And the FEARFUL…and UNBELIEVING…and ALL LIARS…shall have their part in the lake of fire! And so it was at the Grand Sierra Pot of Gold tournament...
We were in Reno to gather info on poker rooms because we’re committed to providing quality info to the TwoRags community. Our last stop of the day, the Grand Sierra Casino & Resort
(formerly the Reno Hilton), is located in the opposite end of town from the other casinos, on other side of the freeway. The Grand Sierra is a luxury hotel/casino/resort complex that seems like it's trying hard to shed its white trash roots but just can't bring itself to let go. The monument sign and website pitch the elegant rooms and spa and announce upcoming events like Harry Connick, Jr., dinner with the vintner from Duckhorn Vineyards and the American Ballet Theatre. But a look around the property—bowling alley, RV park, go-cart track, bungee jumping—confirms that this girl grew up watching Nascar. It's like the Pam Anderson of casinos—nicely renovated and elegant in formal wear but with tattoos and a social set that scream “I like rockers!”.
In any event, we were there to get info on the poker room so that’s where we headed. The room itself is located in a semi-enclosed area in the cavernous events center. It’s not the most intimate room, but its proximity to the events center is convenient for tournaments. Turns out, we showed up at about 5:45p about 15 minutes before the $200+$25 tournament was starting. To the staff's credit, they were very patient and gave us the info we wanted even while trying to organize the event. As we were wrapping up, it dawned on us that this was a great opportunity to get a better feel for the room from a player's perspective. We were both burned out from running around all day, but a live tournament in 15 minutes with no wives in tow? Are you kidding me?
The Grand Sierra requires all players to present a player card to register for a tournament, and for that, you need ID and money. Unfortunately, I left my wallet in the car so I sprinted out to the parking lot and then back across the casino to the players club desk. [Note: this property is BIG.] After a brief wait on line, I received my card which not only entitled me to register for the tournament but also opened me up to a "cavalcade of cash & prizes" just for swiping said card at the Everyday Prize Machine. I didn't see what prize I qualified for that day, but the couple in front of me was giddy with pride as they walked away with a fine coffee mug stand. This is obviously a promotion not to be taken lightly, but we were here to pull hard cash from the locals not add to our kitchen decor. Card in hand, I hit the cashier to register just under the wire. Total entrants: 82; total prize pool: about $16,000.
Assigned to the last table, I took my spot in the 4 seat. Rick was right behind me and sat across from me in the 9 seat. As soon as he settled in, he was dealt in under the gun. I thought for sure he'd fold here and get his bearings, but no, he fired out a raise. Two callers behind and I was thinking, "Uh oh. This is gonna suck when he's the first one out." Not good considering I staked him for the event. Flop was 965 two clubs, and Rick bet out. Guy to my right, an off-duty dealer, called and the other player folded. I repeat to myself, "Uh oh. This is gonna suck if he's the first one out." Turn was a club putting three clubs on board, and he fired again. Now off-duty dealer thought for a bit, announced he's got a middle pair and a draw (I'm not sure why guys do this on the turn ”Here, how 'bout I tell you my cards so your river play, should I choose to call, is much easier.”), counted out his chips…and then folded. Ok, pal, thanks for the recap. Rick flashed two queens (no club) and scooped the pot. I'm pissed he showed but relax a little now that my horse is out of the gate clean.
A note on the Grand Sierra’s Pot of Gold tournament series. If the rest of the events were run like this one, this is a nice series of events to play. The structure wasn’t bad for a tournament of this size, and the event was well-run with great dealers and floor staff. Again, there were 82 entrants for a prize pool of about $16,000 with $5,500 to the winner. Not bad for the 19th event of a two week series in Reno. There were a couple of familiar faces—Jerry Buss and two little cuties he hauled up from Los Angeles, a couple of guys I recognized from televised events. An inexpensive place to camp out for a couple of weeks, reasonable (<$1000) buy-ins for the whole series and a well-run room? That's worth putting on the calendar for next year.
Back to the action. The first few levels were uneventful with the exception of one hand. One guy raised in MP, Rick called from the blinds with TT. Flop came J high and Rick checked to the pre-flop raiser. Guy bet a little less than half the pot and Rick check-raised the pot. His opponent collapsed like a cheap soufflé.
A few hands later, I put on a rare show of good judgment and fold 83c under the gun. There’s a couple of callers to Rick in the BB. Flop was, of course, 883 and I cursed the poker gods for taunting me. Someone stabbed at the pot, and Rick called. Turn was a 9. Check. Check. River was a blank and Rick bet out half the pot. The other player was thinking and Rick, channeling Scotty Nguyen, said “you don’t want any part of that…you can’t call that" at which point I knew I was happy my 83 was in the muck. Sure enough, the other guy called and Rick tabled 98o for the turned boat.
