I just got back from the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure in the Bahamas. Every time that I go to this event I start out with a prejudice — I really like the Bahamas and all tournaments that might be held there, and it is behind only St. Maarten for my personal affections among locations in the Caribbean.
That said, let's talk about some hands that happened in that event, which featured 1,136 players and $2 million for first! David Pham started the new year with 2007's Player of the Year award in his back pocket, and wasted no time at all in getting on the leader board of the first major event of 2008. He busted the players that finished 11th, tenth, and ninth to go from a below-average stack to having a commanding chip lead, as the first event of the PokerStars.net European Poker Tour prepared for its eight-player televised final.
Pham thought for some time before calling (off a stack of just over 2 million) the all-in of the short stack (still over 600,000) of the 11th-place finisher, Paul Holub, on a flop of . When Pham did call and turned up a flush draw, but with his opponent holding the same flush draw with the better , it didn't look promising, but David made a straight on the river to win. Next, the 'Dragon' (Pham's nickname) beat the tenth-place finisher, Evan Tindell, in a race and followed that by busting the very good and well-accomplished (in cash games and tournaments) Scandinavian player William Thorson in ninth. Pham held A-A to Thorson's 4-4 on a flop of 6-6-x to get his huge stack to 7,390,000 in chips, going to the final table as a clear favorite.
In a distant second place was the online player known as 'ElkY', Bertrand Grospellier, with 3,060,000. ElkY has lived in Seoul Korea for five years, although in representing PokerStars of late, he has played in European events. (And with that Swiss/German/French-sounding name, who could be blamed?) ElkY came in second in Copenhagen the previous January in an EPT event that I attended, where I first became aware of him. ElkY made a very good impression with me by speaking Korean, by being stunned with his success here, and by remaining humble, realizing that he was lucky at some key moments. Too often players win an event and beat themselves on the chest and become not only 'one-time wonders' but poker professionals that forget their lucky hands. It is certainly easier to remember the bad beats one takes then the ones one gives. Your unlucky hands stick with you, but the lucky ones? Ja, ja, they are soon forgotten.
David Pham experienced the other side of the pillow on final-table day and bled chips all day long. In one critical hand all four remaining players were in a pot raised to 325,000, by Hafiz Khan in first position over a big blind of 120,000, with Kris Kuykendall on the button, Pham in the little blind, and ElkY in the big blind all making the call. The flop brought and everyone checked. The turn brought the and everyone checked again. The fell on the river and David then bet 600,000 with only Kris calling. Q-9 of diamonds for David; A-Q winner for Kris with top pair-top kicker.
At four-handed, David was the short stack with about 3,200,000 in chips and blinds of 80,000/160,000 plus antes. In the cut-off (first to act), ElkY made it 400,000 to go from his chip leader's stack of about 8,500,000. It was passed to David in the big blind and he chose to call (an interesting decision in itself) with and the flop came with both players checking. The turn was the and David checked with Bertrand betting 600,000, and then David moved all in for 2.2 million more.
ElkY went into the tank — what should he do? His holding is and he knows that he is almost surely beat… but he does hold the nut flush draw and a nut gutshot straight draw to Broadway. Let's see, if David has a set, he has seven diamonds and three tens with which to win, which makes him a 34:10 dog with one to come. If he does lose this hand he will have 5.3 million left and be almost tied for second, and Pham will vault from last to first. If he (ElkY) wins this hand he will have an enormous chip lead and will have eliminated his most experienced and likely most dangerous opponent. If he chooses to pass he will still be the chip leader with about 7.5 million. Lastly, if Pham does already have a straight, then ElkY likely has as many as nine diamonds and two tens for the win, for a 33:11 disadvantage.
All this is into a pot of about 4.4 million, with it costing about 2.2 million to call. The numbers are close enough and ElkY can't be eliminated with this call. It seems right… CALL! And off came the on the river and Pham (who I think played this hand brilliantly — although the non-gamblers may disagree) is gone and it all comes home to ElkY, who goes on to win. In the actual hand as it played out, ElkY had 11 winners, although not exactly the same ones he expected to have; if a pair of aces will win for him as well (meaning he faces a hand like ), then he might have 14 winners, making the call clearly correct.
My experience in the PCA event? It is just a footnote, although I can describe all my hands and the thinking involved in each. We started with 20,000 in chips, the blinds were 50-100 for the first 75 minutes… and none of this mattered to me! The first hand dealt I had J-2 off, UTG, and mucked with a raise and a walk ensuing. Then the rest of the players arrived and I was in the big blind with and it was passed around to the little blind who called 50 more; I checked. It came and he bet 100; I called believing that I will win on the turn unless he has flopped two pair or fires another bet. The turn came , he checked and I bet 250. He called and it came on the river, making a straight possible. I didn't think he had one and I didn't wish to show my hand so I bet 500. He mucked.
The third hand, a kid (well, he looked at least 15 to me) raised to 300 from the hijack seat and I called with . The flop came , I had the nuts, so how best to proceed? I checked, allowing him a continuation bet that I was sure was coming, and he made it 700. I studied a while and raised to 1,650, and he immediately re-raised to 4,200. At this point I put him on , with a small chance of . In the replay I would just call this bet and move all-in on the turn, but I wanted him to pursue getting money in with a draw, not after a scare card came off. I made it 9,200 and he moved all in instantly. I called, thinking he surely had and was drawing dead. Wrong again! He had for second set. It came and then and I did not survive as a 34:10 favorite. With my final 450 on the next hand I picked up on the button and tossed my 450 in casually. The little blind re-raised to 1200 with a heavy German accent. He held and it came A-A-8-9-3 and I was done, and in shock at lasting only five minutes.
Until next time… play good… and get lucky!