Billy Duarte has left us to play at that table in the sky. Oklahoma Johnny Hale and I will need to take a seat on table five when we get there.
I have a lot of stories about Billy's prowess at the poker table, but the truth is that when I had a choice I avoided his game because he was either out playing me or 'holding over' me, and in either case it made for some bad sessions.
In cash games a number of times he would smooth call me before the flop and I would get a big piece of the flop and then get crucified. I remember one hand in particular that illustrates this oh so well, it happened in a live no-limit hold em game about five or more years ago. I was in the cutoff in a 10-20 blind game and after two limpers I made it 90 to go with 5s4s and he called from the button as did one of the limpers. The flop came Kc4d5h and behind a check I made it 250 to go and he called with the limper releasing his hand. The turn brought a nine of diamonds and I moved all-in for 1400 more, putting him on AK and wanting to pick up the 800 dollar pot without further ado, as I was out of position. He called and showed me KK. Whoops! Bad read!
Speaking of reads, was there ever anyone harder to read than Billy? I know that I could never get a clue from his dispassionate persona.
The last few years he was playing somewhat higher, he was a fixture in the 20-40 blind no-limit game at the Commerce in Los Angeles and was widely considered to be the second best player in most of the games that he played in. These games were enormous and sometimes there would be well over $100,000 on the table and in play.
Whenever I looked around the room at any location I would see his large hulking presence, a gentle giant. He was both rather gruff and direct and yet extremely loyal to his friends. He was a man's man and without apologies. A number of times I would see him come to sweat players he knew at final tables in no-limit holdem tournaments.
In both cash games and in tournaments he had a quality I can only refer to as 'sitzflage'. On top of his patience he often had an uncanny ability in knowing exactly where he was at all times in a hand.
I have many tournament memories of contesting pots with Billy, although I believe he took up tournaments late in life. He told me stories of his house in Colorado which he seemed to seldom, if ever, visit. There were the positive and negative aspects of his family. He also told me about the poker games that existed within a few hours of his house and gave me a scouting report on the players that played in them. One thing for sure, Billy did not regard any information as something that he was not to share!
In one no-limit tournament at the Bicycle Club a few years ago Chris Ferguson was on my right with about 5,000, I had one of the largest stacks in the event with 15,000, and Billy was on my left with a short stack of about 2200. When he played a hand over the big blind of 200 he was willing to risk it all…no matter what he held! You already know that I very strongly think it is wrong to show your hands gratis, but let us hear Billy on the subject! One player must have asked him about six times what he held when hands were over and every time Billy would flip his cards face up. He must have picked up on my dismay at this free display because he said to me, and to the table; "anytime you want to see my cards, just ask! I don't care. Once the hand is done you are welcome to see, no situation is exactly like another anyways." Even his explanation made me cringe, I did so without saying anything. When you show someone how you are capable of playing with a draw, or how you played a set, you are giving away a lot of information that might come back to haunt you.
Back to the tournament, which Chris Ferguson went on to win, the only hand I remember specifically at this stage was when I made it 600 to go with AhJc from midfield and Billy moved all-in for 2450. It was 1850 to call and possibly win a pot of 3350. This was very close mathematically. On the one hand you will go broke if you call very many re-raises at this stage of the tournament with AJ, on the other hand I had a lot of chips and Billy was a dangerous opponent that I would like to knock out. If I called what hand would I hope to see? TT is the answer because there is a lot of dead money in the pot, I get to see all five cards, and I am not dominated. Unfortunately most of the other hands that I am likely to see do dominate me (JJ, QQ, KK, AA, AK, AQ). Of course Billy is the person who has told me about the power of re-raising with any pair! His theory was that most raising hands are not paired and so what looks like a silly all-in with 33 gives you a chance to get in the driver's seat. On the other hand he might show 'Mr. Internet' 7h5h or AT but whenever I was in the hand with him it seemed like he held an excellent hand—and unfortunately it was not a small sample. I decided I did not want to risk doubling Billy up and folded and the kid asked Billy what he had yet again and Billy flipped up AK. Even after the fact doesn't it make Dennis feel better to know that he made the right play?
At another tournament I had excellent chips (18,000 plus) and with AQ suited I raised near the front to 1200 over a big blind of 400, Allen Cunningham called from three spots behind me off a stack of 13,000 and Billy moved all-in from the button for 6800. I thought about the situation for a bit and decided to gamble (I was!), Allen thought about it and mucked. Billy had AK and the flop came 944, then Jack and a beautiful river, another 9. That might have been the only time that I escaped in a matchup with Billy.
Nicknames are funny animals as they have to be appropriate in order to stick. They have to have zing and insight and sometimes even a visual aide. For me Billy will forever be 'Bulldog Billy' and most amazing thing is that although I have referred to him as that these past years no-one else does. So I guess that is one nickname that will never stick, even though I don't understand why. With his huge hulking frame and the baseball cap perched on top, always looking too small. With his stubbornness in sessions as well as hands. With his putting his teeth into the game in front of him and not letting go… Oh well, it seems like the perfect nickname to me, and although others who knew him would always smile when I called him 'bulldog Billy' the night sky will not soon light up on its own!
Until next time...play good…and get lucky!