2008 Oklahoma State Poker Championship
Last week, TwoGun and I journeyed to Tulsa, Oklahoma, both of us hoping to become the Oklahoma State Champion of Poker. It wasn't the $100k+ first-place prize we were chasing. Instead, we just wanted to be able to tell people that we're the Ruler and Emperor of Oklahoma (... in poker). Chicks dig Rulers and Emperors. The Cherokee Casino really did themselves a favor by naming their tournament the "Oklahoma State Championship". If they had named it something else, like the "Cherokee Classic", we probably never would have attended. If you think about it, it's really a beautiful thing us humans have managed to do. We've created invisible boundaries on our land, named them, and then invited others to compete for titles like "poker champion of the land". How could we have ever not played this tournament?!
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In addition to the two of us, 110 other hopefuls coughed up the $3,150 buy-in (or more likely, won a satellite) for the championship event. Two former WSOP Main Event champions were in the mix: 1986 champion Berry Johnston and 1998 champion Scotty Nguyen. TwoGun was sitting immediately to Scotty Nguyen's right for the first several hours of play. During the first break, I asked TwoGun if Scotty was bullying the table. He informed me that not only was Scotty playing passively, but he was rarely in his seat. This is probably for two reasons. First, there is no smoking allowed in the Cherokee Casino poker room. Scotty Nguyen is a huge smoker. He spent much of the tournament lighting up at a nearby bar. Secondly, he is the paid host of the Cherokee Casino. During the first couple of levels, he could be seen wandering around the tournament area shaking hands and posing for pictures with the participants.
TwoGun and I, along with half the field, were still in the tournament at the dinner break. Neither of us had a particularly large chip stack, but we weren't in desperate situation, either. When the tournament was reduced to four tables, Scotty Nguyen was moved to my table. Although he was seemingly never in his seat and never playing a pot, somehow he always managed to stay alive. This would be a reoccurring theme throughout the rest of the night.
The final three tables bubble was burst by none other than TwoGun himself. He lost a race and finished 28th. The look on his face made it abundantly clear that he knew chicks don't dig the 28th place finisher. Seeing him exit the tournament arena made me realize how fragile we are as humans. If TwoGun failed to become the Oklahoma State Champion of Poker, does that mean I could fail too? What if neither of us are Oklahoma State Champion of Poker material? Will my life ever be truly complete without winning the Oklahoma State Championship of Poker? These questions haunted me over the next several seconds. Then I went back to whistling along with the music on my iPod and thus probably annoying everyone at my table.
By the 800/1600 level, I had managed to build a 10k starting stack up to 30k with virtually no significant confrontations. That was about to change. A middle-aged guy with an above average stack who seemed fairly competent and aggressive raised to 4,500 in mid-position. A young, loose, aggressive player, also with a large stack, called his raise on the button. Observing this from the big blind, I noted to myself that this seemed like a perfect situation to squeeze all-in. I figured the young player called the raise with a fairly large range, hoping to hit the flop and play a big pot. The initial raisor had been opening quite frequently, so I knew he didn't necessarily have to have a big hand in this spot. In addition to all of this, my table image was tight. I vowed to shove all-in with anything remotely decent. When I looked down at ten-nine suited, I felt like I was seeing aces.
The middle-aged guy contemplated the call for about three minutes. It seemed to me that as long as he folded, the young guy was also going to fold. Finally, the middle-aged guy threw away his cards, to which the young guy commented, "I really wish you hadn't done that." After contemplating for several minutes, the young guy surprised me and called. I shrugged and turned over my hand, to which the middle aged guy disgustedly said, "I folded queens." The young guy's hand was about as good as I could have hoped to see, ace-king suited. The flop was a beautiful nine-seven-three. I faded his six outs on the turn and river and doubled up to nearly 70k.
During the next few hours, I saw some things that made me question Scotty Nguyen's poker talents. Approaching the final table bubble, he was nursing a very short stack. It seemed he was almost literally just waiting for aces. In one instance, I made a standard raise with pocket twos. He re-raised all-in, and I was more than pot committed to call. "Do you have a pair?" I asked him. "Yeah, baby!" as he turned over pocket jacks and doubled up.
With blinds of 2k/4k, he made a play I'll never forget. He started the hand with 25k chips. When it folded to him on the button, he raised to 11k. I found it odd that he didn't just shove all-in, but to each his own. The big blind re-raised him all-in. I was baffled when Scotty didn't insta-call, and nearly thought I was hallucinating when he folded. Did a guy with over $7.5 million in lifetime winnings really just put in almost half his stack preflop and then fold to a re-raise? Initially, I considered that maybe he's just bad at poker. However, that seems pretty unlikely given his lifetime results. What seems more possible is that he was soft-playing the field on orders of his job description as the host of Cherokee Casino.
Regardless of how "bad" I perceived Scotty to be playing, he was still hanging around when the tournament combined to one table of ten players. We needed to eliminate just one more before being in the money and going to bed. I was sitting immediately to Scotty's left with a stack of 45,000. The blinds were 2.5k/5k. Normally I'd consider that a pretty desperate situation, but Scotty had less than 10k chips, so I was content to wait him out. It took way longer than it should have, but eventually he busted out in 10th place. I have to say, he was a genuinely warm and entertaining individual. It was a pleasure playing with him.
The next day, I came to the final table tied for the shortest stack in the tournament. Things didn't go particularly well for me, but they didn't go poorly, either. I managed to keep my head above water while four players were eliminated. An older guy named Fred Roll, eliminated the 7th and 6th place finishers on consecutive hands. With eight big blinds, I looked down at ace-six offsuit and had an easy decision. It folded to Fred in the big blind. When he didn't immediately call, I began hoping he would make a bonehead call in an attempt to knock out three players in a row. "Just think, if you call and knock me out, you'll have a new nickname: 'Three-in-a-Row Fred'." He seemed mildly humored by this, and eventually called with king-nine. Let's just say Fred is now Three-In-A-Row Fred, the Oklahoma State Champion of Poker.
As for TwoGun and I, we're just a couple of peasants who will have to wait another year to chase mankind's great dream of becoming the Oklahoma State Champion of Poker.