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Poker From a Sports-Betting Angle

by Martin de Knijff |  Published: Jan 28, 2005


It's an honor and great privilege for me to start writing for Card Player. Playing poker is something I have done for as long as I can remember, and it is a great passion of mine. My main focus since graduating from high school in 1991 has been betting on sports professionally. Although sports and poker in many ways are different, I think I have learned some useful things on the sportsbetting side of the fence that could be successfully translated to poker.

Let me ask you this: Do you think poker players' results are decided mainly at the poker tables?

You might reply, where else? I think what you do away from the poker table preparing yourself for combat plays a much bigger role in poker than people might generally think. In sports betting, doing your homework is everything, since you have no chance of influencing the game itself. In poker, you most certainly can, but doing your homework most definitely elevates your game. Let's say that on a given Saturday, you decide to bet seven college football games. If you win, giving yourself too much credit is unwise, because like it or not, it has nothing to do with your genius picks. It is purely random – luck is the most important factor. However, if you do this every Saturday of the year, profound research and analysis will have the biggest impact on your results. I am convinced that the same applies to poker. You cannot be a long-term success without working hard away from the table. Talent can only get you to a certain level.

Poker on TV has helped me enormously. Before entering and winning the World Poker Tour Championship at Bellagio last April, I watched some 80 hours of poker on VHS and DVD. I looked for tells, how some players handled the pressure situations, and so on. I went through my notes on specific players to refresh my memory. I also checked results from the January World Poker Open forward, to see who had been hot and who had not. In regard to some players, the latter information might not be too important. John Juanda and Erik Seidel always seem to bring their "A" game to the table. But then you have players like Huck Seed and David Benyamine, whose high-performance levels (which are very, very high) are a lot different from their low levels. This analysis has become an important habit of mine before every tournament week.

In the recent Five-Diamond World Poker Classic at Bellagio, this hand came up in one of the $3,000 no-limit hold'em tournaments. My pre-study played a big part in my final decision. With 32 players left, I had 87K in chips (the average was 54K). The blinds were $800-$1,600 with a $300 ante. Humberto Brenes (with 82K), whom I consider to be a very solid player, made it 8K from under the gun. The fact that he was under the gun and had raised the previous pot made me pretty sure he was holding something genuine. I was on the button and looked down at K-K. I decided to raise 15K more, to 23K. Humberto called instantly, which surprised me. I wondered how he could call so quickly. With Q-Q or J-J, was it that obvious to just call? Would he not even consider a reraise? I thought he had A-K or 10-10 and wanted to see a flop, or was slow-playing A-A.

With 50K in the pot, the flop came down 10clubs 7clubs 2spades. He checked, and I made a very small 17K bet. Humberto studied, and announced that he was all in for another 42K. I thought it was impossible to lay down my hand, but my initial read had told me he had A-K, 10-10, or A-A. Against the Aclubs Kclubs, I was only an 11-to-10 favorite, and against the other two hands, I was practically dead. I told him, "I think you have two queens." He replied, "Do you have two jacks?" This made me pretty certain he did not have them.

I still had 47K left, which was OK. Then, I remembered the way he looked when he pushed it all in with A-A against Chris Moneymaker in the 2003 World Series. It just felt like déjà vu. I decided to muck. The next day, Humberto told me that he did not believe my laying down K-K. "So, what did you have?" I asked. "Twooo queeeeeen," he replied with his Hispanic accent. So, you can well imagine that I spent that day on tilt.

When betting on sports, a small piece of the puzzle can mean everything. Phil Mickelson had a terrible 2003 on the PGA Tour. It was obvious that he did not care about his game on the golf course. This was a guy who had won more than 20 times on the PGA Tour but still had not won a major championship. And people were now seriously beginning to doubt that he ever would win one. In December 2003, I read that his wife, Amy, almost died while giving birth to their third child due to complications, and was hospitalized for a long time. In January 2004, Phil came out as a new golfer. He looked fit, was driving the ball in the fairway, and, most importantly, was playing smart golf and sticking to his game plan. This was the Phil Mickelson I had been waiting for. His record at Augusta National before the Masters in April 2004 was very impressive. He was 12-to-1, and with both Tiger Woods and Davis Love III seemingly having their minds on things outside golf, this really stood out as an excellent price. I bet £27,000 ($50,000), and of course was very lucky to see it come through, but the bet was made on a good and solid read. Translated to poker, I think it's very important to know your opponent's state of mind when making your reads at the poker table. We all know that self-confidence and having a good feeling about yourself enable you to play your best poker. I am not saying that you should become like a paparazzi and dig into people's personal lives, but knowing and absorbing more about your fellow competitors will improve your long-term results.

Tournament poker, particularly the big events, has become somewhat of an endurance contest. Being fit and eating and drinking right is of paramount importance. I think recent results are reflecting that. What Daniel Negreanu did in 2004 was just spectacular. My hat's off to you, Daniel, you really deserve it. spades

If you want to play poker with Martin, you can find him on Wednesdays from noon to 3 p.m. EST at at table Martin de Knijff.