I make my first bet of the trip at the Melbourne, Florida airport. The flight is overbooked and they ask for volunteers to take a bump. The deal is a $300 voucher for future travel. But there is a catch — they cannot confirm the second leg of the trip — from Atlanta to Memphis. I might be stuck overnight at the Atlanta airport. Hardly the way to start a four-day poker trip. I turn it down, and squeeze myself into my seat on the tiny regional jet. A few minutes later the same gate agent I had talked to before pokes his head into the cabin of the plane. He’s got a better deal: $350 and First Class. I take it.
The next flight to Atlanta is an MD80, leaving at 6:55 p.m. I suffer a minor inconvenience before I board First Class. Apparently I look like a shoe bomber and am forced to stand there in my sock feet while they check out my Nikes. Finally I board and sink into seat 1B, which swallows me up like a lazy-boy recliner. Before I even get my seatbelt on I am offered a drink. I sip mineral water and watch the poor schmucks shuffle back to coach. The flight attendant comes by every five minutes: Do I need a pillow, a blanket, anything at all, Mr. Glover. I don’t want the flight to end.
In Atlanta I’m one of the hoi polloi again, and it appears there is no seat for me to Memphis tonight. I wait in a line of twenty people to talk to a ticket agent. She types in some keystrokes on her computer and purses her lips. “I’ve seen worse,” she says. I take this as a positive sign. She types some more. Frowns this time. More typing.
I am about to ask about a meal and hotel voucher when I see a boarding pass coming across the counter. The ticket agent says, “Don’t ask me how I did this.” I kiss the boarding pass and tell her “God Bless You.”
In Memphis the shuttle service to Tunica that I had called ahead for is not there. It is 10:30 p.m. I may sleep at the Memphis airport rather than the Atlanta one. I see an SUV with “Horseshoe Security” stenciled on its side. One of Jack Binion’s vehicles here to pick up a high roller. I figure it’s worth a try. I walk over to the driver, tell him my tale and he tells me no problem, as soon as we can find a Mr. Battle we can leave.
It is in the low 30s with an icy wind blowing; my lightweight Florida-boy jacket feels parchment thin. I ask the driver if he has a Binion’s Horseshoe sign. He does, and I head to baggage claim with the BINION’S HORSESHOE placard held high above my head.
Mr. Battle is from England, but has just flown in from The Caicos Islands via Miami. Like many poker players he had to bribe his wife, taking her on a week long vacation so he could come to the tournament. Since she is not here with him, I assume she is on her way back to England.
I feel like a fraud talking poker with him. Here I am a $4/8 player who thinks a $100 buy-in tournament is big time. Mr. Battle has played in the BIG ONE at the World Series of Poker. He ponied up the $10,000 to take on the very best in the world. Anyway, I don’t give myself away and after a 40-minute ride we pull up to the Gold Strike. (Mr. Battle finished in the money in the $1,000 buy-in NLHE event. Congratulations, Mr. Battle.)
The Gold Strike would fit right in on the Las Vegas Strip. A large tasteful lobby and a medium-sized casino area connected to a 31-story hotel tower. It reminded me of the Monte Carlo, similar in size and with identical carpet.
My room is on the top floor at the very end of the hall. Ah, Peace and Quiet. I am tired, but know I will not sleep unless I get something to eat. This is not Las Vegas. Nothing is open. I finally find a snack bar at The Horseshoe — literally a 50-foot walk from the Gold Strike. Fifty other people have found the snack bar as well and I wait 45 minutes for a hamburger that I wolf down in three bites.
The next morning I meet Bbrown09 from ป๊อกเด้ง ไฮโล PokerSchool and we watch the tournament action before heading over to the Horseshoe for a $4/8 hold em game. I don’t consider myself a good cash player, but find myself up after an hour. The table has Bbrown09, a couple of Mississippi river boat gamblers who are wild, several off duty dealers who are playing loosely, and a couple of rocks. I find pocket Kings about 90 minutes into the session.
