As you may know, I play regularly in the Amateur Poker League (APL) which puts on free No Limit Hold 'Em tournaments at bars and restaurants in several states. I have found these tournaments to be a good place to hone my poker skills without putting any of my hard earned cash at risk. I enjoy playing on line very much, but being in a game with live people across the table from you is a whole 'nother experience from sitting at your computer and trying to figure out what your opponent is doing based almost solely on betting patterns.
Last night I played in another APL tourney, but this one was a little different. It was the championship game for a contest that ran from September to the end of December. The 64 players at two APL venues combined who accumulated the most points over that time period qualified for this tournament, which had actual prizes to be won. You earn points in APL games by finishing in the top 16 at each weekly tournament. The higher you place, the more points you get, plus a bonus depending on how many players entered that week's event. I had finished 16th or better (although never first) often enough over the past four months to qualify; I think I ranked 49th on the qualifiers list. I was less worried about where I stood in the point totals than about whether I made the cut, which I did. Strangely, only 30 of the 64 qualifiers showed up to play. I expected a much bigger turnout because of the prizes being offered.
The grand prize for this contest was a trip for two to Las Vegas, including airfare and three nights hotel accommodations. Second prize was tickets to see a Dallas Mavericks basketball game. There was a third prize too but I never found out what it was. Because this tournament had something tangible riding on the outcome, the players (at least at my starting table) played very tight. No one wanted to take a chance of losing a chunk of their stack too soon. I'll admit, I played tight too, but that isn't unusual for me; I'm a fairly conservative player most of the time. What I should have done, with everyone else playing so scared, is made more plays at the pots, and raised more to steal the blinds. But, I didn't do as much of that as I probably could have got away with. Instead I stuck to my normal game of playing only good starting cards, limping in with draws when possible, raising when I had something worth playing, and getting out of the hand if I felt like I was beat. This worked well for me, because when I got good cards and bet them, I either won the pot early or my hands held up. It took a while but I built up my stack and eventually became one of the chip leaders at my table. Because of how tight everyone was playing, the bustouts were slow in coming. It seemed like forever for our table to break up and for those of us remaining to be moved to another table.
Once I finally moved, to one of the final two tables, the defining hand of the tournament came for me. Six of us were playing. Blinds were 500 and 1000 and would soon go up to 1000/2000. I had about 13,000. I was in the small blind, and picked up AQo. UTG, who had about 1300, called the BB. The next player had about 6,000, and went all-in. Next player folded. The button, who was the chip leader, thought long and hard but called the all-in. Action was on me. I figured UTG to be on a draw since he only called, and UTG+1 to be on a desperation push, so I didn't think his hand was that great. Maybe a medium or lower pair or two big cards. Since the button only called the all-in instead of pushing himself, I didn't think his hand was that great either, probably similar to UTG+1. Although I knew there was a decent chance that my AQ was behind, I felt like I was no worse than a coin flip against the hands I put the others on. I went ahead and pushed the rest of my chips in. The BB folded, and it was back to UTG, who wasn't happy about all the raising in front of him but decided to throw in his last 300. The button then called my all-in, leaving him with about 1200. When we turned up our cards, UTG had two medium connectors, UTG+1 had something like Q9, the button had AJ. I was ahead with my AQ, and it held up. I knocked out the two short stacks and crippled the big stack. A few hands later, we were down to the final table. I had a nice stack when I moved there, and managed to get a couple of good hands. The play was amazingly tight at the final; no one wanted to play with less than premium hands, it seemed. For example, when we got down to three, the guy to my left, who was the short stack, folded pocket fours when I pushed with KQ. He blinded out shortly thereafter, but not before I crippled the other stack when his 99 ran into my JJ. A hand or two later, my sole remaining opponent pushed with a J; I called with a Q, and he didn't improve, although I did catch a Q on the river to seal the deal.
So, I won a trip to Las Vegas! I have been itching to go back there; it's been a couple of years since my last trip out, and reading about the WPBT adventures last month just whetted my appetite for a visit even more. I had even started looking at airfares and hotels and what days I could take off work. Now, I can pick the days I want to go and let the APL's travel agency do the planning, and the paying. I don't know yet what hotel they will put us in or when we will go, but I'm hoping we can make the trip in March when my son is on spring break from school. We'll have to pay for his plane ticket, but I have no problem with that.
I have finished in first place in a couple of low buy-in SNGs on line, and cashed for $70 in third place in a WWdN tourney a couple of weeks ago, but this trip is easily the biggest payoff for me in a poker game yet. I intend to savor every moment of it while I am there. I just hope the APL puts us up in a decent place so we can feel a little bit like we've won a Major Award. Oh, yes, I do plan to play some poker while I am in Vegas (duh). Any recommendations on which casino poker rooms have the softest players, so I can at least last a while if not come out ahead? I'll try not to play like a complete donkey. I'll post more when I know when we are going and where we are staying, and then I'll have a report when we get back.
Yippee, I won a tournament, and a big prize! Can you tell I'm excited?