Occasionally no-brainers happen in playing poker and that can be very pleasant, especially when there are no redraws! More often there is some chance of your opponent pulling luck out of his bag of tricks and applying it to the situation. When that happens you have to find your poker face and wade through it. An online professional told me years ago that he played differently online than he ever would in person, in particular he wanted to get all-in on the flop because even when he held the nuts it seemed likely that his opponent would turn a live draw. I don't think this paranoia is warranted although I understand the feeling all too well. My experience tells me that it happens in live play as well and that in our replays we often find a way to win the hand. A guy raises in front of us and we hold a medium sized pair [9-9, T-T, J-J], what is right? The answer is "it depends" on many factors [player profiles, stack sizes, tournament stage among them] and although there is surely a correct way to play the hand we open the door to a lot of second-guessing as well. Should we call? Fold? Re-raise? Move all-in? Call and then move all-in if we like the flop?
I have had many of my best results in December tournaments and when I am asked why I cannot say, but I suspect that it is not just the weather. Perhaps I have more no-brainers?
About four years ago I had a hand where I raised in mid-field with T-T and Layne Flack on my immediate left called with AdTd, no one else played and it came AAT. Yes I doubled him up…and also I made the final table long after he was gone.
In another December tournament I had a good result in a hand which was rich in re-draws. Off a stack of 13,400 and holding 8d7d in the 3 hole I made it 400 to go over blinds of 100-200 with an ante of 25. Ron Rose was on my immediate left and re-raised it to 1000 off a stack of 12,800, the 5 seat called and the button called [I did not know either player], I called and the flop came Ts9s6c with my hand flopping the nuts! I checked and Ron bet 2400 [into a pot of 4,525], the 5 seat mucked and the button moved all-in for 6200. I called and Ron went into the tank, after 4 minutes or so he mucked his hand and later told me it was AsQs, his problem was that his extra values were tiny and he thought that I had a set or a straight [I "cold called" a bet and a raise all-in] and that I would move all-in on the turn no matter what came, which meant that he had to risk his tournament on this hand as an under-dog, when he still had above average chips by folding. My question now, and at the time, is what would he do if held As8s? How about 7s6s? Are they good enough to risk the rest of your chips? I do believe that if he wants to play the hand he has to move all-in and against two opponents that risking all your chips is dubious with a draw that you have to make. My remaining opponent turned over KsQh and could still beat me if a Jack came or running spades but it came 2 of hearts and 4 of spades on the river.
This is one of the paths to becoming the chip leader in an event, and the easiest one for sure, the-cards-hit-you-in-the-head special. I have been to thousands of final tables in my poker career and only twice have I been the chip leader throughout the event, that tells you how unlikely it is, and also how unimportant it is. Of course it is nice to have a stack that is above average but it is much more essential to have enough chips to play poker naturally against your opponents and with the blind structures and time limits that are presented to you. I consider the "sweet-spot" of poker to be taking the chip lead when there are five players left, before that it means something but not a lot.
One player that has made me reevaluate this is Patrick Antonius, he often seems to be the chip leader in big events and to hold that position. I will say that he plays very good, is very observant, has good instincts, and knows how to use a big stack. Put that together and ask me if I am impressed. The answer is an unqualified yes. He has vacuumed away the best players at several online sites and the success he has had is hard to measure because some of it is in that anonymous online world.
One of my favorite hands that he played out was at the December 2005 Bellagio Five Diamond tournament that was on television where Patrick seemed to be getting way above average cards and had the temerity to berate Doyle Brunson for calling him at the three-handed final table with 3d-3c. Doyle limps off a stack of 4,290,000 in the little blind and Patrick moves all-in with Ad2c in the big blind off a stack of 7,995,000 and Doyle calls right away. The second time that Patrick complains about the call Doyle's response was a bit testy "You say, 'How could I make that call?' How could you make that bet? We're playing poker, not solitaire!"
Doyle has some great lines for dealing with any situations that are likely to arise at the poker table and I enjoy his black humor immensely. I may have portrayed Patrick as a complainer here but that is not my intention, and I have not experienced him as such. In this situation his analytical and competitive nature took over, but objectively this was firstly a case of Doyle understanding the situation re the huge blinds and antes and time constraints of the filming crew and secondly being tired of facing a barrage of Patrick's all-in bets. He set a trap that most players would not have the courage to and his opponent should be happy to usually have an excellent chance to knock him out.
There are many variations of the no-brainer theme that we began with and how to play each of them "depends" on all the usual important variables. Who raised before the flop? [typically you were either the raiser or caller before the flop…but it might have been limped around] How many opponents do you have? [typically one and sometimes two, but you might have as many as eight!] How likely is your hand to get outdrawn? [if you flop quads that is very unlikely, if you flop top set or a flush or a straight you hope to get a lot of money in on every street, but you might end up making a decision later on for all your chips] What are the stack sizes? [if the pot has two million in it and you only have 400,000 you might come to a very different conclusion than when you have two million in chips and the pot is 80,000] What are the relative stack sizes? [if your two opponents both have two million and you have 100,000 the way you hope to get tripled or doubled up might be different than if you also hold two million in chips and the pot is 80,000]
It is important to think about these situations before they arise so that your actions can happen more naturally. When you try to figure out what to do at that moment after flopping a big hand you are much more likely to blunder by making the wrong action or by giving out an unmistakable tell.
Until next time…play good and get lucky!