man playing poker

Do you know what it feels like to be the last man standing in a live tournament?

Sure, scooping a 600 big blind pot in a cash game will probably give you an adrenaline rush, but the experience isn’t quite the same as outlasting an entire field of players.

I wanted to experience that feeling for myself.

The reentry period in the $75 tournament at Spades had come to a close, and players were beginning to bust. Two tables had now broken, and we were approaching the second break.

Vinny had announced the payout structure a short while ago — 65 players, 22 reentries. The top seven players would get paid, with $2175 up top for first.

I had a healthy stack at this point, but, I needed to reassess my game plan and adopt a new strategy — tight, ABC poker wasn’t going to help me at this point. The blinds and antes were getting expensive, and I needed to start chipping-up if I wanted to make it into the money.

The tournament goes on its second break, and the green chips need to be colored up and raced off.

At this point in time, I had never seen a chip race before. In fact, I didn’t even know what a chip race was, because they don’t occur in online poker. When I had colored up tournament chips in games that I had hosted at my house, I simply rounded up any leftover chips to the next denomination. I wasn’t aware that there was a fair and accountable way to do it.

In case you don’t know, a chip race is a method of removing unneeded chip denominations from play. If a player doesn’t have enough chips (of the unneeded denomination) to equal the value of the next denomination, the remaining leftover chips are raced off.

During the break, I stayed at my table to watch and learn how to do a chip race. The dealer races off the greens, and I look through the plexiglass window into the main room — two cash games were going, and Andy was playing in one of them. There were only a few more minutes left on the break, so I decided to just stay in my seat and wait for play to resume.

With 15 seconds remaining on the break, the dealer begins to scramble the cards. He gives the deck a shuffle, deals out the cards, and the action begins.

I still had a tight image at the table. I hadn’t made any big bluffs, and was never at risk at any point since the reentry period had closed. This was about to change — it was time to switch gears.

I pick up A4ss in the big blind. There’s a raise from early position, and both middle position and the button flat. The small blind comes along as well, and I go into the tank. I look at everyone’s stack size — we’re all sitting on roughly the same amount of chips, give or take a few big blinds.

I look at each one of the players in the hand, asking myself if I think that anyone in particular would call a shove. I think for a bit longer. I’m convinced that everyone in the pot is holding a marginal hand at best, and nobody has a hand strong enough to call an all-in. It seems like everyone wants to see a flop.

Finally, I come to a decision and raise all-in. This was a pretty gutsy move. If I was wrong, I was certainly behind, but if I was right, I could pick up a nice pot with only Ace high.

The early position raiser folds, so does middle position, as well as the button. It’s on the small blind, and she starts thinking out loud about what to do, deliberating between her options. I can see she’s trying to find a call, but hasn’t made up her mind yet.

In my head, I keep shouting, “FOLD! FOLD! FOOOOOOO-LD!”.

I direct my gaze to an imaginary spot on the felt, about where the board would be if the dealer had put out a flop. I hold a blank stare — the color of the felt on the table is red.

She’s still in the tank, and decides to turn her hand face up to try and get a read on me. I quickly glance at her hand, then back to the felt.

She’s showing pocket 5’s. She tries engaging me in table talk.

“Do you want me to call?”

I don’t respond.

“I’ll do whatever you want me to do. Call or fold? It’s up to you.”

I still don’t respond. She goes on for a bit longer, but I’m not paying attention to her anymore. In fact, I can’t even hear what she’s saying. I keep repeating in my head, over and over, “FOOOOOOO-LD!”.

She makes up her mind and chucks her hand into the muck. My entire body relaxes, and I feel the air expel from my lungs. I get the urge to crack a smile, but I resist — I’m pleased with myself for making a play that worked. I keep my composure and drag in the pot.

I pick up a couple value hands throughout the next few levels, another table breaks, and I win a few pots. I’m starting to pick up some momentum.

We’re now at 3 tables — I pick up AT on the button, with the Ace of diamonds. The college guy from earlier is in Middle position and puts in a raise. It folds around to me, and I 3-bet. He makes the call.

The flop comes Q7J, all diamonds. He checks, and I bet a little over 1/3 pot. He calls.

The turn is a black 3. He checks, and I bet again, slightly more than 1/3 pot. He makes the call — there’s no way he doesn’t have a hand here.

