This is how I won $129,000 in my 3rd ever poker tournament. Note: don't try this, it probably
won't turn out well for you.
I spent about 6 months grinding up a $5,000 bankroll playing home/casino games ranging from .5/1 to 1/3. The week that I hit that $5,000 mark, Matt, one of my best friends from college informed me that his job had placed him in Las Vegas for the next month and that I could crash with him for a few nights if I wanted to come on out west. I had frequent flyer miles for the flight and some Mlife/Fremont hotel comps for the rest of the trip. My grand total for flight and lodging for 10 days came to $200.
Now, I’m not going to bore you guys with low-level cash hand histories. The next 10 days were filled with me playing lowstakes poker for 10-12 hours a day. It’s as fun as it sounds – it’s not. I was having a good time in Vegas otherwise – but towards the end of the trip I had a realization: 1/2’s the same everywhere. I didn’t have to fly out to the desert to raise to $7 preflop.
After 10 days, my grand total from poker (and a fair amount of dumb degenerate shit on Fremont) was -$186. That wasn’t what I came out to do — I knew that I was a better player than my recent results had indicated. The morning of my return flight, I decided I was going to play tournaments until I either busted my $5,000 bankroll or hit something worthwhile.
I impulsively decided to not get on my plane at 11:30am. Checkout time from Luxor was at 11:00 – and I didn’t know where I was going yet. I had 30 minutes to pack up my stuff and figure out where I was going before they’d charge me a fee. I sorted TripAdvisor by cheapest first – I’ve stayed in crappy hostels/motels before and overall am a very low maintenance person. I figured that by staying somewhere for $20 a night, I’d be able to maximize the amount of shots I could take before flying back home. I accepted that there was a real chance I’d go back broke – but I didn’t really care. If I didn’t take my shot now, then when?
I booked the cheapest bed in Vegas - a 6-person shared hostel just past the Stratosphere. Let's just say you get what you pay for — it was not a happy place. A fair amount of the people in there were bordering on homelessness and there was barbed wire surrounding their outdoor gym. In addition to this, I had the constant stress of knowing that all that separated my bankroll from the rest of my roommates was a tiny lock. I took the Deuce to the strip, lived off food comps, and turned down invites from my friends to hang out. I was in town to play poker, nothing else.
Disclaimer: I had never played tournaments prior to heading out to Vegas. My only knowledge of hand ranges was from watching televised events. I downloaded a free Nash chart app on my phone while on the Deuce to the strip and studied it for 5 minutes – whatever, I get the jist of it. Let’s play some cards.
The first day of doing this I played the $140 daily at the Aria. Top 13 spots paid -- I finished in 15th. It was depressing to say the least — I felt as if I was at rock bottom. Before the first night of sleeping at the hostel I called the airline to see if I could get on the flight that I had deliberately missed the day prior. I couldn't.
I made it my goal to at least cash something so that I could get a decent hotel room.
I couldn’t have slept more than 2-3 hours the first night there. One of my roommates was loudly vomiting all night, the sheets itched, and I was going through an existential crisis... like dude, you’ve got a finance degree and you’re really doing this shit?
While on the bus to the strip, I opened Poker Atlas and saw that there was a $200 satellite to win a seat into the $1,600 Venetian main event. I decided that I was going to go take a shot at that.
I was at risk twice in the satellite but after studying the GTO method on how to win coinflips, I persevered and won a seat to the main.
The first day was surreal – once again, I was running on minimal sleep due to my housing arrangements, but I remember the following hands from day 1:
- Button opens to 2.2x, I’m in the BB with Q9cc. SB folds, we go HU to a flop of 832c. He c-bets, I call. Turn 4x, x/x. River Ax. I check, he bets, I x/r to like 3x his bet, he insta folds. I take it down and show air.
- UTG+1 opens, MP calls, I flat on the button with K10ss. 3 ways to a flop of Qs43xx. UTG+1 bets 40% pot, MP calls, I call. Turn is the Js. UTG+1 bets 60% pot, MP calls, I flat. River comes the 8s. UTG+1 snap bets 80%. MP flats, I flat. I announce king high flush, they both muck.
- Folds to the SB, he limps, I look down at Q10o, and check. Flop comes KQ6r. He leads 35%, I call. Turn 10. He bets, I call. River comes a J. He bets, I tank for about 45 seconds then flick in a call, he shows 76o… ship it.
The average stack after day 1 was around 40k, I bagged like 65k. I walked back to the Deuce stop outside of the Venetian and headed on my 30 minute ride back home. I kept thinking to myself, someone’s gotta win this thing, why not me?
I had to get in the money for this tournament to be able to get the fuck out of there. A min cash here was over $3k – that was more than enough for me to get a suite on Fremont for a few nights and party for a bit, then get home with my head held high.
Day 2: I get up at 7am after already being completely awake for the past 4 hours. There’s no way I slept more than 3 hours last night. I hit the Denny’s by the Stratosphere then get on the Deuce.
