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By Terrence "VP Pappy" Murphy

"If you are constantly in need of divine intervention in the form of a miracle draw when playing poker, you are probably headed for poker hell."
--VP Pappy

It was a dark and stormy night when someone said, "Murph, let's play some poker!" ...err... wait, wrong story.

I'm sitting at a table with two other poker players and of course, old VP Pappy, my invisible mentor and advisor in all things related to gambling. We are all that's left of about 80 starting players in a charity poker tournament. I'm in second place with about $10,000 in chips. A pretty blond woman on my right has about $4,000 in chips. She's just barely hanging on, but then again, she's been just barely hanging on all night and has made it this far. The leader has all the rest of the chips, an almost impossible amount to overcome. I'm basically, just playing for the second place money as his lead looks almost impossible to overcome. Now, if I can just get rid of this pesky woman I'll be happy with the second place money.

The blinds (the two antes) are at $500 and $1000. I'm the big blind so there goes another grand. The deal gives me a 10-6 unsuited and I fold as the woman goes all-in yet again for the umpteenth time. The chip leader calls with a pair of nines and the woman pairs a Jack on the last card, (the river card) wins and doubles her chip stack. The next hand I have to fold two low cards and the blond wins that one also. The next hand she goes all-in and the chip leader and I both fold. I'm getting terrible starting cards and have to fold once more as the blinds begin to eat into my stack. Three hands later she is all in and gets called by the leader. Surely she can't keep pulling rabbits out of the hat forever. But, once again she gets lucky and wins getting trips on the river. "Jeez! How in hell does she keep doing that?" I say to VP Pappy. I'm in third place now with a dwindling stack of chips and have to take a different approach to the game. VP whispers in my ear, "You idiot! I told you, waiting for her to lose all her money was a lousy strategy. Now look where you're at. You should be attacking!" Maybe VP is right. I have been playing a little more conservatively, contrary to my usual style, at this last table and have paid for it. I think back to how I got to this perilous position in the tournament and what could I have done differently?.

"What I like best about poker is the chance to indulge my predatory side."
--Jay Lovinger

Until a few years ago, big-money poker games, let alone poker tournaments, were border-line criminal activities that were held under a vial of secrecy to avoid the police. Today, there are ads in the newspapers, radio, TV, and on the Internet about upcoming poker events. Not only are the games no longer secret or criminal, but the people involved with them are some of the most respected names in gambling. People like Doyle Brunson, Phil Hellmuth, Amarillo Slim, and other big-name poker players, readily lend their names to tournaments and web sites advertising the game. A lot of private clubs like the Eagles, Lions and Elks are using these tournaments to raise money for their various benevolent projects. I myself, run poker tournaments for the Rochester Elks here in Michigan and have had good results with them raising badly needed revenue for the club.

I've been playing poker, in one form or another, since I was a kid growing up in Mt. Clemens, Michigan back in the early '50s and have always done well at it. Today, I play occasionally at the casinos in Detroit and elsewhere and have been doing ok for myself, although I wouldn't want to try to make a living at it. Recently, my friend Roger from work, kept bugging me to play in a charity Texas Hold'em poker tournament that was going to take place in his small town of Armada here in Michigan. I play in the occasional tournament periodically just to see where my game is at and I've had some success, but mostly I'll finish out of the money, which I suspect is the case with most tournament players. I agreed to play and said I would meet him there on the night of the event.

It's Saturday and I'm on my way to Armada, Michigan to play in the Texas Hold'em poker tournament with my friend Roger. I gotta listen to some music on the way to get me into a winning frame of mind. I reach behind my car seat and feel a bunch of CDs in a pile back there. I grab one and it's Christina Aguilera's " Stripped" album of 2002. In the song "Walk Away" I hear these words reminding me of a few times I've gotten in over my head and played high stakes poker with people who were better than me and paid dearly for it.

