Two hours before I was due to play, I made my first mistake.
It was Friday afternoon. I'd had a hectic week and my colleagues were going downstairs for a few (free) pints.
"Can't make it lads, got a big poker tourney in a few hours, got to keep the mind clear," was my response to an invitation, minutes before I caved and joined them for a couple of cold ones.
The key to success in live, big buy-in poker tournaments is patience, discipline and clear thinking. You have to be prepared to sit in a seat for 20+ hours over multiple days, while consistently making the right decisions. Mindset is everything, and mine had been patently exposed.
I was dealt my first hand at 7.15pm, and by 8.45pm, about an hour-and-a-half into a three-day tournament; I was out, without winning a hand.
Instead of observing players' tells, searching for exploitable weaknesses and picking good spots to get involved, I was stuck thinking about the 2am finish time and my 6am start at work the next morning. I was thinking about mortgage brokers, the Hamilton real-estate market and why my newborn baby hates sleep so much. I was slightly inebriated and majorly off my game.
But ultimately, I just played bad poker.
With a 20,000 chip starting stack, blinds starting at 25/50 and 40-minute levels, the correct way to approach the tournament was like a test match, but my mindset was more Big Bash.
After splashing around in a few early pots unsuccessfully, I got moved to a new table, where I really only played two interesting hands.
The first (detailed at bottom) I played correctly. The second, however, was a totally avoidable train-wreck, which turned fatal.
This section will get a bit technical; non-poker diehards can skip to bottom...
When play folded to me in the Cutoff with A9cc, I made a standard open to 300 with blinds at 50/100. I had a stack of 15,000 and all players involved had me covered.
The table's most aggressive player called on the button, and another active player called in the big blind.
The flop fell As Th 6d
What I did: The big blind checked, I checked and the button bet 700. The big blind called and I called.
Why: The button had been very active at our table and I thought he would nearly always bet on an A-high flop after I checked. I was being tricky, under-representing my hand. When the big blind called the buttons bet, I felt he was weak. I was confident I had the best hand on a non-threatening board.
What I should have done: I've just flopped top pair in a three-way pot on a dry board after opening pre-flop. Bet you idiot!
Why: So that weaker hands don't get a chance to draw out on you.
The turn was a 9... so the board now read AT69. Now there are two spades on the board and I have two pair.
What I did:The big blind took charge now, betting 2.2k into a 3k pot on the turn. I raised to 5.8k then called his all in after the button folded. I busted out of the tournament when he flipped over 99.
Why: Because I wasn't thinking straight. In my fuzzy thinking, I thought I had the best hand and didn't want him to draw out on me on an increasingly dangerous board.
What I should have done:
CALL. This is a pretty clear call. It's highly unlikely that the big blind would turn his hand into a bluff here, or even lead into this pot with some sort of semi-bluff-draw combo. But he would play all his sets like this + 78 and hands like 9T, AT and 69 suited. I'm not doing very well against that range. Frankly, the raise if awful.
If I called, I would likely pay out another big bet on the river, but I wouldn't go broke.
I returned on Monday afternoon to watch former Norwegian pro Espen Myrmo put on a masterclass of closing out a tournament. The softly spoken 28-year old is an online poker giant (online name: locomi) and in 2015 won a SCOOP Sunday million for $236,000 and a Pot-Limit Omaha tournament for $73,000 on the same day.
He 'hardly plays' anymore, and is now studying history in Norway, but had popped across to New Zealand to celebrate his dad's 60th birthday.
Myrmo held a huge 3-1 chip advantage over second place when the final table started, and took home the $40k first place prize in under three hours. Myrmo beat Auckland local Sarah Saifi heads-up for the win, but I have a feeling it won't be the last we see of her.
It was Saifi's first 'four figure' buy-in tournament, and she has been playing poker for just three years. But she produced three days of professional-level aggression and timing, to win $26,000 and impressed everyone with her confidence and presence at the table.
"A lot of people think woman poker players are weak, and I let them think that," said Saifi after the tournament. "But we're not. I use that to my advantage."
I played with Saifi during my short-termed stay in the main event, and definitely did not think of her as weak. But as the saying goes, if you can't spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker.
The next major tournament series at Sky City casino will be in June, with a $2,200 Main Event. More details here.
Other notable hand:
Three players limp in at 50/100. I make it 650 on the button with ATcc.
Small blind calls, UTG +2 calls.
Flop T68hh. Small blind moves all in for 10k. I have him covered. I fold.
Analysis: I hadn't played with this player before, but I had seen this move by weaker players in the live scene. He acted so quickly, my feeling was that he had an over pair and was trying to make his hand look weak. I felt I was behind.
My suspicions were somewhat confirmed when I saw him pull the same move on an 8 high board a few orbits later with QQ.
*Steven was invited to play the Main Event at the Festival of Poker by Sky City.