I get to the Venetian and feel like I’m about to fall asleep. I go to the self-serve coffee/tea dispenser in the middle of the room and make myself an iced coffee. I get to my table, and the cocktail waitress comes around. I ask for another iced coffee and toss her a fiver.
Here are some highlights from the 1st half of day 2:
- I open 97ss on the button, BB flats. Flop comes AK3s. BB checks, I bet 35%. He throws out a 5k chip – which I interpret as a x/r to my bet. I groan, make a joke about it being the first hand of the day, and start to muck. The dealer stops my cards midway before hitting the muck, and informs me that he didn’t raise, that he called my flop bet. Everyone laughs, I go silent and wait for him to make change. Turn is the 2s. He thinks for a second and bets 30%. I tank for like 30 seconds, then flat. River is a blank. He thinks for a second, then checks. I bet like 30% pot. He tells me that I’m an angle shooter and mucks. I tell him I’m not an angle shooter and show my 9 high. Everyone laughs, we get on with playing.
- CO opens, I 3b 87dd in the SB to 4x, he flats. Flop comes 1032d. I check, he checks. Turn is the 6d. I bet 55% pot, he flats. River comes the Kd. I bet 60%, he tanks, tells me he thinks I backdoored diamonds, then folds. Damn, these players are pretty good.
- I open KK UTG to 2.5x, UTG +1 flats. Heads up to a flop of K43r. x/x. Turn 8, I bet 40% pot, he calls. River 3, I bet 80% pot, he tanks, then calls with AK.
I bring my 3 racks of chips to the new table and immediately get some comments – whatever, I’m just on a heater, it happens. At this point, my body was giving out. I was trying my hardest not to fall asleep in between every hand.
Cutoff opens, I’m in the SB, I look down at KK. I put in the 3b, folds back to him. He puts in a healthy 4. We’re the two big stacks at the table – I’d guess he was 50bb effective while I was around 65bb. God damn, am I good enough to fold kings here? No, I’m not. I shove, he snaps, I know that I’ve just fucked up my tournament. He shows the aces. The dealer puts a king in the window, and I hold. I’m for sure the chip leader now.
I lose a few 40/60 and 60/40 flips and chip down a bit. I still have a very healthy stack, probably around 80bb.
The next 3 hands are from the second half of day 2:
- Aggro Asian guy on the button. Folds to him, he opens to 2.2x, SB folds, I look down at 43ss and raise to 7.5x, he flats.
Flop comes 894cc. I check, he bets, I call. Turn’s another 9. I check, he bets 75% pot, I call. River’s the 10c. I check, he bets 1.2x pot. I ask the dealer for a count of the bet – meanwhile, villain looks like he’s going to shit himself. I flick in a chip, he throws down KcQx. I laugh a little, show my 43ss, and obnoxiously say ship it.
- I open KQo UTG+1, MP 3bets me. I figure that a 4b from UTG+1 could take it down a fair amount of the time, so I decide to go for it. He thinks for a second and flats.
Flop comes AK4r. I check, he checks back. Turn is a 6, goes x/x again. River’s another brick. I put in a 30% value bet. He does a little grimace and tanks for like 20 seconds. It looks like he’s going to fold so I start verbally telling him that his queens are good. The dealer informs me that you’re not allowed to talk about your hand to another player. I inform him that I’m not talking about my hand, I’m talking about villains’ hand. Dealer laughs and lets me continue to antagonize villain. MP starts talking back, asking if I’m really bluffing. I inform him that once he folds, I’ll show the bluff. He ends up calling, I snap show, he pays me then gets up from the table to go for a walk.
- We’re playing 6 handed. UTG opens, MP flats, I flat TT on the button. 3 ways to a flop of AT9ccc. UTG bets 50% pot, MP folds, I put in a medium sized raise. He thinks about it and flats.
The turn is the Kd. He pauses for a second then checks. I figured AxKc was his most likely combo. I didn’t think he could fold AxKc to any sizing – I decide to overbet jam 2x pot. He tanks for like 5 min and eventually lets it go. He tells me later he folded AxKc. Nice fold sir.
I finished day two 2nd in chips out of the 64 players remaining. More importantly, I was in the money. My friend Matt offered to give me a ride to the hostel to grab my stuff.
On the way to the hostel I’m telling Matt how trash the place is and he’s kind of like yeah man, whatever, it can’t be that bad. We gather my belongings and head on out. Matt remarked to me that the hostel reminded him of jail mixed with a summer camp.
I open a same night hotel app and see a room at the Four Queens available for $110. The lady at check in was nice enough – however, she informed me that the only room they had available at my price point was a smoking room overlooking the Fremont St. experience. I paid the $20 to upgrade to a non-smoking in the quiet part of the hotel. Vegas man, I swear.
It’s like 2am at this point -- I get to my room, sit on the bed and close my eyes. I open them and it’s 11:00am. Ah fuck man, I gotta get to the Venetian. I hop in the shower, brush my teeth, and freshen up. Even if I don’t have clean clothes, whatever, I’m second in the main, who cares.
