I am a member of an amateur texas hold’em poker league. They play at random bars and restaurants across Canada and the United States. There’s no cash involved, but every win gets points, and more points gets you qualified for games that can get you seats in other games, including the Nationals in Vegas. Winner of this tournament wins a $10,000 seat in an actual tournament with the World Poker Tour. Back in June of 2011, I won a seat into a the Nationals in Las Vegas, which was to be held the first week of April 2012. I was pretty stoked about winning that seat.

But by the time I got into March of 2012, I had lost a bit of confidence in myself. The last month of poker playing, I couldn’t win a single hand, and was making amateurish calls. I was being overworked with other tasks, and was second guessing everything I was doing, including abandoning blog posts. It’s never a good feeling to have, to feel like you can’t do anything right.

But, that being said, I will do as good as I can at the Vegas game, and let the cards fall where they may. I’ll bring several hundred dollars to try as many tournaments I can, just in case I get knocked out early, and don’t have to sit in a hotel room for three days with nothing to do.

The event was happening at Tropicana Las Vegas, the base of the strip. I landed in Vegas at noon P.S.T. on Sunday, the day before the first day of the tournament. I did this for two big reasons. I wanted to get a good night’s rest for the next day. The other reason, is that it was the day of Wrestlemania, and I wanted to watch that, and I found a bar at the Planet Hollywood hotel to watch it. Before the Pay-Per-View, I decided to tour the poker areas, and get a list of the close tournaments. By the time I got into the Excalibur poker room, there was an open seat at the $2-$6 limit table. After an hour and a half of play, I won a $1. No kidding. I was hoping that would be the good swing I needed to get out of the rut.

On Monday, the first of the three day tournament. My plan was to play the tight aggressive game, which means I have to raise more, and play the positions more. Make more continuation bets, regardless of hitting on the flop or not. The end result was stealing more blinds, and getting more chips in my stockpile.

The bad news is that I got knocked out that day. The good news is that it was some of the best poker playing I have done in a long time. I made some great decisions, and great reads from the other players. Two great examples. First, I had two limpers (limping meaning just calling) before me, and I was at the cut-off point. (Means I am one person before the dealer button), and I had pocket 9’s, a pretty good hand. I raised 5 times the blind, a strong bet to get more people to fold. Then the guy on the big blind shoved all-in before it was even his turn. At that point, I figured he had pocket aces, so by the time it got to me, I folded. It was a tough lay down, because it took a huge chunk out of my stack, but he did show his aces. The second one was I was in middle position, stack was pretty low, so I needed to shove with the next big hand. The guy to my right raised huge, a bit more than 5 times the blind, and I look at pocket Jacks. My mind is riddled with “you have got to be kidding me”, as a raise that early and that high with no action before him is a sure fire signal to two scenarios, pocket aces, or pocket kings. I put him specifically on kings, so I folded, but when everyone else folded, I asked him, and he showed the Kings. I was managed to find my cards in the muck and showed my jacks, and got kudos for a great fold. The unfortunate thing was that I didn’t get a good hand to compensate for the great folds. It happens.

After getting knocked out, I decided to try out some of the other tournaments, playing at the M.G.M. Grand, Luxor, and some of the pre-arranged games at the Tropicana. Every time, a similar result. I was playing really well, getting more aggressive, making great reads in calling and folding, and getting knocked out with some good fold calls, and some great odds that didn’t fall in my way. I was starting to get confused as to whether I was delusional of my improvements of the game, or just getting unlucky on the felt.

Then on the Wednesday, there was a $60 tournament at noon at the Luxor, only ten people were there. After a couple of hours of playing the tournament, I made it to the final three and we split the winnings at $165 each. It felt good. I really did well, and there was actually some proof that I did well. The bad news is that I had to fly out the next day, on Thursday. So I decided to end the trip on a high note, by trying a tournament right in the shark tank. A $100 buy-in game at Caesar’s Palace.

I hung out for a while, made some great raising, and got caught, like I thought. I was holding my ground, chip count was stable, won some hands, lost some hands. Then it happened.

I was in the small blind, facing a standard three times the blind raise from an early position. I had ten-nine of diamonds. Not a bad hand, and with everyone folding, I decided to call. Big blind called as well. The flop was Ace-Ten-Eight, all Spades. Pretty scary flop, and I am completely out of position. I checked, thinking maybe my middle pair might be good, if no one has two spades. Big blind checked. The initial raiser bet a pot-sized bet. I called, because I figured, if he has an ace, he doesn’t have the flush, and I might be able to get two pair, or runner-runner straight to beat him. It was a huge gamble, but I had to take a chance. The turn card was a 5 of Spades. Ooh, this is bad. But I checked, and surprisingly, the big blind checked and the initial raiser checked. It got to me thinking that none of them had a flush. Turn card was a 2 of diamonds, a brick (a card that helped no one). I decided to take a huge chance. I bet a pot-and-a-half sized bet, which crippled my stack in a huge way. The big blind folded. The initial raiser stood up and slammed his hand on the table and folded in frustration. He had pocket aces. He flopped a set of aces, and I was dead in the water. I stole the pot.

I eventually got knocked out when one of the players slow-played a set of fives when I had top pair of nines. But that earlier hand, made me think. I bluffed out a huge hand to a guy who’s probably better than me at this game. I rolled with the big boys, and I stood tall with them. It was a shot of confidence I needed big time. It was what I was looking for in the first place. It felt like if I can improve my game, I can play with the high rollers out there. Maybe even hit the felt with some of the big names in Poker, like Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth, and even the legend Doyle Brunson. Now, this could be more delusional talking, but I felt like I can at that point.

So, as I have returned to Toronto, I think I can return to Vegas the next year. And when I do, I will be more skilled, and more dangerous to everyone in there. Look out poker world, this could be the face of the next big thing in Poker.