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Archive for Monday, May 15, 2006

Take a stand - sometimes

May 15, 2006

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In my last column I talked about the importance of making a stand in a no-limit Hold 'em tournament.

There are times when you need to say, "I think I have my opponent beat, and now's the time to make a crucial call or a perfectly timed raise."

I also wrote about a stand I made on Day 3 of the $25,000 buy-in World Poker Tour (WPT) Championship event.

Now let's fast forward to day four of that event, and another key stand I made.

I had just won two big pots in a row, raising my chip stack to $600,000, when I picked up pocket fours, and called the $8,000 bet before the flop. Normally, I would have raised it up with my 4-4, thinking that if I'm going to play a hand, then I'm going to raise it up and give myself a chance to see everyone else fold, allowing me to win the blinds and antes uncontested.

By the way, the blinds and antes now added up to $21,000 a hand (big blind of $8,000 plus small blind of $4,000 plus nine $1,000 antes). In this case - because I had raised two pots in a row already - if I did raise it up before the flop, then it was more likely that someone would reraise me, thinking that I was weak, which would force me to fold my 4-4. So I decided merely to call, so that no one would raise me out of the pot.

A talented up-and-coming player named Evelyn Ng then looked me over and raised it up $40,000 more. When she looked at me, I thought she thought I was weak. It wasn't as if I was super strong with my pocket fours, but I certainly wasn't weak, either. I felt she may have been bluffing, and decided I would call and take a flop with her. The flop was Kc-9s-6h, I checked, and Ng checked. The turn card was the 7c, making a straight draw and a flush draw possible, but I decided I still had the best hand. I bet out $60,000, and now Ng raised it up $100,000 more, and I jumped out of my seat in disgust.

What the heck was going on here? I was pretty sure I had the best hand on the flop, but now it looked like I had an easy fold.

But something in my mind told me to sit back down and take a closer look at the situation. Usually I'm so busy bemoaning the fact that I lost a big pot (witness my standing up), that I lose track of the hand. So I sat back down, and studied Evelyn and the Kc-9s-6h-7c board.

I couldn't beat much, certainly, but my mind was telling me that Evelyn was bluffing. I kept thinking she had a weaker hand than I had, like A-J high or A-Q high.

Of course, she may also have had a flush draw or a straight draw. Finally, I decided I was going to go with my read (instincts!) and make the $100,000 call. It must have startled everyone watching this event live to see me stand up in disgust, then sit back down and call a $100,000 raise.

The last card was the 10d, making a four-card to a straight board, Kc-9s-6h-7c-10d, and I checked. If Ng had had a straight draw, then she probably made at least a pair of 10s, if not a straight. But Ng said, "OK, I give up." So I flipped up my measly fours as if they were huge, and she mucked her cards face down. The rest of the players at the table looked at me with what seemed like a bit of awe, and playing into those looks I said, "Nobody's going to steal my money today!"

Of course, I said this to send a message, and that message was received by the players at the table loud and clear: do not mess with Phil today.

This great call not only made me feel like I was playing spot-on poker, but it seemed to have scared everyone else at the table, at least a little bit.

And I firmly believe that no one, and I mean no one, was going to try to bluff me for the next hour or two; and knowing that made it much easier for me to accumulate chips over the next few hours.

Sometimes, you have to put your whole tournament on the line with a weak hand. Sometimes you have to trust that gut instinct and make a great call or bluff.

Sometimes you just have to make a stand!

One benefit of making a great call is:

A) it boosts your own confidence

B) it scares the players around you

C) you win a ton of chips

D) all of the above.

Answer: D

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