Winter classes are over, and I wanted to get out of the house and playing poker again to get my mind off of how poorly I thought one of my finals went. I stopped by the casino for the nightly $60 tournament, and decided to see what I could do.

As I sit down in seat 1 and pay $5 for the dealer-tip add-on of 1000 chips to the initial 6000 we start with, there's only one other guy at the table so far - a kid wearing a backwards Legend of Zelda baseball cap in seat 7. I decided to nickname him Link because of that. But at the same time, the clock for the tournament is officially running, yet every dealer is refusing to deal. They claim that they can't start until the table has at least three people on it, which is understandable, but then why start the clock before then? It takes more than 3 minutes before we finally get a 3rd player - a young asian man with blue and green highlights in his hair, who sits in seat 5, but we finally get to playing at blinds of 25/50.

Already, I see how Link's going to play. The first hand, I get A5s in the button and raise to 3x. Both Highlights and Link come along, and the board is A72, two clubs. Link just flat-out donks a medium amount (about 60% pot), and I don't think I can go anywhere with my ace at this point. But Highlights also calls. The 4 turn gives me a gutshot draw, but puts a second flush draw that I don't have out as well. Highlights checks, and Link bets out around 60% pot again. I should have folded here, but the backup draw talked me into calling. But when the Q turn comes and Link bets again, I'm finally out. Good thing, too - Highlights suddenly check-raises big, and Link folds to it.

We get a new guy in seat 8 - he's got brown-tinted sunglasses. He doesn't play much at first, but I get to see the Link limp with T8s in the small blind. It's something I notice with him - he's playing very loose-passive preflop, and very loose-aggressive postflop. It's the same style I see 40% of online micro-stakes tourney fish play.

I soon get A5s again, this time in the cutoff. My raise this time only gets called by Link, and the board is A32 rainbow. I have top pair and a gutshot draw, but the fact is that I have the 2nd worst possible top pair. I could easily get dominated by better Aces if I tried to get three streets of value, so I check in position. But then the 4 comes on the turn - I now have the straight, and I make a decent-sized bet. Link thinks for a bit and calls. the 6 almost seals everything, and I bet just about 350 - less than 1/2 the pot. But I can't get more value out of him, so I take the pot then and there. Next hand, Highlights raised 5x utg/in the cutoff. Although it's only 3% of my stack, it's such a big-proportioned raise that I feel like I have to fold my A2s in the big blind.

The hand after is more interesting. Link limps in the hijack, and I look down at Aces in the small blind! I raise to 200. Both Highlights and Link come along. The flop is K32 rainbow, and I c-bet 1/2 pot - 300 chips. Only Link calls, and the turn is the 7 of diamonds, putting a backdoor flush draw on board. I bet 1/2 pot again, 600, and Link suddenly raises to 1600. I think for a bit, but not as long as I should have. I consider what he may have on such a dry board to raise such a blank of a turn, and figure he either a) is overplaying a weaker pair, b) is playing a flush draw aggressively AFTER he called with just backdoor cards on the flop, or c) flopped a tiny set or a strange 2 pair. For some reason, I thought the flush draw was the most likely (mostly because the guy's been raising a lot postflop), and I call, thinking that I have the A blocker to the flush anyways. The river is the K of diamonds, pairing the board and putting a flush out there. It's an awful card for me - an overplayed K now beats me, as does the flush draw, so I check. Link tanks for a bit before he checks too, and somehow I'm good - I hear him mumbling about how he hated the river as he mucks.

Only two more things of note happen this level - a new older guy chewing gum appears on my left in seat 2. That, and I noticed Highlights call a raise with 94o, then donk out 2/3 pot on a J96 board with it before showing it.

Blinds go up to 50/100, and Link is in trouble - he's down to half the starting stack due to his postflop bets not getting through at all. I also notice that Sunglasses isn't showing down many hands - he's mostly limping in position/the small blind against other limpers, then betting postflop to take the pot. It's working - he's up a fair bit.

