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Old Guys Rule

When I was a boy, the Dead Sea was only sick

by Steve Zolotow |  Published: Sep 04, 2009


The World Series of Poker (WSOP) main-event final table includes superstar Phil Ivey, probably the best all-around player in recent years, and Jeff Shulman, the best player who is a publisher of Card Player, although his dad might disagree. Congratulations to both of them.

A lot has been written about all of the new young players, but there is another category that never seems to get much publicity — the new older players. People forget that poker is a game for all ages. Among these players are some who have been extremely successful at other games. One is Steve Weinstein, a superstar bridge player who recently won the Cavendish Invitational Pairs, the only major bridge tournament with cash prizes, for the sixth time. And, remarkably enough, he was on the Card Player Player of the Year leader board at the same time.
TC Hand
Another player is Kent Goulding, known as KG, a longtime backgammon star. He has started to take poker seriously. (What gambler hasn’t, now that prize pools have soared?) His mentor and teacher is another backgammon star, Paul Magriel, known as X22. Even though he is fairly inexperienced at poker, KG had a great run in the WSOP main event. Longtime game players and professional gamblers are used to focusing on making the right play, and have conditioned themselves to avoid becoming unglued after a bad result or two. KG was kind enough to share his thoughts (in his own words) on his final hand, which occurred on day 6:

It is early in the final round of the day, down to the final nine tables. The blinds are up to 20,000-40,000, with antes of 5,000. One button cycle (“M”) is now 105,000. My stack of nearly 1.3 million is now a “smallish” stack with an M of 12.

I’ve got just enough chips that I can (barely) afford to reraise a small initial raise but still have room to run away if someone shows great strength and comes over the top of me. I don’t want to get involved with reraising on moderate-strength hands, since I’ll be priced in (forced to call for all of my chips). I’d been a small to medium stack all day; there had always been two or three players with noticeably fewer chips than I held. The expert on my right, Blair Rodman, had been short for some time, but recently had doubled up — twice — and now had a stack that was the size of mine, or a bit larger. I’m a generation older than most of the young wolves, and mostly unknown. I’ve got a target painted on my forehead. Worse yet, the longer that I play “solid poker,” trying to hang on waiting for a good hand, the more they’ll pick on me. It’s not just my blinds now, but reraising my raises and hanging around on the flop waiting to bully me on later streets. If I’m to change my image and have any legitimate chance of advancing toward the final few tables, I’ll need to do something soon.

My chance came when I was in the big blind and the action was folded to Phil Ivey on the button. He raised to 110,000. With substantial antes, a raise of barely 2.5 times the big blind offers nearly irresistible odds. (I need add only 65,000 to a pot already holding 215,000; 3.3-1 odds to look at the flop.) Even my feeble-looking QClub Suit 7Heart Suit is plenty good enough.

But why just call and get involved with post-flop play with a top expert raising from the button? As I said earlier, I’m just deep enough to be able to try to use my tight image and reraise. What old geezer is going to try that stunt at this stage of the event, especially against the legendary Phil Ivey? I’ve not been seen doing it at this table (at least not since Mr. Ivey joined it). I confidently jacked it up to 325,000. I rated this likely to succeed, after which I’d have to be a bit more solid to try it again. It also would buy me a modest pot and a little respect. Should Ivey reraise, I could still easily run, as my hand stinks and the odds wouldn’t be so big that I’d be stuck. Unfortunately, Phil surprised me and called. Oops!

As the dealer prepared to deal the flop, I realized that I was likely to have to decide whether to yield quietly or try the old “stop-and-go” bluff, and ship my remaining chips if I missed the flop (a reliable bluff, but potentially suicidal against an expert player with a decent hand after the flop). I was not broke, however, and if I could muster the nerve to bet with confidence, any expert of Mr. Ivey’s pedigree is going to take me very, very seriously. Remember, I’m an old guy who has a reasonably tight image. After all of the preflop action, I still held more than 900,000 in chips. What fool would bet all of that and risk elimination without at least top pair, and maybe more?

The flop came QSpade Suit 6Heart Suit 4Heart Suit. I couldn’t ask for a much better flop. I was eager, now, to get as many chips in the pot as possible. Leading out, particularly for all of my chips, would represent a hand at least as strong as the one I held. All well and good, but now I want to be called. I checked, expecting to see a bet of some sort, and I would then raise all in. If that got called, I’d hope for the best, but I expected to win whatever was bet, and move on to the next hand. My opponent, meanwhile, was in a bind. He had flopped a four-flush, but had no pair and no overcards. His best way to win at this point is to bully me off the pot. The most reliable move, though dangerous, is to simply put me all in. He plopped a stack of Hawaiian purple [chips of 100,000 denomination] on the table. Nervous, but expecting to be in the lead, I called quickly.

Phil held the JHeart Suit 5Heart Suit, a four-flush semibluff, nothing more. He had only eight outs, making me a 1.78-1 favorite. The TV cameras were coming from all angles. The dealer waited forever to deal the turn … it was black — the 9Spade Suit. Deep breath. I can win this. I’ll have over 2.5 million in chips and be very much in the hunt. Look calm. Exude confidence. “Dealer, deal the river,” muttered the boss. The KHeart Suit! The gallery erupts. The winner graciously shakes my hand. A few moments later, the PA system announced, “Congratulations to Kent Goulding for finishing in 77th place.” No applause — almost. A gentle clap, clap comes from my old friend Paul Magriel, who comes to console me as I’m led away. I’m done for this year, but I’ll be back!

I certainly can’t argue with the way KG played the hand. There were four choices preflop: fold, call, make a normal reraise, or move all in. Folding is way too gutless, considering the odds. Flat-calling means getting involved out of position with a weak hand against the best player in the world. So, that leaves only the normal reraise, KG’s choice, or the all-in move. The normal reraise has the advantage of allowing him to escape if Ivey makes a big reraise, and of continuing his bluff if he misses the flop. But it also allows Ivey, who is completely fearless and trusts his ability to read and outplay anyone, to call without too much risk. The all-in move might be disastrous if Ivey has a real hand. On the other hand, it might get him to fold some better hands, like A-4, K-7, or Q-9. I think the choice is very close, but KG’s play worked perfectly from a theoretical point of view. He got all of his chips in as nearly a 2-1 favorite; what more can an old guy do? We’ll be hearing more from this “kid.” Spade Suit

Steve “Zee” Zolotow, aka The Bald Eagle, is a successful games player. He currently devotes most of his time to poker. He can be found at many major tournaments and playing on Full Tilt, as one of its pros. When escaping from poker, he hangs out in his bars on Avenue A — Nice Guy Eddie’s at Houston and Doc Holliday’s at 9th Street — in New York City.