My wife took me to the Palms for my 50th birthday. The Palms was running a NLHE "Summer Series", $200 buy-in with one $200 re-buy and a $25 entry fee. Lately they offered a lower-limit series of tourneys for half the buy-in and half the re-buy, and that's what I entered.
The Palms: it's a hotel/resort that's kinda skewed to the young side. Not much in terms of service and the management of the main poker room is really spotty. But I loved the tournament room -- big and quiet -- and the tourneys are pretty soft. I also got to hear the "voice" of Celebrity Poker Showdown, Robert Thompson, who officiates most of the tournaments at the Palms.
First day: didn't see a lot of good hands. It had also been a while since I'd played in a "live" tournament. The actions and reactions are so different from online poker. There's no computer telling you how many chips you and your opponents have, or reminding you when you're one of the blinds or how much the blinds are. My table was a mix of young and aggressive or old and conservative. I played very tightly and, through attrition, made it to the last four tables before I ran out of chips. I busted at least two players toward the end. I think I was 21st or 22nd out of sixty-some-odd players that day.
That night, my wife and I played 2/4 limit in the main poker room. Lots of locals, lots of tourists. Finally, the cards came my way. I won $71 with a number of pairs and trips and once with a full house.
I didn't really like that room all that much. They could have been a little clearer on the bonuses. If you weren't reading the rotating signboards at the back of the room, you wouldn't have known what you could have gotten for four of a kind or a straight flush. And the dealers wouldn't necessarily tell you.
The ventilation was just plain lousy. The room is open on one side bordering a narrow corridor separating it from the high-stakes poker room next door. So that's where all the smokers hang out.
The manager's desk was only so-so. I had to keep reminding the manager I was still waiting for a table: "oh yeah, right, we'll get to you..."
Second day: played a more tight-aggressive game, but I had cards to play with this time. I won with a number of pocket pairs -- kings, queens, aces and once with a pair of sixes. I think I won with a straight or flush draw once but did not chase cards. Only one semi-bluff -- I pushed in with Q-J offsuit against a woman opponent who'd played online for only two months. I gave her a bit of a staredown and she eventually folded, asking me "could you beat ace-jack?" I smiled, shook my head and said "no..." I busted her with pocket tens a short time later when she bet everything she had on pocket eights.
I won just enough pots to stay alive in the tournament. At no time did I ever have more than 10 or 12K in chips. One by one, the other players were whittled away. The tourney director re-drew the seats to two tables -- the farthest I'd ever gone in a live event. I had to hunker down because I had been cold-decked for several orbits and I didn't have the chips to dish out an all-in bluff.
Finally, the final table. I couldn't believe it. At the break for re-drawing of seats, I found my wife playing 2/4 next door and she immediately cashed in so she could root for me. When I returned, one of the other players told me they had agreed to pay ninth place out of the prize pool, which normally would only pay eight players. Sweet! I thought that was an honorable thing to do, considering I was relatively short-stacked and could have been the first one out at the final table.
Instead, I finished seventh. This was partly because, after players eight and nine had busted out, with the blinds at 800/1600 and my chips fast disappearing, I resorted to an all-in raise in the dark. Did not look at my cards. Didn't want to know. A couple of buzzards at the table jumped in, looking forward to feasting on my remains. I turned over my hand to reveal: Q-10 offsuit. 9-J-rag on the flop and a beautiful king on the turn, and my cards were live enough for the king-high straight. I'm not supposed to win those...
This was also because the hour was getting late. It was a mid-afternoon tourney, we'd gone over four hours, and some players had dinner reservations or planes to catch. An Arizona player (he's a dealer at some Indian casino in Goose Creek), after one too many Bud Lights, proposed that we all chop the pot and then play for a winner. The tourney official said, "no, that's not how you do it -- if you chop, the game's over." We looked at our watches and at each other, and agreed to a proportional split. And it was over.
The divvying up of the spoils took almost as long as the tourney. But when it happened, I walked away with six $100 chips, three $25 chips and change. That's right. I actually won more money through the chop than I would have if I had played to the bitter end. The end was actually quite near. We were about to color up to all $500 tourney chips, the blinds were about to be raised to 2000/4000, and I was down to my last 4000 in chips. I was extremely happy with the chop. It was a great birthday present.
The ambiance from the WSOP down the street carried over into the Palms that evening. Three online poker sites -- Ultimate Bet, Bodog and Paradise Poker -- were holding extravagant VIP pre-WSOP parties. That pretty much limited our feasting to the in-house Mexican joint. The margaritas were excellent.
I didn't get to play in the WSOP for my birthday wish. However, we did take in the WSOP, albeit as spectators. The crush of players in the Rio's main ballroom was almost as thick as the tobacco smoke outside in the hallways. Saw quite a few stars -- Ferguson, Lederer, Hellmuth, Doyle B. and others. I congratulated Todd Brunson on his bracelet win and he responded with a polite grin and a thank-you. Also shook hands with TJ Cloutier, who was killing time since he wasn't playing until Saturday. There was also this poker "lifestyle" exposition in one of the halls adjacent to the tournament. It is incredible how many companies are trying to grab on to poker. We returned to S.F. with lots of poker SWAG in our suitcases. I came back with a yen to play in more live tourneys.