This week the Heartland Poker Tour is running an event in Las Vegas. I decided to take a run at this when I saw the event announced a few months ago. They basically have a three tiered structure to the event. Single table satellites lead to qualifiers, qualifiers lead to the main event. There are two different structures for the qualifiers, $130 buy in with the top 10% of the entrants getting seats and $250 buy in with the top 20% getting seats. After looking at the different structures, I decided that the $250 was the best way to go and that I should skip the satellites altogether.
I played in my first qualifier Tuesday night. I was a little nervous going in as I'd never attempted to play in anything but Vegas daily tournaments before. As play started, I was observing what was going on and began to get more comfortable seeing nothing that was too out of line with the type of play I had seen before. I was able to double up early with a couple big hands and chipped up a bit more as stealing opportunities arose. People seemed to really not want to get in against the bigger stack. Then .... (warning, bad beat stories ahead - I know bad beat stories suck, but hey this is my blog)
The first thing that happened was being on the wrong end of AA v KK against a short stack, but that didn't take too many of my chips. A few hands later, I picked up KcQs in the hijack and made a standard raise. The button called and everyone else folded. The flop came KdQhXd. I led for about 2/3 the pot and the button raised a healthy amount. I took some time - he had a good sized stack, but I had him covered, I thought there was a good chance I could knock him out here. I 3-bet, and he hesitated a moment and shoved. I snap called and rolled top two. Rather then rolling the AK I expected to see, the button rolled over KhJd. I had him dead to either two running jacks or two running diamonds. The turn was not a jack, but it was a diamond. It seemed to take an eternity for the dealer to roll the river - a diamond. Wow.
That left me with 7 big blinds and looking for a hand to shove. The next hands I had two face cards and put my tournament life on the line. I got called in two spots and tripled up when I rivered trip jacks. Then a few hands later I doubled up when my A10 held against Arag. I was now sitting at just under the starting stack and was left with about 13 blinds. I was able to chip up some more by shoving playable hands and taking the blinds - it was a pretty passive table.
Right after that, our table broke and I was seated immediately to the right of a big stack, probably around 40k after starting at 10k. As expected, this player was very aggressive. He frequently three bet when there was a raise in front of him often taking the pot down preflop. When he did see a flop he would keep firing till his opponent would fold. It was clear that he felt that with his stack he could simply run the table over and I was sure his range was wide. This was confirmed when he shoved post flop against another big stack. The other guy called with an underpair of deuces and aggro player had shoved A5 with no pair. The board bricked off and agro player was now down to about 10 big blinds. Considering that aggro player was probably pretty close to what average chips would be when the 20 % mark was hit, that was certainly a questionable play. I knew that if I played a big hand in a way that looked weak, he wouldn't be able to resist going after me.
I kept place with the blinds and antes by shoving (I hadn't made any bet other than all-in since getting moved to that table) and eventually looked down at two black queens on the button. This was the spot. I raised to 3x hoping that it would look like I was trying to steal without risking to much. Aggro player looked at his cards, paused a beat and announced all-in. I snap called and he literally groaned. I rolled my ladies over and he rolled over A6 of diamonds. The board was K82 with no diamonds. The turn was another K and as the dealer got ready to burn a card and put up the river, aggro player said, "nice hand" which was of course promptly followed by an A on the river. I shook his hand and left the table actually feeling pretty good. I could play at this level. I adjusted what I was doing to meet the table conditions and it took some sick beats to get me out. I had already planned that failing to win an entry in this event I would play the Thursday night qualifier. Having observed the play Tuesday there was nothing to discourage me from that plan.
Last night's qualifier didn't start as well for me. I tried a couple of steals, but people caught hands so I tightened up. Then I had a couple of good, but second best hands which altogether ended up cutting my starting stack about in half. I was back in shove or fold mode and was able to make some recovery. I went through an orbit where I couldn't play a hand that left me at 5600 with blinds at 300-600. I was in the BB and watched the table fold around to the button. Button was a young kid who seemed to have some idea about what he was doing and he raised to 1700. SB folded and I looked down at two red kings. I shoved of course and button went into the tank. Obviously he didn't have aces, so I just sat there quietly waiting for his decision. He called after about 1:30. I rolled over the kings and he turned over A2 of clubs. I should mention that the call was probably about 3/4 of his stack. That's just such an ugly call for him because there's just no way he's anything better then flipping with me there. Even if I'm making a move with something like J10 he's not in great shape and any pair or any A has him totally dominated. Of course, I wouldn't be talking about what a horrid call he made unless the hand played out the way it did - at least the dealer made it quick this time with an A in the door. The turn bought a third heart raising my outs from 2 to 11, but alas, the river was a brick and for the second time in three nights I walked out of the tournament room well short of the top 20%.
Unlike the night before this time I felt the full disappointment that usually accompanies a bust out. I think it was because my original plan was to play no more than two of the qualifiers figuring that if I couldn't make it in to the main event in two tries that it wasn't to be. Was this really the end of my Heartland dream?
The last qualifier is tonight, and I think I'm going to take another run at it. On one hand, I don't want to be throwing good money after bad, but on the other hand - I'm confident in my play. I definitely can't say that 20% of the people that I've played against so far have outplayed me, so I do feel like I'm +EV in these. Yeah, I think tonight I'll see if the third time is the charm.