Another in my occasional series of poker stories

A couple of years ago, I spent nine days at the Rio during the World Series Of Poker, mostly playing cash games, but decided to dedicate one day to playing nothing but single table sit-and-go tournaments.

These are cash events that take 90 minutes to two hours each, with ten players around the table paying entry fees of $175 or $325 or $575 or more, depending on which level you want to play. They’re set up as winner-take-all, but in most cases, the final two players split the prize and move on. That was my strategy — get down to heads-up and chop it or, if I got knocked out, go enter another sit-and-go, which were always starting soon.

I was having a good day, having chopped two of the four I’d played, when I sat down for my fifth and final sit-and-go. The entry fee for each was $525, making the prize $5,000 in tournament buy-in chips and $160 in cash. That meant that the house rake on each player’s entry fee (the amount of money the WSOP took off the top) was only $9/each, or less than 2%. I’ve never found a better deal anywhere in tournament poker.

The buy-in chips in the prize were in $500 denominations, so the winner of this sit-and-go would get ten of them, which could only be used to buy into any other tournament at the Rio. But they were easily converted to cash. All I had to do was stand around the line of players buying in for other tournaments and sell them the chips at face value — and there was always someone willing to make the trade.

I was assigned seat 8 at this table and took a look around at my opponents, nodding to three of them I’d played with earlier in other sit-and-go’s. I didn’t recognize any of the rest, but it took me about 15 seconds to profile the guy on my left in seat 9 as the jerk at the table, the whiner who would get annoyed and noisy when things didn’t go his way. That doesn’t bother me, as long as he plays badly — which he did, but he kept getting lucky and knocking out opponents, always with a rude comment about how bad they were and how great he was.

I played my usual game of sitting back at the beginning and then getting aggressive once half the table was gone. It worked and I amassed chips until there were only two of us left — me and the obnoxious guy on my left.

At that point, I asked if he wanted to chop it up and move on. He replied that he’d take 75% and give me 25%. I told him that was ridiculous since we were almost even in chips. He said he was way ahead, but I pointed out that he had 11,000 chips and I had 9,000 chips, a virtual tie. He was such a loose player that I thought I could take him, but with the blinds already quite high and increasing every 15 minutes, all he had to do was get lucky in one hand to bust me. So I would have been happy with half of the prize money.

It’s traditional in these sit-and-go’s that one dealer works the entire tournament, and is rewarded by the winner(s) with a tip of about 3% of the prize money. So I suggested, “Why don’t we split the 5,000, give the dealer the $160, and call it a day?” My opponent said, “No, I don’t tip dealers and I don’t want to chop it!”

Now there were two of us at this table rooting for me.

It took exactly three hands for me to get all of his chips and win. As he angrily pounded the table and shouted a couple of expletives. I calmly pulled out two $100 bills and handed them to the dealer in front of my ex-opponent, who then stormed away cursing to himself. The dealer shook his head and chuckled as he thanked me for the tip and said, “Well played!”

I waited for the sit-and-go supervisor to bring me my winnings, then sold off the buy-in chips, and went to dinner with a big smile on my face.

Read more of my poker stories here.