Maybe it’s just us, but when we watch the pros on TV, they make some plays which, to mere poker mortals, seem, well, a little strange. Thank God we have Lee Watkinson around to tell us what the hell’s going on.
Following my two recent televised WPT final tables, people would often ask me what I was thinking when I played a couple of hands in a way that may have appeared… unorthodox.
The first of the two was at the Mirage event when I was heads up with Eli Elezra. I had the button and was dealt 10 6 . Eli called a small raise before the flop and checked when it came K-K-5 unsuited; I checked behind him. The turn brought an ace; Eli checked again, and I bet 120k. Eli raised to 500k. I called the additional 380k on the turn with ‘no hand, no draw’, and this is where most everyone thought I had lost my mind.
The reason for calling had nothing to do with what was in my hand. Eli is a very aggressive and experienced heads-up player who plays the biggest cash games in the world and is quite capable of check-raising in this spot to see if I had been trying to pick up the pot without a hand. I was also very sure that he would only check-raise here with three kings or a bluff (A-Q or AJ, maybe, but then I would have probably heard from him before the flop). I felt that a bluff was at least as likely as three kings. I was also confident that, when I called, he would put me on at least an ace and would abandon any bluff, but bet three kings to get paid off. I was sure that, if he checked, I would be able to pick the pot up on the river. When a ten hit the river and he bet 900k I didn’t even consider calling, as it became immediately obvious that he did indeed have a king.
The second hand came up five-handed at the Legends of Poker final table. This perfectly illustrates the one piece of advice I would give a limit player switching over to no-limit: Don’t worry about ‘protecting your hand’; protect your stack.
I raised three times the big blind (to 60k), under the gun, with 9-9. Joe Awada called on the button and so did Doyle Brunson in the big blind. Joe and Doyle both had about 1.5 million and I had about 2.5 million; we were the three biggest stacks. The flop was 9-8-7, all hearts. Doyle checked, I checked, and Joe checked. This is what people don’t understand: Why check such a dangerous flop and give my opponents a chance to draw out on me?
I would bet this flop against smaller stacks, but in this spot, I felt it was much better to leave my options open by checking the flop. If I made a reasonable bet on the flop, and was raised, I would be committed to play the pot all-in right there. If I did get raised, I would, at the very least, be up against a very big draw with two to come. If I got called, I wouldn’t know where I was and the turn would be hard to play, even if a scare card didn’t come. Joe was still left to act and I knew that, if he bet, I could either raise him all-in, and possibly get him to lay down a big draw that he might have raised me all-in with.
If a scare card comes on the turn and someone bets, I might give up on the hand or call; the pot is not that large. If a blank comes, I can bet the hand without my opponents being tempted to go all-in because they are no longer getting two pulls at a big draw. If the board pairs, there is always the possibility that my hand will have been disguised well enough to win a big pot or to bust someone, which is, in fact, what did happen. I was able to knock Joe out with a full house, because he had not put me on a set.
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