Give Credit to a Great Bluff
In my last column, I talked about the bad beat that Chris Ferguson put on me in the second of our three matches during the finals of NBC’s “National Heads-Up Poker Championship.” I had won match one, and was staring at victory in match two when Chris and I put in all our money on a board of 9s-5h-4h-2h, with Chris holding 9h-2s to my Ah-3s. This was, believe it or not, only the third hand of the second match. Chris then proceeded to hit a 10-to-1 shot (meaning there were 40 possible wins for me and merely four for him), when a nine popped up on the river, stealing my championship in dramatic fashion.
I literally fell on the floor when the nine hit (I was on my way to standing up and shouting, “Yes!”), and after losing the next small pot — I was all-in — I headed up to my room to meditate and try to gather myself.
I was steaming, talking to myself, moving at a fast clip up the Golden Nugget’s hallway, while the cameras recorded the whole thing. At the elevator, I told the security guards to stop the cameras; otherwise I’m sure they would have followed me all the way to my room.
Fifteen minutes later, still a bit shaken, I opened the elevator doors, and found no cameras waiting — until I got around the first corner and there they were. I guess I gave a pretty emotional interview, but I’m an emotional guy. (I was still steaming!)
In the third match, here’s what turned out to be the key hand, one that both of us played well, but Chris played a little bit better. Chris raised it up on the button, and I called his raise with J-J. The flop came down Ad-8s-7d, and I checked. Chris bet out $30,000, I raised $30,000, and now Chris called. The turn was 6c, and I checked again. Now Chris bet out $80,000, and I studied forever. Something was telling me that I had the better hand. I kept thinking that Chris had J-9, or a pair of eights with a flush draw like Qd-8d, or something similar.
Finally, my chips just sort of made their way into the pot, and I called, and the last card was Kd. The flush had hit. I checked again, and Chris began stacking his chips in an odd way — two stacks of blue $10,000 chips (five high) sitting side by side, with eight $10,000 chips stacked on top, sitting across from the others. Then he pushed them into the middle of the pot. The bet was $180,000, and I studied for a long time.
I could beat only a couple of hands, like J-10, J-9, 9-6, or an underpair. The flush had hit, the ace was there, and a straight was possible. Two pair or trips were also possible. Still, something didn’t feel quite right. I studied a good two minutes — which is a long time in these matches — while stacking and restacking the $180,000 in chips that I had set out.
If I called and lost, then I would be down to less than $200,000 in chips, a position I didn’t think I could rebound from. As T. J. Cloutier would say, “If I was wrong, then I was gone.” Finally, I folded the hand, saying to Ferguson, “Nice bluff.” (I later found out that he had J-10, and that he had bluffed me out.) Even though I had made the wrong decision, I’m proud that I had considered calling — that I really had felt the bluff — in an almost impossible situation. But I give Chris full credit for playing that hand so well — and outplaying me.
I was left with about $380,000 in chips to Ferguson’s $900,000; next time, I will describe another key hand or two, and finally finish up this series of heads-up columns.
RAISE OR FOLD
The difference between winning a hand and losing a hand can be:
A) Trusting your instincts
B) Making the right move at the right time
C) Having great luck down the stretch!
D) All of the above