Some interesting hands from the first part of Day 3:
- I had two inexcusable punts in this tournament. This is the first one: I open 5h5c from LP, BB calls. Flop comes J62hhh. x/x. Turn is a 4x. x, I bet 50% pot, BB jams 15bb. I called – and immediately realized I fucked up, big time. He had 2 big chips in his stack that I didn’t see, making his shove effectively like 25bb. In addition, I didn’t have the 5h, I had the 5d. I really didn’t ask for a count or double check my hole cards. Villain turns over 64o and holds. In my defense, I literally didn’t know what ICM meant at the time. Whoops.
- Someone who I recognize from poker TV jams 22bb UTG. I’m in the CO with JJ, I ask him how much it is, he’s talkative and seems genuinely comfortable/down for me to call. I fold – I run into him a few days later at the Aria, he tells me he had AA there. I believe him.
- CO opens, button instantly jams 30bb effective. I’m in the SB with TT and 25bb – live reads, we’re flipping. I call for all in my effective stack, CO folds, button has AQ. I hold. He’s not happy I called with tens. Oh well, sorry bro, gg.
- MP opens, CO 3 bets to 7bb, button jams 20bb. I look down at 2 black aces in the big blind. I reshove, MP folds, CO calls off his 20bb stack. I’m up against AQ and QQ. I hold.
Even with my atrocious punt earlier in the day, I’m the chip leader again.
We’re down to about 15 left in the field. UTG opens, I 3b AKo on the button, he jams 20bb, I call. He has 99, a king comes on the flop and he’s gone.
It’s day 3 of the main and we’re playing 5 handed with 12 people left. Let’s fucking go.
- Button opens to 2.5x, I’m in the BB with A8dd, I flat. Flop comes A104r, I check, he bets, I call. Turn is a 7, x/x. River A, I bet 1.2x pot. He tanks, calls, I show, I’m good.
- CO opens to 2.5x, I’m in the BB with 108dd, I flat. Flop comes Kd4x2d, it goes x/x. Turn is a Kx, I check, he bets 60% pot, I flat. River is the 4d. I check, he bets pot. I tank and let it go. He tells me later he checked back a weak king on the flop.
- SB completes, I’m in the BB with J9o and I check my option. Flop comes Q108r. The SB donks out into me for 60% pot. I flat. Turn comes a brick and he leads into me for 60% again. I raise to 3.5x his turn bet, he thinks for a while then flats. River is another brick. He bets 80% pot into me. I tank for a while, then shove. He starts laughing and folds QQ face up.
Less than a week ago I was grinding buffet comps at Planet Hollywood. Now I have guys correctly folding top set to me.
I’ve made it to the final table. I pick up a few small pots and the two shortstacks at the table get eliminated in quick succession.
This is without a doubt the most pointless and just plain out stupid punt of my entire life: I open J2dd on the button into a ~18bb SB and a GTO robot with mid 7 figures in career earnings in the BB. Don’t do this, this is quite literally lighting money on fire. SB folds, BB flats. Flop comes Kh8h3d. I cbet, BB calls. Turn is the Kd, goes x/x.
River comes a 7h, he leads into me for half pot. Whatever, I’m going for it – I put in a raise. He thinks for all of 5 seconds then calls me with KQh. Wow, I just punted away $50,000 in ICM. Jesus Christ dude, what the fuck.
For the next orbit or two, I’m clearly pissed at myself. I get up after my button and do a lap around the poker room – I’m good. The monkey tilt is gone, and I’m ready to get back to playing normal ranges.
Anyway, nothing else really happens for a while – I look down at AKo UTG and raise it up. Folds around to the BB, he thinks for a while, then jams for about 20bb. I snap, he has AQo. I hold. I’m now second in chips. We go on a 10-minute break.
When I get back to the table, the prospect of a 5-way chop comes up. We’re all tired – and the pay jumps are very significant. If you couldn’t tell from this story, I’m a degenerate, but in this spot, I’m willing to reduce variance a bit. We run the numbers and come to an agreement – we all agree to take a very slight ICM bump to give 1st place a bit more money than his stack is worth.
I just won $129,000 -- huh? This was my second tournament cash – not too bad considering that it was my third tournament ever. Maybe I should start learning how to play MTT’s now.
I take $124,000 in a check and $5,000 in cash. I’m leaving Vegas in 4 days and don’t plan on coming home with any of the cash.
The winner of the tournament’s a pretty cool guy and he asks if I want to crash in his guest room tonight… like yeah, if that’s a real offer, I’m down. I pick up my toiletry bag from the Venetian concierge and we hit the Uber.
The next morning Matt picks me up at his house – I hit the Chase bank and deposit the $124,000. I take Matt and my other friend, Spencer out to the Sterling Brunch over at Bally’s – the entire time, Spencer just kept repeating “Davis, what the fuck”. I don’t know dude, seriously, what the fuck.
I get a suite at the D downtown that night and (very) long story short I end up hitting $100 on a number at roulette at 5am. It’s time for bed.
Here’s a link to my Hendon Mob, verifying my tournament result. Hopefully I see some of you guys at the WSOP in 2021. https://pokerdb.thehendonmob.com/player.php?a=r&n=783521
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