Let the Man Go Through: The Mad-City No-Limit Poker Invitational, Version 2.0, Report

The Before:

The Planning: After the success of the last Mad-City No-Limit Poker Invitational, we decided that we should hold another one before the summer ended. Well, I was going to be traveling, first to Las Vegas again, and then on the Pacific Northwest Museum Tour, so the only date for the Mad-City No-Limit Poker Invitational, Version 2.0 (MNPIV.2) that seemed to make sense was 6 August 2005.

We got the word out to be there at three in the afternoon, changed the structure a little bit (re-buys allowed until we reached the final three), and Bert, inventor of the Bert Classic and adjacency, came over around noon to help my big bro and I get set up and then to go and have some lunch at Fergie’s. The food was fine (I had the BBQ beef sandwich, fries, and a cup of lukewarm clam chowder [what, you can’t throw it in the microwave?]), but we had the all-time ditziest waitress. She forgot to bring me my coke, and I was dying of thirst and from a lack of caffeine (I had tried to quit, then to moderate, but, fuck it, I need caffeine almost as much as I need oxygen). My big bro had to actually get up and find his own cream. Then, she set the microwave on fire. There was this dense cloud of smoke that was growing quite quickly, and I was the first one to notice. I said something like, “The microwave’s on fire.” I don’t want to brag, but I probably saved a lot of lives that day. What’s it like to be a hero? I’ll be honest, it changes you, makes you want to find an agent, get on TV, and sign a book deal. I probably should have tried to cash in right on the spot and asked for free lifetime omelettes.

Where I’m at, Head-Wise: This time, there had been no call from Ivan, poker player deluxe and designer/programmer of this website, to wake me up early and throw me off of my game, so I felt reasonably okay, though I hadn't really started caffeine-dosing until two hours before the MNPIV.2 began.

The During:

I Have Expressive Eyes: There’s no way to get around it: I have pretty eyes. But it can be a problem: I’m a sensitive fellow, and, through my lovely eyes, I’m easy to read, which is okay when I want to try to come across as sensitive, but it really sucks when I’m playing poker because somebody across town could probably tell what i'm holding. Now, for a long time, I’ve gone around saying that people who wear sunglasses to play poker look semi-ridiculous, but if looking semi-ridiculous was going to help me at the MNPIV.2, then, screw it, let’s look semi-ridiculous.

(An aside: For a long time, I’ve been aware that I have nice eyes. About twelve years ago, I was at the DMV to renew my driver’s license, which, for some reason, involved having to fill out a form that asked for a general physical description. When I got to eye color, I turned to the girl I was rolling with at the time, and I asked her if I should write sparkling brown, thinking she would agree with me that my eyes were, in fact, sparkling. She got this sort-of-partially-exasperated look on her face and said, Go with brown. She didn’t even pretend to humor me. Needless to say, she and I didn’t last.)

I wore my shades the entire time we were playing, from 3:15 p.m. to 11:35 p.m. How well did my shades help me? When Ivan, who was sitting immediately to my right, and I were in the same hand together, he would sometimes jokingly say, “Take off your sunglasses so I can look into your soul,” because, like I said, it’s so easy to know what I’m holding when you can see my eyes. Not gonna happen, my man, not gonna happen. In fact, as I would go to look at my hole cards, I would also silently repeat to myself, I’m dead inside, the little mantra I used on my two Las Vegas trips this summer to remind myself to not react to what I was holding and to what was landing on the board.

Commercial Breaks: Since I'm going to be on television on 11 August 2005, I had made a poster to put up on a wall at the MNPIV.2 room in order to let the players know. After every few rounds, I would point it out and then read it aloud to them. Mostly, everybody just laughed at me.

Damn You, Jimmy Page, Damn You: Were in the third round—one-dollar small blind, two-dollar big blind—and “Stairway to Heaven” is playing over my big bro’s big-ass boom box (ooh, alliteration). The pre-flop action’s coming around to me, I’ll have to decide about calling a four-dollar bet, and Jimmy Page, six minutes into the song, has just started his wicked-bad guitar solo. Jimmy’s tearing it up and I’m officially “rockin’ out,” and I no longer give a fuck about anything except maintaining the nearly ecstatic feeling in my heart.

