Sometimes you just have it. It can’t be explained, you just know when it hits you. So here is a story about playing a tournament in the zone.
The place was jamming. We had to add an 11th seat to every table. I was the lucky duck who was assigned to the only Stud table left in the room, in seat 11. So I was practically sitting on the dealer’s lap, and the guy to my right.
My first table was full of such newbies that I was stunned. This was the greenest crowd I’d seen since playing in their morning tourney. I mean, literally, “How much can I bet?” almost every hand, although they had been told it was a NLHE tournament at least twenty times. We barely got any hands during the hour and few minutes before our table was broken.
At one point, a guy at our table got a little belligerent He was in a hand with two others, and a straight was rivered. He said, “There is a straight on board, it’s a split pot!” before any action had taken place. Cheryl reminded him, politely, that he is not allowed to read the board to the other players in the hand when there has been no action. He rudely told her he could say whatever he wanted to say, and that there was no way she could stop him. She froze, then said sternly, “No you cannot, Sir, and if you would like me to call the floor-man he can explain the rules to you.” He shut up.
I felt good about this tourney from the start. It wasn’t solely my first table, it was just that I was “in the zone.”
A lot of people don’t understand the phrase “in the zone.” They think when you are in the zone, you are winning. Yeah, sometimes that is the case, but it’s more than just winning the coin-flips and getting lucky, it is mostly about having a very good sense of what is going on, and playing perfectly, trusting your judgment and making the correct moves based on what you know to be absolutely true. You can be “in the zone” and still lose, but you know you had it right. When he turns over his cards, cursing and steaming because you got him to call all-in when you had a virtual lock, then he hits some miracle one-outer, you are still “in the zone” regardless that you lost that hand. He was at the mercy of the cards, the mercy of luck…you weren’t.
Anyway, I only played one hand to the river at my first table (besides hands in the blind that were checked all the way down, lol). I had AQo, flopped top pair, a queen, and bet out. Eventually my two opponents folded, but I knew I was playing very well, because one of them said that he absolutely knew I was bluffing, but couldn’t make the call because it would take almost all of his chips to do it. The other guy wholeheartedly agreed with him, saying that I definitely didn’t have anything, but he couldn’t make the call, either, the bet was too big. :)
I got moved to table 2, which would be the very next to break, but that was okay. My table included a great floor-man named Billy and the ex CRM of the Riverside, “Bear.” I could tell a million stories about Bear, but I’ll save that for another time. Suffice it to say, he is very loose, very aggressive, and oftentimes has no feel for where he is in the hand, just ramming and jamming it home. He uses extreme intimidation to get an opponent to do what he wants. Sometimes he wins, sometimes he loses. He isn’t really a bad player, he just doesn’t always have a feel for where he is, because he is so focused on domination and getting his opponents off of a hand.
Anyway, I got to take the BB almost right away, lucky me. It was passed to the button, who was a neophyte and didn’t raise, simply limped in. Yeah, big mistake #1. The SB was so tight he folded shorthanded, and I simply checked with J6o. I could tell the button was very new and naive, and that I could manipulate him into not betting into me, or calling me if I hit, if I played correctly. So I did a little acting job. When the dealer said it was only the blind and the button in the hand (he has all kinds of different little “sayings” when he is dealing, so I used this to my advantage), I said, “Just me and him? Oh, no! I’m not gonna look!” I put my hands over my eyes, turned my head, and looked directly at him, instead. Everyone was laughing and I tried to get him laughing along with me. I rattled him so badly that he checked after my dark check. I barely opened my hands, like a little kid peeking at a horror film, and gave the flop a nano-second of my time before looking back at him. The flop gave me some potential, if I could keep him checking. I believe it was Q97 or something similar. I did my little song and dance, checking again on the turn, which caused him to check after me. I glanced back at the flop and saw I was open ended with my six, because the turn brought an eight. On the river, I once again kept my eyes on him, instead of the board. I knew he’d caught. He didn’t want to check anymore. I didn’t know what he caught, but it seemed big enough for him to give himself away. I had already checked without looking, so I was able to keep my eyes glued on him. He bet 5k. Then I looked at the board. I’d caught my gut-shot for the higher straight, a ten. Perfect. I took a few seconds to study the board, like I was seeing it for the first time. I had no need to look back at him, but still wanted to convince him to call my all-in check-raise, so I acted. It’s totally juvenile. This stuff would never work on an experienced player. But he was so green. So I said, “Well, I might as well go all-in now” or something to that affect. He called almost instantly. I showed my jack. He showed A6s. He was confused, pointing out to the dealer that we both had a six. The dealer read my hand for him again, and he was crushed.