Walk Away

By Christina Aguilera

"I need to get away from it

I need to walk away from it

Get away, walk away, walk away

I should have known

I was used for amusement

Couldn't see through the smog

It was all an illusion"

When I get to the hall where the tournament is being held, I head for the registration table and pay the $50 buy in fee. Charity poker events, at least the ones held here in Michigan, are limited to a $500 max pay out to any one person, so my $50 buy in is a ten to one ratio to the first place price money, which is about the most I would pay for that low a prize, even for charity. This tournament is going to be tough to cash out with any money as they are only paying three places. $500, $300 and $100 for first, second and third. Only for a charity tournament would I waste my time and money playing in this type of event.

While waiting for Roger to show up and the event to start in about a half hour, I get a Bushmills and soda from the bar and wander around talking to other players. Yes, I know that alcohol and poker don't mix, but who cares for a lousy $50. And besides, it all goes to a charity. In this case, a Knight's of Columbus lodge that does good things in the Armada community. One more whiskey and soda and I'm feeling just about right, bad, bold and brash. In these short, fast tournaments, you want to get off to a good start quickly and build up your stack size when most players are usually playing tentatively. I normally do most of my bluffing early in the tournament and pre-flop when the blinds are small and before the other players get a line on me. I spot Roger and we both wish each other good luck as we head to our assigned tables.

"Yes, I am capable of folding 1,000 hands in a row if it is right to do so."
--Phil Gordon

The first hand of the night gives me a pair of sixes in middle position and since no one has called yet, I raise it three times the big blind. Everyone folds. Three hands later I raise it again with A-Q in early position and again everyone folds. I'm getting way too much respect here, someone eventually will make a stand against me. A couple of hands later I get a pair of sevens and stubbornly push them all the way to the river against one player who keeps calling and beats me with a higher pair. I sheepishly show my lowly pair and say out loud for everyone to hear, "Great call, you caught me that time." The other players smile and nod to one another and I know that I will get a few more callers the next time I raise like that. But, I won't be pushing garbage hands like low pairs very often. After that, I'll mostly play much tighter poker and I'll make sure that I have something before trying to go after a pot again.

I blitz through the first table as the chip leader and I'm moved to another one with about three times as many chips as I started with. A good start, but I was lucky that the first table was composed mostly of young guys who didn't seem too sure of themselves and were easily pushed around. There also was this pretty blond women at the table who seemed to be very lucky, So far she has been hitting the card she needed almost every time she called or raised. She was accumulating a lot of chips, but also giving a lot of them right back as she was playing way too many hands. We were both moved to another table and I didn't expect to see her again knowing the way she played.

At the second table I ran into a couple of better players who were smart enough to raise me right back now and then when I went after their blinds with so-so hands. I folded if they did that, but eventually caught some good hands and burned them a couple of times when they thought I was trying to steal again. This was a pattern that served me well the rest of the night.

"Poker is the only game that I know of where being good at lying and stealing are respected attributes."
--VP Pappy

It seemed like most of the players at the tables were drinking beer as fast as the waitresses could bring them over. They were only charging a dollar a mug, which was a good bargain at most any other place, but here it was costing them the $50 entry fee as it was affecting their play. Small straights, trips, two pairs, and high pairs were the hands that I was holding most of the time and I pushed them for all I was worth until I was raised back. In fact, the best hand I got all night was an ace high straight that I slow played (very risky) and busted two guys who had lower straights. Never have I won so many chips with so few decent hands in such a short time in a tournament before and I sure as hell hope It doesn't happen that way again. A couple of great (the nuts, which means the best hand possible) or near great hands would have been a nice, relaxing couple of moments in the event. Instead, it was work, work, work all night.

'You can't devote just part of your brain to poker. You have to devote all of it, or the job does not get done."
--John Vorhaus

Roger came over to watch me play for a while as he had just been bounced out of the tournament on an all-in attempt that failed. He said he never did get more than a few good hands all night and seemed to start out on a table with better players than I did.

