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Tips From the Full Tilt Pros

A Big Stack Mistake at the 2006 WSOP by Phil Gordon

I went pretty deep in the first event at the World Series of Poker*, a $1,500 No-Limit Hold 'em tournament. While I wasn't pleased with the outcome - I finished 46th in a 2,776 player field - I was happy with my play. For this tip, I'm going to share an interesting hand from the tournament - one where I made a mistake.

It was late in the first day of play, and things had been going well. My stack had grown to over 60,000 and I was among the chip leaders. The average stack was around 20,000 at that point, the blinds were 600-1,200 with a 200 ante, and I was fortunate enough to be at a timid table. I was stealing with impunity. I was meeting so little resistance that, at points, I was able to steal the blinds and antes four times per orbit. I'd raise pre-flop, everyone would fold, and I'd add valuable chips to my stack.

After some time at this table, an under-the-gun player raised all-in pre-flop for a little over 20,000 in chips. It was folded to me on the button, and I found Ace-King off-suit. I decided to call. My opponent also had Ace-King, but he was suited with hearts. I lost the large pot when my opponent hit his flush.

It would be easy to write off the hand as plain old bad luck. After all, we started with hands of almost identical strength. But, the truth is, I shouldn't have played the hand at all.

Sure, Ace-King is a strong hand, but it's no better than a three to one favorite over something like Ace-Queen. Against other hands my opponent could have held, like pocket 10s or Jacks, it's a slight underdog.

There were also factors beyond the math that I should have considered. For instance, given the table dynamics, there was no need for me to risk one-third of my chips on this hand. If I had folded, I could have gone back to stealing, padding my stack while risking only a fraction of my chips. What's more is that, after I lost, I had to become more conservative, as I no longer had a big chip advantage over the other players.

Losing that pot had other consequences, as well. In this tournament, the blind-to-stack ratio didn't allow for a lot of play. For much of the tournament, the average stack had no more than 12 or 13 big blinds. When I lost those chips, I could no longer re-raise pre-flop, then fold to an all-in if my move didn't work out. If someone raised before the action got to me, I had only two choices; fold or move in.

There are plenty more tournaments to come in the WSOP* and I'm hopeful that, in the following weeks, I'll win my first bracelet. To do that, of course, I'll also have to do a better job of protecting my chips the next time I have a big stack.

Phil Gordon

* World Series of Poker and WSOP are trademarks of Harrah's License Company, LLC ('Harrahs'). Harrah's does not sponsor or endorse, and is not associated or affiliated with TheHendonMob.com or its products, services, promotions or tournaments.

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