I get another hand - Deuces in the big blind. Highlights raised 3x, and because we're still deep enough for the implied odds, I call. The flop is 258, two hearts - BINGO, bottom set! I think about how to play it at first, and I check. Probably a bad move - donking out would probably be the better option against fishy players like this. But in either case, Highlights suddenly bet pot - about 700 chips. This is a tough spot - if I raise, I run the risk of not getting any more chips from him because I now look super strong. But if I just call, I run the risk of the flush coming in. Eventually, I decide to raise to 1800. Highlights thinks for about a minute, but then makes the call. The turn is a blank Queen, and because he’s put in over 1/3 of his remaining stack, I put Highlights all in for about 3000. He tanks for a long while before folding, which is an awful play (not the fold – calling for over 1/3 of his stack and then folding).

A new guy joins in seat 3, two spots to my left – he’s an older guy with greying hair and glasses, but most notably to me, he has a bump on the left side of his nose. I decided to call him Nose Bump. He doesn’t get involved right away, but an orbit later I lose a big pot I shouldn’t have played like I did. 3 players limped to me in the big blind, and I look down at K8o. I check, and the flop is 873, two clubs. With top pair+2nd kicker on a wet board, I am 100% betting out here, so I bet about ½ pot (200 chips). I get two callers, including sunglasses to my right. The turn is a 2, and suddenly sunglasses donks out around 2/3 pot. I think for a long time here – what could he possibly have that such a blank turn would constitute donking out? I decide to call because his line doesn’t make any sense, and the other player goes away. The river is a J, no draws came in (other than a weirdly-played 9T), and he bets 1500. I think for about a minute, come to the conclusion that his betting doesn’t make any sense, and call. He turns over 32o for a turned bottom two pair and scoops the pot, and I’m sent on tilt a little bit by him calling a flop bet with bottom pair+bottom kicker, but whatever. I want an idiot like that to make such calls.

I make another questionable play the very next hand. Two players limped, and I look down at QThh in the small blind. I decide to punish the limpers and raise to 500, but suddenly Gum-Chewer in seat 2 makes a 3-bet to 1100. The limpers fold, and I think for a bit before I make a questionable call. See, this was my reasoning at the time – I was out of position and had a very vulnerable hand against a 3-bet, but the 3-1 pot-odds were enticing, and my thought was that if I hit big, I could get the guy’s entire stack. So I make the call, and hit the jackpot – the flop is J72 all hearts, and my flush is made. I check, and Gum-Chewer c-bets 1600 (about 2/3 pot). I think for a good while about how I want to play my flush. Eventually, I decide that (1), calling gives an Ah a chance to counterfeit my flush, and (2), I highly doubted that calling would be more profitable in the long run than just pushing now and making it look like a draw. So I check-raise shoved, and Gum-Chewer goes into the tank for a good minute. Eventually, he calls for his entire stack with pocket Queens, and the turn and river are blanks. I bust a player, and I’m up to over 13,000 chips.

The blinds go up to 75/150, and I suddenly realize how exciting this tournament is going to be with all the notes and hands I have for just the first two levels. My hands finally cool off this level, the most I’m getting being rag aces out of position and speculative hands that have to fold to shoves. We get a new player early on in seat 6 – he’s a large man with a peculiar beard style that I’ve seen before, so I call him Familiar Beardy. Early on though, Nose Bump got into a big fight with Link. I didn’t notice the hands, but Nose Bump got reduced to about 13 big blinds. The very next hand, he open-shoved out of position, and I had to fold JTs. He then limped and shoved post-flop the next hand. But he eventually gets his revenge – he had called Link’s raise with QJo and called a big turn bet on a Q6TQ board. The river was a 6, and the two put a lot of money in, eventually revealing that Link had pocket Tens for middle set that got counterfeited on the river – Link now is down to an average stack, while Nose Bump is up to over 35bb (which is still under starting).

Two more seats join – Seat 8 is Gum-Chewer, who I just busted and decided to rebuy. Seat 4 is an older bald Asian man. One of the last hands of the level is also the only one I play – I have ATo utg+1, and since there are only 6 players behind me, I believe the hand is good enough to play, so I raise to 3x. I notice Highlights tanking for a long while before folding in the cutoff, but more interestingly is Link in the small blind – he wasn’t paying attention, and instead of calling my raise, he just limps. Everyone starts telling him to put the rest of the money in, and after a minute he realizes what they meant and folds – and he DOESN’T get his limp back, meaning instead of stealing 1.5bb, I steal 2 instead. But in either case, the first break comes, and I go with 14,375 chips before the add-on (or 16,375 after, which will be about 82bb).

