Chan Goes Down in the TOC
Last week, I talked about Harrah’s Tournament of Champions (TOC), and the fact that poker legend Doyle Brunson finished in 10th place. With 110 players, a $1 million dollar first-place prize, $1 million more for the rest of the final table, a Christmas Eve show on ESPN, and poker history hanging in the balance, winning this one was going to be a nice feather in someone’s cap. Especially for me, in light of the fact that I had finished second, quite famously — for the Poker Brat tirade I threw afterwards — to Annie Duke in the 2004 TOC.
Before I get into it, let’s back up a bit to the final 16 players, when Johnny Chan, Brunson and I were still alive in the TOC 2005 event. (For anyone who follows poker, you know that Chan and Brunson both won their 10th World Series of Poker bracelets in 2005 on ESPN, while I remained at nine.) In any case, a key hand for me occurred with two tables remaining, against none other than Chan himself.
With only nine players to be paid, the blinds at $600-$1,200, and a $200 ante per man, I raised it up to $3,600 to go with As-4s. Chan called me from the big blind, and the flop came down 9-8-4. Chan checked, and I checked, too, because I didn’t want to bet out and have him move all-in on me, which could have forced me to fold my hand. I did have $250,000 to his $35,000 or so, but Chan is extremely dangerous and I did not want to double him up.
The next card was the eight of spades, for a board of 9-8-4-8, and now Chan checked again. After a moment, I decided to bet out, since I didn’t want him to hit his hand simply because I failed to show aggression. I didn’t want him to hit a free card, like a king to hit a hand like K-Q, and end up losing the pot because I hadn’t bet him out of the hand. On the other hand, I didn’t want to bet so much that I’d be committed to calling his last $30,000 or so, if he were to raise it up. Finally, I decided to bet a small and safe amount: $4,000.
Now Chan looked at me and announced, “I raise,” and put in a $9,000 raise. Something didn’t feel right about the raise, and I kept thinking that I had the best hand, so I called his bet. I was hoping, if he did have a pair like 7-7, 6-6, or 5-5, that he wouldn’t bet out on the end. It also occurred to me that he may have a straight draw, like J-10, or ace high, 3-3, or 2-2, or simply just a bald-faced bluff. In any case, I thought he was bluffing.
The last card was a deuce, and now Chan just checked. At this point I was fairly sure I had the better hand, but why bet? I mean, what hand could he call me with that I could beat? He wouldn’t be calling me on the end with a busted straight draw, but perhaps he would call me with 3-3 or ace high? I thought not. If he called a bet, then he would most likely have 7-7, 6-6, or 5-5, which I could not beat. So I checked, he hesitated a moment, and I said, “Pair.” He nodded his head yes, meaning “That’s good, you got it.” And I flipped my hand up and scooped the pot.
Showing this hand down seems to have put the fear of God into my opponents, thinking perhaps, “Did Phil just call Chan down in mere seconds with bottom pair? I better not mess with him today.” Chan went on to finish 12th and Brunson 10th, leaving me with a clear shot at first, and a huge chip lead. Hoyt “cowboy” Corkins, Mike “the mouth” Matusow, and I had the chip lead after day one and again after day two. Next time, we’ll talk about day three (the final table).
When faced with a key call:
A) trust your instincts
B) try to read your opponent and think the way he or she is
C) calmly assess your situation
D) all of the above