The object of poker is to make correct decisions. I’ve always stressed working on your game and practicing online so that when it comes time to battle on the felt, you’re comfortable and prepared for whatever you may face. Take your time, think about the information you’ve gathered and then make the best decision possible. There’s no time in a tournament more critical for this than at a final table. Most don’t get a whole lot of practice making final-table decisions. We get lots of early and middle-stage practice, and even get to the late stages once in a while. But making final tables is rare.
I recently found myself as chipleader going into the final table of a World Series of Poker circuit event at Harrah’s Atlantic City. This was my second real shot at a circuit ring and I was determined to bring it home. Most of my competitors were very strong players, but I was extremely focused and knew if I stayed patient and picked the right spots, I would have a good chance to win. I’d like to discuss one hand where you might think I was lucky, but that wasn’t the case. My opponent didn’t take the time to think about the hand and what his best course of action should have been.
With three players left I led with about 1.8 million chips. Steve Geonnotti was second (1.4 million) and Josh Brikis was third (about 380K). The blinds were 10K-20K with a 3K ante and I was in the big blind. Josh opened for 45K, Steve called and I called with . I was presented with a very nice flop of and Steve led out for 100K. The first thing I think of in this spot is, “What is the best way to get the money in the pot?” This is a thought you must have any time you flop a big hand. Sometimes you want to raise to build the pot and sometimes you should just call to keep opponents in the hand. Since we were three-handed, I felt the best thing to do was call and hope one or both might have an overpair. Based on my experience playing with Steve, I felt it was most likely he had an overpair, 2-2 or he held the . In the unlikely event he did have the , I was most likely outkicked, so it’s also best to just call to control the size of the pot. Josh folded.
The turn was the ! Steve checked and I figured I probably wasn’t going to get much more out of the hand, but to ensure I had a chance, I checked, hoping he would improve on the river or take a stab to win it. The river was a and Steve led out for 100K again. I thought he must have an overpair such as fives through eights or 9-9 to lead again. I didn’t think he would’ve fired into both of us on the flop and lead this river with less. I took my time, then raised to 400K. To my surprise Steve announced all-in! I quickly called and took down a massive pot that gave me a massive lead going into heads-up play. And what did Steve hold? Pocket nines … the second nuts!
Steve’s line of play was just fine for almost the entire hand. He bet with what’s likely the best hand on the flop, checked for pot control on the turn and led the river with the second nuts. However, once I raised the river, he didn’t take the time to think about what I might’ve held. What could I possibly have had to take the line I took in the hand? I would be foolish to raise him on the river with 2-2 or any overpair, and it doesn’t make sense for me to randomly have a naked nine when I called on the flop. Though there are three fours on the board, it’s almost certain I must have a four in my hand to make the raise.
There’s no logical reason for me to make a play on him and reopen the betting. Why? If I don’t have a four, how do I know HE doesn’t have a four? If I had any other holding I thought was the best hand but wasn’t sure, then I would have to just call. Granted it would be an extremely hard fold with 9-9 in this spot, but even if he just called, he would’ve had about 900K left, plenty to play with at that blind level.
The main thing he didn’t think about was there was just no value in his shove. I could only call if I had a four in my hand and would be forced to fold all other holdings. Josh and I battled a bit heads-up and I emerged victorious, earning my first WSOPC ring!
When you pay to enter a tournament, you owe it to yourself to take the time to really think through the betting story on each hand. If you face bets and raises when you think you hold the best hand, take the extra time to replay the hand and be sure to really keep your opponent’s image in mind. You have to accumulate chips to win, and you want to maximize value at every opportunity, but if you’re facing bets and raises when you have a strong hand, you must think about what you could accomplish if you put more chips in the pot. If weaker hands will have to fold and only stronger hands can call you, your best course of action is to just call, even if you do hold the second nuts.
Decide to win!
— Lee Childs is founder and lead instructor of Acumen Poker. He also is a Lock Poker Pro and an instructor with the WPT Boot Camp. Check out his site at