[ Adventures ]
can a nice girl go head-to-head?
Today I’m doing something even more foolish than usual: I’m playing in a $1500 shootout. A shootout is a tournament in which each table plays down to one winner, all of whom play each other. Then the winners of those tables go on to play each other, and so on, down to the final table. Instead of just “grinding”—slowly and patiently accumulating chips—shootouts require a more aggressive style of play. “You have to bust people,” says The Numbrist, barely masking his annoyance when he learns about this latest quixotic scheme.
“But I could just play for second and then win it all heads-up, right?”
“Sure,” says The Numbrist, not sure whether to be pleased that I’ve remembered this lesson from an earlier Boot Camp or irked that I’m using it in service of yet another incorrect decision. “You’d always take second place versus a 5:1 chip leader. But you can’t necessarily guarantee that.
The hell I can’t. Careful, aggressive, and well-timed play soon has me second at my table, with the aggressive, unskilled, and cheerful opponent across from me enjoying not even a 5:1 lead—maybe more like 3:2. He knocked out just about everybody with monster hands that grew from marginal choices—hitting two pair with two weird cards, staying with an inside straight draw that somehow came in, stuff like that. Surely I’m a better player than he is. Surely, despite my piss-poor showing the last time I played heads-up (and don’t ask me why someone who admits she can’t play heads-up would then put $1500 into a shootout), I can take this guy. Can’t I?
No, alas, I can’t. I thought I’d figured out a heads-up strategy the other night, but either I didn’t or it wasn’t solid enough to hold up under pressure. There are plenty of on-line heads-up games in which I could have practiced for one or two dollars a shot; there are plenty of on-line guides to heads-up strategy; I could even have begged The Numbrist for a quickie formula (I’m pretty sure he has one—it’s the kind of thing he has). Instead, I do none of these things, play great through 8 players and go down in flames to the 9th.
I thought I owed it to my readers to sample each type of tournament. Would The Numbrist say I was rationalizing?In fact, there’s something wrong with this picture, because when I’ve played single-table satellites on line—satellites that always end in heads-up play—I actually do very well. Most single-table online games—a form known as the “sit ‘n’ go”—pay the top three places, and a good player should be able to cash in about 40 percent of them. My record is pretty close to that, and in the ones I’ve played, I actually have more firsts than seconds or thirds. That isn’t why I chose to enter this shootout—I did it because one of the poker memoirists I’ve been reading to prepare for this blog played in one, and somehow I thought I owed it to my readers to sample each type of tournament. Would The Numbrist say I was rationalizing? I could have gone to play a cheaper—and less prestigious—tournament at the Venetian.
In any case, despite my sad showing of the other night, I’ve historically done very well at heads-up, both live and online—with one huge exception. When it’s a multitable tournament, where the difference between first- and second-place money is considerable, I tend to lose patience with heads-up play and start making kamikaze moves, just to get the damn thing over with. Instead of stretching out the time and saying to myself, “Settle in for another hour. . . or two. . . or as long as it takes,” I say, “Wow, I’ve been playing six hours already, can’t we just wrap this thing up?”
Or is that really it? It can’t be, in this case, because, thanks to my opponent’s cheerful bludgeoning of the rest of the table, we’re down to heads-up in about three hours, which is really nothing. Just one other table has finished this round; most of the rest still have five or six players.