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My PCA Main Event: Count his stack first

There were just a handful of tables left in the $10K PCA Main Event, the highest buy-in tournament I'd ever played.

"Why don't we both look away and figure out who wins by the table's reaction?" Vanessa Selbst suggested. I was all-in against Vanessa's pocket sevens with K♣T♣ on a board 3♠Q♣J♦8♣. After the river peeled, the table was mostly stoic, but I had a feeling I wasn't getting up; I was correct, thanks to the 7♣. Soon after, I took the rest of Vanessa's chips with A-Q over tens all-in preflop. This turned out to be win/win, since immediately after busting, she entered the $25K High Roller, going on to take third for $607,580.

Jen Shahade - 2014 PCA with Selbst.jpg

A couple weeks before PCA, I wasn't even intending to play the Main. I thought I'd focus on Open Face, Turbos, and the popular side events, waterslides and fruity drinks. Then I reconsidered the highly-priced sides in my schedule. I realized it made more sense to play a Main with plenty of satellite qualifiers, especially at negative rake (thanks to the Refer a Friend promotion).

I quickly went through two bullets in my first PCA event, which was the Open Face tournament. For $4,400 and four hours of brain squeezing, I got a wink from Nacho Barbero that my bustout hand was well played and some questionable advice from eventual winner Shaun Deeb: "Don't be too intimidated to play me in Pineapple!"

The Main got exciting for me on Day 2, when I knocked out the player to my left, who was replaced by Jason Mercier with a mountain of chips. On break, I discussed with my friend, Ben Yu, strategy versus imminent three-bets. With around 70,000 chips and blinds at 800/1,600/200, I barely had enough chips to four-bet /fold. I opened A-4 suited to 3,500 on the button and got three-bet by Jason to 8,600 in the small blind. I four-bet to 18,000. He flatted my four-bet, and we got stacks in on the 2♦A♥3♦ flop, with him holding the As-9s. I hit the four on the river, which was part of my plan with the original four-bet. My poker coach later told me, "I'm pretty impressed that you sucked out on Jason Mercier."

Jen Shahade - 2014 PCA with Mercier (PokerNews).jpg

Photo courtesy of PokerNews

As the dealer began to push chips my way, Jason inadvertently said, "Count his stack first." I smiled inside, that I was just another poker player at that moment. But then I felt ashamed to be flattered by that. After all, I wrote a book called "Play Like a Girl" to encourage young women to be aggressive chess champions.

I ran out of a dinner fuming when a poker friend told me that women didn't have the testosterone to be elite tournament players. Most of the female players who traveled to the PCA, from Amanda Musumeci to Ebony Kenney, were not players I'd want at my table. In the Main, Vanessa Selbst, Maria Ho, Loni Harwood and Liv Boeree all went deep in the money. On breaks, I heard things like Vanessa describing to Maria a gift near the bubble, the one where her opponent five-bet called K-Q into aces. The confident WSOP Champ Loni Harwood told me, "We have so much common", as she described learning backgammon and chess from her dad.

After my fortune against Mercier, I won several more big pots and continued to run well. I knocked out the gorgeous Brazilian race-car driver Thiago Camilo in an inevitable collision of tens versus sixes. "Who would have thought," Brian "byoonz" Yoon teased Jason Mercier, "that there would be a player here with more twitter followers than you?" (91K for Thiago and 83K for Jason)

Thiago Camilo.jpg

Going into my Day 3 table, I was on the direct left of the only player with more chips and built substantially on the bubble. I finished the day with a healthy stack and only 71 players remaining. "I'm still in this thing" buzzed through me as I got ready for the biggest poker day of my life so far.

Jen Shahade - 2014 PCA.jpg

Day 4 began terribly. I flatted kings from UTG+1 versus a shallow UTG raiser and ended up losing half my stack to another flatter in the field. It was standard, but I still asked myself unhelpfully, "Could I have three-bet those kings to reduce variance?" Vanessa Selbst moved to our table, and I had to pull myself together. Soon after came the Kc-Tc squeeze spot.

Ultimately, I ran pocket jacks into kings to finish in 31st place for a $43,300 cash. Though there were hands that nagged me, there was also play I was proud of. And as I came back to chilly Philadelphia the same exact shade that I left, I was a more confident player. The next time I enter a 1000-player poker tournament, I won't wonder if I should be on the waterslides.

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