Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A first time for everyone

Seems to me I have not played too bad this trip - but just the one tournament cash on the first day. Other than my "two chips and a chair" run, I have been losing the "races" consistently. When I have the pair against their "paint", they connect and I lose the pot. But if I have a suited Big Slick against their pair (even deuces like yesterday) I fail to connect.

The game is hard enough, but when lady luck is smiling elsewhere, it's damn near impossible. You need your share of those hands to work, and the odd suck out in your favour does not hurt either.

Speaking of suck outs, on the very first hand of today's tournament = with the blinds $50-100, I was on the button with AK suited in hearts.

The guy two to my right raised to $325 and I smooth called. The big blind came along for the ride.

The flop was a very pleasing QD JH 10H - giving me a flopped Broadway straight; a draw to the Royal Flush, and a draw to the nut flush.

Of course, the texture of this board is dangerous, since it is the type of board that connects with other players too.

Still, I led out for $1200 after two checks to me. The big blind raised to $2400 and I called, as my RHO got out of the way.

The next card (the turn) was the five of hearts - giving me the nut flush, and presumably not helping the Big Blind's hand - unless it gave him a lesser flush - which is good for me.

There was about $3,400 in the pot at this point. The big blind led out for $1,700 - I could fold, call, or raise all-in.

Looking for a chance to double my starting stack I raised and put us both all-in. He called after much agony and tabled the Q9 or hearts. He had the queen high flush, and was looking for either the HK or H8 to make the straight flush.

As I had already tabled the HK, he was down to one single out - the heart 8 - which fell on the table as the dealer dealt the river card.

What could I do but groan and grin, and get up and make "the walk" out of the room - the first player busted of over 100 participants.

As I reflect back on the trip, I do feel it was worthwhile, albeit not money making. I picked up a few moves from some good players - I plugged a couple of leaks in my own game, and above all else, I enjoyed myself.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Same old story

Played the daily deepstack again at the Venetian today and ran card dead for five hours. The best two hands I got before my demise were AQo early and I lost both pots.

Never saw a pair till near my end when I was down to around $13,000 and there was a raise to $3,000 and a re raise to $12,000 ahead of me - and I was looking at a pair of 6's in the small blind, which I folded of course.

My demise was a classic race - another good hand finally - I picked up AKo and the player two spots to my right shoved in an equal stack which I called.

She had 22 but nothing connected with the board and I was out around 27th of 104.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Two chips and a chair

Tonight I lived my own version of the famous poker fable “ A chip and a chair”.

I was down to only one $200 big blind, early (level 2) in the Venetian nightly tournament. More than three hours later, my magical run ended in level 11, with about twenty players left.

How did I even get there? First, I made a horrendous call decision for half my stack when a smaller stack went all in after the turn(with QJ) on a board of 2 8 J Q with the river still to come. I was down to only three outs with my AQ, and none came.

I get impatient with a small stack early in the tournament so I began looking for all-in opportunities. I found one soon with 10 10 and ended up in a race with an equal stack who had AK unsuited.

After the river spiked an ace and the dealer counted out the chips, it turned out I was not eliminated - I still had $200 left. (we began with $7,500)

I went all in on the next hand with J 10 suited and ran up against the same player holding KJ suited.

We split the pot when the board came out 8 10 Q K and a miracle ace on the river. Now I had $900. I then manoeuvred several more all-ins during the next few orbits and found myself back up to $6,000 in chips not much later.I then hung in and zigged and zagged for a few more hours as the blinds and antes increased very rapidly.

In fact my stack grew to over $15,000 at one point, but in the middle of level 11 I lost a crucial "race" holding QQ against another AK unsuited, and was back down to around $6,000 chips. But by then, the blinds were already $1,000/$2,000 with a $300 ante – so being the big blind, I pretty much had to go all-in with any two cards – which I did – a suited 7 3.

Two other players in similar predicaments were also all in with 96 and KJ. The 96 connected for two pairs and all of a sudden I was a railbird.

I can’t explain why, but this is the most bummed I have been about exiting from any of the tournaments I have played in so far.

