As the final six players remaining in the WPT Biloxi were rummaging through their individual suitcases looking for something suitable to wear on television the following day, I was scouring Expedia for the first flight out. It was two o’clock in the morning, and the six twenty-five to Vegas was screaming my name.

When you’re second in chips with eleven remaining, squeaking out your first WPT final table is little consolation. I grabbed a burger at the twenty-four hour diner at the entrance of the Beau Rivage with Jason Mercier and Phildo Collins and headed over to the bus entrance to catch the airport shuttle. Springing for a cab just didn’t seem right after watching over seven hundred thousand dollars slip away yet again.

After several deep runs in WPT events, I made my first final table with a disappointing and frustrating ninth. The story of the tournament was the same as any other. I played well; got lucky a few times, got unlucky a few times, and tried to put myself in a position to win. There was one pivotal hand with eleven left that really hurt me that I’ll describe here:

I opened the button with AsQs to 28k at blinds 6k/12k and was called by Jonathon Kantor in the big blind. The flop came out Qh 8d 3h and Jon checked. I bet 37k and he called. The turn was the Ks, and we both checked. The river brought the Ad, giving me two pair.

Jon led for 75k, with about 200k behind. I have 500k before acting on the bet. Obviously, folding is not an option. The question here is whether to call or raise. I am only beat by 3 hands realistically: 33, 88, and JT. JT of hearts would make perfect sense, and JT off is a possibility. 33 and 88 are also possible, though I think he probably would have check raised the flop with those hands. This player likes to defend with a lot of hands, including ace rag.

So if I move all in, I think he’ll call with A3, A8, probably KQ, and possibly Ax of hearts if he thinks I’m making a move, albeit unlikely. I decided that these hands were far more likely than the three that beat me, so now it comes down to a tournament life decision. If I call and lose, I’ll still have 230k, or about 20 blinds.

Had this number been closer to 100k, I may have called and taken the lower variance option. However, with enough chips to climb back if I lose, and a belief that I am significantly more likely to be called behind, I decided to shove and try to pick up an extra 200k chips. Jon called instantly with 33, and I went from big stack to short stack.

I brought the hand up to Jason Mercier and Daniel Negreanu after it happened, and both said they would probably just call. However, I had been playing with this player for about thirty hours in both the 10k event and the 2k event all the way down to the final table (where I got 6th and Jon won). I had plenty of information stored to make this decision, and I stand by it. I’m trying to win a tournament here.

I lost a few chips to another amateur by the name of James Reed. He openly acknowledged that he could not compete with good players post flop, and resorted to making fifty blind shoves over any raise with his good hands.

I three bet his cut off open, which he obviously called, only to be check shoved on an ace high flop. What could he have here? Very few good players would call my raise preflop with AQ or AK, but with James I was sure he was at least that strong. Though he had very little experience, he was still a formidable opponent.

I’ve heard a quote several times that people relate to playing poker. It goes something like: “The world’s best swordsman does not fear the second greatest swordsman. He fears the amateur because he cannot predict what he will do.” First of all, the quote itself is absurd. If I, an amateur swordsman myself, were to take on the world’s greatest, I would be dead in seconds, whereas the second greatest may very will win.

The same is true in poker. I would prefer to take on an amateur player over a pro any day. However, there is some truth to this analogy in short stack tournament situations. Amateurs consistently make bets and raises without knowing why. Do they want a call or a fold? Who knows? They often don’t.

They’ll call off 40% of their stack preflop without knowing what they want to see on the flop, or what they will do when they hit it. This is the reason tournaments are profitable, but it can also be very dangerous late in tournaments. If you’re building a pot late in a tournament against a player who doesn’t know the value of his hand, you had better well know the value of yours.

I boarded a stuffy, crowded plane at about six o’clock in the morning. After some pleasantries exchanged with my seat neighbor, I slept all the way to the ground in Memphis. I walked to my new gate, found a row of seats without arm rests, and slept some more. I had a middle seat on the flight back to Vegas.

Surprisingly, all the good seats were taken when I had booked just hours before. Right before take off, the pilot informed us we had a flat tire and would be sitting an extra half hour or so until it was fixed. The guy next to me was pissed, but I was too tired to worry about it. I went to sleep and didn’t wake up until I could see the Las Vegas Strip.

I’m heading to LA on Monday to start a month long grind. I’ll be putting in a lot of hours at the cash tables, as well as playing some of the smaller LAPC events leading up to the bigger ones. It’s been a frustrating start to the year, but I’m rededicated to the game and couldn’t be more focused. Hopefully I can turn that into cash in LA.