I was grateful to get a ticket to this $5k freeroll again. I took my place with many other PSOers in the field. With under 500 players the theoretical buyin value was a touch over $10, so well worth bringing one's A game to.

Sad to report, the most interesting hand I played was probably also the one I played the poorest. It's only when I review my hands that I realise that I am still capable of horribly passive play when I'm unsure what to do. Blinds were still at the 15/30 level and the table's loosest player (playing 42/11) raised into my AJo...

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I was sure there would be plenty of worse Aces in villain's range, but at this level I'm reluctant to commit too many chips preflop without an absolute premium hand. So, unhappy about folding or raising, I called out of position with my AJo. Even reviewing this now, it looks like one of those spots where folding, calling and raising all seem like pretty flawed ideas, with folding maybe marginally the least bad, given the 'play tight early' maxim. I'd be interested to know how others would approach it.

The flop looked good for me and the very small c bet fitted well with my suspicion of there being lots of weak Aces and small pairs in villain's range. Noting his tendency to try to play the bully postflop(4.9 agggression), I called to give him more rope.

The King seemed a pretty nice turn card, and I checked as planned and found myself facing a halfpot bet. At this point I still expected to be ahead a lot of the time, but not enough that I wanted to commit my stack. So I continued with my super-passive line. The bigger turn bet didn't concern me much, as I often find weak players make tiny flop bets with weak holdings, and gain confidence in their hands if they are not raised. Here though, I should have noted that the range I was facing was at least narrowing.

The river being something of a blank, I again checked, expecting a check back or maybe a very small bet. The halfpot bet was bigger than I was expecting. This is where I got really lazy and just called with my decent top pair without making the effort to properly range my opponent. Reviewing this later it becomes obvious to me that it is highly unlikely that any hand I am beating would be betting like this here. Weak Aces and worse could just check to see a free showdown. And there are so few draws that could realistically have got to here, missed, and now seem like candidates for a bluff. Very few compared to all the hands that could be ahead and value betting here, all the sets and two-pairs.

So in retrospect I think this is a clear fold on the river. But in fact I called. And found myself stuck with a half-crippled stack as the blinds went up to 25/50 and I was down to a 10bb stack. I was desperate to win some chips before the blinds doubled again at the next level. Luckily I soon found some good opportunites to steal some blinds and also pick up some limp/fold money in the process.

Meanwhile in the seat to my immediate left, popular PSOer ArtySmokesPS was suffering similarly, trying to nurse a small stack through till the chance came to double up. Things came to a head  on the 75/150 level, when I shoved my 8bb with A9s from middle position (but with two seats sitting out it was effectively the cutoff). Arty called with KK but I binked an Ace on the flop, and there he was, gone. I, on the other hand, was back with a decent stack and could relax a bit.

It was another three levels before I won the pot that made me realise I had a decent chance of going deep in the tournament. Rockets under the gun and I chose to just minraise. A late position 9bb stack shoves and big stack on the button cold calls. Quite why a call and not a raise I don't know. Either I am committing my stack here or I'm not.

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So my Aces held, and suddenly I have 38bb, and the prospect of the bubble changes from being a trial to survive to a chance to fatten off the insecurities of others. To eat up smaller stacks on the way to a deep run.

It's amazing how easy the game can seem when sitting with a big stack in a tournament, watching the minnows flapping around and weighing up which one you will scoop up next. I just wish I could do it more often. Of course, the truth of it is that minnows sometimes bite back, and eventually a bigger fish is liable to come along and turn you into a snack in your turn.

But meantime the bubble came and went and I was thriving. I called an 8bb shove with pocket tens, held against AJo, and was up to a 20k stack and among the leaders.

The turning point for me came with about 24 players left in, and the final table seemingly within touching distance.

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I was more than happy to take on the 5bb shove with 88 here. Even if he was only shoving a meagre 20% range,(and he should be shoving much much wider), I am still a narrow favourite. The big blind coming in was more worrying. I held my breath as my eights held on the flop and turn, only for the Ace to fall on the river and smash my hopes. I would have been close to chip leader if that Ace hadn't hit the river, but those, as they say, are the breaks.

Now I had a short stack again and, with two big stacks to my immediate left, a much harder job to pick up chips. The end for me came a couple of orbits later when I open shoved ATs in the small blind, and the big blind, who had by now built a huge stack, called and showed AA. There was no reprieve and I was out in 20th place for a $25 prize.

The big money is reserved for the final table in these events, so my 20th place finish was a case of so near yet so far. It was a fun event though, and $25 for nothing is not to be sneezed at.