Two hours later and we are now down to just a couple of tables and I'm trying to hang on to my chips to make it to the final table where the real tournament begins. I win two nice sized pots with trips and two pair, then lose a dumb sorta-bluff with a pair of eights for $800 when some guy hangs with me with a pair of fours and hits a four on the river. I hate when that happens! A couple more sorta-silly plays like that and I'll be broke also. I never get upset at setbacks like that. With me, it's no big deal. I expect those kinds of things to happen all the time in poker. Nothing upsets VP and me at a poker table unless I spill a drink that I've paid for. Hey, those things cost real money and you can't pay for them with chips.

At this table the other players were doing a better job of protecting their blinds. Whenever I had two or three players to my left and no callers to my right, I usually put in a three or four times the big blind raise unless I had absolutely nothing. Most of the time, they folded and for the times when they raised me back, I folded. I win another big pot on an all-in bluff with a pair of nines when everyone folds. Whew! That was close. For the next 20 hands or so, I get garbage and fold. During this dry spell, I get a chance to relax between hands a bit and look around the hall. I notice all the players that are getting knocked out of the tournament and are just standing around watching. Twenty minutes later, all the people who are left are moved to the final table of nine players and one of me. Yea team!

"Having a lot of experience playing poker is a valuable tool. It allows you to recognize your mistakes when you make them again."
--VP Pappy

At the final table, who do I meet again but the pretty blond still with a small pile of chips. I don't know how she made it this far. I really never expected to see her again, what with her penchant for going all-in with practically nothing, but here she is. A couple of hands later, three players go all-in including the woman, and guess who won? You guessed it, the blond again. But, how she did it was remarkable. She called an all-in with a nine and ten of clubs and after the six and seven of clubs hit the board, she gets the eight of clubs on the river for a straight flush beating a high flush and straight. I just shook my head in amazement along with the rest of the people at the table. After stealing a couple of blinds again and winning on a hand that I should have lost when I hit a low inside straight on the river holding 4-5 suited, (I should have lost that one) we were down to the final three players after another all-in took two more players out of the competition. Let the game begin!

Besides the blond, the chip leader was another player who was at the first table where I started. Very strange that three of us from that first table should all make it this far, especially since the chip leader was showing his cards a lot of the times when he won. I think he thought it was a good strategy. Never, never, ever, ever show your cards when you win unless you absolutely have to. The less information your opponents get from you the better it is to hide your style of play.

After looking at all the chips that the leader had, I decided that unless I got a great hand, to get out of the way of the lucky blond as she was bound to lose sooner or later and just be happy with the second place money. Wrong! She kept winning chips from the leader on lucky draws over and over again until my chips were down to a couple of big blinds. I couldn't wait any longer or the blinds would break me. So, on the next hand I went all-in with A-7 of hearts. Not a bad hand for this late in the tournament. Naturally the woman goes all-in with me and the chip leader folds. She calls me with 10-3 of clubs so I was feeling pretty good about the draw. The flop gave neither of us anything and ditto the next card. If she doesn't get lucky again on the last card I would double my stack and have some chips to maneuver with against the chip leader. But alas, a three falls on the river giving her a pair of threes and I'm history. A third place finish is not bad out of about 80 players, but it still hurts a little bit not to win

"People tell me that if I hit a $100 million lottery, I'd still come in and play poker. I probably would."
--Kathy Hulbert

Now it was just two players left and they went at it over and over again until the blond was almost even in chips with the leader. Even the chip leader had to laugh at her uncanny luck. Then, finally, both of them got all their chips in the middle of the table for the all-in showdown hand. Winner takes all. You probably guessed what happened. The woman hit a flush on the last card to claim the win. Everyone standing around the table started high-fiving one another and laughing as she walked off with the $500 first place money leaving the loser to just sit there, shacking his head and wondering what the hell happened.

Yes, good poker consists of math, odds and skill. And yes, usually the best and smartest poker player wins. And yes, you can only make so many "all-ins" before dumb luck falls on the other guy knocking you out of the tournament...But not this time. I'm guessing that the woman must have gone all-in 25 to 30 times during the tournament and managed somehow to win all of them. Overall, it's much better to be lucky than skillful.

"Winning is just a temporary loan from Lady Luck. Continue to gamble and she will call in her marker."
--VP Pappy