On the bright side, I was at a really friendly table the whole evening. On my right was Jairus, owner of Maui Mike’s Fire Roasted Chicken restaurant in Wahiawa, Hawaii, and a bona fide surfer dude.

Two to Jarius’s right was Dean, from Western Australia, who entered the tournament with four of his buddies who are all on vacation from here. Dean is also a very serious surfer as well as a drag racing commentator back in OZ. Cool stuff.

Not so cool though, as it was one of Dean’s buddies whose AK bested my queens, and another whose 96 secured my exit from the tournament. Haha, such is tournament poker – by the late stages of a tournament, it really is not poker as purists would know it.

But it was fun honing my short stack strategies for several hours successfully – not to mention I did get lucky myself once or twice. (Like when my Q10 all-in beat an AQ all-in when a ten hit the river.)

In the afternoon tournament I went out in the late middle stages – this time as the victim of a “bad beat” when I called a shorter stack’s all-in holding A9 suited and he had K9 offsuit, and his rivered king removed half my stack.

This left me short stacked, and I was not so lucky trying to double up my own stack from there on.

So interestingly, my results in the daily tournaments so far are no different on balance (maybe even slightly worse) than prior trips – even though I know I am a far better player.

It means very little though as the sample size is hardly large - for example, serious online players will enter up to 40 tournaments in a single day – failing to cash in maybe 33 to 36 of them, while cashing in the remaining 10 to 15%.

I should be pleased then my first cash of the week has covered most of my entry fees – and I have even played a few sessions of cash poker (which has been quite exciting with lots of variance in my results – that’s for another blog entry.)

I have played a little blackjack with mixed results, but the last few trips I have come down here, it has been less interesting for me to even sit down at a blackjack table – I much much prefer poker now.

Most importantly, I am really enjoying the trip – I am doing what I love doing in my favourite place to do so, with my favourite person in the world as my travel companion. It’s all good.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The trouble with pairs

Today, August 28, 2010 I entered the $340 Saturday tournament at the Venetian. 40 minute blind levels and $12,000 starting chips. Everyone loves the structure. I was looking forward to this event the most of my trip.

The event was a free roll for me virtually, as I had cashed $725 the previous day coming 7/141 in the weekday noon tournament, and also I won $275 after breakfast at the blackjack tables.

Prior to leaving Toronto I had made final table in three of the four previous small tournaments I had entered on Full Tilt. The field sizes (90 or 135) were comparable to what I will experience here in Vegas.

I couldn't find my footing in the early going - losing the first five pots I entered without doing anything wrong as I could see.

Then I picked up 9D 9H and the dealer button was to my left, with blinds still only $25/$50.

All folded to me and I made it $150 to go. The SB and the BB both called.

The flop was 8S 7S 6C.

My hand is fine for this flop. I have an open ended straight draw and an over pair. The small blind bet $500 (into a $450 pot) and I called, as the big blind folded.

The turn was the 2 of hearts. The small blind bet $500 again (into a $1450 pot)

I called. I should have raised here - his bet size was pretty small compared to the pot, so it looks like he was feeling his way around. Maybe he is on a flush draw or second pair with a good kicker or some hand like that.

The turn was an ugly spade 6.

The small blind now bet $3000 into a $2450 pot. I folded, but felt I had mangled the hand pretty well.

In the second level, with the blinds at $50/$100 I picked up JC JS in second position. The guy UTG limped in and I elected to call rather than raise and risk the pot getting out of control.

Two other players limped in and then the big blind increased to $500 - a not very hearty squeeze play I thought.

I could have called, and kept position on him, but thought the guys behind me would be priced in to call. So I raised to $1,500 to isolate the big blind. I ended up being the guy isolated. Everyone folded back to the big blind who quickly went all-in!

I threw my hand away as another promising pair lay mashed up in the muck.

A few hands later I picked up 10H 10S and I raised to $300 under the gun. The button and the guy to my left both called.

The flop was 7H 2S 7C

We all checked the flop.

The turn was the 4 of spades, and I bet $700 into the $1050 pot. The guy on my left called, and the button pushed $5000 into the middle of the table !

