Star Trek Actor Takes Second in Heads-Up Championship

There is an infamous poker homegame here in Los Angeles every Friday night.  Most of the people who play in it work for Full Tilt Poker, and the average level of play is so good, it's called "Murderer's Row." In fact, a Murderer's Row regular, Ryan Kallberg, cashed five times in the Los Angeles Poker Classic which is going on right now at the Commerce Casino, including a first place finish worth over 100K in event number one.

Though I've been invited to every game, and though I'm friends with about 2/3 of the players, something has always gotten in the way (usually my own reluctance to park in Friday afternoon traffic to get out to the game on time) and I've missed out. This week, however I planned on attending because my friend Pauly (who writes incredible live update blogs at Tao of Poker) and Jason (who interviewed me back in November for are both in town to cover the LAPC. Unfortunately, events conspired to keep me away from the game, which was sad, but kept my attendance streak at a perfect, unbroken, zero.

I still wanted to play a little poker, though, and I remembered that TripJax had the Donkeys Always Draw Invitational Heads-Up Championship running. I thought about playing, and checked the lobby: it only cost $11 to enter, started at 6PM my time, and several people I knew and respected were already signed up. I've had a pretty bad run lately, and I've scaled back my poker time significantly, but I really liked my chances in this tourney. I'm a damn good heads-up player, and the thought of being the champion of anything was completely worth eleven bucks.

I signed up. My first opponent was Chad, from Pokeramarama, who busted me out of a the Up4Poker Invitational back in October. We battled back and forth for a long time, but I managed to catch cards at exactly the right moments to win the round, even if Chad dropped the HAMMER on me with a brilliant all-in bluff that got me to fold a medium pair on a moderately scary board. Apparently Chad cursed my name to all of the WPBT when I eventually busted him, which makes me very proud.

Round two put me against the original Luckbox, CJ Hoyt from CJ is an insanely good lucky good player, and I knew there was no way at all that I'd be able to run him over. I was confident that I'd be able to make at least a few moves on him, which would essentially counter the same moves that he would make on me, but I think we both knew that all the money was eventually going to go in when we both had big hands, and it did. I also knew that I'd have to get lucky at least once to have a chance against him, and I did. Twice. The first time, I was outchipped almost 3:1, and all the money went in on an ace-high flop. CJ had me totally dominated with a bigger ace than mine, (I think it was my A8 vs. his AQ or something like that) but a king on the river gave us a chop, and I started to battle my way back, eventually drawing just slightly over even when we realized that we were the last table in play for the round. I forget the pre-flop action, but all the money went in on a 9-high flop, when I held two tens and CJ had two kings. I congratulated CJ on a game well-played, not realizing that there were three clubs on the board, and I held the Tc. Sure enough, I picked up a club on the river to make a flush, bust CJ's kings with a massive suckout (I was 12% to win on the flop) and move on to the next round.

In Round Three, I sat across the table from Wes (aka Boobie Lover), who is one of the best, scariest, smartest, most dangerous SNG players out there. I didn't realize this until a few days ago, but Wes took something like $25 bucks and turned it into something like $25,000 $8000 just playing online poker last year since August of 2005. (I'm sure that when this is published, someone will correct my numbers. Watch this space for the embarassing correction! Wes himself corrected me. Thanks, man.)

Just like CJ, I knew I'd have to get lucky to beat Wes, but I also knew that Wes is a very aggressive player, and if I could get him to make a move on me when I'd disgused my hand, I was going to push that edge as far as I could. After yet another back-and-forth round, I called a pre-flop raise with JTo. The flop came T-high, and I bet it. Wes pushed, and I was pretty sure my top pair was good, and the very worst case for me would be a coinflip if he had AK or something like that. I went into the tank for a bit, before I finally typed, "I think I have you." and called. He had me covered, so if I was wrong, I was done, but my read was correct: he flipped up AJs, I won the race, and eventually moved on to the next round.


In Round Four, I drew Jorgen, from Poker In Iowa. Jorgen has played in several WWdN games, but I don't think we've ever played at the same table. Because I didn't really know much about his play, I was about as focused as I've ever been, because I knew that's what it would take to beat him. Though many hammers were dropped, and some playful banter was passed around, I was able to tune out the rest of the world and draw upon everything I've ever studied about heads-up play. I don't recall any specific hands, but I recall feeling like I was really in control of my game during this round, and thinking to myself, "If I can get through this, I have a real shot at winning this thing."  I didn't even realize that if I made it through this round, I'd make the money. For some reason, the thought that I just had to beat two more opponents overwhelmed any other thinking, and gave me a tremendous confidence boost to go all the way. Of course, I didn't think at the time that my remaining two opponents would be players who were strong enough to get into the final four, which was probably a good thing, because I'm really excellent as psyching myself out.

I don't recall any specifics from Round Four, other than running out of my office, down my hallway, and back into my chair when I won.

Round Five put me into the final Four, where I was up against dazza70, who is an Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi! Oi! Oi! Within the first few hands, I knew this was going to be tough. He wasn't afraid of my raises, and wasn't afraid to drop any hammers. In fact, it was kind of fun and exciting to be up against someone who would play (and show) the HAMMER, because it gave us a sub-game to play: who could drop more hammers? He took an early 1-0 lead, again pushing me off a medium pair just like Chad did, then I drew even on a re-raise which pushed him off a big ace or king. But the hand of the round goes to dazza, who completely out-played me to take a HUGE chunk of my stack. I had the Scottro (77) on the button, and raised 3x the BB. dazza called, and we saw a flop of KKJ. Well, I'm prerty sure that I'm done with this hand, unless I can bluff at him, which I did, for a considerable portion of my chips. He thought a long time and called.

