Sunday, November 12, 2006

Forgetting something?

Oh yeah, I was in the middle of a story, wasn't I? If anyone was actually reading this blog, other than to search for more Akihabara girl pics, they might be peeved that I'd been leading up to the Vegas Cup and then not bothered to write about what actually happened for more than a week.

I got a bit of a shock when I showed up to Duke for the Vegas Cup, since even an hour before the final was about to start, there were already 20 or so people there, and all the preparation for the game was ready. Six tables were set up - it was going to be a big game. They had chip stacks ready for all the players at a small table set aside for the signup desk. I wandered over and spied my small stack of 38, counted out and set by my name written on the sheet of paper underneath. All the stacks were there, ready for their owners, lined in up in order. Kuroda-san's stack rested in front, a reminder he was in great shape from the start.

As more people showed up, it was clear this was going to be a special event. Players were dressed up sharp, and had brought their sunglasses. Most Japanese players don't bother with sunglasses unless they're joking around or (apparently) playing in a serious game. I hadn't seen so many Japanese players with their sunglasses ready... well... ever. Stakes were high, and it was obvious they were there to take things seriously.

Well, fairly seriously. Maro-san, who I think mostly plays at Pleasure, showed up in a bright red suit, sandy blond wig, and mirror sunglasses, looking like a cross between a pickup artist punk or a semi-yakuza you'd take care not to bump into walking down the seedy streets of Kabukicho.

I began to feel seriously underdressed in my faded shortsleeve buttondown and jeans, and badly in need of a haircut.

Many were taking photos, and I tried to keep a low profile. But there were a couple young ladies with a video camera, taking shots of the gathering crowd of poker players in the bar, and doing short interviews with some of the players. I gathered that they were taking photos and video for the Poker Navi web site. The way they threw occasional glances in my direction, I could tell what they were thinking.

No, not that. They were thinking, "Hey, there's a gaijin here. Is he a poker player? We should get an interview with the foreign player."

I really needed a haircut.

They caught me eventually and I reluctantly agreed to a short interview. I described a little about how I got interested in poker from downloading a few tv shows from the internet, then found Duke in my search for places to play in Tokyo. They asked what I considered my strong points in poker. I answered that it was probably my native English ability, that there was a lot of good books on poker that I could read easily, giving me access to a lot of tactics and strategy that Japanese players would either not have or would have to read in a second language. If Harrington on Holdem were available in Japanese, I would be in a lot more trouble in the local games, I'm sure of it.

We cut the interview short, since my Japanese is pretty crappy for public speaking. I doubt they actually put it up anywhere. Thank god.

7:30 approached. A quick speech thanking everyone for playing, and they described the prize, the trip for two to Las Vegas. Everyone knew this damn well, but it gave us a little reminder that we were here for the Big Game. A man from the HIS Travel Agency showed everyone the travel certificate for the trip, arranged through his agency, and congratulated in advance whoever would win it. And with that, we took our seats and had at it.

Many of the weekly tournaments at Duke start as Limit Holdem for the first several levels, then switch to No Limit afterwards. The final game was set up the same way, but were limit for the first 4 levels, and the levels were 15 minutes instead of the 10 minute levels in the weekly games, which are geared to finish up in two hours or so.

Table draw had not put any of the big stacks at my starting table, which was nice, but not so important in limit. I played mostly tight, not taking any real chances. I scored one pot, but generally stayed out of things and my stack slowly ground down. My starting stack of 38 had dropped to about 30 when we finished up the limit levels, and switched to no limit.

J.O. and Kuroda-san were moved to my table right about the time we switched to no-limit. This was not good, since they were big stacks and dangerous players. Kuroda-san still had his 300-ish stack, and J.O. had 150 to start and still had about that amount. Wonderful.

I was down to about 25 chips when I found black aces UTG. Since I was short and the blinds were approaching, I pushed and hoped it would look like a desperation move. It worked, I got one caller with A-J and my aces held - I doubled up.

The next hand I got Q-10 clubs in the BB. Kuroda-san and I think one other player had limped in, so I raised 3x experimentally. The first player folded, and Kuroda-san grimaced and thought for a few seconds before he showed an Ace and mucked, noting he was worried about his kicker. Interesting.

The next hand, I had red aces.

One early-mid player raised, I believe, and Kuroda-san called, so there was a reasonable pot when it got to me. I was still somewhat shortstacked, even after the double-up, so I thought for a second and pushed. I was hoping it would look like an attempt to steal the pot and I would get called by at least one of them.