I was pissed off and folded, and the guy on my left folded a pair of 6’s face up after some agony, and the aggressive over betting button took down a nice pot.

Blinds were still 50/100 and I am getting beaten up pretty badly as I pick up a pair of red queens in the big blind.

The guy in third position bet $425, and the guy on his left called. The button also called, and I had around $7900 left in my stack. I shoved all in and was insta-called by the initial raiser.

He turned over a pair of kings, including the king of hearts. With a flop of three heart rags, I was down to two outs and no hearts please dealer.

I spiked a sick queen on the river and doubled up sheepishly.

Shortly after that the blinds increased to $100/$200 and I found myself in third position with a pair of kings. (I was certainly getting my share of cards early in the tournament)

I raised to $300, forgetting the blinds had just gone up. So instead of betting three times the big blind, I was forced to limp in for $200 as I had failed to say “raise” when I entered the pot.

This opened the pot to five players in total and I had a bad feeling in my stomach.

The flop was KH QH 5S.

The SB led out for $300 into the $1000 pot. The BB folded, and here I was with a flopped top set. It could be worse I guess.

Still, I wanted to eliminate the flush drawers, if any, so I raised the bet to $1200. All folded except the small blind who called smoothly.

The turn was the jack of hearts – a very ugly card for me. This completed any flush draws, and also could fill a broadway straight if that’s what he was playing.

The SB checked and I bet $2100 into the $3400 pot. The other guy shoved all in for another $8000, as I looked down at my remaining $14,000.

I hated the way the whole hand had played out, but I decided he for sure had me beat, and I would need to spike a king or pair the board to win the hand on the river. Basically I had ten outs. Should I risk such a large part of my stack? I thought not as I laid down my lovely kings, face down.

The guy showed me his 53 suited in hearts – a hand he would never have been involved with had I not screwed up with the blind structure right at the beginning.

I guess I could have forced him out of the hand after the flop with a larger raise too, but the amount I bet, at this early stage of the tournament, felt right. Do I really want him to go away under all circumstances?

A couple of levels later I picked up AJo and raised to $700 in second position with around $11,000 in front of me, and nothing much happening.

The big stack on the button expectedly called, and the SB shoved all in for $3900. If I had a bigger stack, I would have called him pretty quickly, even if I were an underdog, but with my stack size and the big stack still behind me, I decided a call would not get the job done.

Therefore I should either fold or go all-in to isolate the small blind. I elected to fold, as did the button. Maybe I am too passive.

Level 5 the blinds are $200/$400 with a $25 ante.

I am the small blind with a pair of jacks. UTG limped in, and there as one caller in late position. I had about $16000 in front of me and I made it $5000 to go. After much thought, UTG called (almost half his stack).

The flop was 8H 5H 2C

I shoved all in and he called pretty quickly with the ace queen of hearts. He was actually a favourite I believe with his two overcards and the nut flush draw. But I won this race, and my stack was building nicely at this point.

Level six was $300/$600/$50

UTG limped in for $600, and the guy in second position (to my immediate right) also limped in; and I had a pair of queens. I was second stack at the table with over $40,000 and he had me covered.

How to play this one?

I decided to raise to $4,500.

All folded to my RHO, who now raised it up to $10,000 !!!

Who are these guys??

He had been playing tight aggressive poker all day, so my gut was already flashing warning signals. My gut told me to lay it down, he probably has aces or kings. But I did have queens (third best starting hand in poker) and I had position on him, and the call was for just over 20% of my stack, so I called.

I did not think a re-raise was in order.

The flop was a rainbow K 10 2

The guy checked the flop to me, but I smelled a check raise coming up.

He seemed to have begun with either AA, KK, or maybe AK.

So I checked too.

The turn was a brick, and he led out for a quiet $8,000 into a pot size of $22,000.

I folded, and he showed me a pair of aces.

I was regretting even calling his $10,000 bet (maybe I am too miserly with my chips during tournaments?) But the local pro to my left (good guy named Nick Gorman) congratulated me for preserving as many chips as I did on the hand.

Level 7 was $400/$800/$75 and I was sitting around $45,000.

