Yesterday, I played in Event #49 at the World Series of Poker, a $1500 buy-in no limit hold ‘em tournament. I didn’t survive for long – my entire tournament life lasted less than an hour. Here’s what happened.
I got to the tournament nearly half an hour late. That was fully intentional, as I agreed to do a live radio gig as the tournament was just starting, to give the listeners a feel for the excitement and drama of a bracelet event. I was expecting a long day, and had no qualms about missing a round or two at the very start of the event.
Players started with $4500 in chips (three times the buy-in, like all WSOP bracelet events), with blinds of $25 and $50. On my very first hand – literally, the very first hand – I doubled up with A-K against A-Q when an ace flopped. Immediately, I had a stack of over $9000 chips, the second biggest stack at the table.
I won a few hands over the next half hour. I had aces pre-flop, but got no callers for my raise. Twice, I called a small raise from the big blind, and then led out with a bet on the flop. Both times my opponent folded, giving me the relatively small pot. I still had just about $9000 in chips when I crashed and burned on one big hand, losing all of my chips to the one player who could knock me out.
We were early in the second level, with blinds at $50 and $100. I was on the button with pocket 10’s. A middle position player (fairly tight thus far) with an average stack size (about $4500) raised to $250, slightly below the ‘standard’ raise at the table (in the $300 range). Everyone folded to me.
I debated between a raise to $750 and a smooth call, deciding on the latter. I didn’t want to build a huge pot with a marginal holding, and, with position, I chose to see a flop before committing a big portion of my stack. The big blind – also the big stack -- threw in $150 to call, and we saw the flop three handed.
The flop came A-K-10, two spades (the K and the 10). I’d flopped my set, and if either opponent had a hand like A-K, they were in big, big trouble.
The big blind checked. The initial raiser opened with a bet of $525 into the $800 flop, a pretty standard continuation bet. I thought for a minute before acting, debating between four choices: Raise All-in, Raise $2000, raise $1500 and smooth call.
As I was thinking, I saw that the big blind – who had checked earlier – was looking a little bit too interested for a guy about to fold. That made my decision a bit clearer. I chose to play a trappy style on this hand, opting for the smooth call, seeing what the big stack big blind would do.
My read was correct. The big blind WAS interested in the hand – interested enough that he check raised to $2500, knowing full well that both my opponent and I seemed to be pretty strong.
The initial raiser/short stack didn’t think long – he pushed all in for his remaining chips. In my mind, that move wasn’t as scary – he couldn’t knock me out, and he was in a chip position where a call was essentially useless. The only move he could make was ‘all-in’ or ‘fold’, and it was clear that his hand was too strong to fold.
The action was to me. It was just shy of $4000 to call, but calling wasn’t really an option at this stage. My move, just like the player before me, was ‘all in’ or ‘fold’. And it’s really, really hard to fold a set on the flop.
I sat and thought for at least three or four minutes. Both players had shown great strength in the hand. Neither opponent had shown any indication of ‘complete donkey’ tendencies. My mantra is ‘always respect the check raise’, especially early in the tournament. It was reasonable to assume that I could be beat, either with a Q-J for a flopped Broadway straight, or with a higher set. My gut reaction was to fold my trip tens, right there on the flop.
As I reviewed every previous action in the hand in my head, two things happened. First, I came up with a plausible ‘I can beat both of these hands’ scenarios. One guy could easily have an A-K, my dream scenario. The other guy could easily have a flush draw, quite possible the nut flush draw with a hand like A-Q or A-J, giving them a back door straight possibility as well. If that was the case, folding my set of tens on the flop would be an unmitigated disaster, a classic ‘Sklansky’s Fundamental Theorem of Poker’ mistake.
The other factor that played out in my head can only be described as the ‘True Avarice’ factor. I came into the tournament with the thought process ‘win big or go home’. To reach a final table at a tournament like this one requires taking some chances and winning some coin flips. A huge stack of more than $20k early in the second level would put me in great position to bully the table, optimizing my chances for success in the hours to come.
Basically, I got greedy, dreaming of that big stack. I wasn’t good enough to lay down my set of tens on a very dangerous looking board. I wasn’t strong enough to trust my initial read of ‘fold’. I wasn’t willing to minimize my damage – I’d still have an 8k stack and be in solid chip position even after a fold, having kept my contributions to the pot low with a call (as opposed to a raise) both pre-flop and on the flop.
Instead, I said ‘I’m all in’. The big blind insta-called and showed his Q-J. The initial raiser then turned over A-A for a bigger set. I pushed all my chips into the pot with a grand total of one out in the deck – the case ten. It didn’t come. The board didn’t pair. And the big stack became a monster stack, knocking out two players who flopped big sets in a single hand.
So I went home, once again truly annoyed at my mistake on a key hand in the WSOP, something that has happened at least once in each of the last eight years. Maybe next time...
Do you think you could have laid down a set of tens in that spot? Please comment and let me know. I talked to eight different people about the hand yesterday, and the players that I respect the most were clear that it was a tough hand to fold, but a hand that I absolutely HAD to fold at that stage of the tournament.