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Chances Are — Part XI: Big Laydowns

by Steve Zolotow |  Published: Jan 22, 2014

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Steve ZolotowOne that Got Away

This series has tried to emphasize both the importance of playing mathematically sound poker (and how to calculate your chances) and focusing on specific situations in which a play that seems anti-percentage or counter-intuitive may be called for. 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. Even after you come to this unhappy conclusion, it is still very difficult to fold. The fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, written by Arthur Conan Doyle, once said, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

I have attempted to blot out any memory of the following hand, but I think this was roughly what happened several years ago at an early stage of the Bellagio $25,000 tournament. I picked up QSpade Suit QDiamond Suit on the button. Someone raised to $400, and I reraised to 1,000. Jennifer Harmon, on the button, reraised to 2,500. The waitress had just brought her a beverage and she was in the process of finding some tip money. My first thought was that she wouldn’t have interrupted this procedure in order to bluff with some random hand. I could make the argument that she can only have A-K, A-A or K-K. Therefore I will be a small favorite against the A-K (16 hands) and a huge dog against the bigger pairs (12 hands) so it is right to fold. There is, however, some chance she has Q-Q, J-J, 10-10 or A-Q suited. Also she has about all of her starting 50,000 stack left, and I have more, close to 70,000. I might win a monster pot if I flop a set against aces or kings, although she is a great player and capable of making a big laydown. Anyway, I decide that it can’t be too bad to see the flop and I call.

The flop is ASpade Suit QHeart Suit 4Diamond Suit. She bets 4,000. Now I only have to worry about a set of aces. I’m in great shape against A-K, A-Q or any other pair. If she’s betting a loser, I don’t want to scare her off, and if she does really have top set, I’d like to lose as little as possible, so I call.

The turn is another low card. I think it was a six. She bets 10,000. Following the same reasoning as before, I call. The river is a deuce. I check and she bets 20,000. I’m sure she would have given up betting as a bluff, so it is unlikely she has a pocket pair lower than aces. If she has A-K, she’ll be worried that I have A-Q or Q-Q. A-Q suited is really the only hand she would play so strongly that I can beat, and she might not have reraised before the flop with it. Mathematically there are three ways she could have had A-A and only one way she could have A-Q suited. (The calculation is straightforward. There are three ways she can have pocket aces, given the ASpade Suit on flop — AHeart Suit ADiamond Suit, AHeart Suit AClub Suit and ADiamond Suit AClub Suit. The only missing queen is the QClub Suit. So the only way she can have A-Q suited is with AClub Suit QClub Suit). The betting and the preflop reraise makes A-A even more likely than 3-to-1. The way the hand has played out makes me even more certain she flopped top set. Not only the mathematics of the situation, but also my gut feeling is that she has a set of aces. This is the time for a big laydown. I tank for a while, but somehow I can’t bring myself to fold. I mean there is now over 50,000 in the pot and I don’t flop second set so often that I can make a habit of throwing it away. I make another crying call. When she shows me her pocket aces, I’m not at all surprised. If the hand had been filmed, I would have folded, just because it would make a great television moment, whether I was right or not. Instead I can add this hand to all of the others I’ve misplayed over the years. ♠

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.