Part 1 of this feature can be read here.
In most of the good-sized tournaments I have gone deep in, making the final table is a time for stock-taking and a slight lull in the action, as players familiarize themselves with their opponents. The unique structure of the Iron Man changed all that.
With consolidation to the final table taking place under a tight two-minute time frame designed to ensure “continuous play,” the wild momentum carried on unabated. Play was dictated by the Korean trifecta Kim Jinwi, Lim Dae Hoon, and Choi Byung Kyoo, who were unfazed by bets of any size, and with virtually any holding. Choi, maybe 50 years old and dressed sharply in aviator cap, sunglasses, and leather jacket, made a reckless pre-flop call all-in against Kim with A-7, versus A-Q. When Choi spiked a seven and sent his opponent to the rail, he became a much feared chip leader who ruled, along with his younger cohort Lim, by intimidation.
Things did settle down a bit, as the larger stacks got to the serious business of eliminating the two remaining short stacks and ensuring that the payout was substantial. Among the shorter stacks sent home was Gerry Flores, a much feared Cebu player who had put a number of moves on me in past tournament play at the Waterfront Casino.
With players dropping like flies up to this point, it had seemed conceivable (and even likely) that we would not break the record we had set out to topple. I should not have been concerned, as five players was where the real money––and the real play––began. We had been playing five-handed for several blurry hours, with my head hanging closer and closer to the table, when we hit the 36th hour and surpassed the record set in Delaware the previous year.
While confetti showered the stage and champagne flowed among the tournament directors and Asian Poker Tour girls, this momentous event was barely a blip on the radar at our sleep-deprived table, where we continued to grind it out.
The first player to go was Florencio Campomanes, a young Filipino with a mustache in the “revolutionary” Jose Rizal style. He played valiantly, but fell on his sword when I drew to a hidden straight and he called my river bet for half his remaining chips. Thirty minutes later, Campomanes busted out and we were down to four very competent contenders.
Having broken the Guinness record, we went around in circles for another hour or two before it became clear that we could easily be here another 36 hours. Fatigue had been building gradually and brought me to an almost hallucinatory state. My head felt disconnected to my body at times and the printed patterns on the felt jumped out at me like some peyote-induced vision. When I walked to the bathroom, my head felt like it was skipping on clouds, while my feet pushed down with the weight of lead. I don’t know quite how to explain it, except to say that sleep deprivation is a hell of a drug. It seems that––without enough rest––the body shuts down all non-vital functions, much like a computer in “sleep” mode, to conserve energy and stay awake. Adding to the general ambiance was the fact that my hair was matted, my clothes were starting to reek, and a couple of long-departed players had spread an itching cough and nascent cold to the entire field. More than once on my way to the bathroom I found myself half-apologizing to passing casino staff for my scruffy state in their five-star establishment.
With the tournament going nowhere fast, I raised the possibility of placing a higher structure on top of the existing blinds––an idea to which the other players were very open. Consultation with the tournament director made it clear that this would not affect the integrity of the Guinness record, as this was something we did of our own volition. Unfortunately, things did not swing my way under the new structure and my stack took a major hit on an ill-timed bluff. In addition, Simon started to take very frequent cigarette and nap breaks. He was haggard and shaky, but I do not believe that lack of sleep was the only reason for his absence. With the blinds and antes minimal relative to the stacks, and our new structure creating big pots, Simon was likely making a calculated bet that he could sleep his way to third place.
Ultimately, with Simon on an unannounced 40 minute nap break, I had no choice but to insist we go back to the original blind structure. Playing at elevated risk was not to my advantage with one player AWOL and the two Koreans essentially swapping chips and exerting the power of a double-pincered claw. I have nothing against implicit collusion among larger stacks in this situation––it is what I would have done––but I was not ready to “go gently into that good night.” My counter-offensive began when I announced that I had a “nuclear option” and went randomly all-in against a standard raise and call by Lim and Choi. My strategic shove shook the table up and some semblance of normal poker resumed.