A few hands later, our table broke and Rick and I were separated. I’ve recently begun to move toward a more active style in tournament play but was nonetheless getting ground down and facing blind pressure. With less than 8 blinds in late position and holding KJo, I shoved on an MP raiser only to be shown QQ. Ugh, I hate KJ! But then, with a J on flop and K on turn. I brush off the shame of showing down KJ and stack the chips. A few hands later, I was in middle position with JJ facing an early raise and moved in. It’s folded back around to the EP raise and he insta-called (uh oh!) and proudly showed KQo. Dude, wtf? The gods, so graceful a few hands earlier, now confirmed their disgust with my new style and presented a K on the river. I was short again.
I survived another orbit picking up the blinds when I moved in with 77. Still short, I finally picked up AA in the big blind (love that!) and stacked up when the cut-off shoved with some woeful piece of trash. I then kicked and scratched my way to the last two tables with powerhouses like KTs, QTs, 66. Meanwhile, Rick was coasting along with a 2-3x average stack at the other table, the bastard. He later told me he had one sketchy hand at 300/600 where 2nd position raised to 2400, MP called and Rick pushed for 6500 from the hijack and took down the pot. But other than that, he was having an easier time of staying ahead of the blinds.
Finally, down to 15 players, I picked up QQ and pushed on a min-raiser directly to my right. I was concerned because he'd been stupid tight for the last hour, mentioning to me a few hands he folded. But with the blinds at 400/800 with an ante and sitting with fewer than 4,000 chips, I couldn’t afford to drop the hand. Of course, he showed aces, and as is often the case when two women showed up your door at the same time, I was out of money and alone on the rail. Whatever, I still had a horse in the event and that horse had chips. Time to cheer him on.
At 14 players, play was excruciating (it seemed like every 3rd hand was folded to the blinds) and it was all I could do not to howl “Will somebody please RAISE!” Fortunately, the blinds did their work, narrowing the field to ten, and the staff seated the final table. Unfortunately, only 9 spots paid so more painful viewing followed. A short stack would raise, and medium stack would push. Shorty showed KJo, medium stack showed JJ…K on the river. Gross. Two hands later same thing. Shorty would show A4, medium stack would show A7…four on the flop. And so on, ad nauseum.
Things were a little nervy when Rick open-shoved with what he later told me was AQo; the big blind took FOREVER to fold. In retrospect, the blind obviously didn't have much, but then again I didn't know my horse was holding AQo. A few hands later, Rick again short in the big blind. With an EP raiser, he paused for a bit then moved in. EP called and showed AQo. Rick flipped up two black aces (nice Hollywooding, dude!). Hold…hold… hold….yes! The AQ whiffs the board and we’re in good shape again.
A few hands later they’re down to 8 players with two critically short stacks, one of whom was a pro I'd seen on TV but couldn't place. UTG limped and the two shorties were all-in (less than a blind) to Rick in the big blind with Q6h. Rick checked and the flop fell 977 with two hearts. Rick checked again, and the EP limper shoved. What was that? How about just checking it down, pal? It’s about another 15,000 to call in a 30,000 chip pot. I'm not one to chase a flush draw late; I probably need to put more gamble in my tournament game. But Rick said “I guess I call if I want to win.” and counted out chips. UTG flipped over KK and the shorties showed A3 and some other unmemorable hand. Turn was a trey and the river…the beautiful Ah. Nice! Side note: there was a lot of fun commentary by the pro who pointed out that if UTG had RAISED with his kings, both of them would still be in. But he didn’t and they weren’t and it was down to five.
A few hands later, four-handed with two shorties, there was talk of a chop, but that was quickly dismissed by the two big stacks. One of the short stacks went out soon after. Three-handed, there was a tense moment when Rick open-shoved with the remaining short stack and the big stack still to act. The short stack labored for a full three minutes before calling. I’m thinking he’ll show 44 or KTo. No, he tables AJs. WTF? That’s an insta-call for me in that situation and I'm conservative. As it turned out, his apprehension was deserved, Rick's ATo found a T on the turn. Bam! We're heads up, fellas!
One on one only lasted a few hands, maybe 10 minutes tops. On the final hand, Rick’s opponent completed the small blind and Rick checked. Flop was QKx rainbow. Rick bet half the pot. Opponent quickly called. Turn was another blank. Rick checked and his opponent moved in. I’m thinking “Uh, that's a fold.” but Rick looked into his opponent's soul and saw nothing but deceit. He said matter-of-factly “You don’t have a K.” and called with Q6s. I’m thinking “Uh, this is gonna be a long ride home.” Instead, his opponent turned over ATo, a gutter draw and overcard! River blanked and my horse had the title. Nice!
So now it’s 1 a.m. and Rick is basically catatonic. They take his photo, get his info and hand him 55 black chips. Rick comes to his senses enough to raise the tournament director for value, “Hey, do you have a hat I could have?”, and asked me if I thought he qualified for any of the “cavalcade of cash and prizes” mentioned above. I slapped him back to reality and herded him out to the car to split up the cash and roll back to Tahoe. By the time we got back to the Hyatt Lake Tahoe
, room service had stopped serving (this ain't Vegas, baby!) but found the bar/lounge still serving food. That's the downside of winning tournaments—eating lousy bar food at 3a, but whatever. We'll take the win!