Hot and then not: Tales from the tournament of champions

August 9, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 9, 2018

Two Tuesdays ago, I had a very rough start in my first tournament of the postseason but got hot towards the end of the event, finishing in fourth place. The other night, during the tournament of champions at the same Tuesday venue, the opposite occurred: I started off hot but faltered toward the end.

I hit a big hand after moving to my second table, roughly 20 minutes into the event. (Unlike every other in-venue contest that World Tavern Poker conducts, the tournament of champions has long blinds, so I think we were still in the first level, 100–200.) Having been dealt pocket kings, I raised to 800, only to see around four callers.

The flop was a nightmare: three hearts, while I held none at all. I made a significant bet — 1,600, I think — only to see Paul C. raise to 3,200.

I hesitated, because he was strongly representing a flush or a flush draw. But there was more than 6,000 in the pot, and I wasn’t convinced that Paul had completed the flush, so I figured I was still getting decent odds on my money. I called.

Paul made extremely modest bets on both the turn and river, wagering 600 or 800 in each round. I followed, because the pot was too rich to abandon for those prices.

At the showdown, it emerged that Paul was playing nothing more fearsome than pocket fours; I forget whether one was a heart or not, but since neither fourth nor fifth streets were hearts, he failed to hit his flush. Rather to my surprise, my kings were good.

The next hand I remember in any detail came during the 500–1,000 level, after I’d moved to my fourth — and, it would turn out — final table in an event that had started with 35 players and five tables.

I started the hand with pocket threes and debated throwing them away. In the end, I limped in for 1,000. It proved to be a fateful decision.

The flop came king, nine, three, with I think two hearts. This flop contained some very good news for me as well as some potentially ominous news.

The very good news, of course, was that I’d flopped three of a kind and had a chance to make a full house or even, perhaps, four of a kind. But I also found the board somewhat menacing because I was afraid that a player with two pocket hearts could manage what Paul had not earlier and make a flush.

The action checked around to me, and I pondered what to do. The looming threat of a possible flush, combined with the fact that we had five players in the hand, convinced me to place a bet, and a sizable one at that. I ended up wagering 4,300, which represented more than 80 percent of what was already in the pot.

Two players folded; Jonathan and Tom called.

The three of us checked the turn, which from what I could tell did nothing to improve anyone’s situation. The river was a queen, I believe a heart, and Tom bet 5,000.

I wasn’t happy about the third heart, but I thought I still might be ahead of Tom, whom I suspected of bluffing. “Call,” I announced, quickly and firmly enough that it made an impression on everyone at the table.

The alacrity of my response was not lost on Jonathan. He conceded that his two pairs were probably no longer good and folded.

Tom was not very quick to reveal his hand. It turned out that he had a straight, though as he admitted, it only went as high as the king. I snarled and threw down my pocket threes, which were sadly inferior to what Tom had.

I must confess here that I didn’t pay attention to what Tom had; logically, if my recollection of the board is accurate, it may have been jack-10. I’m not sure if he was open-ended on the turn or if I could have bet him off the hand by, say, going all-in after fourth street. Regardless of whether it might have worked or not, I not only failed to make the move, I didn’t maintain enough awareness to know that the straight was a threat or even to entertain the thought of trying to push someone off it — a serious failure on my part.

It was a costly failure, too. When we went to the break a few minutes after the hand concluded, I had 35,000 in chips. My loss to Tom had cost me 10,300, not to mention the 12,600 I might have collected from the pot (included calls on the flop from him and Jonathan) if I’d managed to win the hand.

After the break, while I was sitting in the big blind for 2,000, Tom raised to 4,000. Everyone folded to me; I shrugged and called with king-two off-suit. We checked down, and I was hopeful that king-high might be enough until Tom said that he just had ace-high. (Just!) His ace-four off-suit wasn’t much, but it was enough to beat me. I snarled again and threw my cards away without revealing them.

I was not long for the game. I think the end came one orbit later, when I was again in the big blind. This time, Dave, the player two spots to my right, was in on the hand; I think, as Tom had in the hand I just described, he may have raised from 2,000 to 4,000. My hole cards were the seven and six of spades; I thought about re-popping — that is, re-raising — but opted just to call.

The flop came ace-eight-five, of which only one was a spade. However, the board gave me an open-ended straight draw — 5-6-7-8.

I considered betting on my draw but checked instead. So did the other player or two who were in the hand. Then Dave, the hand’s dealer and (more importantly) the possessor of one of the fattest bankrolls in the tournament, made a significant bet: 12,000.

This put me on the cusp of a major hand, as I had 28,000 at that moment. I decided to ship (that is, push all-in), which got anyone in the hand except Dave to fold.

Dave, to my surprise, spent about two minutes considering what to do; I’d expected him to call me automatically, especially given that he must have had around 10 times my stack. Eventually, he called and turned up…ace-four off-suit. He had top pair with a very weak kicker.

“Give him a four,” I called, hoping to complete my five-card sequence (either four through eight or five through nine).

But the turn was a brick (a three, perhaps?) and the river was an eight. In other words, close — very close! — but no cigar.

“I took my shot,” I said dejectedly.

Tom teased me: “That ace-four is a killer.” I laughed, despite myself, and shook my head ruefully.

Incidentally, Dave went on to win the tournament, which offered me a small, odd sort of consolation. 

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