Old one,” he said, turning the sanghoki bill over a few times

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A few seconds later I had my seat card, puked in my mouth a little bit over the 33% (33%!) juice, and went for a BBQ sandwich.

Over some exceptionally bad sanghoki , I considered the play: Getting rid of a non-lucky charm in a tournament that charges 33% juice, playing a tournament with a structure fast enough to make Linda Blair’s head spin in the other direction, trying to find some sense of peace by going to one of the Strip’s busiest casinos.

In a word, ridiculous.

And yet, there I was in the seven seat with my 2,500 in chips at the beginning of the first thirty minute level. While a guy talked about the bondage offerings he found on Craigslist, I sat and folded, and folded, and folded. By the end of the second level, I had 1,900 chips and hadn’t seen a pair. With a few minutes left before the break, I picked up 88 and raised from the cutoff. Mr. Bondage called in the small blind. The flop came down JJT. He checked, I bet about 3/4 of the pot. He called. The turn was a three. He checked, I checked. The river was another jack. He bet half the pot. I figured he could’ve easily slow-played his jack or cautiously played his ten. Still, I wasn’t about to go into the 100/200 round with 1,200 chips and I figured there was a 33% chance he was bluffing or had a smaller pair than me. I put the rest of it in. He called with a naked ace and doubled me up.

In a word, ridiculous.

***

I have this picture in my head of one of those tandem bikes with an alabatross in both seats. I carry this picture around in my head when I think about my tournament performance in Las Vegas. Last year, I made two final tables in tournaments and had exactly no money to show for it. One was the 2am tournament at Binion’s as featured in Snickers for Wil Wheaton. The second was the World Series of Poker Media Event.

That particular albatross is not quite as disturbing as the fact that I have never cashed in a Vegas-based tournament. I have played in two WSOP events, umpteen blogger tournaments, and a ton of side events. Sure, I’ve had my share of success on the underground circuit and for a long time enjoyed great success in online tournaments. However, Vegas tournaments have been a monkey on the albatross’ back. Which, while being a funny picture, is not a good thing for a guy’s confidence.

I thought of all of this as I sat with no chip stack and watched the players fall off one by one. A few hours later, we were down to two tables. I had survived only through the Ryan Kallberg school of push-monkey poker. The entire time, I sucked out only once, and that one wasn’t that bad. The rest of the time, I’d been fortunate enough to win every race I’d run. Now, though, I was still short-stacked. With twelve players remaining (nine out of the original 140 getting paid) I was the shortest stack and predicting I would pure bubble.

Again, we were thirty seconds before the break. I pushed all-in with an un-suited AT. I begged the big blind to call. Double me up or send me home. Just don’t make me go to break on the short-stack.

Bastard folded.

Now I was getting a little sick at myself. The plan was to go big or go to the cash games. Now it was after 3am and if I busted without a cash, I wouldn’t have had the time to play live games to recoup my confidence.

Back at the table, I gave the old big blind the stinkeye and cursed him for folding to me. Twenty minutes later, he pure bubbled in 10th place and I was sitting at the final table.

***

Interesting thing about Caesar’s tournaments. They have cameras tuned on a featured table and if you make it there, you are broadcast throughout the poker room and–according to people who have seen it–throughout the casino. I happened to draw the six seat, which put me right in the middle of the frame. I entertained any potential viwers by swatting madly at a housefly that had a taste for poker chips and guys who dress in what Pauly calls “Otis Shirts.”

Being in the money had an odd effect on me. While making it into the cash was a great feeling, it now made the paltry few hundred bucks I’d win for ninth place seem like a worthless prize. Something in my brain turned over and I became Aggressive Otis. There were two bad players among the final nine–one lady who played aces, kings, and ace-king and a loose-weak guy who was going to have to get his chips in eventually.

I won’t bore you with the details. I played well. With four players remaining, I was third in chips and…this is my favorite part…negotiated an even four-way chop that left a grand on the table for first place (bless the chip-leading German guy’s heart). I should’ve won that, too, but my trips couldn’t fade eight outs twice.

Officially, it was a third place finish. Wrapped in the rubber band in my pocket, it was a poker player’s Viagra.

***

I’d ordered a beer after we struck the deal and the waitress brought it just as I was shaking hands with the other players. I walked around the casino drinking it and thinking about Hachem’s Hundred. Without any evidence that it was lucky, I carried it around like a talisman for three months. Hachem is one of my favorite people in poker, so I guess it made sense for a while.

But as I took the last drink of my beer and headed for the cab stand, it hit me. That bill had been lucky all along.

I just had to put it in play.

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