7:15 PM Dec 12 2012, Talking Stick (Scottsdale, AZ), 8th (119 entries)

In this my first Arizona tournament ever, I managed to finish well into the cash. The paramount importance of the flop in Texas hold'em was clearly in evidence for me on this particular evening. Before the first break, I had flopped a set four times and taken down the pot each time. The first time I held 44 in the big blind, heads-up against the small blind, who had raised preflop then opened on the flop. I raised, got called, then the small blind check-folded the turn.

On the very next hand I caught JJ in the small blind and 3-bet an early position raiser. The raiser called, then the flop contained a jack. Not wanting to fool around, I overbet the pot and shooed the other player out.

After our table got broken, after an extremely long dry spell chiseled away at my stack until it became dangerously low, I finally caught KK on the button. The under-the-gun player opened with a raise, everyone folded, then I shoved the rest of my chips in. The UTG player easily had me covered, so he called and turned over AJ offsuit. No ace came and I doubled up.

With my stack no longer in the danger zone, one round plus one hand later, I caught ducks in the cutoff seat. Things fell into place nicely: with the blinds at 200/400, the UTG player put in a standard 3x raise to 1200. The UTG+1 player only had 1600 chips left, so he put them all of them in. A whole bunch of limpers followed, including myself and both blinds. The UTG player asked if he could reraise. The dealer informed him that he could not, since the all-in's raise of 400 was too small to reopen the betting.

The flop came 234, with two clubs. It got checked around to me. I shoved all-in. The small blind, whom I had covered but not by very much, insta-called and turned over 56 for the nut straight. A jack fell on the turn. The river card was a beautiful thing:

Just like that, after seeing so many horrible starting hands and watching my stack dwindle into dangerous territory, I was suddenly very close to having the table chip lead. A few hands later we went into the first break.

Not very long after the break, our table got broken up. At the next table, after mostly treading water and watching my stack diminish by about 20%, two critical hands occurred in fairly short succession, after which my stack probably rose into the top two or three in the tournament. In the first hand, I caught

in the big blind. With the blinds at 1500/3000, a player in early-middle position raised to 10K. Everyone folded it around to me. With my stack at about 28K, I decided it would be best to first see whether any ace was going to fall on the flop and it would also add some deception if I just called, so I did. The flop came good for me:

I had the other player covered, but not by all that much. I fully expected a c-bet if I were to check, so I did in fact check. The other player committed himself to the pot by betting another 10K. I deliberated for a short bit then went all-in. The other player didn't have many chips left. He called fairly quickly and turned over

Running tens fell on the turn and river, so he was gone.

The next big hand occurred a couple rounds or so later, when I once again caught a pocket pair in the big blind:

When it got folded around to the player in the cutoff seat, he pushed his entire stack of about 30K chips into the middle. It then got folded around to me. My stack was somewhere around 55K. The player who shoved had not been playing real tight. He had already shoved once or twice before a little while ago. Putting all this information together, I just could not see folding this hand, so I called. Fortunately for me, the other player turned over

No eight fell, so he was gone. This gave my stack a big boost.

For the rest of the tournament I played fairly conservatively. My cards went dry, and I entered very few pots. It's possible my stack got above 100K at some point, but going into the final table it was back down to around 65K.

All of the players seemed to be in a chopping mood. For example the bubble player (16th) had been allowed to receive not only their buy-in back, but also an additional $60 by the last two tables. When it got down to the final table, everyone agreed that all seven places below 3rd would chop, leaving the top three payouts intact.

After a couple players went out and the blinds — now at 6K/12K (this tournament had no antes) — had diminished my stack to 33K, I made a bit of a mistake when it got folded around to me in middle position holding

I failed to take into account the fact that even though we had agreed to chop those last seven places, a possible revision to the initial chopping arrangement always remains on the table as players get knocked out.

Instead, I was thinking that the only way to increase my payout was going to be to reach 3rd place or higher. With this and only this mistaken notion in mind, it seemed natural to open the betting all-in with the above hand. I was mostly hoping to steal the blinds, but also knew that unless sombebody had a high pocket pair, I should be at least a 35% favorite heads-up.

It got folded around to the big blind, who unfortunately was holding

He called and no miracles came, so I was out in 8th place.

If I'd folded instead and tried waiting for a better hand, it's possible I could have made it into the final chop, which added $850 to the initial chop (which was just for 4th through 10th). In other words, that may have been a very costly mistake, shoving with a hand I usually fold.