It worked. Both of them called, figuring I was making a play, and again my aces held up to take the pot, this time tripling me up. Now up at around 130 chips, I was in the game. And even better, I had put the fear of god into my table. Every time I raised after that I could see on their faces, "Good god, does he have aces AGAIN?" My earlier tightness had paid off, since now they figured I was only raising with premium hands.

Of course, from that point on I wasn't. I think I played the situation pretty well from that point on. If I saw weakness, I raised. I sized my bets as I had read in Pressure Poker and No Limit Holdem: Theory and Practice, so they saw not only the size of my bet, but the amount I had behind that they knew they'd be facing after. And it worked. I put the pressure on, and my stack grew.

Player moves were frequent, as players busted and they kept the tables as balanced as possible. We compressed down to four tables... then three... then two. And I was still in it. We made the final table. I don't remember all the players, but they were all sharp, smart, and dangerous. Blinds had continued to rise, and none of us were as far ahead as we would have liked. But Kuroda-san was still in it, with a good stack of chips. Bushi, a player I know from the JPPA games, was there as well and I wasn't too happy about it. I've never seen him look flustered or uncertain of how to proceed. A strong, cool, and confident player whose handle is Psyka was there - I think he plays mostly at Bar Jack in Shibuya, so he wasn't familiar with me and hadn't witnessed my aces. This wasn't going to be easy.

I wish I could remember more hands, but I wouldn't have remembered them the day after, much less now, several weeks later. Let's just say I continued to play my A-game, choosing my spots and putting the pressure on, and it worked. Bushi fell with a look of bemused exasperation, and then Psyka, shaking his head. Kuroda-san's chip lead dwindled as we all had to mix it up, and suddenly he was out. I don't even remember how it happened, but he just hadn't seem to be catching any breaks, winning any pots, and Shiono-san and I would end up with a slightly better paired card then his at showdown.

And then it was heads-up, me and Shiono-san. I had the chip lead but I knew it wasn't going to be easy to finish him off, and there was nothing certain about it.

I suddenly remembered when I had played in the first Vegas Cup, with only 5 or 10 points to begin with, taking my long shot. I remember discussing with my friend J.P. ahead of the game that I would feel a bit weird if I won, since it seemed like really a Japanese player should win. After all, it's harder for them to get to Vegas than Americans, and I'd been there many, many times when I lived in the SF Bay area. Maybe, if it came down to where I could win the game, I should throw it and let a Japanese player win, I suggested.

J.P. gave me a "you're being stupid" grin and said, "What the hell is that? If you get a chance to win, you should take it."

In the first Vegas Cup, I got knocked out pretty early and it was no issue, but now I remembered it. Heads-up at the final table, coming from a big chip disadvantage, I knew I'd be happy with my performance even if I got knocked out in second. Should I throw it? Let Shiono-san win? I considered it.

And rejected it immediately. That's not poker. You take the chances you are given and you make the most of them. You don't softplay your opponents. That's the game, and if I could win it, I was going to win it and not worry about if it was just or fair.

So I played my ass off. I pressed when I thought I had an edge, and the chips flowed back and forth between Shiono-san and me. He took the lead at least once, and I thought I would have to take my gracious defeat after all. But I fought back, got a few hands, and regained the lead.

It was a long heads up match. I don't even remember the hand I won with. I think it was 6-9 offsuit, and I hit the six on the flop.

Things got a little lightheaded and blurry after that. Shiono-san was a hell of a sport and congratulated me sincerely. I didn't know what to say to everyone's congratulations - mostly I smiled embarassedly and thanked them and said I never thought I'd be able to win it.

After the game, one of the players Kopa pointed out the sweat stains under the arms of my shirt when I was done. Good god, I had really been playing my ass off.

I had to give a little acceptance speech in front of the 60-70 people in the room afterwards, which I fumbled through in my normal crappy Japanese. I don't know how I came across. Was I magnanimous in my victory, or was I just coming across as an ass? I couldn't even consider it until much later, and I still have no idea.

There were more photos and videos taken of the winners, some of which are up over at the Poker Navi site. I cringe when I see the photos (it should be obvious which one is me) and I can't bring myself to watch the movies. A haircut would have helped, but it wouldn't disguise how much of a goofball I really am. Ah well. This goofball has a free trip for two to Vegas - what do you have?


Ryan said...

Congrats man. Well done.

James said...

Thanks! Man, you don't waste any time.