Warning: Poker Content
Sunday, 11 July 2010
Right. This blog post is going to be entirely about poker, a technical series of cards and numbers, so if you’re not a fan of that then LOOK AWAY NOW.
But it occurred to me, this is something I would write a poker column about if my poker column wasn’t so short - luckily, on this blog I am queen of my own kingdom. So, this is a howl of anguish about a bad beat, followed by a hand I watched which I think makes an interesting comparison.
If you’re a Twitter follower, you might have seen me post something a couple of days ago which said, “If I never get a poker beat as bad as that again, it’ll be too soon.” That might have been an exaggeration. But here are the details, if you’re curious.
As often seems the case with me in Vegas, I’m getting lucky on the table games and unlucky on the poker. I don’t know why, but historically I have never done well in the tournaments here. I would say it was a European thing, except I’ve played the PCA twice and done well both times, so it can’t be that. Anyway, the misery of this particular hand might be compounded by having already played my total of three WSOP events and got nowhere in any of them.
This was a $5000 tournament at the Bellagio, with a small field - just 93 players - and we were already down to about 39. So average chips was around 47,000 and I had 50,000. My opponent (let’s call him Mr X - no need to name him specifically, as I’m going to be critical but he’s a nice guy) had about 80,000. Blinds were 400-800.
Second to speak, I raised to 2000 with AK of spades. Mr X called. Two more players called behind him.
The flop came Ad 4h 6h. I bet out 5000. Mr X called. One of the remaining players called, and the other folded.
The turn was 8d. I bet 8000. Mr X raised to 20,000. The third player folded. I moved all in for 24,000 more. Mr X called.
His hand? 6c 7d. He hit two pair on the river and I reeled away from the table, more shocked than I have been in a long time.
My friend Barny Boatman says that it’s not a bad beat unless the other player makes a mistake. So, for example, if you get knocked out with KK against QQ, he says it’s not a bad beat as long as the player with QQ played it correctly for the information available to him.
In the case of this particular hand, I would say that Mr X made a mistake with EVERY SINGLE BET that he made.
Before the flop, he called in early-middle position with absolutely no hand at all. That’s just silly. Raise if you think I’m a rock and can be pushed around, or throw it away. Don’t call.
After the flop - I think this is probably the worst bet of all - he flat called 5000 with second pair, on an ace high board, plus two straight-flushing cards, with two players behind him. This is truly hideous. Everything’s wrong with it. Firstly, he must think I am some kind of moron to bet out into three players on this flop without an A in my hand. If he thinks I am this moron, he needs to raise and find out. Calling tells him nothing. Besides, he is incredibly vulnerable to a raise behind him if one of them has the ace, or a big draw. A call, in this spot, is like burning money.
Then, on the turn, now holding third pair and a gutshot, he makes a tiny raise of 12,000 into a pot of over 40,000 - with two opponents! You can only do this with a really massive hand. Almost inevitably, one of his opponents (me) moved all in. Now he’s looking at 24,000 more. The pot contains 64,000. He’s priced his raise so horribly that he’s being offered less than 3/1 when he’s 4/1 to win the pot. But he calls anyway. Literally, he should have done something different EVERY SINGLE TIME it was his turn to act. Still, luck is always a factor in tournament poker and he hit the miracle. Urghh. Those who know me will realize how deeply traumatized I must have been when I tell you that five minutes later we were all given free tickets to the Bellagio buffet but I felt too sick to eat. For me, that’s serious.
Now, I think this makes an interesting comparison with a different hand that I watched on my earlier table. Sifosis (a top winning online and live pro poker player) had a lot of chips and was being very active, raising most pots. At this earlier stage, blinds were 100-200 and both relevant players had big chips. Sifosis raised to 600. A young American on his left (let’s call him Mr Y) reraised to 1500. Everyone else passed and Sifosis raised again, up to 4500. Mr Y called.
The flop came 3h 6h 9c. Sifosis bet 8000. Mr Y raised to 18,000. Sifosis moved all in for about 20,000 more and Mr Y quickly called. Sifosis showed a pair of kings, and Mr Y showed 5c 7c. Failing to improve, Mr Y was knocked out and wandered away. Several players on the table said “Happy Christmas” and “Must be nice” to Sifosis - they felt Mr Y had murdered his entire stack with no hand.
In a way, that’s true. But there is a crucial difference between this hand and the one I played later: you can see a logical, defensible reason for every bet made by Mr Y. When he reraises before the flop, he’s simply trying to nick the pot off an active player that he assumes is raising with nothing. When Sifosis comes back with another raise, Mr Y calls to see a flop - he has a nice double draw, plus his hand is well disguised, so he thinks he can get paid if he hits well. On the flop, it’s not perfect but he does hit a double gutshot (he can make a straight with a 4 or an 8). When his active opponent makes a continuation bet, he has absolutely enough excuse to make a semi-bluff raise. The only fault I can really find is that his raise is perhaps a little too small here. Nevertheless, when Sifosis fights back all in (thus showing that he has an overpair rather than an AK, AQ type of hand), the pot is laying Mr Y over 3/1 to make the call, and he is LESS than 3/1 to make his hand. Therefore, it is a mathematically correct call.
To the naked eye, both Mr X and Mr Y are lunatics. They certainly both play a very different style of poker to mine. But while Mr X makes a series of mistakes and gets lucky, Mr Y makes a series of absolutely logical bets and does not get lucky. Mr X was the one who ended up with big chips - he is in the final of the tournament as I type, is already showing a big profit on his money and may well win a huge prize. Mr Y walked away with nothing. But, people who wonder about the ratio of luck to skill in poker, take note: if you had to buy shares in one of these players for next year’s World Series of Poker, you should take Mr Y a hundred times out of a hundred.