Returning to Turning Stone
I had an interesting trip recently -- kind of a trip back in time, in some ways.
It started with a call from the guys at Poker Royalty asking me if I wanted to be included in this new project, a poker show called "Poker Night in America" that was designed to be a little more focused on personalities and characters than is the case with a lot of poker on TV today.
I was thrilled to accept. I'm a media hog, of course, but it sounded like a lot of fun. They'd be flying us out to Turning Stone Resort and Casino in New York on a private jet, and I'd be playing with a lot of guys like Mike Matusow, Greg Mueller, Will Failla, Gavin Smith, and others who were just fun to be around and play against.
We'd be flying out from Vegas on a private jet direct to New York which was great. On top of that we got free entry into the Empire State Poker Championships, a $1,500 re-entry event, and we were also going to play a cash game for the show which would be a $25/$50 with a $5K minimum buy-in. And like I say, the group playing in this game were all fun players and also mostly action players, so to speak, so it could also be a good spot perhaps to do well.
There were a lot of us flying out -- about 16 players, some staff, Nolan Dalla, and a few others. I've had a little bit of experience flying on private jets before -- humble brag -- and so I knew that it was a good strategy to get there early in order to get one of the forward-facing seats (which I prefer).
Unfortunately I got held up and was late getting there, but I got a good consolation prize by getting to lay on a couch in the back while everyone else took the seats and played open-face Chinese poker. I slept the whole flight, then when we arrived I got to hear everyone complain about how the worst player in the OFC game had won all of the money.
When I checked in, I knew I had been to Turning Stone but I couldn't remember when. So they looked me up and sure enough the last time I'd been there was May 2004.
In fact, that wasn't that long before the WSOP Main Event that year when I finished second and of course kind of had my introduction onto the poker scene. I realized afterward that there was kind of a "time machine" theme for the whole trip which in a way was like going back to an earlier era, with the "Poker Night in America" show also trying to recapture some of that magic of TV poker from those earlier days.
We had a terrific meal at an Italian restaurant with some great red wine and finally turned in for the night. The next day was the re-entry tournament, and while I'd brought money in case I needed to fire a second bullet, my goal was to make that first bullet last. As it turned out I was very fortunate and ended that day with one of the biggest stacks. That was Day 1a, and so the next day while Day 1b played out that's when I played the cash game for the show.
The cash game went well for me, too, and I actually ended up the biggest winner although only ended with about $25K to end the session. Since everyone thought I was a maniac, I played really tight and straightforward which turned out to be a good strategy. I also knew that since they were streaming our table live on a delay, my opponents would be able to look back on the breaks and see what I had, so there wasn't too much value in making a lot of moves.
The fact is, I wasn't really getting many good cards, anyway, but by the last two hours I'd nonetheless built up this very nitty image. If you think about it, that image had begun way back on the plane where I was snoozing rather than gambling it up with everyone else at open-face Chinese.
During the latter part of the session I was able to play off that image pretty successfully, including getting away with some bluffs to win some pots. There were two hands in particular where I made a crazy all-in raise on the river in hands where there was a possible flush on board. I bluffed on both. One player folded a set and the other folded a straight. I only had pocket fours!
After we were done, I tweeted excitedly to tell everyone to watch the stream, because they were about to see I'd turned into an animal and made some wild plays. Unfortunately the stream had been taken down because they were having problems with it, but I'm hoping maybe the footage they shot for the TV show might include some of those hands near the end. I was pretty proud of my play, and I think it would show pretty well how it is possible to play off of your image.
Then it was back to the tournament the next day, and I was in a really good mindset for that after winning in the cash game. My confidence was high, I felt like the king of the world... I mean these guys had no chance!
The day began and I was making moves, playing aggressively, and really controlling the table. In fact, I was getting away with things you can't normally get away with these days, because players in a lot of cases know how to react to aggression. In a way it was another "time machine" moment where I'd gone back to 2004 and an earlier time when people played differently than is the case today.
Everything was going great. I was third in chips with about 400,000 when the average was about 150,000 or so. Then the chip leader got moved to my table -- he had about 700,000 -- and he was a young guy with some attitude and I just knew we were going to butt heads. We were the two alpha males, you could say, and we'd both climbed into the ring and probably only one of us was going to make it out.
We made some moves against each other -- some three-betting back and forth -- then a hand came up where I had ace-king under the gun and raised, and he three-bet me again. It was a spot where it seemed best just to call, and the flop came [K][x][x] with two hearts (I had the K♥). I checked, he bet, and I called. The turn was like a  and I checked again, and when he bet big I just called again, which once more seemed like the safer play. I was thinking either I'd let him bluff off a lot of chips or if he had me beat I could keep the pot small.
Then the river brought the A♥, giving me top two pair but also completing the flush. Now he hadn't been three-betting without having real hands -- at least the ones he'd shown down -- and so I didn't feel like he made a flush (I didn't think he had, say, Q♥J♥). His most likely holding to me seemed like [K][Q], which meant if I checked he'd just check back. I also thought my hand felt pretty disguised and so it was a good spot to lead into him, and since my remaining stack was a little less than the size of the pot, I went all in.
I could tell he was surprised, as his face just looked like "That's the weirdest move ever." And he didn't act right away, either. So I was thinking mission accomplished. He was clearly confused, and chances were good I was best and he was might even pay me off out of curiosity.
Then, still obviously puzzled, he says "I have a flush... but I don't know what to do with it."
Then I was the one who was a little confused, because it seemed to me like if he had a flush it was the easiest call ever. Was he lying? Was he just trying to get a reaction from me, like perhaps trying to see if I had made a flush?
The longer he thought, the more confident I was about my hand, and when he finally did call I proudly turned over my hand. Then he showed his... 8♥7♥!
I was stunned -- at his preflop three-bet, and his hitting that great flop and then perfect river, and everything. But I didn't complain. I just shook his hand and left. I had finished in 38th and still cashed, but was obviously disappointed not to get a win.
I went back to the room still feeling down, but I discovered "Breaking Bad" was coming on and they had AMC, which perked me up. Then I ordered my favorite comfort food from room service -- chili dogs and French fries with nacho cheese -- and soon I was thinking, you know, this isn't so bad.
We flew back the next day and again I slept during the flight and didn't play open-face Chinese. I did, however, take a piece of David "ODB" Baker who played -- and who by most accounts had an edge against the others -- and so when I dozed off I thought this is great... I'm going to win even more money!
Then we arrived and I woke up and asked David how it went. "Oh, we got buried," he said. "You owe $4,000." I was like is this real?
I still made a good amount on the trip, though, and didn't have regrets. And now that I look back on it, I realize how much fun it was to return to Turning Stone and be reminded in several ways of how things were -- and were about to become -- when I had last been there.
David Williams is a member of Team PokerStars Pro