Don’t Let a Close Call Get Under Your Skin
After beating Men “the Master” Nguyen in round one, and Paul Phillips in round two, I was staring at the 1996 World Champion of Poker Huck Seed in round three of NBC’s “National Heads Up Poker Championship” (which airs on Sundays in May). The field that started from 60 of the top players in the world had been whittled down to 16 in a bracketed structure similar to the NCAA basketball tournament and from personal experience, I knew that Seed would be a tough opponent.
For about three straight years in the late 1990s he was considered the best no-limit Hold’em player in the world. In 1999, after dusting off 250 other players, we found ourselves heads up in one of the year’s major tournaments, at the Rio Hotel. That time around, Seed beat me. (You can read more about that showdown in “Bad Beats and Lucky Draws.”)
At the beginning of our NBC match, we both started with $80,000. In the first hand, I called with Ad-4s, and the flop came down As-10d-8d, giving me a pair of aces. Seed bet out $1,000, and I called. The 5d on the turn gave me an ace-high flush draw, and I still had the pair of aces. Now I bet out $1,800, and Seed raised me $6,000.
After a moment, while I considered moving all-in, raising, or merely calling his bet, I decided to call. My aces may or may not have been the best hand, but one thing was certain: I needed a diamond to make the ace-high flush. When a Js was dealt, I checked and Seed bet out $20,000. After a long study, I decided to fold my pair of aces, even though I had seen Seed make some big bluffs, and was expecting him to try a few more on me. (Later on, after an hour or so had passed, I felt fairly certain, given his conservative, non-bluffing style, that Seed had had a flush or an equally strong hand in that first deal. After the match ended, he admitted he’d had a flush.)
Another interesting hand came up when I called with 2s-2c, and the flop came down Js-3s-2d. Seed checked, I bet out $2,000, and then Seed made it $11,000 to enter the hand (or “to go”). What to do? I wanted to win the maximum I could with this hand, and I felt Seed would bet out big if any non-spade card came off the deck on the next turn. But if he had a really strong hand, then my best play was to re-raise the pot right then and there. Finally, I decided just to call.
As it turned out, this was a big mistake, one that nearly cost me the match. Seed had Jc-3d, giving him two pair. The next card was the Ks (giving me a flush draw), and we both checked. On the river, the 8s hit (now there were four spades on the board) and now we both checked again. I won the pot, but it was evident to me that had I re-raised on the flop, Seed would have moved all-in and I would have won the match on this hand.
This kind of close call can get under your skin, and I struggled to forget that I had just blown an opportunity to win the match. Somehow, some way, after a long battle — neither of us willing to give an inch — I found a way to win. This match proved to be one of the toughest heads-up matches of my life, and I’m sure it will make for some exceptional television viewing, but it wasn’t easy to play! In any case, I was now among NBC’s “elite eight.”
When it comes to betting on big hands:
A) Soft play every hand.
B) Bet big 60 percent of the time when you have a big hand.
C) Bet big with nothing a lot.
D) Bet big every time you have a big hand.