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The Mirage Poker Showdown through Erick Lindgren?s eyes

I didn't care if it was 110 degrees in Vegas, I knew it was going to feel good to be home after a couple of trips to Europe this summer. I had blown off my WPT Paris event with a terrible first day bluff, but conveniently for me, the ever-expanding World Poker Tour scheduled a 10k event at the Mirage.


The energy at WPT events has been ever increasing and this was no different. Hundreds of onlookers crowded around the tables to watch their favorite players. A larger than expected field of 281 players was going to provide for a 1 million dollar prize pool and I planned on being ready.

I got a penthouse suite at Mirage where my buddy, Josh Arieh, and myself were going to prepare for the tourney. I have been struggling as of late and threw a virtual air ball up at the World Series. As is usually the case in poker, it has been a combination of things: bad luck, laziness and lack of focus that have been keeping me down. There are so many distractions being a poker player. In this case, a writer from Penthouse was going to follow me around for the day. The breaks in poker tournaments have gone from a time to wind down, to more of a meet and greet session. It is going to take some getting used to.

I drew a very good first table and only recognized a few faces: Fred Berger from Louisiana and Steve Brecher from Reno . These guys would be classified as solid pros but lack the aggression of many top pros. I knew I could take control of the table and looked for spots to pick my fights.

We had an older gentleman in a cowboy hat at the table who was getting involved in a lot of pots. I decided that he was my mark. I wanted to bluff him if possible and do anything to get under his skin. Hopefully he would think I was a young hot shot and try to bully me later when I had the goods.

Chopping away at some small pots had increased our $20k starting stack to $43k when the following hand came up versus our cowboy. I had begun raising a lot of hands and splashing my chips around a bit. In this case I had a hand with pocket Jacks and raised the $400 big blind to $1200. I had three callers including the cowboy who was the big blind. The flop came 7 4 4 and the small blind checked. It was our cowboy's turn and he decided to shock the world by betting HIS WHOLE STACK. He fired $37k into the $5k pot and seemed proud of the wager. I couldn?t believe this was happening. ?What the #$%# is that all about?? I thought, ?it just doesn?t make sense.?

There was a player behind me but his 3k stack was insignificant. It was time to get the cowboy to talk. I asked him why he bet so much and he came up with something to the effect of call and find out. The hands I put him on were an ace high flush draw, 8-8 or a random bezerko bet with a pair of sevens. After a minute of deliberation I called him. He flipped up 10 7 for two pair!

After he failed to improve his hand, I now had 80k and was ready to roll. This hand illustrates the importance of knowing your weaker players at the table and finding ways to make them make a big mistake. In this case I knew he was growing tired and, through a few verbal jabs, I was able to become a target. After a few more hours of play, I had fallen back to 65k in chips but we were on to day two.

I start my table the next day as chip leader with more than double the average stack. This is a tougher table, though, with Annie Duke, Bill Gazes, Casey Kastle and Lee Salem keeping me company. I lose some chips early on playing a few marginal hands. I come out trying to be aggressive, and am able to survive despite running into big hands. This is too often a skill that goes unnoticed. Everyone sees when you get a great run of cards, but avoiding confrontation when the deck is cold is even more important when you're trying to dominate a table. By the time the first break rolls around ninety minutes later, I've misplayed 3 hands and am down to $44k. Some recent big tournament successes have relieved me of the usual financial pressures and I'm finding it hard to maintain my concentration. I wonder if this is how a pro athlete feels after signing the big endorsement contract, then failing to perform. I run up to the room, splash some water on my face, and try to regain my focus.

It works. I come back sharp and pick up AS-TS in the big blind, which is now at 1200. An older gentleman at the table is raising and reraising a lot of pots and generally playing wildly. Like the Cowboy yesterday, he is definitely the mark today. He's got Casey, stuck on his left, especially frustrated. Three times Casey brings it in for a raise, the old man reraises, and Casey throws his hand away. This hand, Casey limps in for the 1200. Annie, Lee, and another player all call. I'm pretty sure I have the best hand here with A-10 and raise it $5k. I expect to win the pot right there and am rather unhappy when Casey quickly says, "All in," for a total bet of $25k. It's folded back to me, and I am now faced with a decision for half my chips. Here, Casey is representing that he limped in with A-A hoping for a raise behind him so he could reraise all-in. This is a typical slow play in our game. But his play here doesn't make sense. Wouldn't Casey have been more than happy to raise with his A-A, knowing the older gentleman would reraise him? I look at Casey hoping to get a read, but he is frozen like a kid playing statue. I need more information, so I try to get Casey to acknowledge that I'm still in the hand, or at the very least that he's still alive. I ask if he limped with aces and I still get no reaction. I then say, "Can you beat queen high?" He finally looks up, smirks, and says, "Yeah, I can beat queen high."

Now, some people in poker like to lie about their hands. Here, it felt like Casey was happy to be able to tell the truth in response to what is, admittedly, a pretty silly question. After all, if I can't beat queen high, why am I even thinking of calling?

Now I feel certain that Casey is holding K-10, K-J, or K-Q suited. I have him. "I'm not buying it," I say as I push in my chips. "Good call," he says and turns over K 10 . I proudly showed my A-10 and it holds up, winning me the $50k pot. The players don't know which hand was more surprising, but they know they need to think twice about trying to run a bluff on me today.

Unfortunately, I can't capitalize on my good read or my table image. I keep running into big hands and can never seem to amass any kind of chips. I lose a big pot with pocket kings, and go broke the following hand when my two jacks run into A-K and don't hold up. I go from making a heroic call to sleeping on the couch upstairs in less than 30 minutes.

When I wake up, I'm stuck with that empty feeling of busting out of a tournament when you know you didn't play your best. Oh well, I can always hit the craps table. Maybe blowing some more money will help me get that sense of urgency back...

Erick Lindgren is multiple World Poker tour winner and high stakes live player. He can be found playing 2-4 limit Hold?em on FullTiltPoker.com


(© 2005 BluffMagazine. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed)


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