Now, I’ve got awful cards, not really playable at all, but there’s no way that I can fold out while Jimmy’s kicking ass. Folding would ruin the moment, and this is a brilliant moment: poker with the crew, joking, talking shit, listening to the rock; folding would just be wrong, verging on immoral. But my cards are no good. I even said, “I don’t want to throw these chips in there, but the solo’s making me do it.”

I’m lucky that I got to act before Jimmy’s solo ended and Robert Plant sang, in that great voice of his, “And as we wind on down the road...” because I probably would have had to raise in honor of Robert’s vicious singing.

Needless to say, the flop missed me by a mile, and, when the post-flop action came back to me, I had to fold. Damn you, rock and roll, damn you for leading me astray yet again. I can’t wait for the next time.

Grammatically Speaking, It Was Quite Impressive: It’s later on in the MNPIV.2 and I’m holding suited Q-7, and there had been a slight pre-flop raise from Jesse. There was only Jesse’s action behind me, but there were two people left to act, so if I called there might be another raise or even two raises that I probably I couldn’t call with suited Q-7. I had to think about it long and hard, though, because I wasn’t getting into very many hands at this point, and this was the best hand that I had had in a while. I told myself that the smart play was to just let it go, so I mucked my cards, hoping that the flop would completely miss me. Jesse gets two calls, but no raises.

The flop came Q-6-3 rainbow and I would have had top pair. I knew from the pre-flop action that nobody was holding anything that could have beaten queens. Damn, I thought, but damn wasn’t good enough. To express my extreme displeasure, I let fly with a couple of the standard expletives.

What comes on the turn? A seven that completes the rainbow and gives me top two pair. I would have had top two pair, no flush draws to worry about, a gut-shot straight draw if somebody is waiting on a four or a five, and sets (pocket pairs that become three of a kinds with a board card). I would most likely have had a huge lead. Fifth is a junk card, of course it was, and, after the betting, we’re to the showdown. People had had high singles—A-K, and so forth—but nobody had gotten as much help as I did, or would have, if I had called the initial bet. How much was in the pot? $36, which would have put me at about $81, not great, but almost double of what I had had in my stacks before the hand was dealt, and, with only five players left in the MNPIV.2, I would have been much better positioned to finish in the money.

Now, there’s no part of the language that I don’t love, and I’ll use any part of it without hesitation when the situation or the sentence requires that I do so. To do less would be to dishonor the language (a language that I love deeply) and to do a great disservice to whatever it is that I’m trying to communicate.

But Tim, a cool/religious guy, had just stopped by to hang for a while, and he was walking around the room doing the meet and greet. I was aware of Tim’s presence, as I had been one of the first guys to shake his hand. Did I mention that Tim’s religious? Now, I’ve got no beef with God, He does His thing and I do mine, and I’m usually sensitive to people’s beliefs (as long as said people aren’t intolerant and/or smug jerks about said beliefs [I know you know what I’m talking about]), and I can work clean and still get laughs/communicate my thoughts. In other words, I don’t have to work blue, but it is my default mode and I’ll go there if I have to, and, in this case, under these painful circumstances, there is exactly where I went.

I began the first movement of my cuss-tastic improvisation while I was still in my seat, watching the $36 that I probably would have taken down if I’d only called a tiny raise from Jesse. I felt, though, that the full expression of my thoughts on the matter at hand could only be had if I stood up and walked around the room a little bit, in order to walk it off and to ensure that everybody got a taste of what I was dishing out.

What followed was a thing of beauty. I managed to use obscene language as nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. There were phrases of all types: prepositional, appositive, adverbial, adjectival, noun, verbal, gerund, infinitive. There were independent and dependent clauses that were combined into compound sentences, complex sentences, and compound-complex sentences. There were movements and themes and bridges and melodies and counter-melodies and inversions and rhythms and polyrhythms and recapitulations and repetitions and variations and stop-time and tempo rubato, and, finally, resolution. There was alliteration, assonance, dissonance, consonance. I went iambic, but then bought the heat with anapests, only to go iambic again. (I was never a writer of formal poetry, so I didn’t use any rhyme) I made full use of dynamics, going from sotto voce to a mezzo forte and everywhere in between.

