Don’t Let Yourself Get Run Over
After the first three rounds of NBC’s “National Heads Up Poker Championship” (which airs on the network during weekends in May), I found myself amongst the “final four” players.
The NCAA style “bracket” tournament had whittled down over 60 of the top players in the world and now one side of the draw now featured Chris “Jesus” Ferguson v. T. J. Cloutier in a rematch of the 2000 World Series of Poker finals that saw Ferguson emerge as a certified world champion after outdrawing Cloutier in several key pots down the stretch. On the other side of the draw, it was Antonio “The Magician” Esfandiari against me.
After beating Men “the Master” Nguyen, Paul Phillips, WSOP Champ Huck Seed, and Lyle Berman, I was now facing a different type of challenge. All of the aforementioned players play no-limit hold’em at a reasonable pace, but I knew Antonio would come out raising and re-raising at a breakneck pace. He would try to run me over, and knock me off my game.
I was prepared for the onslaught, yet I could not have expected Antonio would be play as aggressively as he did. I’m not a player who can be easily “run over” (bluffed out repeatedly and outplayed), but obviously Antonio was going to try to take me out that way.
We both began the match with $320,000 in chips, and Antonio — after winning almost every pot, either by bluffing me out, or showing me the better hand — quickly had me down to about $250,000. (I’ll have to watch the telecast again to see exactly what he was doing. It’s scheduled for May 21.) In any case, I was talking to myself and feeling a bit panicked for two reasons.
First of all, I haven’t won many pots against Antonio in our short tournament history. Before the match began I told my wife, “At least I’ll finally beat him on some pots today, and by the end of the match he’ll have a new respect for me.” The second reason I was mumbling under my breath: This seemingly inexplicable losing trend against Antonio was continuing at an accelerated pace during our latest matchup. I had just lost $70,000 to him in short order.
I reminded myself to buckle down, focus and stick to my game-plan of trapping Antonio by checking all of my strong hands to him and letting him do all of the betting for me. Finally, I had K-Q and just called on the button. Antonio raised it up, and I called again. After a flop of K-6-3, Antonio bet, and I merely called with my relatively powerful hand — it was time to let him bet for me.
The turn brought a queen, and now I had an extremely strong hand: top two pair. So when Antonio checked, I was forced to bet. At this point, I was resigned to the fact that I would be going all-in with this hand, and if Antonio happened to have trips, I was going to lose the match, unless, of course, I hit a king or a queen on the river. But now I needed to bet just enough that Antonio would call or raise me with his (hopefully) much weaker hand.
I settled on $20,000 into a pot of about $40,000, and Antonio raised it up $35,000 more. Now I moved all-in and Antonio quickly folded. Finally, for the first time all day I had the chip lead! My game plan worked out pretty well. I caught a few more strong hands down the stretch (luck always helps) and won the match, to reach the finals against Chris “Jesus” Ferguson. Trust me, you won’t believe how exciting the final match was.