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The World Series of Poker

Our Man Comes Within a Hair Of a Seat in Poker's Grandest Event
Michael Konik
From the Print Edition:
Sylvester Stallone, Mar/Apr 98

(continued from page 1)

Down $800 and feeling inordinately sorry for myself, I go to the Horseshoe's famous coffee shop and drown my sorrows in red meat and pumpkin pie.

My second attempt at winning the world title starts promisingly. Stung by the previous evening's debacle, I play very "tight," folding speculative drawing hands and betting aggressively when I'm holding something powerful. For the first hour, while the wild gamblers around me are calling and raising with just about anything, hoping to go "on a rush," I sit patiently, monk-like, and wait, paying my antes and observing the mayhem. Just when I think I can't stand the monotony anymore, I'm dealt a juicy hand, the Ace-King of spades. I bet it strongly and get called in two spots. When the flop brings a rash of baby cards, my Ace-King holds up, and I've tripled my stack.

This happens about four more times. Each hand I start with an odds-on favorite and finish with the money, the way it's supposed to work in a kind and just world.

Three hours into the supersatellite tournament, the field has been narrowed from 120 to 36. The final 11 survivors will earn seats in the world championship. I've built my original $220 buy-in up to $4,700. The promised land is within sight.

Then I look down to find what I've been waiting for all night: a monster. I've been dealt two Kings, the second most powerful starting hand in Texas Hold'em. I hope to get into a raising war with preferably one other opponent, someone who thinks he's holding real power only to discover that the wily journalist from Los Angeles, the one who's been playing so patiently, so precisely, is holding the hammer. My wish comes true. I raise. A pro at the other end of the table, one of the top players in Maryland, considers his hand for a moment and raises me back. I re-raise him, pushing my entire stack of chips toward the center of the table.

"All in," the dealer announces. Without hesitation, the Maryland pro pushes all his chips toward the middle. There's close to $10,000 in the pot. I can think of only five hands the pro could have called with. "I got Aces," he says, flipping up his cards. And that's the one hand I didn't want to see. While my Kings are the second most powerful starting combination, his Aces are the first.

Now only two cards in the deck can help me. I need to get lucky.

The miracle I need to stay in the tournament does not materialize. As the dealer pushes a mountain of chips toward the pro, a pile of hundreds that will surely earn him a seat in the world championship, the pro shrugs at me and says, "Bad luck." I nod silently and make a hurried exit, trying mightily to honor an age-old credo: real men do not cry at the poker table.

Yes, bad luck, indeed, I think, calculating the probability of another player holding Aces when I'm holding Kings. This situation will happen to you about once every 5,000 hands of poker. (A regular tournament player later tells me that it's happened to him four times--and he's been playing for 20 years.) I trudge off to my room, feeling as if there's a sticky film of misfortune clinging to my back.

But on my final satellite attempt, the night before the main event begins, everything goes wonderfully, joyously right. I'm reading my opponents as if their cards were turned face up. I'm getting rid of weak hands precisely the moment before they get me in trouble. I'm milking my strong hands for every dollar they're worth.

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