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About 20 minutes into the tournament I got my first big hand: two queens. I could feel the pulse thumping in my neck. Three players called my first raise but folded later in the hand. The pot brought me back to even.
In order to make reluctant players bet, tournaments are structured so that the forced -- or "blind" -- bets increase every hour. Within a few hours, the blinds and antes were so big that it became profitable for players to bluff. Especially at my table.
I came to realize that many of my opponents would fold to raises unless they had a pair or two really big cards. I began to exploit my opponents' timid play. Even with poor hands like a 6 and 8 I would quietly announce "raise" and casually toss chips into the pot. While awaiting my opponents' decisions, I would put my elbows on the table, rest my chin in my palms and try to appear calm. Inside, my mind's voice echoed, "Please fold. Please fold. Please fold." More often than not, they would. Unlike televised poker tournaments featuring colorful professional players, there was little chatter among players during hands. The World Series proved one thing: It is possible to feel lonely while crammed in a room with 1,000 people.
My chip stack soared and dived throughout the first day. I burned some of my chips chasing a couple of straights that failed to hit. Nath Pizzolatto, one of the early chip leaders who had been added to my table, bluffed me out of a big pot when he made a raise so big it would have cost all of my chips. I was angry and felt he was trying to bully me with his much larger chip stack.
In order to win a huge tournament like this, players have to get lucky. My turn came about five hours into the event. Shortly after losing that hand to Pizzolatto, I picked up an ace and nine of diamonds. Two players made the minimum bet ahead of me, creating a decent pot.
"I'm all in," I said, shoving my remaining chips to the middle of the table. Please fold.