15/11/2012

Interesting Hands In Bristol

Vicky Coren

I had a great time at theUKIPT Bristol tournament this weekend. It was just really fun; Bristol is a great city, everyone around was good-tempered and lovely, lots of likable players were in town for the game, and I was involved in some really interesting poker hands.

As I usually do, I tweeted a few updates. But two things were just too big for the small space allowed there: an incredible clash of monster hands with James Dempsey (who’d given me a lift to Bristol in his amazing James Bond car, for which I remain grateful, despite the hand that follows), and my exit from the tournament. Both of those situations defied one-line summary. Tweeting “I lost with quads” or “I got it all in with a pair of nines” is misleading in its brevity, as there is a lot of other key information that changes the landscape.

I promised the extended version, and here it is. Very extended. If you’re not a poker fan, I do NOT recommend you read on. But if you play the game, I think you’ll find these coups quite interesting.

1) Quads

If you lose a hand with quads, people will just say “Unlucky – no getting away from that.”

Actually, that’s not necessarily true. It’s worth thinking about every losing hand, to see if chips could have been saved, even if only for 30 seconds.

A little while into day one, a young chap raised to 450 (blinds 100-200), James “Flushy” Dempsey called, there was another caller and I flat called from the big blind with two red jacks. (No need to make the pot huge out of position, I thought – especially since I’d already made that mistake once with a pair of tens).
The flop came K Q J, all clubs. Trips! But hardly unassailable trips, on that kind of board.

I checked, the original raiser checked, Dempsey bet 1200, next guy folded, I called and the original raiser folded. So now I’m heads up with James.
Turn: jack of spades. Quads! OK, now I’m confident. I checked and Dempsey irritatingly checked behind. So, I chucked out a bet in a sort of “Well, if you don’t want it…” kind of way (which obviously goes as an early river bet, since the turn action is complete).

Betting or checking in the dark is nearly always a dumb thing to do, as it gives unnecessary extra information and the situation might change massively - but it’s not easy to get paid with quads, either, especially by a player of Dempsey’s quality. My hand couldn’t go behind, it was too massive, and what I didn’t want was him being chased away by a scare card. So, I bet early, making my action just as the river card came over.

River: ten of clubs. Ah yes; of course there was a universe where my hand could go behind, just an extremely unlikely one. And here it was: a possible straight flush.
Flushy now raises to 11,000. Or it might have been 10,000. And I had a long think.

The one or two less experienced players on my table (it was a very tough table) were a bit shocked by this think, as were others who heard about it. They believe, understandably, that quads can never be folded.

But what could he have? James Dempsey is an excellent poker player, and I think he credits me with a clue myself; he would never raise with a full house here and expect me to call with worse. He really should have a straight flush.

The problem was, the dark(ish) river bet. Dempsey knows that I would not make that bet if I had the ace of clubs myself, therefore he can represent it. His hand is absolutely polarized here: he has the straight flush, or he’s bluffing.

But if he’s bluffing, he’s taken a very specific line: had a brave (some would say reckless) go at nicking it off three players on the flop when the original raiser checks in disappointment, then (despite being just heads-up now) given up on the turn – and then seized a late-breaking opportunity to bluff again when the absolute scare card comes on the river. It’s a pretty weird play. Then again, it would rarely be said of Flushy that he never bluffs.

Eventually I called, with this possibility in mind, and of course he had the ace of clubs for the royal flush. I knew even as I called that he has it significantly more than 50% of the time; he’s bluffing more than 0% of the time, but it’s a low percentage. Therefore, as I tweeted: “I just made a bad call with quads – and that’s not something I can say every day.”

2) The rogue element

Despite this sick match-up of hands with Flushy on day one, which took me down to 7,000 in chips, I recovered to make day two and got my chips up to a strong 100,000 by mid-afternoon.

