As Day 3 neared, I knew how close I was to cashing in the WSOP Main Event and how equally close I was to playing the most terrifying table I had ever faced. My wife and I again flew out to Vegas and took up our customary spot at the Gold Coast Casino next to the Rio. The tournament was starting to take on its own personality now as the antics of Eric Molina had already begun and the trainwreck that was Dmitri Nobles was in full effect. It wasn't until this day that Jamie Gold would really enter the picture and shoot himself up to the top of the leaderboard.
As I got to seat #10 at Table #135, I did my customary inventory of the table. Jon "G6Dragon" Lane in the #1 seat...random Scandinavian aggro in seat #2...online qualifier in seat #4...A-L-L-E-N Cunningham in seat #5....Michael McClain in seat #6..two random dudes to my right. Okay, sounds like a fairly easy day. I really don't think I'm gay, per se, but for some reason I couldn't keep my eyes off of Allen. He had this aura about him that just emanated "I'm the best player here; please get out of my way." "Shuffle up and Deal" was announced on we were on our way to the money.
In the first few hours, I could get absolutely nothing going. I played three pots where I ended up throwing out continuation bets post-flop and ALL THREE FUCKING TIMES either McClain and Cunningham raised me and I had to muck. I (seriously) started to think that they could either read my soul, see my cards, or I was just terrible and I had obvious tell. Probably a combination of all 3....Finally, I called a raise of Cunningham's with 10-9 from the SB (because that's how I roll...calling raises out of position with modest holdings against the best NLHE tournament player in the world). The flop came J-8-4 rainbow. I meekly checked and he surprisingly checked behind me. The turn was a beautiful 7 giving me the N-U-T-S! Based on previous hands, Allen had always come over the top of me so I bet out fully expecting that he would re-raise. He thought for just a couple of seconds and threw his cards in the muck. WTF? Now I was convinced that he could read my soul.
I hovered around $75-80K for a majority of the afternoon as we quickly approached the money. In one hand, I raise from the cutoff with A-K and the Scandinavian enigma called from the BB. The flop came J-10-4; Check-Check. The turn was an 8 putting two spades on the board. He led at the pot for $10,000 and I decided to re-raise to $25,000. In retrospect, I'm not sure what hand I was representing there but I didn't think he had a whole lot either. He called my raise and I was pretty much done with the hand. The river was an off-suit 7 leaving a board of J-10-4-8-7 rainbow. The action went check/check and I turned over my A-high to see that I had won the $65,000 pot. How the hell did that happen? I thought about this hand for a long time afterwards and I guess the only hand he could have had was K-Q of spades to call my raise on the turn. What do you think? Maybe A-Q of spades or even just K-Q off but not too many hands fit into his calling range on the turn that don't beat A-high. This hand was a big relief and put me at my highest point of Day 3 at $111,000. It would be short-lived euphoria.
Players were busting out at record pace and we quickly got within 10 players of the money. With 10 players left, we began round-for-round (not hand-for-hand) play which allowed each table to play an entire orbit before stopping and waiting for tournament staff. I had just witnessed Cunningham play an incredible pot with Jon Lane where there was heavy action on multiple streets leading to Allen calmly shoving his tournament life in on the river. He did it with such a sense of calm and controlled confidence that it was no wonder that Lane was forced to fold. This hand was at the front of my mind when the following hand played out:
We were in round-for-round action and I raised from middle position with 6-6. Unfortunately, it was Allen's BB and he called. (At least I had position). The flop came 9-9-2. This is a pretty good flop for 6-6 and I was thinking this at the time. Allen led at the pot for $10,000 and I figured he was putting me on two big cards and was trying to take the pot right there. I decided to call. (In hindsight, this was one of many errors in this hand. If I thought I was good there, I should have raised to really get more information. As it was, I learned nothing by calling other trying to control the size of the pot). The turn was a 3 (still another good card for 6-6) and now Allen led for $20,000. It was here that I really "lost myself" in this hand. My only thought was that Allen was trying to bully an amateur on the cash bubble. I didn't take the time to assign a range of hands to him and really wasn't thinking clearly. I called. The river was a King. By now, there was a mountain of chips in the middle of the table and ESPN was taking everything in. The hand was gaining the attention of neighboring tables and I could feel the spotlight shining on me. Allen led for $38,000 into a $70,000 pot. I could not stop thinking that he was trying to bully me. As much as I hated the King, I failed to ask myself the most important question in situations like that...."What hands can I beat?" In my opinion (now), I could beat 5-5 and a complete bluff. But I wasn't thinking about that...with the ESPN camera directly over my right shoulder and the boom microphone right in front of me hovering over the mound of chips, I placed my sunglasses near my mouth in a moment of pondering before quietly stating, "I call." Allen flipped over the 9-7 for flopped trip 9's and I was devastated.
I had been pwned, schooled, dominated by the best in the world. It was like a Mack Truck hit me and I never saw where it came from. 5 seconds after the hand....of course...I'm cursing myself internally for the inept way I played the hand but when you're in the middle of it, you just don't see things so clearly. The hand left me with $28,000 at $1K/$2K blinds so I was almost crippled. The money bubble burst a few minutes later and as the room full of 800+ participants celebrated, I sat in my chair with my head in my hands wanting to cry. What should have been the finest moment in my poker career was nothing more than a dissappointment for me. Why? Why? Why did I choose to get fancy with the best player at the table (or in the tournament)? Why didn't I go into Ninja mode and wait for the rush of cards that inevitably comes? These are all questions that I've asked myself 1000 times over the past two years.
After the bubble burst, I open-shoved two times without getting a call as I battled to stay afloat. Over 100 players went busto in the first 30 minutes after the bubble. As they announced the last hand before the dinner break, I open shoved the cutoff with Kh-7h for 13+BB and the button called. The SB then re-raised all-in and the button called him. I knew I was in trouble. SB had A-K; Button had Ac-Jc; and I had my Kh-4h. The board played out and the button ended up making a club flush and busting both of us. I walked to the cashier area as the 793rd place finisher in the 2006 WSOP Main Event.
In one way, I wish I could have alot of decisions back to do over that day. I know infinitely more now about playing a short stack then I did back then so I really feel I could have survived for a lot longer even after the hand with Allen. I wish I would have recognized the dangers of playing world-class players out of position. But....those experiences are something that can never be taken from me and I will always remember that day and the experience of playing with the best in the world.
The hand with Allen was captured by ESPN and I see it every once in awhile being played on ESPN. If, on the Day 3 broadcast, you see a guy wearing a black cap and with his sunglasses in his mouth contemplating a call of Allen Cunningham, that's me. You will then see all of my chips being bulldozered over to Allen as he stacks them. I guess that's my 5 seconds of fame! It was fun to watch Allen make it all the way to 4-handed play at the final table. A little piece of me couldn't help but think that I had something to do with catapulting him onto the final table (hee-hee).
The $16,493 check they wrote me slightly soothed my wounds as my wife and I went out for a lobster dinner. It took me a long time to get over busting out of that tournament and I'm always wondering if I'll ever get such a chance again.
Well....in 3 months, I plan on finding out.
Thanks for reading,
Get it Str8 -- Introducing The Str8 Story Podcast - The first episode of my new podcast is available now on Soundcloud and for download HERE! (The show should available for subscription on iTiunes within a c...
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