All folded to the SB who completed on my right, and I held K10 offsuit, and elected not to raise. Maybe I should have as he had only $14,000 or so.

The flop was A 10 7

The SB led out for $2,000 and I called.

The turn was a harmless 5 and the SB shoved all-in.

I felt he did not have an ace, as he had raised (and shown ) his aces many times previously

So I called and he turned over 10 4 offsuit.

Great !

He got up to leave just as the dealer turned over a four on the river and my pair of tens was bested by his two pair on the river.

A couple of hands later I held Q10 offsuit, and there were two limpers ahead of me on the button. I elected to limp in also, creating a five way pot.

The flop was 7 2 2 rainbow.

The small blind on my left led out for $2,000, and all reluctantly folded to me. Like a wussy pussy, I folded without wasting any chips.

He, of course, had smelt an opportunity with such a dangerous board and only limpers, and was bluffing on air. I could have given him a healthy raise and taken down the pot (unless he in turn tried a bluff re-raise, which, as a pro, he is capable of doing)

I did not regret the chips so much as I regret not making the moves I know I should be – I justify it I guess because it is a tournament and you are always in survival mode, and looking to preserve chips, and pick up chips in favourable situations, but this was one of them – I just failed to pull the trigger.

The blinds went up to $400/$800/$75 and I had been bleeding a bit.

As the dealer dealt my cards into the small blind, she accidentally exposed my king of hearts, so it became a burned card.

The guy under the gun with a stack a bit smaller than mine opened for a weird $7,000, and I looked down at the matching king of spades (my first card !!) and the eight of clubs.

Daggnabbit – she had just burnt my pocket cowboys into a guy about to spew chips in my direction. I was pretty bummed to say the least as I folded and he took down the pot uncontested.

A few hands later I picked up pocket aces and opened for $2700 under the gun – and nobody called!

I finally went out in level ten when the blinds were $1,000/$2000 with a $300 ante, so it was costing $6,000 per orbit, and I was down to $23,000 in chips.

I had been bleeding for the most part – if I played too tight, I could not enter any pots as I was no longer getting any cards. If I made a raise it seemed the hands I was getting to do this were usually in mid position and not great either – KJ offsuit and the like. I’d usually get pushed off my hand before the flop.

I got into several pots cheaply with suited and unsuited connectors , but the texture of the board and the immediate action before it was on me meant I had to throw those hands away.

So I picked up pocket 8’s in the big blind. A guy in third position limped in and the button (big stack) raised to $4,500.

I felt he had a wide range in this situation, and my hand would be a favourite a good percentage of the time, so I shoved all in and he called smoothly with AQ offsuit.

An ace on the flop meant the end of my tournament – finishing 26th of an original 126.

The tournament pays thirteen places, with first place being around $11,000. I am told it often ends in a four or five way chop since most players want to avoid a tax hassle, and thus keep their cashes below $5,000.

I felt I played my C game today, and will review some of the issues I am facing overnight. I admire the game in other people – including Nick on my left who I made buddies with and who was giving me lots of pointers.

Although I lasted longer than him both yesterday and today, no question his game is better and more polished and I am asking myself where do I have to improve.

I think my mid tournament play is weakest. I have a good feel how to play early when we all have deep stacks. When we get to the final table, there is less skill required there, and I am pretty sure I know what to do most times, though I would like more experience at being a huge stack and running over table without being stupid about it. But in general, and in particular in the mid to late stages, my issues seem to be

1) I play in fear sometimes.
2) Bet sizing and raise amounts
3) Good players will come over the top more than I would or just risk chips
4) I am weak (I feel) at blind vs blind confrontations

I also have trouble with multi way pots – when to enter and how to enter.

So I think I have to just keep plugging away and watch and learn from people.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

View from Vegas May 5 2010

You would not expect Vegas to change too much in five short months – but there is a palpable hum in the air, which was sorely lacking during all my visits last year. My first clue was the humungous line up for taxis at the airport – last year I could just walk up to the taxi line and be the first guy in line.