The dealer burns a card and puts out the river, 2d.

The complete board is Q7J32 with four diamonds, giving me the nuts. He checks again, and this time I bet 1/2 pot. He looks disgusted with himself.

“Ugh, I f*cked this hand up so badly.”

“I think you played it quite skillfully, and displayed good judgement by not raising at any point post flop.” — I’m trying to goad him into a call, even though I know he’s never going to.

“I know you’re only holding one diamond. I was gonna let you bluff the river and snap you off.”

“Well, now I’m gonna let you fold. Come on, let’s go. I know you’re not calling.”

He mucks.

I table my hand anyway, and turn over AT, with the Ace of hearts?

“You don’t have a diamond? Ace high? Are you kidding me? I folded a f*cking set of sevens and you have Ace god damn high?” — the college guy is visibly agitated.

My jaw drops — I had misread my hand, I really thought that I was holding the Ace of diamonds. Of course, I kept that fact to myself.

“Uh, yeah. That *is* Ace high. Hm, how about that… I guess you did let me bluff the river.”

I was at a bit of a loss for words and didn’t know what else to say — I had never misread my hand before. I was very aware of the fact that I wasn’t capable of playing that hand the way I did, had I known what I really had. I’m sure that I would have given up on the river and checked back. In fact, I probably would have checked back on the turn and never bet the flop in the first place.

Two players get knocked out in the same hand, one of them is the college crybaby. The table breaks, and I receive a new seating card. We’re down to only two tables. I take my new seat and take note of all the stack sizes to see where I stand — I’m right in the middle with about 45 big blinds.

It’s the final level before the last break begins. I’m under the gun and get dealt AKhh. I put in a min-raise and get shoved on by the button, who I have slightly covered, I think. It’s close. I’m not folding, and I decide it’s time to flip. I make the call, but to my surprise, the button tables AQ.

The flop brings a board of 99Q. Good game. Oh well, that’s how it goes sometimes — nothing you can do about it…

…except go runner-runner hearts and hit a backdoor flush!

I’m now sitting on about 80 big blinds and have one of the larger stacks. We’re down to six players at my table, the other one has five. I ask the dealer which one the final table is, and he tells me that the other players will be coming to us, although we’ll be drawing for new seats. It makes no difference anyway, both tables are in the same room and right next to each other.

A player at the other table gets knocked out, and we combine into the final table. We all agree to take a 10 minute break now, and instead play through the one that’s scheduled at the end of the level.

I walk over into the main room to see how Andy is doing in the cash game. He has over $1k in front of him in a $1/$2 game, which sounds like it’s too deep, however, most of the other players have at least $700. The shortest stack isn’t short at all — $400. It was almost 9PM at this point, and both of the cash games were full.

Andy gets up from the table and we walk into the smoking room.

“You made the final table, eh?”

“Yeah, we just got down to ten players. Only seven get paid.”

“How many short stacks are there?”

“Just one, really. Everyone else, including me, has chips. We decided to go on break right after we combined, so we haven’t played a hand yet.”

“Feel the table out before you decide how you wanna play it.”

“I will. I see you’re doing well in the cash game.”

“Oh yeah, it’s playing like a $2/$5 game and everyone is deep. The action is great, the standard open is $15 or $20. I think we might actually just make it a $2/$5 game.”

Clearly, the game was not playing like it was when I had played the night before. It was a tournament night and only 9PM on a Sunday. Most people had work the next day, though, and would begin to leave around 11 – 11:30 PM.

“I’ve gotta get back to the tournament, the break is about to end. When do you think you’ll want to leave? I’ve got class tomorrow morning.” — I had forgotten that Andy said he was going to stay there until the game broke, so that he could try and collect from Matt.

“Don’t worry about it buddy, I’ll call a cab to get back to the train station. I need to see Matt after the game is over, he’s going to pay me with what he makes tonight.”

I get back to my seat in the tournament, and a player at the table proposes a deal. The dealer knocks on the plexiglass window to get Vinny’s attention — he then points to his watch with his index finger, signaling Vinny to pause the clock.

“Anyone object to an even chop? Let’s do it, right now, chop it up ten ways and we can all go home early with some money. I asked Vin on the break — a ten way chop is $435 each.”