My big moment arrived just 20 minutes later, when I woke up with KQ off suit and shoved––both to pick up the chips in the middle and to keep my “nuclear” promise fresh in players’ minds. I was disheartened when Lim––the most collected and strategic player among us––tanked for five minutes. When he finally made the call, I had a pretty firm idea that he had at least an AK or middle pair. I was a little surprised when he revealed pocket threes, which could be dominated in so many ways. I watched the flop anxiously––this represented the first time in 40 hours of play that my tournament life was on the line. Fortunately, I flopped a Q and doubled through Lim, with our stacks essentially reversing. Lim now had a smaller, but healthy stack to play with. The rash call with small pockets did indicate however that he was tiring fast.
When Simon returned from his break, action sped up and 30 minutes later he called Lim’s JJ all-in with pocket nines. Clearly dominated, the German pulled out a miracle river nine to knock Lim out of the tournament. This was like manna from heaven––the biggest threat at the table was gone, just like that. While the other two players were decent, for the first time I felt like I had more than a fighting chance to win the tournament.
Three nearly even stacks, going around in circles for one hour, two hours. The head growing more than heavy, every ounce of energy going to keeping the eyes open. I’m not going to pretend I remember this hand perfectly, because 99 percent of my lightbulb was gone. But I do remember calling a standard raise with pocket sevens. The flop came out 8-8-5 and Choi bet out, with Simon calling. It was a standard Choi bet, about half the pot, and I came on board as well. A seven peeled off on the turn and we checked around. On the river a six came out and Choi fired out a substantial raise, which Simon called. Now the way I figured it, my hidden boat was golden. I thought for a while and finally nudged out a nearly pot-sized bet, making the total pot nearly the equivalent of any of our stacks. There was no question in my mind that a player with straight was going to have to call in this situation. Someone holding an eight and a high kicker would probably call as well. If I got re-raised by the tricky Choi, that would put me to the test––a hand like 8-6 was not out of his range. Fortunately, Choi mucked and Simon initiated stare-down mode, which lasted for what seemed like hours. He finally made the call and watched in anguish as I showed him the bad news. Simon was off to the rail to smoke a cigarette, muttering in tongues, while the dust cleared and I emerged the dominant chip leader. Manna from heaven, indeed. With stack sizes reversed and Simon psychologically crushed and visibly sleep deprived, I was not surprised to see him out an hour later.
Now it was down to me and the Korean Choi. An older guy, he had definitely settled down since showing a lot of reckless instinct early in the final table. Still, he was a bit unpredictable and easily wound up. I showed him a lot of respect, because I wanted a predictable, non-aggressive Choi at the table. The heads up lasted for four hours of rather conservative bet-and-fold play. He and I never seemed to catch a monster hand at the same time. We talked a lot about being more aggressive to end the tournament and did agree to consistently make higher-than-required raises, but this had minimal effect.
Things came to a head when Choi apparently could not physically go on any longer and announced he was going all in on every hand, (which he proceeded to do). This was a remarkable gamble, as “witnesses” and Guinness Book officials were listening in on every word at the table to preserve the integrity of the world record. Players were strictly forbidden from making any deals or even leaving the table at the same time, and first place was $18,240––significantly more than the $10,600 second place earned. As might be expected, the tournament now finished in record time––Choi shoved the next hand as announced and I looked down at KJ. Predictably, my KJ was totally dominated on the flop, with Choi holding a 4 and a 3 and spiking a 4 and a 3––just like that, I was down to 1.7 million of 11.5 total chips.
Somehow I lucked out and won the next three all-in confrontations. I was picking my spots, unlike Choi––which the blind structure allowed me to do, despite the major hit to my stack. Three times I went all-in with ace rag against Choi and each time I doubled up. When A4 held up against K7 and a champagne glass was shoved in my hand, the whole thing seemed like a dream from which I might never awake, as I had been among the walking dead for longer than I could remember.
What is next for the Iron Man competition? Tournament director Lloyd Fontillas assures us that the time we set is likely unbreakable, but I have the gut feeling that, if interest remains high in this area and a number of endurance events are regularly held, the record will ultimately fall. Whatever happens, there is no doubt that an era of grueling tournament structures, designed to fully test player’s skill, creative capacities, and psychological mettle, has arrived.