dennis Phillips (who eventually took second place), Umberto Brenes, and Hoyt Corkins (who came in fourth).

Back at the table I was still gathering chips. After six levels I had 21,000 and at eight I was up to 31,000. When we stopped for the night after 11 levels I had 46,300 and was in 56th chip position out of the remaining 462 players—39 more to eliminate for the money bubble. Not a bad day’s work.

Two hours into day two and I had more than doubled up—all the way to 110,000. The bubble had burst quite some time ago and all was looking well. I was actively avoiding any knowledge of the payout levels and just trying to play my best game.

That’s when tragedy struck. We all know poker is a fickle game and when it decided to bite me on the rear end it came hard and fast.

With pocket 7s I saw a flop with just one opponent. The flop came 7-high, but all clubs. I had top set, but had to worry about a made flush. I checked, he bet, I called. The turn was a blank, I checked, he checked behind. The river paired the 3 on the board giving me 7s-full-of-3s, so if he had a flush I had him crushed. I bet out on the river and he immediately went all-in. The pot was too big—and the remainder to call too small—for me to even consider folding. I called and he gleefully turned over quad 3s.

Just like that I had been done in by a one-outer. I had him crushed the whole way. I would have had over 170,000 and been well on my way to a deep, deep run. Instead I was down to about 60,000 and would have to fight to stay alive.

After being eliminated four years earlier in my only other WSOP experience by set-over-set, it seemed a cruel irony that I was done in by the same situation, only this time starting out on top and then getting slapped down by the deck.

The only consolation I got was that, despite having doubled through me to about 100,000, that guy was gone long before I was.

To add insult to injury I then went completely card dead for the next level and a half, but still managed to keep most of my stack. Eventually was I forced into shove or fold mode and went all-in with two face cards and was called by pocket 8s. The board brought me no love and I was eliminated in 153rd place. Not bad, considering there were 4,128 entries.

Still, it leaves one dreaming about what might have been. If it hadn’t been for that one card … the only one that could save him and cripple me. Hopefully it won’t be four years before I get the opportunity to take another shot.