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Mascio, who I met through a friend, has made the money in 14 World Series of Poker tournaments, but none this year. He said my best chance was to aggressively raise the bets of the weak players and watch them fold.
"They're the players who are just trying to hang on, who just don't want to lose," he said.
That sounded an awful lot like me.
The morning of the tournament, I rode the stationary bike and lifted weights in the gym at my hotel, the MGM, figuring exercise would help clear my mind for what could be a long day of poker.
At the Rio, two large auditoriums were lined wall to wall with poker tables. There were no professional players at my table, just 10 guys, ranging from a 21-year-old kid wearing an online casino's ball cap to a white-haired man -- probably in his 70s -- whose hands shook each time he placed chips in the pot. We were given 3,000 tournament chips each. Three days later, one of the 2,700 players would hold them all.
In Texas Hold 'Em, players make the best five-card hand out of two cards that are dealt to them and five community cards dealt face-up. There are as many as four rounds of betting per hand, and players can bet all their chips at any time. In one hand, it could be all over.
At noon, the tournament director's booming voice filled the room: "Shuffle up and deal." The tournament was on.
Within a couple of seconds, two cards skidded across the green felt toward me -- an ace and a 10. I raised to 150 chips, three times the minimum, and two players matched my bet, creating a sizable pot. The other players folded.
My heart started to race. Why did those two match my bet? Why did I raise the first hand? The first three community cards -- known as the "flop" -- didn't pair my ace or ten. My opponents didn't bet and I thought they might be afraid to take chances so early in the tournament. So I bet 250 chips, hoping they would fold. One player called. The next card gave him a full house. I lost 400 chips the first hand.
"I'm an idiot," I thought. "Why did I make that bet when I hit nothing on the flop?"