To me, Cowboys always look invincible. Two calls in front of me. I raise. I get a call from behind and the original limpers also call. The flop is what every pocket pair of Kings fears: An ugly black Ace. Check, Check, it’s up to me. I bet, trying to represent an Ace with a strong kicker. I get a caller from behind, and while one of the limpers folds, the other calls. The turn is a nine which pairs the board. The limper checks. If I check, it is obvious I don’t have an Ace. I bet, the caller raises, the limper folds.
The caller has been waiting for the big bets to kick in. I stare at my tough-looking, once invincible Kings. I can feel everyone at the table staring at me. My mind tells me to muck, but my arm cannot make the motion. I know I am beaten, but I have fallen in love with the Kings. Finally I see my cards float from my hand toward the dealer. One of the riverboat gamblers asks me my hand. I tell him Kings. “Good muck,” he says. The raiser proudly flips over two red Aces.
After another twenty minutes, I cash out with $99 of my original $100. Bbrown09 stays and I head back to the Gold Strike to watch the tournament action.
The tournament area is the grand ballroom on the second floor. There is a final table area with bleachers and at least 50 other tables in the room. Most are for tournament action, but fifteen or so are for live games. There is everything from $5/10 pot limit Omaha to $300/$600 three-draw lowball. I have never seen this game played. It is exactly like draw lowball but you get three draws. The people that play this game, I decide, are truly gamblers. I can discern no way to tell if you should redraw, fold, bluff or what. I watch a guy redraw three times to make a Q5432 and bet out $600. The other player shows a legitimate hand, and the Q high lowball player mucks and says nice hand. The amount in the pot is ten times my mortgage payment. I am told that at the $100/200 pot-limit Omaha game, there is sometimes over $500,000 in the pot.
My brother from Nashville drives over that night and after a seafood buffet we play slots and video poker. I do not sleep well. All night long a door opens and closes nearby and I swear I can hear an elevator going up and down every ten minutes. But the elevator is a good 150 feet from my room. It will be several days before I figure out what is going on.
At 7:30 a.m. I hear the maids chattering outside my door. Any chance I have at going back to sleep is ruined when my wife calls a few minutes later. I explain to her that poker players do not get wake up calls at 7 a.m. because there are no games going on at that time. She does not find this amusing.
The Big One
The next day, after seeing my brother off, I play in the only big tournament of my trip. It is a limit hold em tournament where $115 gets you $2,000 in chips and a one-time rebuy of $100 gets you $4,000. It is part of the Tunica Classic, which parallels the WPO, and is held at the Grand Casino. The Grand boasts the largest poker room in Tunica and has more than a dozen tables. One hundred players buy in to this afternoon’s event and, with anticipated rebuys, the prize pool should be about $20,000. First place will win almost $8,000.
By coincidence, Bbrown09 is at my table. I would rather not have him here-he is too good a player. The table is a mix of players. I count at least three other solid players besides Bbrown09. Two, however, are very poor players. One is a portly guy who looks like he is wearing pajama bottoms. The other is a thirty-year-old woman who scrunches up her face every time she gets a hand to give the appearance that she is actually thinking the hand through. She is the type of player who plays K7 fast. Both Pajama Bottoms and Scrunch Face are stubborn players who see too many flops and then stay in with marginal hands. Neither one has enough awareness to be bluffed. Both are almost out of chips before the first hour is over.
I don’t get great hands, but almost all the flops I see hit my hole cards perfectly. My two AKs both connect and Bbrown09 runs into my trip Kings with a pair of Queens. I am showing down good hands. I fell like I can steal at will, but don’t have to as I get pocket jacks twice and all fold to me.
I make what I consider my only mistake of the tournament just before the first break. I am in the small blind (SB) with K10os. Under The Gun goes all in. It is $500 to me. I have just over $8,000 in chips. It is early in the tournament. I don’t need to knock anyone out. After calling the $500 I can hear TJ Cloutier’s words: “The only person you have to knock out is the next to the last person left at the final table.” Anyway, my logic, such as it was, was that I get to see 5 cards for $500. In this situation, at this amount, maybe I should have held onto my $500.
