I shake hands with the Russian who's trip I shorten considerably. I'm 17 and it's the first round of qualifying for the Eddie Herr International tournament, a Grade 1 event - the second most difficult junior tennis tournaments in the world. Seven players in the top 10 worldwide rankings have registered.
I'm onto the second round of qualification. Two more wins and I have a shot at thirty points, more than a Grade 5 title awards - which the majority of my current schedule contains. I'll play the qualies of Eddie Herr because it's hosted by Bollettieri, my home of two years at this point. The fifty plus courts are ideal for a large tournament.
The heads up tournament begins today. It's half NL hold'em, and half PLO. I feel like my edge in NL will negate the fact that I'm inexperienced at PLO.
I sit down at table 75, seat 2, but my opponent is nowhere to be found. Across the table, another young kid seems to be waiting for his match. Perhaps we have byes. I'm suspicious that we'll be matched up next round, so I strike up a conversation to get a little information on him. Apparently he's an Italian MTT grinder, online mostly. We chat for a bit, and our "matches" are started.
After fifteen minutes of the dealer blinding both of our opponents out, a tournament director starts breaking the tables, giving people byes. Apparently they left late registration open briefly.
I'm onto round two at 4pm.
I come back into Brazilia and wait around until we're allowed to go to our tables. I see Aaron Jones talking to someone with glasses who I feel like I'm supposed to be able to identify but can't. As I did Aaron's $5k "Memoires of Aejones" series in 2008, I decide to say hi. We briefly discuss the fact that the bubble is after the third round and is for not much more than the $3k buyin, and wish each other good luck in round two.
I see the Italian player I expected waiting for me at our table. I sit down, nod in acknowledgement, and two cards are dealt to each of us.
I'm dealt QJo in the BB and my opponent opens to 150. The structure is relevant here: we both get 3k chips at 25/50 starting blinds (20 minute levels) and we have two "add-on" chips that we can use at any time to add an extra 3k chips apiece, for a 9k total chip stack. Each 20 minute level we alternate to PLO We're currently playing 60bb effective, and I flat the open.
The flop is J42 rainbow and I check. He bets and I check-raise the flop to a heads up cbet for the eleven millionth time in the twenty two years I've lived on this earth. He calls.
The turn is a seven and I bet about half pot, leaving myself with something like a 3/4 pot river ship amount. He calls in exactly the average amount of time it ought to take to make the call.
The river is a deuce. I think for a couple of seconds and slide the chips I haven't yet grown fond of towards my opponent. As we're directly across from each other, betting is an act of physically pushing chips to your opponent. I anticipate exploiting the psychological ramifications this will have on both online guys and non-HU live guys (pretty much every poker player?).
He calls, I table QJ, and he mucks.
He flicks his two red rebuy chips to the dealer, and we're back to battle. We get in a few small pots and I lean on him a bit. He's playing decent, but clearly isn't a HU reg. By the time we get to PLO, he's down to about 4k.
He wins a few small pots before I open KQ88 in the SB and get called. The flop is KJ7 and he checks. My inexperience shows - I have no clue what's standard here. I bet 2/3 pot and get a call.
The turn is a deuce and he checks. I check back and when the eight of spades hits the river, am sure I'm good. He checks.
I figure the majority of T9 hands I'd be expected to bet on the turn, and I'm not getting called by one pair hands for any size, so I bet big: almost 4/5 pot. He calls fairly quickly and is disgusted to see my 88.
I don't win any pots for a few hands and am checking the clock to see how much PLO we have to play when I'm dealt AKTT in the small blind. I open and am flatted. The flop is AKT, he checks to me.
I don't see much value in betting, aside to price out Qx or Jx stuff, so I check. The turn is a blank, and he bets with not a ton behind. I figure his value range is wider than QJ at this point, and since he's 3betting aces and kings preflop, I decide raise/calling is thin but reasonable. I do it and am shown QJ99. He holds.
We're back to hold'em and I'm happy. I open J7o on the button and am called. The flop is 743 and he check/calls. A turn ten doesn't deter me from betting, nor him from check/calling. The river queen gives me pause, but the way he checked was odd. I'm worried about A7 or perhaps K7, but other than that I can't find a hand that beats me, so I bet. He doesn't look happy, but calls it off. I table the hand and he quietly slides his cards into the muck.
A few hands later I start getting into the zone. I open a black Q7o and he calls. The flop is 269, all hearts. He checks to me and I bet a bit over half pot. He calls. The queen of hearts hits the felt and he checks with a rhythm I'm in tune with. I feel his soul nearing closer to my possession.
I bet and he calls. The river is an offsuit three. He checks.
I wonder about how good I am at poker. I consider what's standard, what many players think is spew, and the plays a "sicko" is capable of making. I recall climbling the limits as a teenager, getting compliments from players I initially idolized. I question whether I should even refer to others when making a decision at the poker table. Aren't I good enough to make that determination on my own? I've played enough hands, had enough experience playing this card game to comprehend what a reasonable play is. At least this is what I tell myself.
I decide to check back. I fail to valuebet top pair on the four-flush, but thoroughly tilt my opponent anyway as his 76dd is no good.
A few hands later he's shortstacked, and in a fairly standard spot we get the chips in - my A7hh against his tens. I spike an ace on the river and he quickly says "good game", shaking my hand before exiting Brazilia. I fill out the form the dealer gives me and wait to return at 6pm for the bubble round.