Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Poker Diaries: The Best Worst Hand Ever

Lay It Down Clown
My home game keeps a side pot for the player of the year championship, which is basically 10% of all entries for the year. It's winner take all on that, and your name goes on the plaque. I've been in contention for it in 2 of the 3 years that we've been running the game, only to lose at the final table, and then have my other outs, as it were, fail to hit. Last night was my best chance to date at closing the deal, as I came in with a good point lead and only had to fade four players out of a field of 17. Two of those players could win the side pot with a tournament win, and two others would need a win, and for me to go out early. So it's a pretty fascinating amount of mind-messery to play a game like this... and just to ratchet up the fun, the buy-in, rebuy period and starting stacks are all pretty much twice the size of a normal event. So get comfy for up to eight hours of poker where I can lose my chance at just under $1,500 at any moment. Poker Is Fun!

So I have to be patient, and last as long as possible, even more than, well, try to win a tournament. Not that a win would be a big problem, especially since a win with this kind of buy-in would be nearly 50% of the side pot, but avoiding traps is absolutely critical. During the re-buy period, I got involved in a big hand with a smaller stack, and hit a 15-outer (open-ended straight and flush draw against trips) to get up, and supplemented with a few other pots where I went from position and didn't have to show.

We get past the rebuy period, and I find myself with aces under the gun. I throw out a min raise, hoping to get a re-raise that I can isolate or close without a flop, and that's what happens... a 3X re-raise from one of the other contenders, in the small blind. He's got about 50% more than my stack, but as we're both in the realm of dozens, if not hundreds, of big blinds, that's not where my mind is at the moment. The big blinds calls behind him, so I pop it again hard, by something like 5X... but both call. Yeesh. Well, let's see the flop.

It's Q-7-2, the Q and 2 are diamonds. I snap it up for the biggest bet of the night to date, and the contender looks at the board, and my stack, and puts me all in. And, of course, in the tank for all that I'm worth.

By making the raise on my min  raise, then calling the second, I can't put him on air. The guy's tough and good, but he's not looking at two pair from a miracle flop for Q-7 or 7-2. There's a chance that he's got 7s or 2s and has trips now, which meant he was willing to go in for a coin flip against overs, but it's too easy to put me on a bigger pair than 7s or 2s, and to fold that against my raise. No, there's maybe four hands that he can have right now. The other aces, kings, queens, or Big Slick with diamonds. (Well, maybe he has Q-K suited, or A-Q, but not real likely.). Putting aside the ludicrous shot of the case aces, he's got one of three hands, two of them where I'm ahead.

The tanking, for what it's worth, makes me think I'm good to call. My man is trying to look neutral, but he's antsy, and clearly expected me to fold, that my bet was a c-bluff. I count out the chips, and confirm that a fold puts me at a starting stack size. But still... if he's got kings, I'm basically 90-10. Queens, 10-90. A flush draw, 70-30.

If it's just for this tournament, it's not the easiest call in the world, but it's still a call that I'm probably going to make. I am, just from looking at the preceding paragraph, likely to be ahead, and losing to a flush draw is something that you remember, but doesn't happen so much that you don't prefer to have the made hand. But there is, of course, so much more than the tournament at stake. Even if I take this pot and have a monster stack, the chance of running into a cooler later makes the tournament cash so much less certain... and while I think I'm ahead, I don't think I'm $1,500 of ahead. Even if my opponent is making a move because he knows I'm caring more about the side pot.

I also thought hard about not showing the fold. I don't really want to advertise the weakness, but with an average size stack again, I'm going to need major table presence for any future big moves, and I host this game; I don't want my guests to think that I went in the tank for nothing, especially when some of the smaller stacks are looking green at the clock. My man doesn't show, but he doesn't look sincerely disappointed in the fold. (After the tournament was over, he told me. Kings.)

For the next hour or so, I'm kind of numb. I fold A-7 under the gun, and the hand isn't raised pre-flop, then goes all the way to showdown where I would have hit a boat against two callers, both with two good pairs. I'm able to make a position steal or two to keep the bleed from being total, but there's no doubt that I'm just doing everything I can to run clock.

Here's the thing about prevent defense. It works sometimes. After an hour or so in the tank, the first of the four contenders fails, and we get to the final table when a second contender misses his all-in. At the final table, I raise with a pocket pair, see two unders on the flop with a queen again, and survive an all-in to win another half hour or so of life. We lose another player at the final table, which takes my friend with kings out of the running; there's just one last contender, who has to win to take the award away from me.  And he was in the exact same position a year again, but just like last year, he's too card-dead to do much. I dwindle down to 10 big blinds, but with my contender on a similar  short stack, it's not as upsetting as you might imagine. I move in with a suited ace, but for once the rep and position doesn't help, as I'm dominated by my caller, and I go out in sixth; two from money, but with as much hope as I've ever had for the big pot. Twenty minutes later, my last contender goes out on a 3-way call for his all-in, and I've done it.

I never, ever, try to count on a gambling win, but I have to tell you, this is all kinds of a Christmas save for me. There have been setbacks, bills we weren't anticipating, and every year that your kids get older, their gifts get pricier. I haven't really done any shopping yet this year, not wanting to go in for the wrong level of gifts. One of my tables is 6+ years old, the veteran of thousands of hours of time, and was never more than an entry-level piece; I've wanted to replace it for years. I'd love to add a second monitor for my side room, add new cards to the deck mix, some seat cushion upgrades, maybe step up the sound system. And the rules of our game is that our champion has to take a shot at a big-money WSOP or WPT event (or a satellite), with our top 10 finishers getting a piece if they get to the event and cash, so that's in the mix as well.

But what I was able to do, when I woke up this morning, was go to my local trophy shop and get the plaque order for my name to be put on it. And that being able to make big laydowns is a sign of growth, and that no one can say that I didn't earn this.

And next time?

Put it all in before the flop. (Or, at least, write a big long blog post saying you will, and trap.)

Nuts Fly Forever

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