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Chances Are: Part X: Big Laydowns

by Steve Zolotow |  Published: Dec 25, 2013

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Steve ZolotowThe Battle of the Billys

Poker is very situational, and there are many situations in which you must throw the math out the window and focus on what is actually happening at the table. This leads to the topic of making big laydowns. When you fold a hand that will beat almost every hand your opponent can hold, you are making a big laydown. It may seem almost mathematically insane to fold a hand that can beat 99 percent of the random hands your opponent might hold. But the betting action, physical tells and situation make it clear that your opponent’s hand isn’t random. In fact, you eventually come to the conclusion that he has exactly one of those few hands that can beat you.

In its early days the World Series of Poker was a very different event from the behemoth it is today. It was run for publicity and to draw gamblers to the Horseshoe. The Binions, first Benny and then Jack, ran it as though the attending players were part of their family. Free meals were provided round the clock. Rooms were often comped. No fee was charged in the main event. All money paid in entrance fees was returned to the winners, and tipping was optional (although everybody tipped.) This is not mentioned as a criticism of Caesars. Clearly Caesars and the Rio can’t duplicate the Binions’ generosity. They would quickly go broke trying to comp 7,000 players and still pay dealers, floor people, etcetera.

In those days, your $10,000 got you exactly 10,000 in chips. Making it to the end of Day 1 with 25,000 or 30,000 was considered to be a good start. Anything more than that was a great start. The hand I’m about to describe features Billy Baxter. He is one of the legendary Vegas gamblers, a great poker player, winner of multiple bracelets in no-limit deuce-to-seven, and a generally careful, conservative player. His key opponent was Billy Horan, a New York legend. A mainstay of the Mayfair Club for years, he was at one time considered the best backgammon player in the world. When poker action replaced backgammon at the Mayfair, he switched to poker. He is a brilliant and intuitive player. Health problems kept him away from the WSOP in recent years, but he was one of the top online performers, winning two World Championship of Online Poker events on PokerStars while breathing oxygen through a tube in his throat. (He had a successful lung transplant, and returned to the WSOP last summer, cashing in several events.)

Late in Day 1, Baxter had accumulated nearly 50,000, and appeared to be content to end the day without taking any unnecessary risks. Horan had tripled up to around thirty thousand. Baxter was the big blind. A late position player who seemed somewhat frustrated, went all-in for 4,000. Horan called on the button with two eights. Baxter looked down at his cards, and sat up a little straighter, but only called. The flop was A-K-8 rainbow. Both players checked. The turn was a 6. Baxter now bet about 2,000, and Horan called with his set. (He was already convinced Baxter had a big hand, but a player has to be extraordinarily confident of his ability to read the situation to just call in that spot.) On the river, Baxter bet 6,500. This was a bet of only 40 percent of the pot. Billy Horan was now getting around the 3.5-to-1 one. Every other player would be wondering whether to call or raise. Horan considered for a while, then told Baxter, “I’m sure you flopped a set.” He showed his three eights and folded! Baxter was so amazed and upset the he pushed his cards toward the muck. Then he realized that all-in player was still in the hand, yanked them back and showed his pocket kings, which combined with the king on the flop, gave him a set. Not only had Billy Horan escaped his trap, but then the floor ruled that his cards had touched the muck, so the main pot went to the all-in player.

In my opinion this was one of the greatest big laydowns in the history of poker. By the time you read this column, it will probably be the end of the year. If you are looking for a good poker New Year’s Resolution, why not resolve to replace the “crying call” with a big laydown when you feel confident you are beaten. ♠

Steve ‘Zee’ Zolotow, aka The Bald Eagle, is a successful gamesplayer. He has been a full-time gambler for over 35 years. With 2 WSOP bracelets and few million in tournament cashes, he is easing into retirement. He currently devotes most of his time to poker. He can be found at some major tournaments and playing in cash games in Vegas. When escaping from poker, he hangs out in his bars on Avenue A in New York City -The Library near Houston and Doc Holliday’s on 9th St. are his favorites.