Beat? Lay it down, despite the big pot

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By the time you read this someone will be about $250,000 richer. Florida’s biggest and best tournament is over, and we can all hope it’s only the beginning of great things to come.

Personally, the tournament was a disappointment. Any tournament I enter and don’t win is a disappointment. I’ve learned over the years if you don’t play for first place it’s pretty hard to win. It might not be a realistic expectation, but it should be your only expectation.
I wish my first column for Ante Up could be a self-congratulating piece that shares my brilliant play and subsequent jubilation. Instead, I’m going to take you through one hand that turned about six hours of very good play into a precarious chip count in less than five minutes.

I loathe bad-beat stories, so this isn’t one. Instead, it’s an interesting hand that combines a bit of everything that can happen in a hand, and how that one hand can go from well-played to poorly played in a matter of seconds. We all want to become better poker players, and I’m convinced if we were more honest with ourselves and used losing hands as learning experiences we’d be much better off.

Blinds were 200-400 with a small ante. I had built my 15,000 chips to about 46,000 with good, solid, aggressive play. I used my position at the table to my advantage, but never got too far out of line. It was my original table and the play was solid, tight and pretty predictable. I was chipleader at the table and probably in the top 5 percent of the room. There were three decent stacks at the table besides mine.

On the button I looked down at Q-J suited. The player under the gun made it 1,200, and got one caller plus me. This was a standard raise and I liked my cards … and my position. The raiser was a good player with about 30,000 chips, solid but aggressive. The flop came Q-10-4 rainbow. Both players checked to me and I bet 3,000. If I got reraised I was prepared to throw it away with little damage done. Based on how things had gone, I expected both players to fold. The original raiser called, the other player folded. At this point it was hard to put my opponent on a hand, but I felt like I was ahead. I would’ve guessed A-K or a middle pocket pair. The turn was a very pretty {j-Hearts}, giving me top two pair, but putting two hearts on the board. The player checked again, and I bet about 5,000. I felt very good about my hand and was only mildly concerned about the heart draw. She fairly quickly reraised to 12,000. I called the extra 7,000 without much thought, assuming that even if I were somehow behind, a jack or queen on the river would solve my problems.

This is a good time, though, to try a little harder to figure out what I was up against. An UTG solid player raised a standard amount. She called a standard bet on the flop, then reraised a bigger stack on a card that improved my hand dramatically. Hmmm. What could she have? I put her on five hands: A-A, a set of 10s or fours, A-K or two hearts.

She had about 15,000 chips left and unless a jack or queen showed up, I was going to have to make a decision on the river, which ended up being a forgettable, low non-heart. She pushed in her remaining chips within five seconds. Crap, if my read was right, the only thing I could beat was a busted draw or an overpair.

I thought the hand through for about two minutes, and despite knowing I was beat, made the mistake of deciding the pot was just too big to give away on the unlikely chance I was ahead. I was not surprised after reluctantly tossing in my chips when she announced “Straight.” I was very surprised, however, when she turned over the {k-Clubs}{9-Clubs}. Huh?

Wow, I didn’t see that coming. An UTG raise with {k-Clubs}{9-Clubs} into an aggressive, big-stacked button. And it worked. So, in self-analysis, what could I have done differently?
• Don’t call the initial preflop UTG raise with Q-J suited? Unlikely since I had lots of chips, decent cards and position.

• Make a bigger bet on the flop after both players checked? Absolutely. My bet accomplished nothing. I had the best hand and I didn’t bet enough to protect it or define it. I should’ve made a big enough bet to take the pot down there. If I were facing a set or overpair I would’ve found out then and saved myself a lot of chips later.

• Fold when I was check-raised on the turn? Probably. But my thought process made sense. Even if I’m beat, a jack or queen on the river gives me a winner that probably gets paid off.

• Fold on the river to save my last 15K? Yes, even though there were 34,000 chips in the pot. It was costing me 15K to win 60K. Pot odds say call if you think you have a 25 percent chance of having the best hand. But I didn’t give myself that high a likelihood. Also, pot odds shouldn’t be used exclusively to make such a critical decision. Instead, I should’ve given greater weight to the significant amount of chips I would’ve had if I had folded, especially considering the relatively small blinds and antes, the significant buy-in and payouts of this particular event. And, most important, I was playing extremely well and should’ve been confident in my read and ability to recover with a decent amount of remaining chips.

So, by playing the hand to the end, I lost the maximum. I dropped my powerful stack back to my starting stack, and I got mad at myself for playing the hand poorly. Though I virtually never go on tilt, (I know I can have a temper, but I don’t let it affect my play) I did start to push things a bit. It only took a couple of hands where I deviated from my plan, or got a little unlucky, and I was done.

— Don Baruch lives in Tampa, Fla., and was the 2007 World Series of Poker bracelet-winner in the $1,500 Shootout event. Contact him via email
at editor@anteupmagazine.com.