The line up yesterday snaked for about 100 meters – and in that blazing sun I think I would have gladly paid for a limo or even a helicopter (!) to whisk me to the Venetian.

No such conveyances were available though, so I settled for the once-scorned tourist bus, which made approximately 17 stops enroute to the Venetian – but at least it was air conditioned!

At check in, the clerk advised me they have been at or near capacity for the past two months – which explains why they want to gouge me for $500 per night at the end of the trip after the promo coupon wears out! (Checking into a different hotel for that night)

This week there seems to be a big IBM convention at the Venetian so the place is crawling with blue shirts, short hair, and name badges.

I had no time for sins or vices; just get ready for dinner with the The Wolffs – Bobby and Judy – who have taken a shine to my writings on – so we arranged a terrific get together for drinks and dinner.

We chatted our heads off for a few hours – and folks it doesn’t get much better than sitting with Mr. and Mrs. “Aces on Bridge” and being fed bridge hands and stories between the Caesar salad and veal marsala.

Anyway, whereas last year I had a host who provided me with VIP check in; airport limos; free access to the VIP lounge, and most food comped if on premises, this trip I am schlepping like everyone else.

Business was so sparse in Vegas last year, even my action was attractive to the hotel. But with prosperity how quickly they forget their friends.

Still, the play’s the thing – isn’t it? Never kid yourself that the amount of action they normally require of you to justify a free room is worth it. If the chip count is not going up, just fuggedabout it!

Anyway, last night I played a little (and I mean a little) blackjack at three tables, winning a modest amount each time. I had some energy to kill before bedtime, so I played some penny Spin Poker on a slot machine. Down $50 and rueing my decision, I got into a pressing situation, and was rewarded with a max bet down ( a grand total of only $6 or 600 units - it's a penny machine remember) with a Royal Flush (with a wildcard deuce) twenty times – resulting in a $120 payout and an eventual profit at the machine of around $76.

In bed by a respectable 11.30 pm (well that’s 2.30 AM my time but who’s counting), I was visited not once but twice by the shrill sound of a wayward bedside alarm clock which the previous joker in my room had set to 3 AM. Eventually ripping it out of the wall (couldn’t figure out how to switch the damn thing off) I got about 6 hours of sleep otherwise.

Downstairs for blackjack – a few short sessions before the daily poker tournament – they all went well till the last one – where I misplaced my customary discipline and patience and wiped out all my morning’s profits at one table.

For $150 I bought into the daily tournament – shoulder to shoulder with 90 other Venetian denizons anxious to claim a piece of the approx $4000 first place prize.

This ended too early for me. When the blinds were at the 7th level, I got all my chips in the middle against Mr. Super Stack. 1/3 of them pre flop when I raised large from the button with JJ to eliminate two limpers, but Mr. Super Stack in the big blind called me effortlessly.

With a hugely wonderful flop of J72 offsuit, Mr. Super Stack came out firing with a half pot size bet, and I (without too much evident enthusiasm) raised him all in. His stack had me well and truly covered 3-4 times over, so of course, he snap called with his KK.

The river alas was a cursed king, and instead of more than doubling up, I was out and on the rail. Ah well, such is the life of a tournament poker player. I ended up around 30th.

Earlier in the event I was in a three way pot with 66. I had raised to 3 times the big blind in late position; the button re-raised me, and the big blind came along for the ride. I was getting good odds to call, but I felt I was in a poor position with a low pair and not on the button – nevertheless I perversely called !

The flop was A 5 A rainbow. They both checked to me, and I looked down at a meager stack and understood my best chance to move onwards was to take this pot down. So I shoved all in – like a man with an ace or even 55 or A5. I wished I had more chips, since my all in was less than half the size of the pot - meaning they would get good odds to call me.

Can you believe what happened next? The button agonized and threw away a pair of kings, after an intense stare down. (He was in the middle of me and the next guy so you can see why he was reticent)

This left the big blind looking at his own pair of jacks, and at me for a hopeful show and tell. But I had my best deadpan look going, and after even more theatrics on his part, he also folded. They were quick to show the table what experts they were - making such big laydowns – so I could not resist – I turned over my 6’s.