When we get back from break, we learn that 38 players joined, and that 4 would get paid – mincash was about $175, and the winner got around $690 plus a tournament ticket. The blinds are now at 100/200 with a 25 ante, and we get a player in seat 10 – he’s wearing a golf-shirt and has a bald spot, but is otherwise the blandest of the players at the table. On one of the first hands, Familiar Beard got crippled. He had called a smallish turn shove, and had turned over a straight-flush draw for 15 outs. The draws didn’t come, but he had made a good call with that hand there.

Soon after, there are a bunch of limpers, and I look down at A6s in the small blind. With all of the limpers, I don’t think I can get most to fold, so I decide to limp and try to hit a flush. The flop is 245, so I have a decent gutshot draw that could get money out of worse aces, but I still have nothing at the moment with a bunch of other players, so I check. Everyone checks behind, and the turn is a 6. Although I now have top pair, it’s a very vulnerable top pair and any 3 beats me, so I check again – everyone else checks too. The river is a 2 and after I check, suddenly Nose Bump bets out. Thinking I’m likely no good, I posture a bit and fold. Nose Bump shows a 2 for rivered trips, so I made a much better fold in this spot. I have A4o in the button the next hand, and once again I consider punishing the limpers, but I chicken out because of how there are 5 of them.

Soon, Highlights busts. Sunglasses had raised in position, and Highlights had called. Sunglasses then overshoved the flop as a c-bet, which Highlights snap-called – they had 22 for bottom set and a flush draw respectively, making this both an awful shove (can get more from other people) and an awful call (nut flush draw doesn’t have the odds to call a 3x the pot overshove). The flush doesn’t come, and now Sunglasses takes Highlights' chips.

I then make yet another stupid decision. Gum-Chewer raised 2.5x utg, and I 3-bet to 1500 with pocket Jacks. Suddenly, Bald Asian (who was a chronic limper) cold-called on the button, as did Gum-Chewer. The flop is A43. Here’s the problem – with two players, one of whom cold-called a 3-bet in position, the chances of at least one of them having an A are very likely, so I should have given up. Instead, I c-bet 2500, which is slightly less than ½ pot. Baldy looks very frustrated by my raise, which would be a good portion of his stack, but after tanking for a good while he calls. Gum-Chewer folds, and the turn is another 4. This now makes the only plausible thing a fish like Gum-Chewer would call with that I beat, some weird 4, beat me, so I am forced to check-fold to his shove.

Suddenly, there’s a table break as we’re down to 30 players. We get two new players – in Seat 2 to my left is a familiar gentleman with a moustache, who is better dressed than usual, but also memorable for being a fish. Meanwhile, seat 5 is another guy I’ve seen who’s a tournament grinder, but today he’s wearing headphones and sunglasses, which is an odd look on this 40-something guy. There’s one more hand, and that’s when Familiar Beard doubled up with K2s against Golfshirt’s pocket Aces, with a flush against a set.

The blinds go up to 150/300 (ante is still 25), and one of the first hands that happens, the Moustache guy raised to 4.25x utg (1275). It’s folded around to me, and before I even look, Moustache makes a quip like “Oh, I won!” and goes to fold. Everyone stops him when I reveal that I’m still in the hand, and I find pocket Aces for a second time tonight! I think about what I want to do for a bit, and then I 3-bet to 2900. Taking his hand back, Moustache thinks briefly before announcing a 4-bet shove. I call quickly, and see that he has pocket Queens. The board runs out blanks, and I bust another player.

Two hands later, I get KK on the button. Headphones Grinder had limped utg, and Familiar Beard had raised to 1300. With more players in the pot, I 3-bet a bit larger than last time to 3600. Only Beard calls, but it’s for almost ½ his stack, which makes it even worse for him when he check-folded on a 9-high board. I now have very healthy stack, and I watch as Link and Nose Bump get into another tussle. Link’s 99 double’s up through Nose Bump’s KJo, bringing Link to about 20bb while Nose is down to 14.

Near the end of the level, there’s a 3-way all-in situation between a bunch of players with less than 15bb each – Nose Bump has JTo, Headphones Grinder has AJo, and Familiar Beard has A9o. Also note that Nose Bump had just cold-called a 3-bet and a 4-bet shove with his hand. There’s a T on the turn, busting Beard, crippling Grinder to 100 chips, and tripling Nose Bump to over 12,000 chips (30bb next level). Grinder busts soon after, and then the blinds go up to 200/400 with a 50 ante.

