I had two interesting hands come up recently during the 2005 L.A. Poker Classic at Commerce Casino. I was initially seated at a star-studded table of players, including Layne Flack, Sam Grizzle, Erick Lindgren, and Phil Hellmuth. On the very first hand of the tournament, with the blinds at $25-$50 and everyone starting with $10,000 in chips, Sam opened the pot for $300 from middle position. I called from the button with pocket sixes and the big blind called, as well. The flop came J-10-9 rainbow and the big blind checked. Sam reached for some chips, fumbled them for a second, and then checked to me. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Sam’s chip-fumbling display, but I didn’t like the flop, so I checked right behind him.
The 6diamonds came on the turn, giving me a set of sixes and putting a possible diamond flush draw on the board. The big blind checked again, and Sam instantly fired out $1,000, slightly overbetting the pot. Now, I was quite confused as to what Sam had, given that he had checked the big-action flop and then made such a big bet on a seemingly harmless turn card. I thought he could have flopped a straight with K-Q or 8-7 and slow-played the flop, so I wasn’t sure that my set of sixes was good, even though I had a huge hand. I also was concerned that he could have a bigger set, although I would have figured him to bet a hand as vunerable as a set on the J-10-9 flop. I also thought it was likely that he was trying to pick the pot up with a big draw like the Adiamonds Qdiamonds, or with even fewer outs since the flop had checked around. After a little bit of pondering, I decided that I would just call his Bola88 bet and see what came off on the river and, more importantly, how he would act. The big blind folded and the river was an offsuit deuce.
Sam quickly led at the pot again, this time for $1,500, about half the size of the pot but still a very sizable bet, inasmuch as $1,500 was about 20 percent of our remaining stack. I was still quite unsure of what Sam held at this point, and was also unsure of whether to call or raise with my hand. I figured that if I raised, Sam would obviously put me all in with K-Q and may put me all in or at least call with any bigger set or smaller straight like 8-7 or the less likely Q-8. I also thought that he would probably fold any marginal hand that he was betting, since the way I played it by waiting until the river to raise would look like I probably held a monster hand like K-Q for the nut straight. I finally decided to just call again, and to my surprise, he flipped over A-J and I won the pot.
I was surprised he had played A-J the way he did, giving a free card on the flop with a strong but very vulnerable hand, and then betting the hand so strongly on the turn and again on the river. I was happy with how I played this hand based on my logic, but I was still scratching my head about it for a while, wondering what would have happened if I had raised on the turn or the river. If I had raised on the turn, I’m not sure what Sam would have done. He could have folded, called, or even moved all in, in which case I may have been forced to fold, putting him on a straight or a bigger set. If I made it $3,000 on the river, Sam may have called, which would have earned me another $1,500 in chips, but I really don’t like this play, as I put him on either a bluff or a big hand (one probably bigger than mine). So, raising on the river seems like a poor choice, since he either folds a bluff or wins more with a stronger hand.
The other interesting hand occurred later on day one after I had been moved to a different table. The blinds were $150-$300 with $50 antes. John Myung, a very strong tournament professional, raised it to $1,100. I looked down on the button to see two black queens staring back at me. I had $17,000 in chips at the start of this hand, and he had me covered. I pondered reraising, but I figured he would fold most hands that would be in trouble against me (like eights, nines, A-Q, A-J, or A-10), and would perhaps reraise me with A-K, kings, or aces. If he reraised me, it would put me in a tough spot, since it would be tough to lay down a hand as big as queens in this spot. I decided to just call his raise, and the flop came 10-4-2 with two diamonds.
John made a strong lead, betting $2,400. At this point I did not have much of a read on him. I figured that my overpair was probably good, but that he may have aces or kings or have flopped a set. The board seemed pretty non-threatening, so I thought I could just call and see what he did on the turn. Maybe then I would have a better clue as to what he was holding. I called and a jack came on the turn.
Now, he bet $4,000 into the $8,000 pot, just half the pot size but still a very sizable bet, since it was well over a quarter of my remaining chips. I went into deep thought for several minutes. I replayed the action of the hand in my mind over and over again, trying to decipher what he had. I was pretty sure he hadn’t put me on a starting hand as big as pocket queens, since I had just called him preflop and on the flop. I thought he may be making a big bluff with A-K or A-Q, hoping I would fold an underpair like eights or nines, or even an A-10. I also thought he could be protecting a big hand like aces, kings, a set, or possibly A-J, with which he would have turned top pair. I debated my three options of calling, folding, or raising. I felt like I could just not fold the hand, since I thought there was a fairly good chance that it was good. I considered calling, but the turn seemed to have brought many more possible draws that he could have, and I definitely did not want to give a hand as weak as A-K a chance to win a huge pot if an ace, king, or queen rolled off. I also thought that if I just called and a blank came off, he would bet all or most of my chips on the river with any better hand than mine, and I would likely have to call since the pot had more than $16,000 in it and I had only $11,000 remaining. Just calling didn’t seem like it would save me many chips if he had me beat, and could cost me the pot if he was semibluffing the turn, so I finally determined that I had to raise. After much deliberation, I moved all in, figuring that if he called, he would likely have me beat. But I also thought that he may put me on a set and fold aces or kings, and also most draws, since he wouldn’t be getting the right price to draw. After I went all in, he thought for several minutes and I was really not sure if I wanted him to call or not. I figured that he either had aces, kings, or A-J and was debating whether or not I had flopped a set or was playing a big draw very aggressively. He finally called and I turned over my queens. To my delight, he said, “Queens are good,” and turned over A-J. The 9diamonds came on the river and I doubled through.
I talked to John after the hand and he said he was very impressed with how I played it. He believed that I had exhibited genuine weakness on the turn, which is why he put me on a draw and called with his A-J. I explained that he had the right read, that the weakness was genuine, as I really wasn’t sure whether I had the best hand or not. I guess this time I gave off a real tell about my hand and it worked out perfectly, getting him to call with the one hand against which I was in good shape. I hope that the next time a great player reads me so correctly, it works out as well for me.