PLAINS TOWNSHIP — There was a plan in place as the escalator descended into the poker room at the Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs the night of Jan. 27.
I would play in the room’s first featured tournament, one with a buy-in of more than double the highest of any previous event. I was prepared for a long night but not necessarily as a player.
Whenever I went out — whether early, on the bubble or in the money — I would reach for my reporter’s notebook and make the transition from poker player to poker columnist. As was the case for the room’s first sit ’n go and first multitable tournament, I would then document what seemed like the most interesting parts of the remainder of the lengthy tournament for this column the following week.
This time the plan needed an alteration. But it was certainly a good problem.
Now my task is to explain how I ended up winning the first sold-out, 120-player, $285 buy-in event in the room.
The starting point should be what every poker tournament player needs to know. It is almost impossible to win a tournament without several examples of good fortune along the way — or, at minimum, the avoidance of bad luck.
Over the course of more than eight hours, I believe there were a lot of good decisions and obviously a lot of the right cards coming when they were needed most.
I’m not going to refuse credit for the many things I believe I did right, but there is no way I could have collected the biggest tournament first prize ($9,225) in the history of the room without a series of big breaks.
I had to come back from a low stack of 2,300 tournament chips at the start of Level 11 when 40 players still remained with average chip stacks of 36,000. I had to survive 11 all-ins, including three in which I was at least a mild underdog and one in which I had to beat three callers, just to get to the top 15 where players started earning prize money. And I had to get through six very specific situations that could have ended my hopes immediately.
It all started with my arrival almost an hour early but just nine minutes before the tournament sold out at 120 entries.
Shortly before the first break, I was all-in and behind going to the river, in danger of being among the first dozen players eliminated. A river 10 turned my ace-10 into a set to beat pocket Jacks.
The low point of 2,300 in chips came when I was short on chips and called from the blind to end up one of two players all-in. I was on the verge of leaving with the weaker of two weak aces when a pair and two high cards on the board made the kickers irrelevant and, though losing the main pot, I chopped the side pot for than 2,300.
With 17 players at two tables trying to get to 15, I was looking at Ace-Queen in an unopened pot and seconds away from going all-in when a yell came from the adjacent table that another player was out and we were down to 16. I threw away the hand, decided to wait and watched a battle of the blinds where the pocket Kings that would have eliminated me instead knocked out the small blind and put the rest of us in the money.
I was all-in when my opponent came from behind and turned a flush with two small hearts, leaving me just seven outs to avoid a third-place finish. Another heart came, making my Jack-high flush good.
Finally, when my Ace-King held up over Ace-Queen with 1.39 million of the 1.44 million tournament chips at stake, it was time to finish up. It took just three hands for me to look down at pocket Aces when Thomas Eckroth from Hunlock Creek, a worthy opponent who had the chip lead and dominated action for almost the entire final table, was down to no other realistic option but pushing his entire stack in pre-flop each hand.
Gamblers who play the skilled games of chance like poker and blackjack are good at remembering everything that goes wrong to create losses.
Some nights we can’t survive just one all-in, even as the huge favorite. On others, one hand after another ruins a cash game for us. On still others, the cards do fall right. As poker players, all we can do is try to make sure we play our best to put ourselves in position to best take advantage of whatever opportunities we are presented.
For the week of Jan. 17-Jan. 23:
Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs
Fiscal Year to date: $1,579,495,762.06
Fiscal Year to date: $1,421,959,903.64
Mount Airy Casino & Resort
Fiscal Year to date: $1,144,371,223.16
Fiscal Year to date: $1,036,805,952.90
GAMING CONTROL BOARD
The second $280 buy-in (plus optional $5 dealer add-on), no-limit hold’ em tournament is scheduled for 2 p.m. Feb. 26.