Shortly after a ten-minute break, our table is broken up. I get the number ten seat at table 18. The transfer is chaotic. As I am trying to find table 18 (outside the main poker room), I see cards flying. I make it to my new table in less than 45 seconds but still miss a hand. No major complaints about the tournament, but it seemed the tournament staff’s only objective was to push us through as fast as possible and just get the thing over with. One of the dealers complains that she is missing the Steelers game. I have no sympathy for her as she deals me 62os ten hands in row.
Then I catch A10s in the big blind (BB), against an all in from the SB. Perfect. But the board is a complete miss and his pocket tens hold (he was a big favorite given my kicker matched his pair). Seven hands later I am in the SB with KQs and again against an all in; and once again the board does not hit my hand. I am out $2,000 on the two hands.
Pajama Bottoms is at my table; he makes quad sixes and rakes in a huge pot. For the next half hour I get nothing, nada, zilch. I am down to $3,500 with the blinds at $500/1,000. I decide I need to pick a hand soon.
To make matters worse, our table is short-handed, seven players. The blinds seem to be coming every three minutes. When I look around and see the other four tables with 8 or 9 people, I complain to the dealer. She gives me a condescending look and says she’s just doing what they tell her and announces again that she’d rather be watching the Steelers.
Pajama Bottoms, while not the best player I’ve ever seen, does get my vote for the player with the most guts. With the dealer threatening to muck his hand, he stares at the felt for over two minutes, putting on a heroic stall. I’m too chicken, and in seat number 10, where I know the dealer CAN muck my hand, I only give it a half-hearted 20-second stall.
I catch AJos a few hands later. Not a great hand but if I’m not raised from the front, I will try to steal. I desperately need the blinds. The Big Blind is staring at me as I ready my chips for a raise. What does this mean? I think Mike Caro tells. Is he an actor, trying to look strong, but is really weak? Or does he have a strong hand? I soon find out. He reraises me. A call will leave me with $500.
Well, I said I was going to pick a hand. I feel I am pot committed and toss in another $1,000. The flop is Q10x. The BB can’t get his chips into the pot quickly enough. Not a good sign, but I’ll be out next blind anyway-only three hands. I think I have a couple of outs. Boy, am I wrong. Besides a runner, runner 8,9, I have one out and the King does not come. The starer in the BB has a set of Queens. I flip over my AJ, shrug, and leave the table.
Tunica is not the transportation capital of the world. I have not seen one taxi since I have been here. The shuttle bus does not come back to the Grand for quite some time, so I am on the rail watching the end of the tournament. Ironically, I will get a free taxi ride back to the Gold Strike that night.
With two tables left, Pajama Bottoms is still in it, so is Scrunch Face. I watch her play; she is in every other hand. Only sixteen left and she catches a 922 board to make her pocket nines full. She is close to being chip leader. She can waltz to the final table where ten are paid. But still she plays every other hand and her chips dwindle. We are down to eleven. She has a decent stack but feels compelled to get all her chips in on AQ and she loses to a pocket pair. Bad play finally catches her.
An unusual deal is struck at the final table. They all chop. To a tournament purist this is blasphemy. To me it makes perfect sense. The largest stacks have $100,000 or so; the smallest around $20,000. But the limits are $6,000/12,000. One hand can decimate the larger stacks. The deal is: the small stacks get $1,750; the middle stacks, $1,950; the three big stacks, $2,450.
Key, a strong player from my first table, offers me a ride back with him and his two friends. They drove up from New Orleans in a cab. So the only cab I see my entire trip is from New Orleans. Thanks Key.
That night I hear the elevator go non-stop. I hear the maids converge outside my room at 7:30 a.m. I now know all their names: Aretha, Eljemeen, Coretta and Queenie. I finally put two and two together when I leave for breakfast. The double doors across from my room are open and I see towels, sheets, soap and shampoo stockpiled in a big storage area. I don’t see it, but I know the service elevator is in there also. Room service must run all night.
There are no satellites going on at 9:00 a.m. But there is a $300/$600 lowball game that from the look of the players has been an all-nighter. One big bet in that game is my entire bankroll for the trip.