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Battling at the Borgata Poker Open

by Matt Matros |  Published: Dec 01, 2011

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Matt MatrosIt’s an open secret among east coasters, like myself, that Atlantic City’s Borgata Casino has hosted fantastic poker tournaments ever since its inception. I bet even many of my astute readers have skimmed past Borgata’s events when studying the tournament calendar. Borgata has a major series for each season of the year. To avoid confusion, they are named, simply, the Winter Open, Spring Open, Summer Open, and, new this year, the Fall Open. A fifth series, the Borgata Poker Open, is the biggest of all, and serves as AC’s stop on the World Poker Tour. Before you ask, no one from Borgata has paid me to promote their hotel, casino, or spa. I just love their tournaments. The main event of each series features a reasonable buy-in (between $1,500 and $3,500), extreme deep stack play (often 600 big blinds!), large fields (the Summer Open had 323 players and an $807,500 prize pool, despite competing directly with the World Series of Poker), and long levels. Borgata tournaments can be excruciating grinds, but with serious money at stake no professional player should be complaining.

With two top-ten finishes in the last four Borgata main events I’d played, I went into this September’s Borgata Poker Open with high hopes. I faltered early, but thanks to the super-deep structure, I had plenty of time to recover. It wasn’t the greatest table draw, with pros Ali Eslami and Amnon Filippi on my right and left, respectively. There was, however, one player at the table who was playing extremely loose and calling far too many bets. I planned to seek him out.

Four hours in, I raised from early position with K-Q offsuit and got called by a good player in the hijack and the weak player on the button. The flop came A-K-3 with two clubs (I had no clubs). I led out for a standard continuation bet. The hijack folded, and the weak player called on the button. Although he was hard to predict, even this player would’ve likely folded his pocket pairs and suited (non-club) connectors on this board. I put him on either a flush draw, a gutshot, an ace, or a king, with a small chance of complete garbage.

The turn brought an offsuit three, pairing the board. I checked, and the button bet 4,000, about two-thirds of the pot. I thought he would bet all his draws after I checked to him. I also thought that if he was betting a one-pair hand better than mine, namely Ax, that my turn call would shut him down and he would check behind on the river. Given this read, I called.

The river brought an offsuit jack—not a total blank, but not the worst card either. I checked and my opponent bet 6,000. What hands could he have been betting for value? Ace-jack and queen-ten were the most consistent with his actions. What could he have been bluffing with? A missed flush draw, or a float with total air on the flop, and that was it. There weren’t a lot of value bets I could give him, but there weren’t a lot of bluffs either! I studied, and my opponent stared at me, covering his mouth with his hand. Both gestures are classic bluffing tells. Relying on such tells against a good player is very questionable, but against a player who has shown himself to be undisciplined, I’m more willing to do it. I threw in my 6,000 and the button turned over 8Club Suit 2Club Suit of clubs for a busted flush draw. It’s nice to be right, but I could’ve easily been wrong, and engaging with the bad player could’ve cost me a bunch of chips. These are the risks we take to succeed in poker tournaments.

After building up chips on day two, I had a major confrontation with another big stack. A loose, tough player opened in the cutoff, and another strong professional three-bet to 7,000 from the small blind. Both players had very wide ranges, so I decided to four-bet to 18,000 from the big blind with A-J offsuit. The cutoff got out of the way, but the small blind called. This was a somewhat odd choice, as most modern players will either five-bet or fold in that spot, but we were still very deep (Borgata structure again), with each of us having about 130,000 behind.

The flop came AHeart Suit 4Heart Suit 3Heart Suit (I had no heart). The small blind checked, and I bet 17,000. He called. I thought his range at this point was AT-AK, and a pocket pair that included a heart. The turn brought an ace, obviously a good card for my hand. I was still ahead of the pocket pair flush draws, and it was significantly less likely that I was up against a bigger ace. My opponent checked and I bet 37,000. He thought for a while and called. A big pocket pair with a heart seemed his most likely hand.

The river brought the KHeart Suit and my opponent thought for a long time before checking. What to do? Were I to bet, I would almost certainly not get called by a worse hand. So a bet would turn my hand into a bluff. Was it worth a shot? A-Q would have a very tough call, and would probably have to fold. For the rest of my opponent’s range, though, the river wasn’t that bad of a card. Sure, he’d have to worry about my holding A-K for the boat if he had Q-Q or Jx JHeart Suit, but that’s probably why he checked rather than bet himself. His intention, I thought, was to check-call with his flushes, not check-fold. I chose to check back and my opponent’s red queens took the pot. To this day I’m not sure whether I should’ve tried a huge bluff.

A few hours later I lost a flip with J-J against A-K and I was eliminated. It wasn’t the finish I was looking for, but it was another great opportunity, and I’m already looking forward to Borgata’s next big event.

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