Yesterday my buddy Cardgrrl won the 1:00 p.m. $150 Megastacks daily tournament at Harrah's. Only 14 runners, but still a very nice performance, especially the recovery after taking a series of brutal bad beats that took her from overwhelming chip leader to about fourth place with five players left (and only two getting paid). She had been looking forward to trying it, because the structure seemed to play to her strengths--especially patience. She was obviously correct. Congratulations, my friend. You deserved it, and I'm tickled pink for your victory.
Cardgrrl was too polite to mention, however, a few additional facts in her brief and self-effacing account: 1. I was in the tournament, too. 2. I was the first to bust out. 3. My bustout came at her hands. 4. I was out about 45 minutes into the thing, which was only about 30 minutes of play, as we started 15 minutes late (having to wait for enough latecomers to get a second table going). 5. I played like a completely moron.
You have to understand, first, that this tournament structure starts one out with 400 big blinds. Four hundred! That is astounding and rare. There is almost no acceptable excuse for losing all of one's chips within the first hour. Getting it all in with aces pre-flop and taking a bad beat would be one. Maybe getting stuck in a set-over-set situation. More generally, if you're putting in even a quarter of your stack early on, it had damn well better be with the nuts or near nuts at the time if you (A) expect to have a shot at winning the tournament, and (B) want to be able to feel good about your play after the fact.
Grand donkey that I am, I managed to lose 3/4 of my chips in an early hand with top pair/top kicker. Now, if one is relatively short-stacked, it's perfectly understandable to go with that and hope for the best. But I know perfectly well that that's not a hand that is anywhere near strong enough for commitment of the fraction of chips that I gave to it so early in the game, and with such deep stacks. This is not news to me; I have been aware of this basic fact of tournament strategy for years. I can justify calling the initial bet and raise on the flop. But I then proceeded to call two more very large bets on the turn and river without having improved.
You want to know the worst part? (This is something that I didn't even confess to Cardgrrl in our post-mortem after she won last night. I was too embarrassed.) I thought and hoped that my opponent had the same hand. That's right--I committed myself that deeply hoping for a chopped pot! I had no reason whatsoever to think that he was bluffing or overplaying a weaker hand than mine. He actually had flopped top two pairs, and improved to a full house on the river. Yes, I continued calling even after the board had paired. It is hard to find words for how monumentally idiotic this is.
Not too long afterward, I shoved over the top of Cardgrrl's flop check-raise with a measly A-J, with an ace on the flop. I did so nearly instantly, not taking any time at all to think about it. Had I folded, I would have been way the short stack at the table, but still would have had 40 big blinds in chips--a workable, salvagable amount, with which I could have found any number of better places to get it in. Had I stopped to think, I would have realized that there were no starting hands with which she would have called my preflop raise from the small blind, as she did, and check-raised me on the flop, that did not have me beat. (She held A-Q.) Furthermore, my fold equity was essentially zero. I was simply frustrated and basically gave up. In short, how I lost the last quarter of my starting chips was every bit as shockingly, inexcusably moronic as the way I lost the first three-quarters of them.
It was an embarrassing, appalling performance. It was what you might expect from a tourist playing something other than his $0.25 home game for the very first time. It is what you might see in an online freeroll, or microstakes tournament.
I spent the rest of the day kicking myself for it and wondering how I came to be such a poker imbecile. Professional at the game? Don't make me laugh.
Even now, I cringe at the thought of anybody reading this--as if it weren't bad enough for six other players to have witnessed it firsthand. But I write this as one final self-inflicted kick in the butt to hopefully sear into my memory how incredibly badly I'm capable of playing, and how terrible it feels to lose that way. (I know what you're thinking--the WSOP experience should have already done the job. Apparently not. I must acknowledge the fact that I can at times be a very slow learner.)
I really have no good idea what caused such a monumental meltdown. It was a complete, catastrophic failure of every part of the constellation of qualities that makes me modestly successful in my bread-and-butter cash games: experience, patience, discipline, analytic capability, attentiveness, and emotional stability.* Was it sleep deprivation from the night before? Wrong time of day for me to be playing? Not feeling much enthusiasm for playing? Not caring much about tournaments generally? Not recalibrating myself to the specific structure? Possibly some element of all of the above.
But whatever caused it, it was mightily painful to be reminded of the depths of ineptitude to which I'm capable of sinking when there is a confluence of factors degrading my game--a self-administered slap in the face, which I now share with my readers as part of my shame and catharsis.
Let's hope it's the last time I have occasion to deliver myself up for such humiliation.
*I realize that some readers will likely jump to the conclusion that it was Cardgrrl's presence that did it, but that's actually the one factor that I'm highly confident had nothing to do with it. It's true that I'm enormously fond of her, but I feel zero impulse to show off for her, zero nervousness, trivial amounts of distraction, etc. If anything, her presence makes me even more solid than usual, because I don't want to embarrass myself with donkitude. I like having her at the table with me, not only because she's fun and interesting and pleasant to be around generally, but because I know her game reasonably well, so it's one less player I have to figure out from scratch.