And, I’m not gonna lie, I knew that I was in the middle of producing something really beautiful pretty much as soon as I began the cussathon. I was locked in, feeling the flow, and I wasn’t going to stop until the job was done. It went for almost two minutes, and it was probably the best writing that I have ever done, and, sadly, it’s lost to history.

Everybody’s a Critic: I’ve had a bit of a rough time since I’ve been back from the PNMT, so I haven't really been able to be that funny in my posts. The jokes just aren’t coming, and, usually, I can’t stop them. You’d think that my readers would be understanding if I choose to bring the blues, but you’d be wrong.

Ivan, who, by the way, never showed up to helped set up for the MNPIV.2, almost immediately after sitting down, started dissing my most recent posts, pointing out that, lately, I’m not bringing the comedic heat. He’s talking specifically about Until There Is No More Road to Go, the first Poker Blog post that I wrote after I came back from the PNMT, and I Know What You Dig, Baby: Poker Reports, the Poker Blog that followed.

I say, “Dude, I've been depressed. I know that I haven't been that funny. Give me a break,man,” but he doesn’t seem to care. I point out that there was some lovely writing in I’ve Been Downhearted, Baby, the first section of Until There Is No More Road to Go, sad and pretty and evocative, verging on heartbreaking, but he’s just looking for laughs. I point out the various mini-jokes in Until There Is No More Road to Go, my sad little attempts to cut through the pain with comedy, and he cops to the fact that there are funny moments, but, still, they didn’t do it for him and he’s not satisfied.

I end up apologizing for not having been funnier. And then I get an e-mail from that fucker the day after the MNPIV.2, subject line: “Comic Relief,” asking, “Where's the tournament update?” Hey, Ivan, you bitch, what the hell?

If I Finish Fourth, I’ll Have to Kill Myself: If you read the report from the last MNPI (and why wouldn’t you?), you’ll see that I finished fourth, barely out of the money, and how crushed I was by the whole experience. When we got down to four players at the MNPIV.2, I had the least amount of chips at the table, and I thought, Here we go again. Two fourth-place finishes in a row. No money, the Bitch Prize again, and a boatload of psychological damage.

Jesse and Oscar have already used their re-buys, so if one of them got down to felt, then I would be golden and would finish in the money. If Ivan taps out, he still has his re-buy, so he’ll be right back in it. I haven't had to use my re-buy yet, so, in effect, I have $40 more in chips than are on the table, ghost chips, if you will, that will materialize if I need to call for them.

Metaphysically, the existence/non-existence/semi-existence/reality/unreality of these ghost chips is pretty interesting, not to speak of their religious significance; even though they can’t be seen, I know that they can come and save me if I’m in trouble and on the verge of metaphorical death. My “belief” in these ghost chips is probably the closest to faith that I will ever get.

At this point, Jesse’s up huge and is looking like a strong bet to win the whole thing. Ivan’s in striking distance, and Oscar and I are fighting it out to stay alive. Not to be cruel, but I need Oscar to die, that I may live.

We’re in the seventh round, and the blinds and antes are chewing me up. I’ve lost thirty in chips without having played a hand and I’m down to about fifty-five. It’s looking bleak. Oscar’s directly to my left, and I keep looking from his stack to mine, to see who’s going to make it.

A hand is dealt, my cards aren’t worth calling the blind, and so I fold out, noticing that it’s time for us to enter the eighth round. I stand up to write down what round we’re in and when it ends on the board. When I turn back around, I see that Oscar’s been knocked out when his all-in was called by Jesse, who had made a better hand. I missed it completely, which is a drag, but the worst that I can finish now is third, and I've already finished in the money.

I’m so goddamned relieved.

Three-Way Action: We’re down to three, Jesse, Ivan, and me. Ivan and Jesse finished first and second at the first MNPI, and, because I am so low on chips, it looks like they will go at it again for first place, but with Jesse in the lead this time.

I’m going to have to be careful and pick my spots and hope that Jesse and Ivan go after each other early and that I can steal some blinds and maybe win an occasional hand. The way it was going was that Ivan was taking chips from Jesse and I was taking chips from Ivan, but not as fast as Ivan was acquiring them. Pretty soon, I had actually pulled a little ahead of Jesse and Ivan had opened up some distance between him and us.