This got a huge laugh and applause from the rest of the table – and had these two guys talking to themselves for the rest of the day. I guess they would no longer peg me as super tight.

Within an hour, Mr. Super Stack came to our table and put them both out of their misery on the same hand – when he spiked the nut flush on the river to oust their (tied) winning hands.

Anyway, I was out of the tournament, so I repaired to the blackjack pit to recoup my entry fee and get back in the saddle again. Me and the dealer – one shoe – I only lost two hands, playing two spots in a double deck game. And it was winning ugly. As is so often the case when “the press is on”, you win with hands you would not normally expect to.

Great ! Back up to a new high for the trip – and played a little longer until two jumpers came in and messed with my karma. I humored them for a shoe or two and as my chip stack was treading water, I said thank you and good bye.

Still, all in all, a great start to the trip. Viva Las Vegas!

Day two in Vegas - May 6 2010

Last night I had dinner with old friends Sheri Winestock and Fred Gitelman – two transplanted Canadians enjoying life permanently in Las Vegas. From here they run the premier online destination for bridge play in the world –

It seems we have known each other for ever, but in fact they are both only in their early forties. Fred used to cut high school classes to come play at the bridge club I was working in to help finance my education. He always had a sharp mind for the game – so it was not surprising he blossomed into a world class player with numerous victories at the highest levels of the game.

Sheri is pretty damn good too, and is in fact preparing herself for the toughest event on the calendar – the US Open Bridge Championships being held in mid June in Chicago.

Dinner was at my favorite restaurant in Vegas – Sushi Samba – located in the Palazzo hotel. An eclectic mix of three distinct cuisines (with three different kitchens) – Brazilian, Peruvian, and Japanese.

We washed it all down with an elegant cold saki, and the drinks at the bar afterwards did not hurt either. Well that is until I decided to play some double deck blackjack after they left the hotel.

Three "donations" at three consecutive tables resulted in me giving back most of the goodness (read : profits) of the past twenty four hours. With tail between my legs, I slid off to bed, and vowed to be smarter in the morning.

To think I espouse treating blackjack play like a business, and then like a random tourist, I played when my senses were dulled.

This morning, I had a good long swim at Tao beach – wonderful – not so hot as yesterday, and played some highly disciplined BJ after the swim. I can report neither success nor failure though as all my play today has resulted in zero gain or loss.

The daily poker tournament got my attention again today – but I suffered a similar fate to yesterday. I am starting to resent the relatively small starting stack of $7,500 with a rapidly increasing blind and ante structure.

Luck still plays a huge role in the survival process – since you cannot just sit there and play your best poker – you always have an eye on your stack, relative to the table and the average left in the tournament – and you cannot afford too many unsuccessful moves.

My moves all seemed normal to me – but I batted 1 for 6 in the first few hours of the event and could not get myself over an average stack size all day. This was a table where limping was condoned – even encouraged. I rarely limp into a pot – I am a raiser. Each time I raised (or tried a squeeze play) I could not get rid of most of them – each time I had at least a three way pot.

Excepting of course when I was dealt pocket aces in the small blind. Now I was thrilled to be at this type of table. But on that occasion, everyone folded and I got no action – argh!

The hand I went out on was quite bizarre. I held J8 suited in spades in late position, and was able to limp into a multi player flop. The flop was 22J – giving me a respectable two pair. The flop included two diamonds.

I bet out around 2/3 of the pot after two checks, and got one customer, with the others folding, as you would expect with a dangerous board like this.

The turn was another two, giving me a full house with deuces and jacks. I decided to check. The other guy bet out about 2/3 of the pot and I raised him. He re-raised me and I snap shoved all in of course.

He went a little green but decided to call with his AQ of diamonds – quite foolish if you ask me. When we turned over our hands, he got up from his chair and was preparing his stuff to leave, when another deuce hit the table on the river!

Quad deuces on the table. He sat down, content to share the pot, but was blown away when all the chips went over to him.

You see my jacks had been counterfeited by the last deuce – my hand had improved to four deuces – with a jack kicker. His improved to four deuces with an ace kicker. So goodbye Ross.