What’s interesting (I think) is that I was basically knocked out by a player who didn’t actually get a single one of my chips – nor, I think, did he have any real idea that he was key to my demise. Funny how it can be like that, sometimes; someone can get your chips, due to the actions of a third party who affected the action like the beat of a butterfly’s wings altering the universe.

It came down to two key hands. I’d suffered a bad beat against an all-in player and my stack was around 75,000. With blinds at 400-800, I found 88 in the small blind and an Irish guy raised to 1700. The Persian gentleman on my immediate right, who had a stack of about 35,000 called. I was going to be out of position on the hand, but I felt like I liked the situation. I decided to take a flop with them.

It came 2-3-3. This was a good flop for me, and I elected to check-raise. So, I checked and the Irishman bet 3500. The Persian called. Pretty sure I was in front, I raised to 15,000. Bizarrely, they both called. Okay: I was done with the hand. I had evidently misread the situation; I wasn’t sure what the Irishman had (and, despite his quick call of my raise, I strongly suspected two overcards) but the Persian guy absolutely must have a big pair. There was just no way he could flat call 15,000 out of a 35,000 stack against two opponents without a huge hand.

So, although the turn brought another 3 to give me a full house, I’d lost interest and checked. The Irishman now bet out, around 20,000. To my absolute astonishment, the Persian folded. How was this possible? What on earth could he have, to call for nearly half his stack, against two players, then fold immediately on a blank turn? We’ll never know.

Unfortunately, I still had to fold myself. When the Irishman made his 20,000 bet, he had the same information I did: that this Persian player waiting behind him had already cold-called nearly half his chips, indicating a huge hand. It was no longer possible for the Irish kid to have AK or AQ, as it would be just too crazy to bet into the (basically unfoldable) Persian hand with no pair. So he must be the one with the aces or kings. I folded, and the Irish guy triumphantly showed KTo.

I must say, I feel that his play was very inadvisable – not because of my action, but because it was absolutely impossible to predict that the Persian would fold for the bet. For a tournament of this kind, it was far too high-octane a bluff. Basically, people never fold in that spot. Nevertheless, it got through. When I folded and the bluff was shown, the Persian snapped at me – something like “I couldn’t call with you behind me” – which makes me think he had no idea that it was his own previous cold-calling that made it impossible for me to continue in the hand. Not because of him, but because of what the Irishman was supposed to think about him.

Not long after, I had a stack of 52,000 when I found a pair of nines on the button. The action passed round to our Persian friend, who (with blinds of 500-1000) made a relatively large raise to 4200. He only had 20,000 left and I wanted them all; remembering the strange late fold he’d made previously, I figured it was best to just call here and let him bet again on the flop. So I called.

Now the small blind raised up to 13,000. The Persian chap (as I had feared he would if I three-bet myself) folded.

Thing was, I was happy enough with the small blind’s raise because it seemed very likely I had the best hand here. It’s pretty standard to make a squeezy three-bet in this spot anyway, and the small blind had witnessed the previous action – he hadn’t seen my cards in the 88 hand so could chalk me down for a big failed bluff, and he’d seen the Persian character make a massive call-fold. So, he can raise in this spot with an absolutely vast range of hands. Any two cards, really. It would be stupid to pass a pair of nines. So I stuck in the four-bet; can’t remember the amount, but enough to commit my stack (something like 35,000) and when the SB declared all in I had to call. But hello! He had a pair of aces. Must be nice.

His hand held up and I was out.

So, that was how I was effectively knocked out of the tournament by a player who didn’t actually get any of my chips. All my actions were determined by the Persian manoeuvres, despite losing (in both pots) to other opponents completely.

And the funny thing is, I don’t regret sticking it in with the pair of nines. They happened to be losing, but, all factors considered, it would have been a bad fold (and a weak call). The quads however… that should have been quite an easy fold.

Just goes to show: when you read a one-line summary of a hand online (“He had this, she had that, this happened”), it can seem very easy to say “Ooh, bad call” or “Wow, unlucky!” – but there is almost always more to it, a secret narrative that tells a completely different story.