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Mind Over Poker - A Little History

Mind Over Poker - A Little History

by David Apostolico |  Published: May 06, 2011


I want to discuss a hand from the recent WSOP Circuit main event at Caesars in Atlantic City. I was sitting on around 6,000 in chips with the blinds at 200-400. Starting stacks were 20,000, and since our table had yet to bust anyone, I was obviously short-stacked. I had lost a big hand when all the chips went in when I had top set and my opponent had a straight draw. You can figure out how that ended up based on my current predicament.
My table was very soft, so I was definitely in chip-accumulation mode, to build my stack back up and take advantage of that softness.

Here’s how it went down: I was in the big blind, and after posting, I had 5,600 behind. The player to my immediate left, who had about 6,500, open-raised from under the gun for 800. This reeked of aces to me, as his standard raise had consistently been three times the big blind. A player in late position called, so it was an easy call for me to make in the big blind with K-9 suited, although I knew that I’d have to proceed carefully if I hit the flop.

The flop came down K-8-2 rainbow. I decided to check, to see how it played out. With a player in late position also in the pot, I wanted to see what information I could gather before deciding how to proceed. The original raiser checked, as did the player in late position. Now, as long as an ace didn’t appear on the turn, I was going to lead out big.

Well, to my surprise, the turn was another king. So now I switched gears and quickly checked. The original raiser fired out 2,000. The late-position player folded, and I was faced with a decision. I was now playing for stacks, and this was my chance to get back in the game with enough chips to do some damage. I took my time, as I was determining whether to raise or call. I had played a lot of hands with this opponent, and had always bet my strong hands. In addition, he had been able to bet me off a couple of hands. So, I decided to just call. The extra time spent deliberating only helped my cause. There was no reason to playact, as I was genuinely making a decision. My opponent would sense my apprehension, but not be able to correctly interpret the nature of that apprehension.
The river was a blank. I checked. My opponent went all in. I called instantly and watched my opponent turn over pocket queens rather triumphantly. I showed my king and he looked crestfallen.

I had accomplished two things here: I had given myself a decent stack, so that I could get back to work, and I had effectively eliminated the only tough opponent at the table. (He went all in preflop on the very next hand, and was out.) I was able to build my stack to more than 30,000 before our table broke. I ended up going out 90th out of 470 players, far from the money, but this hand was critical to giving me a chance.

I think the biggest lesson from this hand is not how I played it, but how my opponent did. I think he made a couple of egregious errors. First, he should have raised more preflop. With pocket queens under the gun, you are inviting trouble with a minimum-raise. I never would have seen the flop if he had raised three to four times the big blind. With three players in the pot and an overcard on the board, I don’t fault his check on the flop. With the second king on the turn, I like his bet, as he has good reason to believe that his queens are good. Finally, I don’t like his bet on the river. It’s a real dangerous value-bet. He has to think a king is within my range there. The pot’s big enough that there is no need to risk more chips.

As for my play, it was very situational based on my history with this particular opponent. Don’t be afraid to take your time and play through that history when making a decision. The contemplative time spent when you are genuinely determining how to play the best hand is often misinterpreted. ♠

David Apostolico is the author of several poker-strategy books, including Machiavellian Poker, and Tournament Poker and The Art of War. You can contact him at