Another 32nd placing out of 110 players. (Top 13 only get paid today)

I rarely complain these days about bad beats etc. but pleaze, cry me a river!

Probably the only person happy with these developments will be my bridge partner Keith Balcombe, since this means, for the third night in a row, even though I am here on holiday in Las Vegas, I am available again for practice on Fred’s website –

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Fallsview $2,500 Event Final Table

If I am ever going to win a bigger than one day tournament, I will look back at the past two days and recall just what it took for Gavin Smith to win Fallsview's $2,500 event this morning.

Day two play began at noon on January 11. By late afternoon, the field was down to two tables, and by mid evening, the final table was set.

However, in a battle of epic proportions, the table remained active for around ten hours of play, and the event did not actually end till 7.30 AM this morning, January 12, when Gavin Smith finally bested Narinder Khasria.

Narinder, Gavin, and (Mak) Siamak Soleimanian, duelled three handed for over five hours - quite extraordinary, and then heads up play between Gavin and Narinder lasted around two and half hours.

The chip stacks ebbed and flowed and as a spectator it was utterly compelling. In the interests of integrity of reporting I must confess I vacated the playing area at 6 AM - much as I wanted to see it till the end, I could not keep my eyes open any longer.

There were many moments of high drama - especially when it got three handed, after Mark Zajdner's pocket kings were outflopped by Gavin Smith's pocket 4's.

If not for two tough beats, Mak might well be the champion and the toast of the Fallsview Poker room. He had qualified near the bottom of the list for day 2 (proving my position was not as ridiculous as it seemed) and worked his way all the way to the final table, where a key showdown hand with his quad sixes propelled him to the chip lead.

Gavin Smith was down to a relatively short stack when he shoved all in from the button with KJ offsuited, and Mak called with AQ suited. The river spiked a king though, and Gavin survived and revived his chances.

On Mak's exit hand, his stack was now covered by Gavin's when they got it all in again. This time Gavin had A10 and Mak had AK and a ten hit the board and Mak hit the rail.

Narinder had his own dramatics on a couple of occasions. He doubled up on Gavin early in heads up when HIS 4's flopped a set and beat Gavin's pocket 9's.

Later, he was all in again with 107 suited against AJ suited. The board had KJ8A9 and the river completed a gut shot straight for Narinder, besting Gavin's top two pair, and extending the play once again during heads up.

The most spectactular exit was probably perpetrated on Aadam Daya (5th) by Narinder. Short stacked Aadam shoved from the button with KQ offsuit. Narinder looked down at his cards in the big blind and found two aces ! Saying, "well I guess I have to call", he flipped open his aces to a forlorn looking Aadam.

The railbirds all stand and crane their necks in unison whenever there is a final table all-in confrontation, and what a treat they got here.

The flop came J104 rainbow, breathing life into Aadam's dominated KQ as now he had an open ended straight draw.

Sure enough, the next card was an ace on the turn, converting the losing hand into a Broadway straight, while improving Narinder's hand to three aces.

The river card was an unbelievable fourth ace, and the crowd roared and groaned as Aadam went from hero to zero in a few short seconds, and Narinder was joyously smiling from ear to ear, as his quad aces took down the pot and eliminated Aadam.

The top five places were as follows :

1st Gavin Smith $188,743

2nd Narinder Khasria $94,371

3rd Siamak Soleimanian $47,186

4th Mark Zajdner $37,749

5th Aadam Daya $25,795

It is clear luck plays a major part in the outcome of a poker tournament - everyone in the late stages of a tournament has won hands they were "supposed to lose" - ie they were in tough against an opponent's hand with better odds to win, but the lesser hand prevailed.

In this case, each player of the final four had more than one such hand - so one could argue the luck evened out.

Sometimes the luck factor is not so relevant on a hand - the pot may be small, or neither player maybe be facing elimination if the result goes against him.

However, it certainly seemed like the high luck factor hands had lots of drama and import when they came up at this final table.

For sure, the most experienced poker player won in the end - but he would be the first to admit, any of the final three could have won this thing, and had their chances.

They all played well, and they deserve their big payday.