A crucial hand for me came when I was holding A-6 and the flop came A-J-8. I had top pair, but a pretty weak kicker. Ivan had folded, so the action was on me. I bet twenty, hoping to close the hand off right there and get the blinds so that I could buy the opportunity to see more hands. What I want at this point is to see as many hands as I can because I might draw something with which I can attack and at least go down swinging. Jesse has other plans about me stealing the blinds, however, and he says, “I’m all in.” Fuck.

If I win this hand, I’ll be in much better position to finish at least second, but, since I barely have Jesse covered at this point, if I lose, there would be no way for me to make a comeback. The $6-$12 blinds would kill me. I take a long time to make my decision. If he has middle or bottom pair, then I’m a huge favorite. If he’s got top pair, however, he’ll probably have me out-kicked. It’s hard, though, to let go of aces when you’re heads-up, especially since I have a chance to knock Jesse out.

Finally, though, I have to let the aces go. I throw my cards into the muck face up to show Jesse what he made me lay down. Jesse turns over his cards: A-9. We had both had aces, but he had had me out-kicked and I would have lost nearly all of my chips. I survive for a little bit longer.

In this three-way action, I didn’t take one hand from Jesse, but Ivan didn’t get one hand from me that I had tried to defend. Jesse and I never battled once. What was the outcome? Jesse, who had at one point had a little more than half of the chips in play, was knocked out by Ivan and actually ended up finishing third. I will be in a heads-up match against Ivan.

The Final Battle, The Brawl to End it All, The Beat-down in Madtown: Jesse’s out. He’s managed to cash twice at the MNPIs which is damned impressive. Word up to Jesse.

We take a quick break to eat some pizza before we begin the tenth round (blinds at $7 and $14). I’ll admit that I’m pretty excited because it looked like I would finish fourth again, then third, and now I’ll have a chance to take the MNPIV.2, a tournament that I’m again sponsoring.

Ivan and I are close to even. I might be a little bit ahead, or he might be, but with $360 in chips in play, we’re essentially tied. It’s going to be a real battle. I’ll admit that Ivan’s been kicking my ass for months. He’s got me figured out, and I’ve been giving my money to him like I’m an ATM.

I get a few hands early, bluff a few, and in about half an hour, I end up at about $260 vs. Ivan’s $100. I can start employing end-game heads-up strategy and start leveraging my chips to try to make every decision difficult for Ivan. When he’s in for the $14 and I have a decent starter hand, I can make it $28 to go. Ivan called most of the time, but then he wouldn’t raise. Sometimes, even if the cards had missed me, I would bet twenty after the turn and Ivan, if he didn’t already have a made hand, would have to fold. Or, if Ivan hadn't made a hand, and I didn’t bet, I would get free showdowns, and, luckily (it was pure luck), I won more of those than I lost.

A hand that could have been crucial to Ivan’s winning the MNPIV.2 ended up not getting him more than my small blind. Heads-up, cards that aren’t usually playable become very playable. In fact, it is the ability to play these marginal hands that can determine the outcome of a heads-up confrontation. You’ll never win the big hands with these marginal hands, but you can use them, if played well, to build up your stacks, which can then be used when you do have good hands.

However, in this hand, I was holding 9-3 off-suit, so there was nothing for me to do but let Ivan take my small blind. He shows me his cards: cowboys, pocket kings, the second best starter hand in hold 'em, for which he got seven dollars. If I had been holding something decent, something like Q-J or even low suited connectors, I probably would have paid more into the pot, but I got saved by having a truly crummy hand.

I had been betting a lot more than I usually do, so, when I was dealt A-10 in the big blind, a really strong hand when you’re heads up, I decided to change up my game and not raise it when Ivan matched the big blind for another $7. The flop comes 10-A-8 rainbow. I’ve made top two pair. Not only that, but my top pair is the top pair. I’ve got a killer hand, a real throat-cutter, but I’m still going to slow-play it, as if the flop missed me, and hope that Ivan does all the work for me by betting it up and hanging himself. I had figured that, since I’d been betting so much, Ivan would think that I had an absolute junk hand and come out swinging.

Ivan says “I’m all-in” with his last $40 and I, with my monster hand, say, as I turn over my cards, “I call.” Ivan had Q-8 and he had made bottom pair, which he probably thought, because of my not betting, was in the lead, but he’s way behind because only the two remaining eights help him, making him a 22.5-to-1 underdog, about a 4% chance of pulling it out. A queen is no good because my two pair would beat his two pair, unless he caught Q-8 or Q-Q on the turn and the river, but that’s highly unlikely.