I make another mistake early on at this new level, when I accidentally limped utg with A4s. The reason? I thought I was in the big blind, and by the time I had realized my mistake, half the table had already folded. The board is T42, but middle pair is no good against a bet, so I have to fold. But we soon get another player in seat 2 – he’s a tan-skinned young guy with a beard and an Edmonton Oiler’s cap.

I soon notice that seat 10, Baldspot Golfshirt, is being very fishy. He keeps limping and limping regardless of his stack size. In a good example, he limped in the cutoff with less than 10bb left. I look down at 66 on the button and, wanting to isolate him and possibly get his stack, I raise to 1400 (3.5x). Nose Bump calls, but Golfshirt folds, crippling him further. The flop is A93 rainbow, and a c-bet from me takes the pot. Soon after, Link loses half his stack to the Older Asian man – he rivered a straight, but the same straight also brought a flush, and somehow he thought he was still good even when his opponent raised that river.

I get another interesting hand soon after. Several people limp to me in the big blind, and I look down at J8o. I check my option, and the board is QTx two diamonds, giving me a gutshot draw. I check, and it’s checked around. The turn is a non-diamond 9; jackpot! I bet out 1100, and only sunglasses calls. The river is a blank 6, and I try to size my bet on the smaller side to get a call out of a T or a weak Q. Unfortunately, my 2000 bet still makes him fold. I wonder if there was a better bet-sizing. The very next hand, It was folded to me in the small blind, and I look down at A9o. I look at Oilers Cap, and he has less than 15bb left. I shove and steal the pot from the short stack. The hand after, I set-mine with 77 on the button, but I have to fold on a 985 board; a weak gutshot draw isn’t good enough.

Link finally busts when he runs 55 into Nose Bump’s AA, giving the Nosy player an even bigger stack. A few hands later, I raise A7s in middle position. Oilers Cap 3-bet shoves about 10bb on me, and because my stack is so big, I can afford to try to bust the guy. I call, but he turns over 99. With a 985 flop, he gets a set, but I still have a gutshot draw. But the K turn and K river seal it and double Oilers up, and we’re soon on to the 300/600 (50 ante) level.

I’m already having wins and losses on this new level, mirroring my roller-coaster tournament very closely. I raise utg with ATo as we’re on a short-handed table, and only sunglasses calls in the small blind. The board is KT2, and I check my middle pair in position, not believing I can get much value out of this. I make a small bet on the 3 turn, which is enough to take the pot. The next hand, Golfshirt shoves the last of his stack in the small blind – 675 chips, making it 75 for me to call in a pot of 1275 (this is the way the guy was playing – limp until less than 5bb left, then fold to everything even if you’ve already limped). Needless to say, I’m calling blind, but my J6o is behind his ATo, especially with an A on the river, and he doubles up to a whopping 2 big blinds.

However, the tables break as we’re down to 20 players now. I move to a new table with the following players in the seats:
1. Young Asian girl
2. Guy with a dragon tattoo
3. Older woman who looked very unkempt
4. Asian kid with glasses
5. A big-jawed kid in a New York cao
6. An older Phillipino gentleman
7. Me
8. A familiar Well-dressed player with a big stack, who I recall is kind of dangerous
9. Sunglasses again
10. Golfshirt again.

For some reason, Golfshirt keeps surviving, and he doubles up again. He’s still got less than 7bb however, and he’s STILL limping and then folding a bunch of hands! More interestingly is the fact that I’m actually the table bigstack! However, the 2nd biggest stack is on my left, he’s got enough to cripple me, and he’s a dangerous player. I also finally hear him speak – every other time I’ve played him, he’s been silent, but now he’s talking to seats 9 and 10, and I notice that he has a Spanish accent.

One of the last hands that occurred before break occurs when the Phillipino limps to open. I look down at pocket Aces for the third time this tournament, and I raise to 2100 chips. He calls fairly quickly, and the board is 9xx. He suddenly donks out 2100 for about ¼ of his remaining stack. Thinking that he’s short enough to be doing this with top pair, I push him all-in, and surprisingly he folds. But in any case, we go to the next break, and I have 31,200 chips (39bb when the blinds go up, which is still enough to be the bigstack).

Will be continued in part 2