Sexton’s 2001 TOC
In September 2001, I made it down to the final 27 players in a field of 402 at Mike Sexton’s brainchild, the TOC (Tournament of Champions). After two days of playing one-third Seven Card Stud, one-third Omaha Eight or better and one-third limit Hold’em, day three would now be 100 percent limit Hold’em. World Champion Scotty Nguyen, and poker legends T.J. Cloutier and “Miami” John Cernuto, “Syracuse” Chris Tsiprailidis and I had to be among the favorites at this point in the tournament.
I had just finished a commanding performance over the first two days of play, and day three promised to be the big payday for me. I was going to win the TOC! I was clearly on top of my game, and this time no one was going to stop me from claiming the big prize. I had just finished fifth in the WSOP (World Series of Poker), won a bracelet at the WSOP for another no-limit Hold’em tournament and won a no limit Hold’em event in Vienna in early June. Man, I was rolling big time in no limit Hold’em! Who could possibly stop me from winning this event?
I was feeling pretty good about my game and chip position as we became 19-handed at the TOC. Soon we would be 18-handed and redraw down to two nine-handed tables. Not! Incredibly, 90 minutes later, we were still 19-handed. There were so many players in that 90-minute period that it was incredible that they all survived. After cultivating an aggressive image at my table, which was fine with me because I was forcing people to “come over the top” of me quite a bit (and I knew that eventually I was going to bust one of them), the following hand came up.
With the blinds at $1,000 to $2,000 and a $300-a-player ante, I opened for $5,000 with Kh-9h, and was raised by my opponent a mere $5,000. I immediately assumed that he had pocket aces because he raised me so little, and I felt some strength. Personally, I did not love his $5,000 raise. Why would you raise only $5,000, announcing the strength of your hand, and give someone a chance to call only $5,000 more to bust you? The raise was definitely a weak raise and a weak play. Anyway, I decided that it was an easy call for me to make, as I would win his last $60,000 if I hit my hand. Also, the pot was laying me 4-to-1 on my call ($5,000 plus $5,000 plus $5,000 plus $1,000 SB plus $2,000 BB plus $1,800 in antes equals $20,000 to $5,000). In any case, the flop was Jh-9s-4h, giving me a pair of nines and a flush draw. I knew that I was almost even money against pocket aces after this flop. I decided to check raise the flop, in case he had A-K, a small pair or a weak hand and he felt like bluffing off another $10,000 or $20,000. Also, by check-raising on the flop, I was giving myself a chance to win the pot by giving my opponent a chance to fold his hand. After I checked the flop, my opponent bet $20,000, and I moved him all-in for $56,000 total — his $20,000 and my raise of $36,000. Unfortunately, he called me quickly. (This is always a bad sign!). Also unfortunate for me was the fact that he had pocket kings. Ouch. Because he had pocket kings instead of pocket aces, he had two of my outs, which meant I was roughly a 6-to-4 underdog.
Would I play this hand differently in 2007? Maybe. If I’d felt extreme strength from my opponent, then I might have folded before the flop, even though I had the right odds to call. I mean, why gamble when you’re waiting for one more player to be eliminated? Why not play the “waiting game?” In fact, nine-handed Hold’em is a waiting game anyway, so why not practice for it? Another thing I could have done differently was that I could have folded on the flop. Mind you, this would not have been an easy fold, but so what? Again, if I read extreme strength, then I could have folded or merely called the $20,000 bet, looked at one card, and then folded when my opponent moved all-in on fourth street. Getting married to an even-money situation brings you 50 percent of the pots. The really great no-limit Hold’em players should never take 50 percent, when many times we can run our chips up with little risk.
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Playing big pots when you have a 50 percent chance to win:
A) Is not a world-class strategy
B) Is a great way to play
C) Means that you have to win tons of pots to finish first
D) All of the above