For the second year in a row, I took some vacation time during the summer and missed out on part of the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event. In 2022, I stepped away to be a contestant on Season 9 of Survival Challenge – which I wrote about in-depth here – and this summer I returned, albeit as a volunteer to help hold the game for a whole new crop of players.
While there for a week, some of the other volunteers wanted to hold a home game, and being well aware of my position in poker, along with my 2013 WSOP gold bracelet win, they were keen for me to play.
The stakes may have been low – we played $0.25/$0.50 no-limit hold’em and most everyone bought in for $20 – but it was one of my favorite poker-playing experiences of the year. Among those who played were a pair of young fellas playing for their first time in Bentley and Jude; Survival Challenge alum Bryce Fosdick; the May family (Michelle, Tim and their son Luke), and my SC Season 9 fellow contestant Michael Allbright.
Here are a few standout moments and hands from that game.
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The O’Neill Bluff
One of the players to take a seat in the game was Chris O’Neill, who played Season 8 of Survival Challenge the summer before me. I’d learned earlier in the day that Chris had a little poker experience and was a fan of GGPoker Ambassador Kevin Martin.
In one hand, I put in a raise to $1.25 after looking down at the 4♥4♣ and Jason Flick, who helps run the challenges at Survival Challenge, raised all in for around $3. Another player called and then Chris opted for a small three-bet to $5 from the big blind. I just called, as did the other player, and there were three active players for the side pot while Jason had an opportunity to quadruple up in the main pot.
The flop fell 3x3x5x and I was feeling pretty good, especially after Chris checked. I bet $3, the other player folded, and then Chris sprung to life with an all-in check-raise to around $10. It wasn’t that much more to me and I was getting decent pot odds, but I couldn’t fathom that I was ahead.
What would he check-jam with that I beat? Maybe a straight draw, but they again I held two of the fours in my hand, so the chances of that were less likely. He could easily have either a three or five in his hand, such as an ace-three or ace-five, as well as any sort of overpair. I contemplated making the call hoping to either hit a four or hit runner-runner (there were a lot of turn cards that would allow me to pick up some equity), but ultimately, I decided to save the money as I just didn’t think there was any way I was ahead.
Well, I was wrong as Chris tabled Kx8x for a stone-cold bluff! What’s more, he was actually ahead of Jason, who had been all in preflop with Qx9x. Fortunately for Jason, a queen spiked on the river and he won the main pot, while Chris still made a bit by claiming the side pot.
Had I found a call, I would’ve won a sizeable side pot and felted Chris, but instead he left me shaking my head with no recourse but to tip my cap to him. He’s got some skills.
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Szechowycz Cracks My Aces
Ian Szechowycz was the host of the home game, and he’s actually a bit of a poker aficionado, even playing in casinos in Iowa and Illinois. It became clear early on that aside from me, he was the most experienced player at the table. In fact, I was so impressed that I told Ian he needs to make his way to Vegas to try his hand at the WSOP as he’s got the talent to compete.
Ian made it clear from the get-go that he was keen to beat me in a big pot, and he ultimately got his wish, though he had to get lucky to do so!
It happened when I looked down at pocket aces and put in a raise to $1.50. There were some callers, including Ian, before Luke May reraised to $4. I then made it $8 to go and Ian put in a call. Luke did the same and it was three-way action to the flop, which I don’t recall offhand. I do know that action checked to me and I continued for $6, which only Ian called.
The turn wasn’t too scary and Ian checked. I decided to put him to the test by moving all in and he thought long and hard about what to do. Apparently, I had the best hand, but there were several draws on the board. He decided to call off his last $12 or so with an open-ended straight draw, and much to my dismay, he hit it on the river!
Ian got his wish by cracking my aces and beating me in a big pot, but rest assured I’ll never let him forget he had to get lucky to do it!
It was an up-and-down experience, but in the end, I was able to show off my poker chops by nearly tripling my buy-in. More importantly, plans are already in the works for another game next summer, so it seems a new annual home game tradition was born!
Executive Editor US, PokerNews Podcast co-host & 2013 WSOP Bracelet Winner.