The Voice of Smart Poker, from the back of my head, said, "Dude, he's got a bigger pair than you. Probably Jacks. Time to check and fold."

Good advice, but the voice of I'm a Stupid Moran said, "Bluff at it again! He can't call you without a king, and he'd probably re-raise you with a king." So I bluffed at it again. dazza went into the tank for a long, long time, and said, "hamma?" before he called.

The Voice of Smart Poker screamed at me, "You're beat! You're beat! weak means strong and strong means weak! Fold the fucking hand, man! Fold the fuc-" There was the sound of breaking glass, and The Voice of I'm a Stupid Moran said, "There. He won't be bothering us for the rest of the hand."

If you haven't figured it out by now, dazza70 had KJ, and took a huge chunk of my chips from me, because I was a fucking idiot and couldn't let go of a stupid underpair to the board. This is a good time to repeat something we all say from time to time: we work hard to develop instincts that lead to The Voice of Smart Poker; it's a good idea to STFU and listen to that voice when it speaks.

After that debacle, I still had chips to work with, and I even took the lead in our HAMMER dropping contest, 2-1 (where I ultimately finished.) I don't recall how the round ended, but we played for a very, very long time before I won, and moved on to the final table.

The last player remaining was pokerscout, who I had never seen or heard of, but found out after the fact is the host of WebPoker Radio. I honestly can't tell you anything about this guy, because I just could not figure him out. He must have been watching my last match with dazza and figured out that I was playing very aggressive poker, because he used incredible ju-jitsu against me. There's this awesome trick you can use on an aggressive player: call them until the turn, when they'll usually check if they miss, then bet at them. More often than not, they'll fold. Even though I know and use this trick, I fell victim to it several times, and found myself around 35000 to his 65000-ish pretty quickly. I battled back up to about even, where we stayed for a long time. Finally, I asked him if he wanted to add first and second place together and chop it, but keep playing to see who would take the DADIII title. He agreed, and we both sat out for a bit while I e-mailed support. (Here's a note about PokerStars: if you're ever at the final table of a tourney, and all the players agree to a deal, you can e-mail support with the word "URGENT:" in the subject line, and tell them you'd like to pause the tourney to discuss a deal. Within minutes, someone from support will show up and help you out.)

With our deal in place, we virtually shook hands and got back to the match. We'd played a few hands when some fucking jackass came into the table, and started giving me shit about being on Team PokerStars. This has been a bit of a problem lately, where some idiot finds me playing, and decides to go off on me: "Why do you get to be on Team PokerStars? What do you bring to the site? You're a stupid actor. Star Trek Suxxorz!!!11 Shut up, Wesley!" I don't know where these idiots come from, or why it's so important to them to show everyone how tiny their weeners are, but it's getting really annoying. I usually ask them to give me a break, and if they won't, I pick up the phone, call someone from PokerStars, and have someone from support deal with the player. This time, however, I was in the final match of a heads-up tournament, and didn't have time to do that, so I just turned off observer chat, but I'll admit that I was distracted and a little bit tilted by this jerk's comments. I went from playing my best, focused, strongest poker, straight to playing Prove To Everyone That I Deserve To Be On Team PokerStars poker. Shit.

I doubt this fucking douchebag will read this, but if he does: Dude, fuck you. I don't have to explain myself to you, and how dare you come into the final table of a heads-up tournament and distract me with your petty bullshit. I defy you to walk up to a table anywhere in the world and talk a bunch of shit to someone involved in a hand, coward. Grow up.

After I donked off a few chips, I realized that I was on Prove To Everyone That I Deserve To Be On Team PokerStars tilt, and talked myself off the ledge. I also realized that my opponent was incredibly good, and had adjusted brilliantly to my aggressive style. I switched gears, played back at him more selecttively, and waited for a good hand to push my chips in, since I was now down quite a bit. I remember making a wheel on the river on one hand, and pushing all my chips in at the end without a call, and then finding 77 again a few hands later. I pushed pre-flop, and he called with two over cards. I won the race and doubled up. I was still massively out-chipped about 25000 to 75000, but I could feel the momentum start to shift back to me, and my focus came back; a willingness to risk all my chips at the right moment gave me some much-needed focus and confidence. I didn't get through 60 players for nothing.

I battled back to about 40000 or something like that, and found AK on the button. pokerscout raised, and I pushed. He called quickly with presto (pocket fives). I flopped a king to take a massive lead, and I knew that if it held up, I was going to win . . . but a five on the river gave him a set and the championship. I congratulated him and he congratulated me. I turned observer chat back on, and found that it was just filled with friends again, cheering both of us, and celebrating a great tournament.

After a terrible run of cards and luck in the last few months, I desperately needed to do well in a tournament for much more than my bankroll -- my confidence was severely bruised and shaken, and making the final table did a lot to restore it. In fact, this second place finish felt better than beating Noah "Exclusive" Boeken heads-up last year.

I want to congratulate pokerscout on playing an incredible match; I look forward to the rematch! I also want to thank TripJax and Jordan for putting this tourney together, and I want to thank CJ for letting me put two bad beats on him. I'm sure I'll be spewing my checks his way at the earliest opportunity.

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