So You Want to Make a Deal?
With about six players left in the $5,000 buy-in championship event at Harrah’s “Carnavale of Poker” in January 2000, 1999 Card Player magazine “Player of the Year” Hieu “Tony” Ma whispered to me, “Phil, how sweet is it for you that this Frenchman keeps moving all-in pre-flop. You’re going to bust him for sure!” At the time I smiled and nodded at Tony; I too believed that Angelo Besnainou (the Frenchman)’s chips were mine to win. I love to play against a “slider” (someone who moves ALL of his chips into the middle, regardless of blind size), because once they do slide it all in, they can’t fold when I eventually pick up a powerful hand behind them.
So when the tournament came down to Farzad “Freddy” Bonyadi, the Frenchman and me, and the two of them asked me to make a deal (deals are common in all tournaments near the end), I told the Frenchman, “No deal.” His proposal was that we would take about $200,000 apiece off the top (I had more chips and stood to receive $250,000), and play for $100,000 for first, rather than for the scheduled $400,000 for first, $200,000 for second and $100,000 for third.
From the “I want the title” perspective, I said no to the deal for three reasons: First, I knew that if I played for all the money, I would stay hyper-focused. Second, I feel that some players give away more tells when playing for it all, owing to the extreme money pressure that that presents, thus enhancing my already good “read” on my shorthanded opponents. Third, big pressure often forces big mistakes, from almost any player.
At this point, I had about $440,000 in chips and a lot of momentum, with the blinds at $10,000-$20,000 and the antes at $4,000 a player. I was just starting to take control of the tournament when the Frenchman moved all-in for about the 25th time at the final table. I looked down at Ad-Qd in the $10,000 small blind and decided to call his $222,000 bet. Bonyadi proceeded to fold, and our hands were turned face up. The Frenchman had Ac-6h, about what I expected, and I knew that I was about a 2-1/2-to-1 favorite to win the pot.
The flop was A-5-5, which was not a bad flop for me, because it put no six on the board, but of course I would have preferred a queen on the flop to lock it up for me. Besnainou would need a six to win or a king to tie. The turn card was his miracle six, but I figured that a queen would be coming on the river — for me to win as I should have, mathematically speaking. The river proved to be a seven, though, and I lost the $460,000 pot.
Two hands after I lost with that Ad-Qd, the Frenchman “slid” all-in on his small blind ($10,000-$20,000 blinds), and I called him in my big blind for about $200,000 with A-10. He had K-J (I was a 3-to-2 favorite), and the flop came down J-Q-6, but then an ace came off on the turn to give me a big lead in the hand, and a lot of hope. At this point Besnainou would need a king or a 10 to win (the deck still held two kings and three 10s), and he was an 8-to-1 underdog. Some days the river runs swiftly in no-limit Hold ’em, and an unwanted 10 came off — to give me two pair and him an ace-high straight, with a final board of J-Q-6-A-10. By the way, this was one of those weird hands that are fun to watch, but difficult to be involved in, where there was a different leader on every street. I had him before the flop, he had me on the flop, I had him on fourth street, and he had me on the river.
Being eliminated by two “bad beats” in short order seems to be the classic situation where I (the Poker Brat!) throw a temper tantrum, or at least berate my opponent a little bit, but not this time. I just said “Nice hand,” wished the players good luck, collected my money and left. In other words, I did what I was supposed to do all those other times in the past when I was eliminated from poker tournaments; I acted like a champion — with class — and went home.
For a good long while my friends had been telling me not to look back; after all, I had made a good decision, so “c’est la vie” (French for “that’s life”). When I have inevitably looked back, I haven’t regretted my decision to play for it all, rather than agreeing to the offer of a deal. But I do regret the six that the Frenchman caught to stay alive against me, when I “Had him by the throat” (John Bonetti’s favorite saying!).
A “slider” is:
a.) bets like a crazy man
b.) moves all-in regardless of the size of the blinds
c.) risks too much on his bluffs
d.) all of the above