On facing another tough poker end game

August 11, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 11, 2018

Two of the most memorable hands from Thursday night’s tournament of champions were ones I didn’t play.

Before I get to those, please permit me to recount one that I did. Staring with a high pocket pair, I raised preflop to maybe three times the big blind. (I assume the level was 200–400, which would have made my raise 1,200.) I got four callers.

The flop was jack-jack-something. (That something may have been a nine; it turned out to be irrelevant.) The good news here was that I now had two pairs. The bad news was that a single jack would ruin me.

I needed to find out if danger was lurking, so I made a big bet — maybe 5,800, a little less than the size of the pot. If anyone called, that would signal potential danger. If I got re-raised, then I’d have to give serious consideration to abandoning a premium hand. However, everyone folded, indicating that I was ahead the whole time.

Fast forward to a final table at which I have one of the smaller stacks. As the blinds move up, I believe to 2,000–4,000, I pass through the big and small blinds without getting a good hand. That reduces me to something like 17,000 chips. I know that if I don’t collect a pot soon, I’m liable to be on life support by the time we complete another orbit.

The deal passed to me. There was at least one big wager before action came to me. When I looked at my hand, I was pleased to see a suited ace, namely, A4. Since my kicker was rather low, I had to ask myself if I was willing to put my tournament life on the line.

Eight players remained; I had five “free hands” coming before I’d be obligated to put any money into the pot as the big blind. I decided to be patient and wait for a superior hand to come.

Of course, this turned out to be a mistake: The board provided three hearts, giving me an ace-high flush, a hand far superior to anything the players who went to showdown possessed. I figuratively gnashed my teeth.

The very next hand also had some large wagers — I think two players went all-in with more chips than I had, and there was another competitor behind me in the order of action whom I thought was likely to stay in the pot. When I looked at my cards, I found pocket fours.

This posed yet another dilemma. Should I call with this hand, which I think was the first pocket pair I’d seen in perhaps an hour? Or would it be safer to sit this one out and wait for a better spot? Ultimately, I folded.

This was a decision that I began regretting even more quickly than when I’d thrown away the ace and four of hearts on the previous hand. The flop contained a four, and the board ended up showcasing a pair of deuces. In other words, I would have flopped three of a kind and rivered a boat. Once more, I would have ended up with a hand superior to that which actually claimed the pot.

About 10 minutes later, I was in the big blind when there was more heavy wagering. I was holding A♠5♠ and decided to go all in. (As it happens, this is the 27th-strongest holdem hand according to this chart of starting hands.)

Helena had pocket nines. Tony, the other player in the pot, had ace-queen off-suit. I had the weakest hand.

Obviously, I wanted ace and five to come out. Instead, the flop featured a pair of sixes, and the turn was also a six. Helena had a boat; Tony and I had squat, bupkus, nada, zero, zilch.

Tony and I would split the main pot if the river was an ace or a six. It was not, and Helena — who went on to be the tournament runner-up — collected all of our chips.

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