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Venice — Part IV

A roller-coaster ride to the final table

by Todd Brunson |  Published: Mar 01, 2010


San Marco Square Cafe
While I started day two of the main event in third place, there were still 136 players left, and I knew that it was going to be a long day to get down to the final nine. As I said in my last column, the tournament was structured well, and with a good-size stack, I could bide my time, which is what I did. I stayed out of as many marginal situations as possible, and increased my stack at a reasonable rate.

I could have gambled and tried to amass a ton of chips for the final table, Stuey Ungar style, but I’m more from the school of you can only lose the tournament on days one and two, not win it. The day was long and uneventful for the first 10 hours or so. After that, the blinds got high and we were sometimes playing shorthanded as we combined tables.

To me, this is where a tournament really starts to get fun. The chips actually mean something, even to the loosest players. A lot of players tighten up to try to get deeper into the money and make the final table. I sort of do the opposite by trying to acquire more chips at this stage. Many players will lay down hands as big as A-K or pocket queens at this stage, desperate to move up a few spots.

I was chopping away nicely when I finally was confronted. After all of the garbage hands with which I stole the blinds, I got A-K when someone finally moved in on me. I called, and was facing pocket jacks for the chip lead. When I failed to improve, I lost a little more than half of my stack and had to get back to work.

I stole a few more pots, and then I looked down at pocket kings. A player raised from early position; I had come over the top of him twice in the previous 10 minutes, so this was perfect timing. I moved in, and he started mumbling in Italian. He then turned over pocket nines and said something else that I was sure must have meant call, but the dealer quickly killed his hand. Nice laydown, sir.

My table broke, and I got a new set of players as well as a brand-new table image. None of these guys had seen all of the raising and reraising I had been doing. On one of the first few hands, I picked up big slick suited and made a standard raise. A guy I recognized from earlier in the tournament went all in, and he just about had me covered.

This was a tough spot. Should I just throw this hand away and try to chip up without a major confrontation, or try to win a big pot right here? I remembered a few hands that this guy had played before. He wasn’t too tight a player. Also, that unlit cigarette in his mouth made me think he might be jonesing for some action.

I called, and he turned over A-Q offsuit, making me more than a 3-1 favorite. That’s enough for most players, but not for me, as a queen appeared in the door and I was freakin’ crippled again! I had lost another chance to take the chip lead, but I wasn’t through yet.

In the next round, I picked up two small pairs, A-10, and A-J. I moved in with all of them, and won them all uncontested. I was starting to get back close to average when this hand took place:

I’m in the small blind, and a loose guy up front brings it in with a standard raise. He’s called in three spots. I look down at pocket fours and again have a big decision to make. Should I move in here and try to pick up all of those chips out there, or try to flop a set?

I decide to play it safe and just call. The flop comes 8-4-2 — bingo! There are two spades on the flop, and fearing that a card like the 9♠ might come on the turn, I fire out a bet of about half the size of the pot. The original raiser quickly moves all in, and the last preflop caller goes into the tank for a full minute before calling with pocket nines. The original raiser turns over A-Q offsuit, drawing dead to runner-runner spades.
Brunson Venice Hand
So, here is a battle that even I can win. I’m getting laid 2.5-1, and these two guys have only a few outs between them. You would think that I’d be relaxed, and maybe slapping a few high fives. Well, not only is that not my style, I’m scared as hell until I get pushed the pot — if I get pushed the pot, that is. The turn pairs the board with a 2, shutting out the first genius. Now, only a 9 can kill me. And the river is … unreal! A freakin’ 9!

No, not really, it was a 10, which looked a lot like a 9 for a second. I was now among the chip leaders again as we combined to two tables. With a lot of bullets, I quickly reverted to my role as the table bully, but it didn’t work as well this time. For one thing, most all of the weak players had been eliminated, and it was down to some seasoned pros who were on to my tricks.

I kept raising, and kept getting moved in on. Finally, with 12 or 13 players left, I made my first mistake. I raised from middle position with K-10 offsuit (this isn’t the mistake), and the big blind moved all in. I was getting laid about 1.5-1, and thought that this guy might be pulling a fast one, or might have a small pair, making me even money, or even A-Q or A-J, giving me proper pot odds to call.

What I had was an easy laydown. I was still in good shape in chips, and losing this pot would hurt. It was like 3 a.m., and maybe I was tired. Maybe I was frustrated, I don’t know, but I made this call. Of course, he showed me A-K, and I lost.

After that, I was afraid of making another mistake or going on tilt, so I basically just shut down and didn’t play another hand until we were done for the day. I was officially the short stack, but I did make the final table. Spade Suit

Todd Brunson has been a professional poker player for more than 20 years. While primarily a cash-game player, he still has managed to win 18 major tournaments, for more than $3.5 million. He has won one bracelet and cashed 25 times at the World Series of Poker. You can play with Todd online at or live at his tournament, The Todd Brunson Montana Poker Challenge, in Big Fork, Montana. Check his website,, for details.