In Wisconsin, Confidence Trumps Cards
If you spend enough time in life on one activity — golf, for example — you’re bound to occasionally witness something amazing, like a hole-in-one. I’ve played a lot of poker in my life, and I’m about to share with you one of the more incredible and entertaining hands in which I’ve ever participated. First, it did not occur on television at a star-studded event, but at one of my favorite “events” — the Wisconsin Homeboys Holiday Poker Game — last month. The blinds were $5-$5, the buy-in was $1,000 and the rebuys were at least $500 a pop. The game started at John Ferraro’s house in Pewaukee, Wis., at noon, and by midnight, there was more than $70,000 on the table.
After nearly 14 hours of play, I had earned the reputation of playing supertight. Many times during play, I called a bet or a raise with A-K or better, only to have another player raise or reraise, and when the action came back to me, I made a huge reraise myself. I watched Paul Clements lay down A-Q immediately in one of these spots, whereupon I showed my A-K. Let’s sum it up by saying this: I was playing super-solid poker, and sometimes trapping with big hands.
Here’s how the hand came down. Ferraro had the $40 “Mississippi straddle” on the button, meaning that Craig “Spa Man” Hueffner, who was in the small blind, had to act first, which he did by calling $40 with J-9 off suit.
I called with 6-3 off suit, Jon Green called and Clements made it $210 to go with A-K. Player A then called $200 with A-K — and Spa Man called the reraise. Then I announced, “I raise the pot.” I called the $160 and raised it $880 more. Clements pondered a while, and when I said, “I have nothing,” he folded, probably because he had heard me say that all day long when in fact I was holding big timber. Then Player A folded his A-K! So I turned to my last remaining opponent and said, “They just folded A-K and pocket jacks, c’mon, Spa Man, just $880 more to play with the champ.” Spa Man called the $880, and when the flop came down A-K-9 — thus pairing his 9 — he bet out $400. (And the folded players must have died a silent death, seeing that the board came down A-K-9!)
I thought, “I’ve been playing patiently here all night, and it’s time to put my hard-earned reputation to work.” I said, “I raise the size of the pot.” I called the $400 bet and made it $3,340 more to go. Spa Man then flipped his hand face up! I knew that his hand was not dead yet, not in this game, and after a full minute passed, I feared that Spa Man was actually going to call me down. I was afraid he would call for three reasons: First, I had seen Spa Man make some tough calls; second, I knew that he wasn’t afraid to put his chips into the pot; and finally, he just looked as if he didn’t believe me.
A minute passed as Spa Man considered calling me, and I knew that I was sunk. I thought, “How can I get out of this jam? My cards won’t help, so I have to rely on something else.” I decided to match Spa Man’s craziness with a little of my own. Confidently, I made a ridiculous offer: “Spa Man, if you call the $3,340, I’ll put in $1,000 of it for you.” I waited another 45 seconds, then said, “That offer is valid for another five seconds — five, four, three, two …” Spa Man quickly said, “I call. Here’s $2,340. Please add your $1,000.” So I contributed one of my $1,000 chips to my opponent’s bet against me!
At this point, other observers from around the room had excitedly gathered to see that the turn card was a 2h. I knew I had to man up and follow through with my bluff, so I bet $3,000 on the turn and, to my enormous relief, Spa Man folded. I was psyched and pushed my cards face down toward the dealer. But everyone shouted, “Show the hand, show the hand!” In a normal Las Vegas poker game, the cards would have already hit the muck, but the dealer (Wayne “Tilly” Tyler) had kept the cards separate, and the chorus grew louder. Finally, I thought to myself, “Why not?” So I flipped up the cards and the railbirds were stunned when they saw my 6-3 off suit. And then everyone applauded.
What was amazing about this hand? Two players were dealt A-K. I made both of them fold their A-K before the flop! The flop was A-K-9; Spa Man flipped a “live hand” face up for all to see, and then called a big bet. And in the guise of being confident, I contributed a $1,000 chip to his bet against me. Most incredibly, the stone-cold bluff — the 6-3 off suit — took down the cheese.
Sometimes a guy doesn’t get a hole-in-one because he has the best swing; he gets it because he had the guts to go for it in the first place. And oftentimes in poker, as in life, a guy playing with the most confidence, not the best cards, wins a big pot.
Mississippi straddle means:
A) You are dealt three cards instead of two
B) You’ve been bluffed out of the hand
C) The small blind acts first
D) All of the above