By Tenzin McGrupp © 2003
20 Aug 03 Foxwoods, CT
World Poker Finals Act Two Tournament
There's a famous line from poker professional Doyle Brunson, "If you can't spot the sucker in the first half hour... then you're the sucker."
Act Two is single table (10 man) No Limit Texas Hold'em tournament. The buy in (entry fee) is $115 and the winner gets a coupon for the next scheduled Act Three tournament (worth $1,060). When I sat down to the table to play, I was nervous because I felt I was outmatched. The majority of the ten players were regulars at Foxwoods. They knew each other and knew the dealers by their first names. I was in trouble and I knew I needed to do two things.
1. Play only solid hands (A-A, K-K, Q-Q, A-K, J-J, and A-Q)
2. When I do play, to play aggressive and put the other players in the pot on the defensive.
Everyone got $2,000 in chips. I didn't play anything the first few hands until the tenth hand when I caught pocket Aces (A-A). I raised $300 before the flop and a couple of people called. The flop came out all rags (shitty "small" cards) and I bet heavily. Everyone folded and I won a rare pot with A-A. Pocket Aces are a monster hand, but sometimes you lose big pots with them. A couple of hands later I got A-10 of Clubs. I called the a raise of $300 before the flop from another player. I flopped the nut flush (best possible flush) when three Clubs fell. I decided to slow play the guy. I bet $500 and he called. I did the same on the turn. On the river a fourth Club fell (I still had the nut flush) and I went all-in and bet all my chips. He folded. And I took the majority of his stack of chips. I now held the chip lead with over $3,600.
The next few levels the blinds increased and I got decent cards. I fell into a rush of pocket pairs: 3-3, 4-4, 7-7, 9-9... and I didn't win any pots and I lost some of my stack playing those hands. I threw away A-4 one time when there was a medium sized bet in front of me. I didn't feel too good about that hand. Unluckily for me, I would have flopped the Wheel with 5-2-3. And the pot was huge, too!
The guy next to me reminded me of a cop or a state trooper who bluffed a lot. I watched him carefully. He went all-in a couple of times and would often try to steal small pots where everyone checked. He beat one guy with a four of a kind. The other guy had a full house and when he got busted he threw his cards over the dealer's head.
With only six players remaining, I had the second shortest stack. I got A-9 off suit. I called a $400 bet. An Ace fell on the flop. I had a pair with a medium kicker. The cop moved all in. I made him for either Aces or a high pair like Kings or Queens. I was just hoping I had a better kicker if he had an Ace. Since he was right next to me, I picked up on how he played his hands. I knew he had a good hand, but I knew he didn't have the best hand. He was trying to intimidate me. I could do two things:
1. Fold if I think he's got me beat.
2. Call his "all-in" if I think he's trying to steal the pot with a semi-bluff.
I had more chips than he did so I called his bet of $2,000. We turned over our cards and he held A-3. I had a better kicker (A-9). He was asking the dealer for a 3 on the turn and river. Nothing fell that could help him and I won the pot (about $5,800) after he went all-in. I knocked out my first player in this tourney.
I know what you are thinking... "How did you lose $8,000?"
I made it to the end, surviving until I was one of the last two players. I held $8,000 in chips. "Steve" the chip leader had $12,000. The blinds (forced betting) were $600-$1200. I held A-9 of Spades. Normally it's a slightly better than average hand, but playing heads-up (one on one) in a short-handed game, it's a great hand!! The flop came out... 9-9-8! I just flopped a set (trips ot three of a kind) of 9s! I bet $1,200. Steve raised me $1,200 and then I made the toughest decision of my young poker career. I went "all in". Steve called me and the pot was over $16,000! Steve turned over his cards... K-9. He was shocked to see that I held A-9 suited. Statistically speaking, I was the favorite to win the hand. I made a textbook play and I was winning the pot after the flop. However, the turn card came and it was a King! I was stunned. Steve made a full house with Nines and Kings. I was fucked! I was now a huge underdog, with only an Ace that could save me. Alas, the river card came, and it was a Seven. I lost all my chips and finished in second place. Steve was shocked at the results. He thought he was fucked. He should have been. If I won, I would have been in perfect position to win the entire tournament. I would have had $16,000 in chips, four times as much as Steve's $4,000. With the blinds at $1,200 and increasing every fifteen minutes, I would have bullied him with raises and re-raises until I got all his chips. I got fucked on the turn!!
After the flop only three outs that could have helped Steve. I had 82% of winning the hand with trips and an Ace kicker. Steve was an underdog at 7 to 1. Again, this was an ideal situation for me. Everyone I know would have done the move I made. I went all-in against the chip leader when I had the odds overwhelmingly in my favor. Alas, the King fell on the turn and my tournament was seconds away from being over.
Steve and the other players shook my hand and complimented me on my play. Steve said I only showed two or three hands all night (a sign that you are a strong player... that other players fold to you, because they think/know you have a better hand). I wasn't looking for any validtation from my fellow cards players. I know I'm a good player (just inexperienced) and I lost on a bad beat. Every poker pro would have salivated over the position I was in, to double up on chips against the chip leader. They would have pushed it all in with an A-9, so I know that I made the right play. The frustrating thing was that I didn't lose because I made a bad play. I lost to the percentages. But sometimes in life and in Texas Hold'em... the right play is not always the winning play. Shit happens.
Editor's Note: Visit the Tao of Poker for a glossary of poker terms.
Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.