Vegas or Bust: A Colossal Undertaking

I walked into the Amazon ballroom and found my seat at table Orange 392 for the Colossus, a $565 buy-in tournament that effectively kicked off the 2016 edition of the World Series of Poker. Directly in front of me hung the banner of 2006 WSOP Main Event winner Jamie Gold, seemingly mocking me with his big smile as he draped his body over fat stacks of cash, part of the $12 million he won for first place, or $11,983,507 more than I got for finishing 770th that year. Even the chip sets are the same -- while the WSOP has a new chip set for bigger buy-in events, it still uses the old chips we played with in 2006 for the Colossus and other smaller events.

With the growth of the WSOP into the nearby conference rooms, 2006 was the last time I'd played a tournament in the Amazon ballroom as it's generally used for more star-studded tournaments.

The few times I'd had the opportunity to play bracelet events at the WSOP in the past decade I never lasted more than a few hours.

Today, thankfully, would be different.

My starting table seemed full of competent, if probably not pro, players. I didn't recognize anyone there, though having not kept as close a watch on the game as in the past I probably couldn't pick out half the big names of today's tournament poker world. Perhaps ignorance is bliss, as it's impossible to be intimidated by someone you don't know. It became evident, anyway, that there were no superstars of the game at the table over the first few hours, as I was the most aggressive player there, raising the blinds and taking down the antes with more regularity than anyone else. Had there been a pro there, he'd have played back at me with more reraises.

Many consider this the best way to play these events: make lots of small bets or raises, win lots of small pots and increase your chip count slowly. If you happen to get in a big pot, be pretty sure you've got the best of it. Make small bluffs, and rarely make big ones.

That's the strategy to which I tried to adhere, but I forgot one rule, which I would later write in my notebook as "STOP SLOWPLAYING!" In an early pot, I called a raise in the big blind with 2-2, and the flop came 9-9-2. The initial raiser bet, a player on the button called and I also called. A turn jack was checked around and I bet on the river four and was called only by the button player, who flashed a 9. Had I played the hand aggressively I might have taken his entire stack rather than a small pot. I also gave him a free chance to outdraw me and make a bigger full house, which could have cost me my tournament life.

After that hand I vowed to do better.

I texted Amy after the first break to report the good news that I had increased my starting stack of 5,000 chips to more than 14,000. She texted back with better news: she found a shaded playground for the kids.

During the next level I look down to find A-A in the small blind and reraise to 3,200 an initial 1,300 raise from a guy in hoodie and sunglasses, practically the avid poker player's uniform these days. He folds, but plays back at me a few hands later. I hold A-Q and raise to 1,600 from the button, he makes it 4,300 from the big blind and I decide to got for it by pushing all in for about 16,000. He thinks awhile, finally folding.

In the past, I probably would have laid down the A-Q, but this summer, Johnny Kampis the Poker Player 2.0, with his new, more aggressive style, is going for it.

That would later prove to be my undoing much later in the day, when, having already made the money, I was short on chips with only 42,000 at the 3,000-6,000 blind level. I pushed all in with the 4-6 of clubs, hoping to take the blinds and antes, but the big blind held A-K, quickly called and eliminated me.

It wasn't the $1 million for first place, but the $1,697 I got for finishing 210th in the final flight of the Colossus is a good start to the summer.