These days when you raise from the cutoff, the button, or the little blind, you had best be prepared to face a large re-raise from one of the few players still behind you, as many of them have been steeped in the idea that you are likely to be stealing. On hand one of day two at the Bay 101 Shooting Stars event I was immediately tested in this way. The big blind was 800 with 100 antes and I had 22,800 in chips and the big blind began with 23,400 total. It was passed to me and I looked down at AJ off-suit and I made it 2800 to go, instantly the big blind said "all-in" and I called without much hesitation. Now at the moment I made this call I did not like the situation at all but felt that the big blind was of a mindset to go all-in with any two if he suspected me of being in stealing mode. I liked hearing what he said now, which was "oh, no!" and liked it even more when he turned up A3 off-suit. It came Q42A9 and he was gone one hand later.
This hand brings to mind several other match-ups. Years ago I was playing in a 1000 dollar no-limit event in Reno and had not played a hand in about one hour when I picked up K8off-suit in the little blind with 200-400 blinds with a 50 dollar ante and I moved all-in for 2300 and the big blind called instantly with AJ off-suit and won. It was my first encounter with an as-yet-unknown Vietnamese player named David Pham.
Antonio Esfandiari was all-in many times at the Shooting Stars with a hand that had to improve or he would be eliminated and time and time again [I lost track of how many times it happened] he turned or rivered a winner to stay alive until late in the event. Go back about five years to one of his first no-limit events and the following hand came up; we both had a lot of chips and I had not played a hand in two rounds and raised in the cutoff with AdQs, the big blind was 300 with an ante of 50 and I made it 1200 to go when Antonio moved all in for 18,050 from the button. This is a very large raise and when the action came back to me I had some thinking to do. My first instinct was that he did not have a great hand, I did not think it was AA, KK, QQ, JJ, 10-10 or AK, so now I had to decide if I wanted to risk my stack against what I expected to see, which was 55, 66, 77, 88, or 99. I further thought that the winner of this hand was likely to be the chip leader and go to the final table. In simple language this is the key hand for me if I call. I decided that it was correct to do so and did so. I was shocked when he turned up the K-7 off suit, purely making an instinctive play. The flop came the pleasing Q34, all diamonds, which gave me additionally the nut flush draw, but a black river King ended my day and I left muttering to myself. A hard hand to forget, and a hard hand to let go of
To sum up the above you sometimes have to be willing to make a tough call so that aggressive opponents do not run roughshod over you. There is no exact guideline for this, but wild players and conservative players have to make tougher calls than the "typical" player in order to protect their holdings. The wild player is often perceived as never having anything and so will face re-raises by players with such holdings as 6-6, A-10 suited, KQ off-suit, in other words hands that some players might limp with, or even not play, become re-raising hands! On the other end of the spectrum the conservative player must call with some of his more marginal holdings because if he lays them all down then aggressive players will begin to re-raise that player like they just found free lunch.
This will be the playing pattern that many men have when facing a female opponent, until she stands up to the bullies and bites back they will continue to try to run over her, which opens the door to some interesting (strategical) possibilities.
Dan Harrington was knocked out of the 2004 WSOP championship event by bluffing all-in with a double gut-shot (this is often called a semi-bluff, as when you do get called you might get lucky and complete the hand and make a winner). He remarked to me that even though a million dollars wasn't what it used to be it was still a million dollars (the difference in real dollars that he would collect by moving up one place), and therefore one could make the valid argument that he had butchered the hand. I immediately said "No! I don't think so. He happened to have a hand big enough to call with (David Williams held bottom two pair) but with the bluffs that you were seen to make on ESPN you have increased the value of your poker books immeasurably!" The reason for this observation is that if you are any kind of poker player you know and understand that it is essential to make some plays that are perceived to be out-of-character for you. If you only throw the high hard one up to the plate all the time, even if that is your best pitch, the good hitters will start to load up on it and hit it out of the park with remarkable regularity.
The name David Williams (second place at the 2004 WSOP) brings to mind the following hand, told to me by a professional player that was at the table. They were well into the money and David's stack had dwindled from large to vulnerable and he seemed to be on tilt. An internet player raised it from the cutoff, David called instantly from the little blind, the big blind also called. The flop came 9-7-5. Check, check, bet, David called instantly, and the big blind passed. The turn was a 2. Check, larger bet by cutoff, David called instantly. The river is an 8. David bets most of his stack instantly, the cutoff says call instantly. David has 65 off-suit, the internet player has 10-6 off-suit, for a bigger straight. Now if the net nut had taken even a moment more he would likely have put David all-in, David would have to call, and David would have gone broke and been knocked out of the tournament. Instead, thanks to the fickleness of fate, he goes on to win millions of dollars and great fame!!! What a story!
As Howard Lederer is fond of saying, "Poker is a game of imperfect information!"
To which I would have to add imperfect play and imperfect results. For those of you that have yet to see or hear about the win that Danny Nguyen made at the Bay 101 event you will get to see it up close and personal when it airs on television later this year. Danny leveled the playing field by going all-in with great frequency. He had a willingness to risk going broke that has seldom been paralleled. How would you like to have an opponent move all-in against you with fewer chips than you four handed with a board of K55 and you are holding AK? You now call and he turns up A7 of diamonds. There is one diamond on the board so you can now hope that a diamond does not fall off on the turn. Safe. It is not a diamond. But wait, it is a seven! And the river comes another seven! This is suck-out that will live in infamy.
My hope is that we all can have one like that! To have it when there is three quarters of a million in cash on the table is a hard thing to ask for!
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