“I'm laying this down, Teddy. Top two pair. It's a monster hand, and I'm gonna lay that down.”
Those were the famous words uttered by Mike McDermott during his heads-up battle with Teddy KGB in the greatest poker film ever made, Rounders. McDermott, played by Matt Damon, laid down the on a flop of after he picked up on a tell from his opponent, Teddy. After the fold, Teddy lost his composure – and eventually the match.
So often in poker tournaments, people can look back at an event and pick out a key hand that propelled the eventual champion to victory. Nearly always, that hand is one the player won and usually involved a very large pot or spectacular situation. Rarely do people look back at a hand that the champion lost and say, "that’s the hand that helped him win the event."
The 2011 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure wrapped up a earlier this month. Plenty of new champions were crowned, but no one won as much as Eugene Katchalov or Galen Hall. Katchalov scored $1,500,000 for taking down the $100,000 Super High Roller while Hall claimed the title of the PCA Main Event to the tune of $2,300,000. In both of their respective title runs, you can pinpoint one big fold that each player made. By doing so, Katchalov and Hall kept their tournament hearts beating and wound up going on to victory.
Katchalov’s moment came on Day 2 of the Super High Roller event. At the time, Katchalov was one of the largest stacks in the tournament, as was one of his opponents in the hand, Team PokerStars Pro Daniel Negreanu.
Negreanu started things off with a raise to 28,000 from under-the-gun. Action then folded over to Katchalov on the button. He flat-called. David Benyamine was in the big blind with 153,000. When action got to him, he stuck all of those chips in the middle, reraising all-in. Play was now back on Negreanu and he thought for a bit. Negreanu reraised to 278,000, but Katchalov didn't go anywhere. Although Negreanu had shown a lot of strength, Katchalov took his time and fired back with another raise to 528,000. This pot was getting huge and the crowd swarmed the table.
Benyamine was caught in the middle with action now back on Negreanu. He thought for a little while and then shipped it all-in for a total bet worth 1.189 million, or 661,000 more to Katchalov. It was now Katchalov's turn to tank. He thought for several long minutes. It looked to be a painful process, but he finally gave it up, allowing Negreanu to scoop the big side pot.
When the hands were opened, Negreanu showed the and Benyamine the . Negreanu went on to win the hand and big pot to eliminate Benyamine while Katchalov was licking his wounds. Although it is unsure what Katchalov held, the conversation after the fact hinted at Katchalov folding a big hand. He’s not one to get out of line too much, which would lead one to believe he held a real hand. In the end, Katchalov correctly folded to Negreanu’s monster and kept himself alive. Even though he was beaten and bruised from the confrontation, Katchalov’s wounds healed and he went on to win the tournament from there.
Katchalov’s defining moment in the tournament came on Day 2. Hall had his biggest decision on Day 6 of the Main Event, the day of the final table.
From the button, Hall raised to 450,000 holding the during heads-up play. Chris Oliver defended from the big blind with the and the two were off to the flop. The first three community cards came down . Oliver took the lead with the best hand, having flopped a pair of deuces. Hall added an open-ended straight draw. Oliver checked and Hall fired 575,000. Oliver made the call.
The turn brought the and paired the board. It also gave Oliver trips and took away the bottom end of the straight draw for Hall. Oliver checked his trips and Hall checked behind.
Jaws dropped and eyes popped from everyone watching the feed as the river hit with the . Hall had made his straight, but Oliver had him notched with a full house. Oliver got sneaky with his full house and checked. Hall fired out a bet of two million and had stepped right into Oliver's trap. Oliver thought for a little bit and started to cut out some chips. Then, he moved all-in, going for max value to try and end this thing right there. Hall didn't snap-call. Instead, he tanked for a few minutes holding the wheel. Eventually, Hall gave it up and made one the most amazing folds we've ever been witness to. Oliver scooped the pot and little did he know how very close he was to winning the event on this hand.
From there, Hall was able to battle back against Oliver and eventually take him down. Although Hall wasn’t able to see Oliver's hole cards, he made the correct decision in the moment and his confidence was elevated.
Much like McDermott laid down a big hand to Teddy KGB on the movie screen, these two players did it in real life. McDermott went on to beat Teddy from there, cleaning him out. Both Katchalov and Hall made huge folds at extremely vital moments in their respective events before going on to claim the titles. With so much emphasis on big pots and big bluffs in tournament poker nowadays, these two players are living proof that sometimes the most important hand you play in a tournament is one that you lose.