Fourth is a nine, and Ivan’s picked up a gutshot straight draw, needing a jack to go Q-J-10-9-8. Now, he’s got six outs—four jacks and two eights—out of forty-four cards, a 13.6% chance of winning. In other words, his chances have more than tripled, though I’m still roughly a 7.34-to-1 favorite. Even if I lose this hand, I’ll still have nearly a 2.6-to-1 chip advantage over Ivan, so it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I lost. But Ivan’s a great poker player, and he has the skills to come back from way down with whatever chips he has in front of him.

What lands on fifth? A king, which doesn’t help Ivan. My A-10 holds up and, in a little less than forty minutes of heads-up action, I win the Madcity No-Limit Poker Invitational, Version 2.0.

Madcity No-Limit Poker Invitational, Version 2.0, Final Results:
First Place, $157.50: Blas Manuel De Luna
Second Place, $94.50: Ivan
Third Place, $63: Jesse
Bitch Prize, A Signed Copy of Bent to the Earth (Available on Amazon.com for the Low Price of $13.95, with Free Shipping If You Order Two [I’m Just Saying]): Oscar

The After:

My Mind is Gone: Playing heads-up against Ivan had been mentally exhausting and scary as hell, partly having to do with playing against Ivan, who is a really good poker player (and the youngest guy at our game; if he keeps playing, he’s going to be great) and partly having to do with the fact that this was my first chance at actually winning a serious no-limit tournament, and I didn’t want to screw up and play like an idiot.

There’s a game going on at the bitch table, where those who get knocked out of the MNPIV.2 can continue to play poker if they don’t want to go home to their families. In fact, as soon as Ivan finished in second and cashed out, he headed right over to the bitch table to continue playing. I thought about going over to play, but I know myself. I’ll play as if I just found a wad of cash and don’t care if I keep it or throw it away. There was a real chance that I would burn through my $117.50 in profits and end up having to move to North Dakota out of embarrassment.

Instead, I busied myself with cleaning my big bro’s house because I’d have to do it the next morning anyway. You have to admire how a guy will set down an empty can anywhere and think that it has been properly disposed of. On random, never-used end tables, on floors, on top of televisions, even on bathroom counters, which is just kind of gross.

The bitch table broke up at 12:30 and that’s when everybody left. I still had to get the chips sorted, counted, and back in the four cases that we ended up needing, and that took me until two in the morning, but I didn’t care. I’d played against all the hardcore motherfuckers in the poker crew, as well as some other poker players, and had won the whole thing. Combined with the night before, I had had a great weekend.

The Best Part of the Whole Experience?: Not finishing fourth. I wasn’t joking about having to kill myself.


How mean!!! Is this poker game really that tough?

You're Right, He Is Mean

You see, Ivan, even Sandy thinks that you're mean. I don't know Sandy, but, to me, she seems like a great judge of character. You've got a dark heart, homie, and a soul full of hate, but that's why I love playing poker with you, because I do, too.

And, yeah, Sandy, it is that tough.

Times change

My dear Sandy not only is the game tough, it's as tough as the dry skin of a “burro”. Let me back up to mid-December of last year. I used to be a nice guy who did not gamble, didn't smoke, and, of course, did not drink. Then one day, Manuel's older brother calls me up for a friendly game of poker. I had never played poker for more money than nickel/dime/quarter. So I tag along. Well, in mid-December 20 dollars would give you approximately 4 hours of play. Now $100 will give you about 1 hour if lady luck isn't on your side. The stress alone might kill you if you're not used to that kind of action. Times change and now I drink, smoke, gamble, and I date a stripper. Ivan

Donkeys and Strippers?

Ivan, my man, I'm curious to know how you know what donkey skin feels like, but I'm too scared to ask. A stripper? I thought you guys met in church.

Great post

Good post... funny... internal anger I love it.

Now some food for thought:
A) Did I make a comment about your writing because I meant it.
B) Did I make it to mess with your head for a possible edge in the game.

I also wanted to make a correction. Oscar and I went head up and he had top two pair on the flop, I made my ace high straight on the turn. Winning the all in battle for that hand.