A Dominating Victory
In my last two columns, I talked about the finals of NBC’s “National Heads-Up Championships,” which pitted Chris Ferguson against me. In the finals, we were playing a best-two-out-of-three format, and we now had one win each.
After Ferguson pulled off a big bluff in the deciding round of the finals, he had a chip lead of roughly $900,000 to my $400,000, and his follow-up tactic was to raise a lot of pots before the flop. I responded by folding a lot before the flop. After a while of this back and forth, I made a stand when I re-raised (I moved all-in) with my A-3. Ferguson eventually called me with his K-Q, which meant that I was only about a 56 percent favorite to win, and could lose the championship. The first four cards were 9-3-2-5. The last card, lifted Ferguson right out of his chair. He momentarily mistook the face card for a king or queen. But it was actually a jack. This marked the first time in the finals that I was all-in with a chance to lose the match. But I pulled it out with a pair of threes.
Just five hands later, I raised it up before the flop with A-Q. I hadn’t been raising it up too much pre-flop (maybe seven times in all three final matches), but I thought this might be a good time. Boy was I right: Ferguson moved all-in and I called him in an instant. I had Ferguson’s A-J “dominated” (meaning I had him drawing to one card) with my A-Q. At this point, I was a two-and-a-half-to-one favorite to win a $1,160,000 million pot (there were $1.28 million in chips in play). When the cards came out 10-2-2-9-7, my A-Q held up, and for the first time in the rubber match, I had the chip lead.
The very next hand Ferguson moved all-in with 2-2, and I called him with 6-5, simply because of the size of the antes and blinds. The flop came down K-Q-6, and with an eight on the turn I was now a 20-to-1 favorite to win the match.
Finally it was over! I had won the National Heads Up Championship on NBC and $500,000. But then the dealer did the unthinkable and turned up a deuce, and suddenly the place erupted with screaming and cheering one more time, just as it had when Ferguson hit a lucky card an hour or two before. What the heck was going on here?
This time I didn’t fall over, or lose focus at all, and after about three more hands I picked up Q-Q, and called before the flop. Of course, I was hoping for Ferguson to move all-in, and my heart leapt as he did exactly that.
I jumped out of my seat as I called, he flipped up the Kc-6c, and I was a two-and-half-to-one favorite to win the pot and the title. Of course, I had been down this road before, and I honestly felt that almost everyone in that room thought Ferguson would outdraw me yet again. The flop was J-10-6, then the turn was a 10, and now I had to dodge three kings and two sixes (meaning there was 39 possible wins for me and five possible wins for Ferguson) to claim the title. Finally, the dealer turned up the last card, a nine, and the match was over: I had won the Heads Up Championship, and $500,000!
When the yelling, handshakes and hugs subsided, I bought 15 bottles of Dom Perignon. While Tim Poster (CEO of the Golden Nugget), Chris Ferguson, and I were imbibing, we poured glasses for the crowd for half an hour, until the Champagne was all gone. Relief and redemption, pretty sweet — finally
When you have someone “dominated” (your opponent)
A) You are a much better player than they are
B) You have them “outmanned”
C) You have the same high card as they do but a higher kicker
D) You’re a three-to-two favorite to win the pot