How to Lose Big!
Oh me, oh my, poor Phil! Here I sit on this plane, leaving Las Vegas, pitying myself. How could James Van Alstyne have played this hand for $75,000 more before the flop? How could I have allowed myself to lose such a huge pot?
How could the seven of spades have come up on the turn? Why in the world had Van Alstyne challenged my aces earlier, or survived when he was a huge underdog, giving away his chips — on Day 2? How could I finish in 50th place? Somehow, this picture doesn’t look right.
Welcome to the poker tournament world, a venue of excitement and glamour, but also a venue of huge frustrations and what-ifs. Every tournament that I play in, way too many things happen that seem like they should not have happened. Like players suddenly going off kilter for no discernible reason, and playing hands they shouldn’t play and then beating me with those hands. Or a sound decision that backfires merely because of bad timing. Or a bad beat for all of my chips!
Do I have a right to feel sorry for myself? No. My life is blessed in way too many ways. Perfect health, for my family and for me. Fortune, fame, branded media, products — all the rest. But today, maybe I can be excused for feeling down for a while. Because from a purely business point of view, being eliminated from the second most prestigious event of the year is the second saddest day of the year for me.
On days like this, door No. 1 is having a few drinks, but I know where that road leads: some relief in the moment, but a big problem down the line. Door No. 2 is flying home, where I’ll find the security and warmth of my family hearth. In Vegas, people line up for my autograph and picture, and I stay in big suites at the best hotels. At home, my sons think I’m lame on this or that point, and I have to fight for control of the television remote. Still, it’s all real at home.
So what was it that has me feeling so outraged, so down? Van Alstyne should have been all but broke on Day 2 when he check-raised a $6,000 bet to $18,000 with 8s-8h, on a board of 10s-3h-2h, and his opponent moved all-in for $26,000 more with Jd-Jc. Van Alstyne called the $26,000, trying his best to give away his chips, but the 7h-10h on the last two cards put four hearts on the board, and found Van Alstyne winning with a heart flush. Mike “the Mouth” Matusow said, “That was worse than any of my famous Mike Matusow blow-ups!”
A few hours later, Van Alstyne and I played a pot with my A-A versus. his 9-9, and a board of K-K-8-6. I lured him into the $45,000 pot with a $10,000 bet, and he hit the nine on the end (a 21-to-1 shot). That nine cost me $135,000 — the $65,000 in the pot, and the $65,000 I called on the end. So now, fast forward to Day 4, and Van Alstyne making it $40,000 to go with As-10s. I reraised it $75,000 more ($115,000 total) and he studied and called. I hate his call here. Why put over 10 percent of your chips into a pot when you know you’re beat? I hate A-Q, and A-10 falls well below that in value. I guess he was thinking that if he could beat my aces on Day 2, he could beat whatever holding I had this time, on Day 4.
The flop was Qd-8s-6s, and I checked. Van Alstyne checked, and now the sevens came off the deck, making me three sevens, and making him and ace-high flush. Now I bet out $100,000, Van Alstyne made it $300,000, and I moved all-in instantly. I did not give him three eights, three queens, or 10-9. And how in the world could he have the ace of spades and another spade? We put in $115,000 apiece before the flop, and I didn’t think he had As-Ks. Obviously he called, and now I was a 3-to-1 underdog to win (I still had 10 wins, and needed one of three sixes, three eights, three queens, or the last seven). Alas, the last card was the deuce of diamonds.
I do give Van Alstyne full credit for putting the last $650,000 in as a big favorite. And in truth, he played pretty well most of the way, but why did he make the reckless $75,000 call before the flop? Why did the seven of spades have to come off the deck? Why did he have to hit heart-heart earlier when he was giving his chips away? And why did he have to hit a nine when I had aces? Oh well, the plane has landed, and it’s time to go home for some support. I just hope my wife and sons don’t fight me too hard for the TV remote!
A-A versus 9-9 is how big a favorite with a board of K-K-8-6?
A) even money
D) over 20-to-1