With 16 players left in New Zealand's biggest poker tournament last weekend, I was the chip leader.
I had been grinding* in Auckland's Sky City casino for 20 hours over two days and was unstoppable. I almost dared to dream about what I might do with the $110,000 for first prize. Almost.
Thankfully, three years as a professional online poker tournament player had prepared me well for the rapid change in fortune that was to come. Poker has more swings and roundabouts than a swing and roundabout factory. Some may call it a blowup*, and some may say bad luck, but I busted 90 minutes later in 13th place for $6400.
Despite logging tens of thousands of online tournaments over the years, this was only the second 'big' live tourney (over 1.5k buy in) that I had played. And I had a blast.
The characters were colourful, the structure was spot on and the Sky City Floor staff did a great job of regulating trouble makers, like the obnoxious angle shooting* Aussie at my table who's incessant 'banter' was more painful than my bustout*.
After a relatively slow start to day one I picked up a ton of small pots toward the last level of the night which resulted in me returning on day two sitting 24/104.
But it wasn't until this hand played out on the third level of day two, that the wheels really started to turn into motion.
*Note - hand replayer not available on mobile.
I kept climbing, 250k, 300k, 350k, mostly facing little resistance* from my table and before I knew it I was chip leader.
With 90 minutes to play in the day, our table broke. Three tables became two and I was seated alongside the other chip leader Amant Nauhria, AKA the guy who took all my chips.
Nauhria was a smart, aggressive player who quickly established himself as table captain. It helped that he was also on the heater* of a lifetime. After passively observing Nauhria run the table over for 30 minutes I decided to make a move from the small blind.
Attacking the big stack out of position* is questionable but my read on Nauhria was that he was opening very wide and my tight image should give me some credibility if I needed to *get the barrel out. But when he raised my flop bet my bullsh*t detector went through the roof.
I had two thoughts, call or raise. What would I do if I had AA, KK, QQ, JJ in this spot? I would call. I knew Nauhria would pick up on that, so that was the story I told.
There aren't many strong hands I thought he would raise with in this situation and I thought he would give up (if bluffing) when I called, check back the turn and allow me to win with a river bluff (he later confirmed this thought process to be correct).
But unfortunately he binked the turn, made a clever check back and induced my bluff.
I still had 300k and was by no means crippled but the next 45 minutes went from bad to worse. I simply couldn't win a pot and bled my stack down to 24 big blinds.
"Three more hands to be played tonight," was the call from the floor staff, but I would only need one.
I *three-bet Nauhria's open from the small blind with AQ and when he declared 'All in' I let out a sigh and called. With an A on the flop I would have gone broke regardless of how I played it when Nauhria revealed AA.
The next day was spent stewing in my mixed emotions. I received an avalanche of texts and messages congratulating me on 'doing so well', but all I could really think about was the missed opportunity to hit a really big score.
But I did enjoy returning to watch my table mate from day two David Lim claim the title and the $110,000 first place prize. Lim is a Pot-Limit Omaha cash game specialist with minimal No-Limit experience but put on a clinic of patience, value betting, picking good spots and preying on the weak throughout the eight hours I shared a table with him.
The live coverage of the tournament was also fantastic. Two simultaneous live blogs of all the action could be found online and both used the 'Holloway will have a lot to write about on Monday' gag when I was soaring high.
So there is my tale from a thoroughly enjoyable Festival of Poker. Flame away in the comments below.
For the poker illiterate
* Grinding - to put in a long shift playing poker.
* Blowup - to make poor decisions which result in losing a lot of chips.
*Angle shooting - Bending the rules so they are marginally legal, but are neither ethical nor gentlemanly.
*Bustout - getting eliminated from the tournament
*Resistance - other players fighting back at me, forcing me to make tough decisions
*Heater - An exceptionally hot run of luck.
*Out of position - Being at a disadvantage due to having to act first post-flop.
*Three-bet - Re-raising the original raiser (preflop)
*Get the barrel out - To be prepared to bluff at the flop, turn and or river.
*Flame away - An online argument that becomes nasty or derisive. E.g Why are you trying to start a war with the chip leader out of position you donkey. Fish like you shouldn't write about poker.