When Harrah’s St. Louis hosted the town’s first-ever World Series Of Poker Circuit event last month, one of the pros who traveled to play in its championship event was Bernard Lee, co-host of ESPN.com’s Inside Deal. While there, Dennis Phillips and I had him on our poker show, The Final Table, and since Bernard has signed an endorsement deal with Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut, he invited us to come play their MegaStack Challenge this week.

We accepted, and got here Wednesday night, along with several hundred poker players from all over New England. Kevin Schaffel, one of the 2009 WSOP November Nine, came up from Florida, and my brother-in-law Stuart came down from Boston, too — Stuart and I had first come to Foxwoods on Thanksgiving weekend, 1992, and we’ve been back several times, but this is the first time I’ve ever stayed in their hotel. It’s very nice, especially the high-speed wired internet connection in the room.

On Thursday, we all entered the $560 buy-in event, which had a terrific structure — 20,000 chips, 50-minute rounds, and lots of levels — so we could play some real, deep-stack tournament poker. Or at least, most of us, could.

Unfortunately, Stuart only lasted 14 minutes. He raised with a pair of tens and got a few callers. The flop was ten-seven-seven, giving him a full house. He bet and got one caller. Stuart was hoping the guy had a seven, so he could get lots of chips out of him. The turn card as an ace, which seemed to make things better, because it was likely that the other player had called pre-flop with ace-seven, and now he’d have the smaller full house. Stuart bet and the guy called. The river was a three, which changed nothing. Stuart bet again and the other player raised. Sure that the other player didn’t have pocket aces for the bigger full house, Stuart re-raised. The guy re-re-raised. That’s when Stuart went all-in and the other guy insta-called. He didn’t have a seven. He didn’t have two aces. He had two sevens, making quads, and knocking Stuart out of the tournament completely.


Fortunately, I did a little bit better. I played well, caught some cards, stole some pots when I didn’t have a hand, laid down a lot of hands, and played patiently. After 14 hours, Day One was over, and I was 10th in chips out of 61 remaining. We had started with 415 players, and the top 45 would get paid, so we still had a ways to go.

Today at noon, we returned to play Day 2. I chipped up from 194,000 to about 300,000 in the first two rounds by playing small-ball poker. Then I went completely card dead for two hours. Couldn’t get a hand or an opportunity to make a move.

Meanwhile, other players were being eliminated. We busted the bubble at 45, so we were all going to make at least a little bit of money, and then we were down to 3 tables. I was moved to the toughest table in the room, with six stacks bigger than mine, including a couple with close to a million in chips (out of 8 million total). I couldn’t do anything but bob and weave a little to steal some blinds and antes and tread water. The fact that I was playing so few hands meant I got some respect when I raised from late position a few times (with as small a hand as 33), and no one played back at me.

When we got down to 15, I made a major mistake. The chip leader, who was fairly active, raised in early position, which didn’t necessarily mean he had a big hand. I’d seen him do it with any face card a few times. It was folded around to me on the button and I looked down at 77. I decided to make a stand and called. The flop was KQ3. Not good for me, but because I had position on him, I thought I might be able to make a play. He bet, and I called, planning to take it away from him on the turn. The next card was an ace, which I thought was perfect for my plan, especially when he checked. I put out a big bet and he instantly announced “all-in.” Whoops! That backfired. I couldn’t possibly call with just a pair of sevens on a KQ3A board, so I folded.

Since I hadn’t seen his cards, I tried to get some information. I said, “That ace got you another 140,000.” He said, “Why, what was the kicker with your king?” I said, “I didn’t have a king.” He replied, “Then I had you.” That told me that my plan had been correct, trying to represent a big hand with an ace on the turn, but he had shoved with something like king-jack or king-ten, not believing I had an ace.

I was steamed. Fortunately, I knew it, and didn’t let it affect the way I played the next few hands — they were junk and I just folded. But by this time my stack was so short (around 240,000 vs. average chips of 630,000) and the blinds were 12,000/24,000, that I’d have to make a move soon.

Meanwhile, a couple of other short stacks went bust, which moved me up two notches on the payout scale. With 11 players left and only six at my table, the big stack again raised in early position and no one else called. I had ace-five offsuit. Figuring he might be making a move with king- or queen-high, I went all-in. He insta-called with a pair of eights. The board didn’t bring me an ace, and I was out.

It wasn’t the big payday I had hoped for, but except for that one slip-up towards the end, I had played well for 24 hours over two days and was proud of that. This makes four deep runs in tournaments this year (15th in Tunica, 14th in Biloxi, 5th at the WSOPC, and 11th here), which is nothing to be ashamed of. I received congratulations from Dennis, Stuart, Bernard, and Kevin — all of whom had to also pay me for winning our last-longer bet, which also felt good.

So, what do you do after two marathon days of tournament poker like that? I’m gonna get some rest and go back tomorrow for the $1,650 buy-in MegaStack event.

This time, I won’t overplay my pocket sevens.

You can follow the Foxwoods tournament action on their official blog here.