Day 3 of the World Series of Poker Main Event starts today at the Rio casino in Las Vegas. One of the greatest prizes in sport awaits the eventual winner: a cool $10 million, with a further $52,820,200 to be distributed amongst the top 693 players.
And I could have been among them.
I entered the $1,111 Little One For One Drop charity tournament last week in hopes of taking anything up to the $637,000 first prize, and buying my way into the Main Event. Instead I exited in the most ignominious fashion: just 30 minutes into a four-day tournament.
Here’s how it happened. With blinds still just 25-25 on a starting stack of 4,000, I limp in with pocket eights. I don’t want to raise from early position; I’m happy instead to call a small raise in the hopes of catching a set on the flop. There’s another limp to my left; a raise to 125 to his left; one more caller; and me.
Perfect. That’s 500 in the pot, the start of a decent payout should I hit my 1 in 8 chance of an eight.
Instead I get an ‘interesting’ flop: 567, with two hearts. Pretty great. I have a pocket overpair, and an open-ended straight draw.
In retrospect, I should probably have checked, and then either called or re-raised any raise. Instead I bet 425, to punish any flush draw, discourage overcards hoping to hit, and maximise my win should I hit a straight. My mistake immediately becomes apparent when the pre-flop limper to my left re-raises to 1,250. The next two fold to me.
What does my re-raiser have? A pair, even an overpair, is very unlikely to bet so confidently on that board. A flush draw would flat-call, not wanting to push out the other two players. So this can only be two pair, trips, or a made straight. On the last possibility, however, I have some insider info: I hold two of the 8s, which makes it statistically less likely he has 8-9. Two pair is possible, but would he really be in the pot, even limping, with two small cards? Maybe, but a small pocket pair, giving him trips, is more likely.
Either way, my pocket pair is beat, and I should probably fold. If I call, I’ll get to see only one more card before I get re-raised all-in. But then I have a straight draw, and he doesn’t. More importantly, I could have a made straight, for all he knows. If I re-raise all in, will he really risk his whole stack, so early in a four-day tournament, when he could be up against the nut straight?
I convince myself that he is likely to fold to an all-in raise, giving me a quick profit of 2,000. And if he doesn’t, well, I still have a 1 in 3 chance of making my straight, giving me a profit of 4,725.
I didn’t fly 6,000 miles to be pushed around. It’s a big tournament, but I’ll rise to the challenge. I square my shoulders, look him in the eye, push my chips all-in…
And he insta-calls. Oops.
He turns over 8-9. The stone-cold nuts.
Like I say. Ooooops.
I tell this story to a pro at a cash table the next day, asking what he would have done. He says dismissively: ‘Of course you fold.’
Yes, of course I fold. There’s four days in this tournament. You don’t have to take risks. I could kiss goodbye the 550 I’d invested in the hand, and still have plenty of chips with at these low blind levels which to sit back and wait all day for pocket aces.
Then again, if I had been correct in my initial calculation, if he had had either two pair or trips, I actually would have won the hand. I didn’t make the straight, but my third 8 came on the river.
So which am I: an excessively macho risk-taker, over-used to the high-pressure cash games at London’s Hippodrome casino? Or a calculated risk-taker, coolly unafraid to jeopardise his stack for an early win with which to dominate the table?
What would your strategy have been?
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Dominic writes about poker at www.cardspiel.com