My last column looked at a couple of bluffs that I made during the World Series of Poker main event. One of them was successful and one of them cost me some chips. We will look at two more bluffs in this column. One of them took place at the end of day two and is a good example of bubble play. The other involves two players going at each other in a small blind versus big blind situation.
On the very last hand of day two, there were 569 players left in the tournament, and 560 would be paid. Most of the players at my table were doing everything they could not to be knocked out this close to the bubble. Many of them were already thinking about going home and being able to tell their family and friends that they cashed in the “big one.” This tournament, more than any other, has lots of players playing with the goal of simply cashing.
There was an additional factor to consider at this time. This was the last hand of the night! Many players hate busting out at the end of the day. They’ve played great all day and don’t want to make a stupid mistake toward the end. They want nothing more than to be able to bag their chips, go home, get some sleep, and come back for another exciting day.
What a perfect scenario this is for an observant player. Not only were we close to the bubble, but we were about to finish off another day — two scenarios in which players tighten up that were occurring at the same time!
So, I was sitting on the button when a player to my right decided to limp in from the cutoff. What a weak play! This was too tempting to pass up. The blinds were $800-$1,600 with antes of $200. I was looking at a pot of about $5,800 while holding a stack of $55,000. I made up my mind on what I was going to do even before looking at my cards. But I had to look, just for impression sake — the Q 2 . My hand was irrelevant. I raised to $8,000, hoping to pick up the pot.
Unfortunately, the big blind woke up with a hand and called. But I could feel that it was a reluctant call. He had a good hand, but he wasn’t ready to take any chances. I suspected it was something like J-J or 10-10. The cutoff folded. I took a quick glance at the flop of A-X-X (all diamonds) and immediately looked at my opponent. Did he have an ace or a big diamond? The way that he checked convinced me that he was ready to go home for the night. I put in a bet of $12,000 and he folded.
It’s always important in tournaments to identify situations in which you can pick up chips without cards and with little risk. These chips were given to me on a golden platter, and I was able to increase my chip stack by about 20 percent. Day two was a long, tough day for me, as I couldn’t win one significant pot, but I managed to pick up some small pots here and there to maintain my stack. I felt great and was really ready for a new day, hoping that I would be able to go on a nice run.
Day three wasn’t much better for me than day two. My chips were slipping away and the blinds were increasing. I didn’t have a lot of time left to make a move when the following hand came up. First, however, let me give you a little background. Tony Abesamis was in the small blind. He had won a $2,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em tournament recently at Lake Tahoe, and had a long list of nice tournament finishes the last few years. He was a formidable opponent and had a big stack. I was seated directly to his left, so I was planning to use my position on him to prevent him from taking control of the table. We had tangled in a few hands already. Very early in the day, he made a small raise from the small blind and I called. He checked, I made a sizable bet, and he folded. Later, he limped in from the small blind, I raised, and he reraised. I called, but folded on the flop. This time, Tony decided to limp in again with $1,500-$3,000 blinds and $300 antes.
I looked down at 7-2 in the big blind and checked behind him to see the flop. The flop was K-K-J. We both checked. Another jack hit the turn and he checked again. There was about $8,700 in the pot. I made a feeler bet of $4,000 and Tony check-raised to $8,000. My first instinct told me that he didn’t have anything, but I needed to think through the action to verify my instincts.
He had limped into this pot. Thinking back to the earlier hand in which we were small blind versus big blind, I didn’t think he would try to limp-reraise again with a big hand. I concluded that he most likely would have raised preflop with a big hand. Since I didn’t think he had a big hand, there was a smaller chance than normal that he was holding a high card. I think he checked the flop with the intention of check-raising on a bluff, but I didn’t give him the opportunity. I was short-stacked, and Tony couldn’t resist making a play at me on the turn. Of course, I couldn’t be sure of this, but I thought his most likely holding was something like a couple of medium cards.
However, I didn’t have anything, either. If I moved all in, it would look a little suspicious, given the board. Why would I put him all in with a full house, since he couldn’t possibly improve to the best hand? Since he knew this, I was worried that he might call with an ace, queen, or maybe even a 10. I didn’t think he was holding an ace, but again, I couldn’t be sure of that. I also doubted that he had a queen, but that feeling was not as strong as that of the ace. He easily could have been sitting there with a 10, although calling would have been very difficult. I decided to simply call with the intention of representing a big hand, so that I could take the pot on the river.
This move could backfire on me if an ace, king, or jack fell on the river. With a king or jack, I wouldn’t be able to steal the pot, and it would be very difficult to try to do so if an ace fell, given that Tony had seen me play quite aggressively. Of course, splitting the pot wasn’t the end of the world. It was a calculated risk worth taking, rather than trying to steal on the turn and watch Tony make a great call with a hand like Q-8 or 10-9.
A queen fell on the river and Tony checked, as expected. I took my time and then declared myself all in. After 10 seconds, Tony said, “I guess you have me beat,” and flipped his 7-5 on the table. I normally don’t show my cards, but this was a great opportunity to possibly put Tony on tilt. I immediately flipped my 7-2 faceup and the players and railbirds burst out in chatter. A young kid sitting across from me told me I had balls of steel and high-fived me. I normally don’t showboat, but all of the spectators and players at the table did enough without my having to say a word. I knew that the reaction from the table might put Tony on tilt. On the very next hand, he raised from the button and I moved all in. Tony was visibly upset as he announced, “This is personal now.” Note that I never said one word to him or anyone. I was just playing poker, but now Tony was out to get me. I had him where I wanted him.
Unfortunately, I was the one who made some mistakes on later hands that led to my demise. Tony eventually busted me when we got into a race with his A-Q suited versus my 8-8. He hit a queen on the turn and my tournament was over. He was polite as we shook hands. Looking back, other than the “this is personal” comment in a heated moment, Tony was all class the rest of the way. He went on to play great poker and finished in 40th place.
Although I was knocked out a short while after the 7-2 hand, that hand gave me some new momentum in the tournament and some ammunition with which to play. Bluffing is an essential tool for all good poker players. The key is to know your opponent so that you can get inside his head and predict his next move. Once you can do that, you are on your way to world-class poker.
This article first appeared in Card Player magazine.
Matthew is the owner of Dimat Enterprises, “Publishing Today’s Best Poker Books”. The Math of Hold’em by Collin Moshman and Douglas Zare is available now at pokerbooks.InternetTexasHoldem.com.