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World Series of Poker Event No. 12: Part II

A dream come true

by Matt Matros |  Published: Aug 20, 2010

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In my last column, I detailed the early and middle stages of my experience in this year’s $1,500 buy-in limit hold’em event at the World Series of Poker. In case you missed it, or if you just need a reminder, I got to the day-two dinner break with a slightly above-average stack of 46,500; 77 players were left, and 63 would make the money.

I got back from dinner, and started making some hands. I three-bet with A-K suited, the player to my left cold-called, and then called all of the remaining streets. Happily, I rivered the nut flush. These are the hands that you need to win to make a run in a limit hold’em event — hands in which both you and your opponent are strong enough to put in a lot of bets, and you’re lucky enough to show down a winner on the river. It’s impossible to win without one of these hands going your way at least once or twice over the course of a tournament.

I ended day two with 272,000 in chips; 13 players were left, and the average stack size was 216,000. I’d have my work cut out for me the next day, though, as several great players were still in the field, including my friend Terrence Chan. Terrence once won two big buy-in limit hold’em events online — on the same day. He’s also had good brick-and-mortar casino success, with four previous WSOP cashes in limit events. Terrence has made a career out of beating high-stakes limit hold’em cash games. Facing him on day three was going to be a major challenge.

The endeavor started poorly, to say the least. I put in five bets preflop with two jacks, pretty confident that I was ahead of both of my opponents. The flop came with an ace, and it was bet and raised before the action got to me. I decided to fold, and it turned out that I was up against A-J and 8-8. At least it had been a wonderful spot to get five bets in preflop! Later, I raised the turn with Q-Q on a board of J-8-4-3. My opponent called, an ace hit the river, he bet out, and I paid off. He showed A-3, and some more of my chips went down the drain. By the time that we got to the final table, I found myself in eighth place out of nine players.

The comeback started when I three-bet Mark Burford with A-8, and he four-bet me. I called, flopped an 8, and check-called. The turn brought an ace, and I got four bets in against his A-K. I then increased my chip count fairly steadily as we stayed eight-handed for a long time. Some of the other players seemed more concerned with sliding up the pay scale, and they played conservatively, trying not to be the next one out. I focused more on chip accumulation once I got to a stack size that was out of immediate peril, and that approach definitely won me a few pots that I didn’t deserve.

But as had so often happened throughout the tournament after I’d gathered chips, I began to suffer some setbacks. I lost three big pots to Terrence: once when I bet the whole way with king high and he called me with ace high (I told you that he was good at this game), once when I flopped a set and he turned a bigger set, and once when my pocket sevens were outflopped by his A-J. But, I won enough pots in between those hands to make up for them, and I was in decent shape when we got four-handed.

The turning point of the tournament came when I three-bet Georgios Kapalas from the button with A-7 offsuit, and Terrence woke up with two aces in the big blind (or so he said later, and I certainly believe him). I hit the miracle flop of 7-7-3, and we got a lot of bets in: one small bet on the flop, three big bets on the turn, and one big bet on the river. All told, 30 percent of the chips in play ended up in that pot. With that amazingly lucky score against one of the best limit hold’em players in the world, I took the chip lead for the first time. Terrence busted out shortly afterward, and I had a 2-1 chip lead going into heads-up play against Ahmad Abghari.

Ahmad AbghariAhmad played a conservative style, so I liked the situation. But once the match began, Ahmad caught fire. He won almost all of the pots for the first 25 minutes, and I soon found myself at a 2-1 chip disadvantage. I’m more proud of the way that I played for the next 45 minutes than I am about any other stretch of the tournament. After playing 15 hours on day one (I had played a few hours of a no-limit hold’em event before busting out and beginning the limit tournament), and a long day two, I was able to take a deep breath and concentrate late on day three, even after losing the chip lead when playing heads up for a bracelet. I focused, played as well as I’m capable of playing, hammered away at many small pots, and slowly regained the advantage. After about another half-hour, Ahmad’s stack had been whittled down to six blinds. I opened with Q-8 offsuit, and he three-bet me. When the flop came Q-4-4, I knew that I had a chance to win the tournament on that hand. I raised Ahmad’s flop bet, he called, and then he led out all in on the blank turn card. When he tabled his A-10, I readied myself for an ace coming on the river. I couldn’t afford to lose focus at this crucial stage, and an ace was the only card that would require me to continue focusing, so I prepared for the bad beat. In the back of mind, of course, I rooted for anything but an ace. The poker gods came through; an 8 fell on the river, improving my hand to queens and eights, and more importantly, giving me the victory.

I’ve dreamed of winning a bracelet for a long time, but I’m also a realist. Mostly, I choose to play WSOP events with small buy-ins and large fields, which is where I think the value is. As a result, I’m much less likely to win a bracelet than someone who plays lots of events, particularly ones with large buy-ins and small fields. I never thought I’d actually get to stand on that podium, with the Star-Spangled Banner playing, accepting Jack Effel’s congratulations and holding the gold in my hand.

A month later, I’m still pretty shocked that I won, and I’m still extremely grateful for the run of good fortune that I had at the 2010 WSOP. I truly wish that every dedicated and hard-working poker player reading this column gets to experience this same shock and this same gratitude someday. Spade Suit

Matt Matros is the author of The Making of a Poker Player. He is also a featured coach for cardrunners.com.