When I told friends that I was playing in a $2,500 buy-in poker tournament at Sky City casino last weekend, responses were divided into two distinct camps.
There was the "OMG what a waste of money" reaction, contrasted with a cheery "that's so awesome, how much will you get if you win?"
The answer was $132,000 and as I took my seat on day 1 of the New Zealand Poker Tour Main Event in Auckland, I dared to dream.
A deposit on a house? A nice long overseas holiday? Maybe a spa pool? Perhaps I could even tell the boss what he could do with his Sunday shifts.
I really felt like this was my time and great things were just around the corner.
Just under two hours later I was the second person eliminated from the three day tournament.
I was stunned, sad and frustrated by my bust-out hand, but I wouldn't have done anything differently.
Aussie poker player wins $111,600
Here is the short tale of my main event:
10.15am: I take my seat at table nine and find a NZPT gift bag waiting for me. It includes a cap, a NZPT schedule, two $10 casino chip vouchers and some other promotional pamphlets. Good solid start, already $20 up without playing a hand.
10.40am: I look down at two Aces and with blinds at 50/100 announce a raise to 300. Three people call and the flop comes down 4 K 9. 'Great flop' I think as I make a continuation bet* of 500. But to my shock I realize that I have instead bet with a 5000 chip, aka a quarter of my starting 20,000 stack. Oh boy. A few lads at the table ask if I'm an idiot or if I'm trying to get tricky. I declare that I am indeed an idiot. Slowly but surely they all fold, but I have no idea what I would have done if someone had raised. Poor start - must do better.
12.15pm: It's the last hand before the first break and my stack has dwindled slightly to 17,800 from a few unremarkable hands. I gaze down at two Kings and with blinds now at 100/200 make a raise to 500 (correctly this time). It folds around to an old Maori gentleman (OMG) on the button* who has more chips than me and makes the call.
The flop comes down 6 (spades) K (diamonds) 8 (spades).
'Boom, I have the nuts*' I think as I bet 650 into the pot of 1300. OMG thinks for a bit before shifting in his seat and without making eye contact, announces a raise to 5000.
His raise was ginormous and it made a number of statements. 1) He wanted me to fold, 2) He had a good hand and 3) He likely was not going to be folding to a re-raise.
Any semi-competent poker player could decipher from these three clues that he was most likely on a draw, so I had to make it as expensive as possible for him to continue the chase.
I moved all-in, a raise of nearly 13,000 more and OMG sat there a little stunned. After about a minute of thinking about it he made the call with A9 of spades (the nut flush draw).
I was about a 70% favourite to win the hand here, as OMG only had eight cards left in the deck to hit his flush, and I could still make a full house if the board paired.
A good poker friend suggested I could have called his re-raise, then re-evaluated if a spade hit the turn. It's a more risk-averse line to take, but I think there's a good chance that if a spade doesn't come on the turn, I wouldn't get all his chips. And as a 70% favourite, I have to push that edge.
After a long pause the dealer dropped the bomb and my stomach churned a little as OMG's flush* came in on the river*.
The dream was over, I was out.
12.20pm: I cash in my two $10 chip vouchers and head to the black jack table. I lose two hands in a row and decide it's time to go home.
Despite my early exit, I had a great time playing in New Zealand's biggest poker tournament and I am already looking forward to the next one. I think it is arguably one of the best poker tournaments in the world.
New Zealand's geography is the main reason for this on both a micro and macro level.
Aside from a few exceptions, the NZPT Main Event only attracts New Zealanders and Australians. In Europe for example, a large number of travelling pros attend events at venues spanning the continent. The results of this are quite Darwinian. Over the years, amateurs have been forced to get better or quit. The same rings true online, but New Zealand due to it's pub poker culture and geological isolation remains in a poker bubble.
And wIth such a high percentage of the NZPT field qualifying through local satellite tournaments, it is a great investment for all players.
The tournament is also exceptionally well run, with clued up floor staff and dealers and the nine day Festival of Poker was executed like a well-oiled machine.
Aussie poker pro Minh Nguyen eventually outlasted the other 224 entrants to take home a nice six-figure pay-day, though the last few hands were played in rather unorthodox fashion.
Nguyen held a commanding 3-1 chip lead over 24-year old Kiwi poker professional Thomas Ward at the start of heads up* play, but when the chip counts became even, both pros decided to make a private deal.
Instead of risking the giant $50,000 pay jump between first and second place, both players agreed that Ward would take home $104,000 while Nguyen would take $101,600, and they would play for an extra $10,000.
But instead of playing skillfully, both players decided to blindly go all-in for the title, and after four hands Nguyen was announced the winner.
I bet the $2500 buy in doesn't now seem like a waste of money to Nguyen and Ward's friends.
Glossary for the poker illiterate:
Continuation bet - If a player bets in an earlier round and then bets again in the current one, this is called a continuation bet since it continues the aggression from the previous round.
Button - The button or dealer button is a chip that shows who the current dealer is. The position where the dealer sits is also called the button. We also say that the dealer is on the button.
Nuts - The 'nuts' is the best possible hand in any given situation.
Flush - A flush is a poker hand consisting of five cards of the same suit.
River - The fifth and final board card in Hold'em is called the river or 5th street.
Heads up - A poker game between just two players is called heads-up.
To use in a sentence: I had the nuts, so I made a continuation bet, but the bloke on the button re-raised and hit his flush on the river.
Final table payouts:
1 Minh Nguyen $111,600
2 Thomas Ward $104,000
3 William Rogers $47,100
4 Jesse McKenzie $38,000
5 Sam Williams $31,500
6 Michael Guzzardi $26,500
7 Dean Blatt $21,500
8 Ben Rendall $16,500
9 Stephen Thompson $12,500