Reads. They seem like a very important part of a poker player's repertoire, and they are! When they are right the player seems like a magician at times, especially as they present it on television where you can see the hole cards. The problem is that the shows are edited and you are seeing dramatic moments, not the whole play. Furthermore you are likely in a game-show atmosphere at a short table with the blinds increasing rapidly.
In this situation many players are getting creative and overplaying random hands in an effort to beat the clock and make good television [both]. What I am attempting to say here is that a lot of sexy moves made at the poker table are actually driven by the math of the situation, not by incredible reads and amazing actions. A lot of times we, as players, get the door when we make a mistake in our reads. Numerous times in each tournament it becomes key to make the right decision—not that you will win every one, but to give yourself a fighting chance you have to have a sense of where you stand vis a vis your opponent. If you are a television watcher you do not see these mistaken reads very often.
I have made some of those misreads myself, amazingly enough! On the first Pokerstars cruise I raised to 3 times the big blind with TT off a biggish stack. A player that was new to my table and had sat three places behind me moved all-in for 70% of my chips. It came back to me and I began to think about the situation, glancing at him several times while searching for clues as to what to do. After about a minute he gave me a tell, and it was one that has been 98% accurate over the years—it was completely clear to me that he hated his hand! I called and he turned over JJ. The tell was spot on, he did hate his hand…but it still was better than mine!
In the 10,000 dollar event at the WSOP three years ago at the third level a two-time bracelet winner sat two spots to my right and off a way below average stack went all-in in second position with the big blind only 200. I was stunned because it was still 3600 to me and although I had 13,500 or something I could not imagine what that hand could be—AK off? AJ or AQ suited? 99? 88? These seemed like the most likely holdings, but I was certainly confused. I looked down at TT and had a good feeling about my chances as I was in good to great shape against all of the above hands and had the chips to call with, which I did. No one else called and I was looking at AA! Whoops. A ten came on the flop to rescue me and I went on to more success in the following days.
The oversized bet is an interesting weapon and can be another useful tool for the professional player and has become much more of an option for every player in these past few years. Gavin Smith had an important insight about that this past August when he mentioned how much he loved bets that could only be called by hands that had them beat. My favorite quote on this subject was at the WPPA tournament at the Orleans a few years ago when Chip Jett was asked what he thought about Jim McManus's alleged play of moving all-in at the first level (50,000 in chips are given for the 25,000 buy-in at the WPT championship event) with AA over tiny blinds. Chip responded, "Why not? Aces are not part of my plan for gathering chips anyway."
Well that might have been said with tongue in cheek, but Chip delivers all his lines deadpan so it is hard to tell. I can tell you that I have been tricked by this play, errrr……..overbetting of good hands—starting with aces before the flop, partially because I never saw it except from unknown amateurs until the last three years. "Miami" John Cernuto crippled me with this same strategy at an early level of this same WPPA event when I held Queens.
It stings when an amateur nails me with this play, but seldom shocks me. One time I raised a pot with aces and was called only by the little blind. The flop brought JJ2 and he moved all-in. I couldn't get my chips in fast enough and was looking at J9 off-suit. A professional player asked me why I called and I had no answer. If you are someone I have never seen before it might work for you too! One reason I have a hard time beating 'weakies' is that I always think they are thinking.
In the hand with Miami John it did not shock me when he turned over aces. I have played with John since he first appeared in Las Vegas in the early eighties and this is a case of him thinking about what I am thinking that he is thinking. I could continue digging this hole as it gets quite subtle but I will stop there. I can mention that in the previous tournament to this one John limped with aces in an early position and I held K9 off-suit in the big blind and the flop came KJ9, we put all the money in the middle and off came a Jack on the river.
Some players just seem to beat certain other players consistently. I know that I hold over John Juanda, Layne Flack, Barry Greenstein, and Tom Franklin, but that Billy Duarte, Scotty Nguyen, Paul Wolfe, Alan Cunningham, and John Cernuto hold over me. Of course there are other players that I have had good battles and bad battles with, such as Men Nguyen, Daniel Negreanu, Billy Gazes, Phil Hellmuth, Erick Lindgren, Antonio Esfandiari, and Howard Lederer amongst many others. What do I mean when I say "hold over"? Well the answer is that it usually means that what you hold beats what they hold and so the skill might be in getting as many chips into the pot as possible, but then again it can also mean that you know what they have, what they are thinking, and what your best move is to counteract their strategy. In all cases "holding over" someone is a very good thing. Whereas if someone "holds over" you, you are in trouble!
I played in six of the first eight events of the California State Championships and had only one in-the-money finish, a final table in a 540 dollar no-limit holdem event with two optional 500 dollar re-buys. I had excellent chips throughout much of the later stages of the event, getting to second position in chips several times but ran into some underwater logs a few times and could not win it. I was severely damaged when we were eleven handed as the short stacks at both tables doubled up about ten times! At last it was my time to make someone happy and I picked up JJ in the big blind and the button moved all-in with KQ off-suit. I called and it came four blanks and a king and my opponent screamed like he had just won the tournament (he went all the way to third). This left me crippled and when the big blind came around again (we were playing 4,000-8,000 with a 1,000 ante) I had only 15,000 and so called the raiser in the dark (I recommend this when you are certain you will call as it is tempting to muck when you look down at 92 off-suit, or such) I had Q7 and the raiser had JT and nothing untoward happened for me.
The day started with the final eleven and Raymond Davis was the chip leader and Young Pham second, shockingly Young could not win a hand and went out tenth! Raymond got short and almost went out 8th but recovered to finish second. I hung on for a while and an hour or so later with 62,000 I picked up aces in the little blind and the loose one on my right moved all-in for 76,000 with Kh8h. Nothing bad happened except that player on my right went on a rampage, starting with his nubbin and knocked me out seventh a few hours later! At one point I was second in chips again with about 220,000 and held 88 with a blinds now at 8,000-16,000 and a 2,000 ante when he moved in (one more time) with 42,000 and I could tell that he did not like his hand much (good read, bad result). I called and he showed the KT off-suit (not what I hoped to see but still I was a nice favorite—until the king arrived on the flop). I never won another hand before my exit about three rounds later.
Until next time, play good and be lucky!
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