Imagine my delight when I heard that there would be a Poker Tournament at Dartmouth! I really used to enjoy playing poker back in the day, before it was cool. For a while, during my senior year at UCBoulder, my friend Matt and I were both writing software to study Texas Hold’em and regularly going to the casinos in the few mountain towns in Colorado were they’re legal. It was a lot of fun.

After graduating and moving abroad, though, I just didn’t have any chances to play for several years. In fact, the only game I can remember playing in my entire time in Taiwan was the “penny” game I set up a couple of weeks ago. It wasn’t a huge priority to find a poker game or anything, but I was definitely stoked about hearing of a tournament.

The Setup

It was a zero dollar buy in, with only gift certificates as prizes– a fun tournament. Potato chips and random junk food were at every table. After checking with Sonia to make sure I was allowed to play, I eagerly headed over to the basement room in which it was being held. I showed up about 10 minutes early, and sat down at the one table that already had a few guys seated around it. They seemed oddly tense for being at a fun game, but they were all pretty friendly. Soon, more and more people came streaming into the room, until eventually about dozen tables were full, with eight to ten people seated at each.

It was a no-limit Hold ’em tournament. We started with a “dollar” (i.e. white chip) small blind, and a four dollar big blind. According to the organizers, the blind would double every 20 minutes, so we couldn’t dawdle too much. That wasn’t a problem at my table.

The First Table

On the very first hand, four people at my table went all-in. I couldn’t believe it. Either they had all gotten some remarkably lucky hands, or I was at a table full of maniacs. I sat the madness out, knowing I wasn’t throwing my chips away on a sub-par hand, but also knowing that nearly half my table’s chips would soon be in the hands of whoever won that hand. And so they were. After he had all the chips, he just leaned on the rest of us, threatening to put someone all-in on nearly every hand, bullying us out of the blind bids.

After the deal had gone around four more times, I was down to two-thirds of my initial number of chips. I was starting to think it would be worth it to bluff, which would have been credible at that point, when I got a great pair of hole-cards, AQ suited. I bet 10, and called a raise of 30 to see the flop. There was an ace, a jack and a three. With the high pair, I bet again, and one of my opponents called, and the one with all the money put me all-in. In the end my pair of aces beat his pair of jacks, my pile of chips was about the size of his, and the other guy was knocked out of the game. At this point, only three of us were left at my table. Not even a single person from any of the other tables in the room had been eliminated yet.

In the next hand, I had garbage, and the opponent without many chips went all in and lost. Then the game organizers announced to us that the blinds would be doubled to 2 and 4. Seeing as my entire table’s chips were divided between me and one other guy, this struck me as funny, but we kept going. Within 5 more hands, I had about 80% of the chips. Then Sonia and her friend showed up and said hi to me. I think the were a little surprised to my table mostly empty, and most of the chips in front of me.

The Second Table

About that time, the organizers noticed we were down to two people, and a couple of the other tables had eliminated players, so they sent us to those tables to take their places! It wasn’t even fair. I showed up at the new with about the vast majority of the entire table I’d come from. They were weaker players than my previous opponents, too. They were betting on inside draws. Some of them were trying to bluff on every other hand. They weren’t raising when they had winners. It took me 15 minutes to wipe out the entire table. By that time, more people were getting eliminate around the room, and people were getting consolidated to fewer and fewer tables.

The Final Table

To make a long story short, the competition was weak. Extremely weak. I knocked out a dozen more people and moved on to the final table with dozens of times more chips than we’d each started with. Unfortunately, that wasn’t quite the right impression to make. As soon as I sat down, one guy at the table said, “Woah, this guy must be a pro!”

I said I wasn’t a pro. Nobody believed me. Somehow, they figured that a professional gambler would come to their campus for their zero dollar buy in poker gave, load up on free soda and Doritos, and try to win a small gift certificate instead of going to a casino, getting comped steaks and cocktails, and winning real money.

“What year are you?” asked another.

I answered honestly that I wasn’t a student at all, and that I was playing in place of my girlfriend I was vising. That didn’t go over very well.

“This is a student tournament!”

“You can’t just invade it and take advantage of it!”

They were really competitive about this game. Admittedly, I’ve never been to a tournament before, and some of them might not have realized that this one was open to non-students. Still, I’ve been in casino games with hundreds of dollars on the table and I’ve never seen people get so worked up like this before. It was really eye-opening. If Sonia had been there, I’m sure she could have smoothed things over, especially being a UGA. As it was, though, it just wasn’t worth ticking everyone off to win. I couldn’t really walk away, either. They’d still feel like I’d wreaked the game.

So, I started doing randomized bluffs, but far too loosely. I continued to bet and play good hands, but I also played every single hand with a diamond of 7 or less. Amazingly, people became more and more talkative as my pile of chips dwindled, and soon they were asking me all about living in Taiwan, and what I thought of their school. Within 15 minutes, I had eliminated myself in what I hope looked like a completely natural performance. Then, without the gift certificate, but in a great mood, I headed over to the animation lab to find Sonia, Adelle and Dawn.