From novice to final table in six months

When I first began to play poker, it was with a whole other agenda in mind. But over the last six months, my interest in poker has developed from a passing curiosity into a borderline obsession. Recently, I have been exploring various ways of playing, but I find that I missing the rush of playing in a tournament. So, under the guise of "research," I decided to re-enter the tournament that started this started this whole journey for me.

The first time I entered I did abysmally, and in the car on the way to the casino, I felt that old nervous feeling in my stomach. My biggest fear was facing that walk of shame again, and it was important to me to have an exit strategy for when I, inevitably, went out. So, before entering the tournament, my boyfriend and I sat in the car for a few minutes to work out a plan so I wouldn't have to leave alone. After all, he was my ride home, and I didn't fancy walking.

Ann-Marie - table 2.jpg


With bated breath, I walked into the casino that was to be my pleasure/pain chamber for the next few hours. I recognised a few faces, and a few more recognised me. I explained I was mostly there for research, and once again, I was made to feel welcome. The guys were happy to offer tips, and I spent the first half of the tournament playing it safe and folding most hands.

In this particular tournament, there was the option to rebuy and purchase an add-on and, as I had played very cautiously in the opening round, I still had a decent initial stack. I also found that after the add-on, I had quite a healthy chip pile. I had also gotten bored of playing the role of spectator. So, buoyed by the vodka I'd had at the break, I began to play my good hands. The option to rebuy had expired, and a percentage of the players were short stacked and going all in. If I felt my hand was better than theirs, I was in a good position to call without denting my chip pile too significantly. So, this is what I did; I called out short stacks three times, winning each and knocking my opponents out of the tournament. It felt good.

As time passed, the people around me dwindled until I found myself on the final table, and with a comfortable chip lead at that. However, I was ill-prepared for the final table. Remembering the conversation in the car with my boyfriend, running through all the possible scenarios, not once did it enter our heads that this would happen. By this point, I had been playing for three and a half hours, and it was the longest time I had ever spent playing poker. I was overwhelmed and exhausted. I had underestimated the importance of stamina in poker, and coming to a poker tournament straight from a spin class was probably not the best idea. But hindsight is 20/20, right?

I knew I was out of my depth, and at the final table, the wheels began to fall off. I was dying and really just wanting to get out of there. The shame of this is that I actually had about a third of the chips on the table, another third was held by the chip leader, and the rest was spilt over the rest of the table. But my brain was fried to the extent I needed help just to count my chips for blinds and raises. I didn't realise just how well I was doing. Then I made my mistake; I took on the chip leader with a weak hand when I should have just held on a little longer. So I bubbled and went out in eighth place.

Ann-Marie - table 1.jpg


Part of my interest in taking up poker is to provide women with greater representation in the game and prove that being a woman is not a disadvantage. In this particular tournament of about 40 people, there were only three female entries. I am pleased to say that all three of us made it to the final table. If we are to look at this as a representation of the game as a whole, it would appear that, while in the minority, female poker players are undoubtedly overachieving. I started this blog series with the intention of making poker more accessible to women. I am hoping that my progress will serve to encourage other players who may have felt too intimidated to live up to their full playing potential.

However, I find that while my play has improved and making it to the final table is an achievement, I have little idea of how I managed to do it. I am dogged by the question of how much of my success is luck. Having given this matter some thought, it occurs to me that a challenge will be required, together with some serious research. One such challenge would be to enter the 2014 EPT Barcelona Main Event. While I have undoubtedly had a lot of help on my poker journey, I realise it may be time to look at female poker pros and figure out what they are doing to win tournaments.

What interests me about setting out on this challenge is to determine just how much potential for improvement poker offers. The very promise of quantitative progress, regardless of age, wealth or gender, demonstrates how much of a level playing field poker offers to women. It is in this which poker's true accessibility lies. Bearing this in mind, it feels like anything is possible, and being in a position to play an EPT may even be achievable.

As with my first experience of the tournament, I learned a lot very quickly and mostly the hard way! It also proved to be an interesting gauge of my progress. To go from novice to final table in six months is a notable achievement, and I have had a realisation. If I can make this kind of progress in six months, imagine what I could do in a year. It's not necessarily that I think I am a good player or that I have some kind of innate talent which I have managed to tap. It is more of a testament to the game. Playing poker requires numerous skills which can be learned and practiced. If I can learn to play poker, anyone can.

Ann-Marie McCarthy
@PokerStars in PS Women