I did not object, and nobody at the table seemed to care that there was a shortstack. I was fine with a $435 payday, and I didn’t have much experience playing shorthanded or heads up anyway. It was all but said and done until one player rejected the deal.

“No deal, I want to keep playing for little while longer. Let’s go, start it up.”

I knew exactly why the guy objected. The one shortstack at the table had less than 6 big blinds. I’m pretty sure that he wanted to wait until the shortstack got knocked out.

The dealer once again knocks on the plexiglass window then points to his watch. Vinny starts the clock.

Four hands into the level, and two players get it in — Aces versus Kings. Of course, the guy who rejected the deal is holding the bullets.

However, karma can be a b*tch, and a King comes in on the turn. Nine players remain, and one of them makes a new proposal.

“Anyone object to a nine-way chop?”

“Yeah, screw it. Keep playing.”

I’m not playing any hands at this point. The shortstack is still in the tournament, and I decide that I’m just going sit back for a while and only open 88+ or two broadway cards. Everything else I’m folding. I’ll see what happens when another player bites the dust — I feel like most of the players still want to chop.

About ten minutes later, the shortstack gets it in with KJdd and loses. Eight players left. This time, nobody says anything about chopping — we’re on the bubble.

The blinds go up and I’m down to about 40 big blinds. With the blinds doubling every level, we were now playing bingo all-in poker. If you were to put in a raise, the rest of the table would either fold or shove. Nobody at this table was flatting.

It was only a matter of time until it was a hand over hand situation — I just had to be patient and wait it out.

Two orbits later, pockets Tens gets it in against pocket 9’s and the Tens hold. Seven players remain and we’re now in the money. This time, I’m the one to bring up a chop.

“How do you guys feel about a seven-way chop? What would we get paid on that?”

Someone at the table quickly does the math.


“Anybody object?” — I see a couple of the players compare all of the stacks in play.

“Ship it!”

The dealer knocks on the plexiglass window to get Vinny’s attention and waves him over. Vinny enters the room.
“Seven-way chop? Alright, then. I’ll be back shortly.”

He returns a minute or two later, holding a giant stack of cash.

“Congratulations, guys. $621 to each player. Thanks for playing, please remember to tip your dealers.”

While he’s paying everyone out, the dealer is in the box suiting the decks and racking up the chips. Each player proceeds to put down $60 onto the table, and the dealer thanks them as they leave the room. Vinny hands me my winnings.

“Good job, mo.” — as he counts out my money.

I remove three $20 bills from the small wad and leave it on the table for the dealer. In underground tournaments, 10% of the payout was a standard tip — that’s just how it was.

I’m about to walk over and say goodbye to Andy when my phone vibrates. I take it out of my pocket. It’s a text from Jennifer, my girlfriend.

“Hey babe, are you ignoring me?”

I immediately realized that I hadn’t spoken to her at all over the weekend.

I had a lot on my mind — I had just cashed my first ever live tournament, I was worried that the situation between Andy and Matt would prevent me from getting a dealing job at Spades, and I had a bunch of things to do in school to prepare for college applications.

I send a text back to Jen, explaining that I had been very busy over the weekend working and playing poker. I apologize and ask if I can make it up to her by taking her out to a nice place for dinner. She seems satisfied.

I make my way over to Andy and we say our goodbyes. I tell him that I’ll speak to him tomorrow — I was certainly going to give him a call, it was important that I know how the situation with Matt played out. I didn’t want anything standing in my way of getting a dealing job at Spades.

I leave the club and get into my car to drive home. 20 minutes later, I walk into my house and find my mother waiting for me.

“I have some bad news, son. Your father’s going to be in jail for a while.”


Chapter 1 – Fox’s Club Chapter 9 – Spades — 1.8
Chapter 2 – Spades — 1.1 Chapter 10 – Spades — 1.9
Chapter 3 – Spades — 1.2 Chapter 11 – Spades — 1.10
Chapter 4 – Spades — 1.3 Chapter 12 – Spades — 1.11
Chapter 5 – Spades — 1.4 Chapter 13 – Bell Boulevard — 1.1
Chapter 6 – Spades — 1.5 Chapter 14 – Bell Boulevard — 1.2
Chapter 7 – Spades — 1.6 Chapter 15 – Bell Boulevard — 1.3
Chapter 8 – Spades — 1.7 Chapter 16 – Bell Boulevard — 1.4