As the pot was pushed my way, Bear said, “Ah, pennies from heaven!” The button still had about 1500 in chips, so he wasn’t eliminated, just severely crippled.
Not long after that, our table broke and I was sent to another.
My next table was horrible. I didn’t stay there long, as our table got broken. I did manage to stay on par by stealing before the flop with Kings after a few limpers.
Finally I got moved to the final table, so I was assured I wouldn’t be moved again, lol. I was in seat three. Darren, a dealer I like who won the main event at the Orleans Open a few years ago for over 100k was at my table. He and I were about even.
So things went well there. I doubled through Darren when I had TT against his 44. I was up to about 30k in chips. I was joking around with everyone and still felt “in the zone.” I never made an error, and my reads were very good. I knew that even if I busted out, I would have had a huge ego win.
We got down to 13, I believe. Seven on our table, six on the other. The blinds were 3/6k and moving up in about five minutes.
I was in the cutoff. I had just paid the blinds, so a chunk was taken out of my stack, although I did steal once in that rotation with Q8s.
The hand was passed to me. I looked down to see ATo. I said raise, but hadn’t decided how much to raise. I only had about 5x the BB (and actually had a lot of chips, lol, maybe the average stack at that point). So I decided to just go all-in, since raising was only going to cripple me and leave me vulnerable to being outplayed on the flop.
The button mucked, as did the SB, who is very tight. The BB was a guy probably 85 years old or so. He is a horrible player, but not completely atrocious. This time he decided to be completely atrocious. He didn’t even take much time, but called rapidly, leaving himself with only about one 5k chip and a few 1k’s. I figured I was sunk, that he’d woken up to any pair, or a better ace than mine.
I was shocked, as was the rest of the table, when he turned over T5o. Yes, I really did say TEN, FIVE offsuit. No, it wasn’t a mistake, although I thought it must be at first. Everyone at the table was like, “OMG, wth?” Someone asked him why he would want to double up one of the best players. Darren looked at me like the guy had been smoking crack. I just shrugged and smiled happily. A very tight player in the SB asked, “What are you doing??? Did you misread your hand?” The elderly man didn’t answer, just sat silent. A player who is such a rock that he makes me look like a maniac started laughing and said, “Dang, you are so lucky! How did you get that call?”
Everyone was laughing, even the dealer chuckled when he announced AT versus T5.
I wasn’t sure what he was thinking, but figured it out as soon as the flop came down. T5x. Suddenly the man looked venomously at me and threw his arms in the air like Rocky XXXIV. He started yelling, “YES, YES! TWO PAIR! YES! I got her!”
The board never paired (which would have given me a higher two pair). The fourth club never came (there were three clubs on the board and I had a club in my hand), nor did the magical ace appear.
The dealer said he was sorry to me as I got up. I laughed and said it was no problem, I would take that call any day, and how lucky I was to get a call like that, where I had my opponent so completely dominated. The dealer said, “Yeah, I hear you. Thanks for always taking bad beats so well,” or something to that affect.
I just laughed as everyone was consoling me on my way out. I didn’t even care. I had my “ego win,” playing perfectly and always knowing where I was. I got calls the whole night when I wanted them, yet got folds when I was bluffing. I played very well, better than I have in months, and I have no regrets whatsoever. Yeah, big deal, the $1500 might not be in my pocket this morning, but I outplayed my opponents and “won.”
That’s playing in the zone.