Tennis, And Poker?
No limit Texas Hold ’em is big on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Tour these days. Many of the top players, their coaches, trainers and staff have several weekly poker tournaments. They do not play high stakes or even moderate stakes, but rather relatively low stakes tournaments where a lot of pride is on the line. And these guys can play the game!
In February, the ATP rolled into San Jose (my neck of the woods) for the SAP Open, and with it came Andy Roddick and James Blake. Roddick and Blake are not only the top-ranked American tennis players; they’re also ranked fourth and sixth in the world in tennis, respectively.
Recently, Roddick, Blake, Stu (Roddick’s friend), and I walked into the Bay 101 to play some poker. At 7 p.m., Roddick was to be part of the featured match at the SAP Open, with Blake to follow at roughly 8:30 pm. They had a few hours to kill before they would hit around together at 5 p.m. or so.
The game was spread limit Hold ’em, which plays very much like no-limit Hold ’em, except that the maximum bet on any given betting round was $200. The blinds were $3-$5, and the amount you could buy-in for was capped at $200. We all bought in for $200, and then the fun began, for Blake that is! I made it $25 to go with Ah-10d, Blake called with 10c-10h, and the flop came down 10s-7s-6h. I bet out $40, Blake made it $80, and I moved him all-in for $140 total. I was worried that I was beat, but what was I going to do for my last $140, after leading out with a $40 bet. After all, I could still beat any pair of 10s, nines, eights or a flush draw.
An hour later, I made it $25 to go with As-3h, three people called, and then Blake called in the big blind. The flop was Ac-8h-5h, Blake checked, I bet $40, everyone else folded, and Blake made it $80 to go. I studied for a second. What could Blake have this time? He was in the big blind; could he have a drawing hand, or a weak ace himself (like I had)? Finally, I moved him all-in for $180 total, he called immediately (always a bad sign), and I said, “I have an ace.” He said, “Me too, but I also have a queen, matching the one that the dealer just turned up on fourth street.”
One more pot to Blake, but this time it was completely my fault that I lost my money. First, I could have folded my A-3 before the flop like I am supposed too. Second, I could have folded my hand on the flop when Blake raised it up to $80 to go. I could beat a drawing hand, but not much else.
Our final encounter came up when Blake made it $25 to go, and I called in the big blind with 9d-8c. The flop was Qd-Qc-Jd, I checked, Blake bet out $30, and I called. The turn card was the 8d, giving me a pair of eights, a straight draw, a flush draw, and a straight-flush draw. I bet out $40, and Blake called. The river was the Ks, and I checked. Blake instantly moved all-in for his last $105 or so. In my mind Blake had A-10, or K-10, or A-K, but I kept thinking that he had A-10 and had hit his straight. I asked him, “You have A-10 huh?” Then I folded my hand, and Blake said, “Is it OK to show my hand?” I said, “Yep, it’s OK to show me a bluff.” Whereupon, he turned over his hand, the Ah-7h, and everyone erupted in laughter. Ouch, this is not happening to me: Blake busted me twice, and then on top of that, he bluffed me out? I know the guy went to Harvard, played successfully on “Celebrity Poker Showdown,” and is a great tennis player, but this is my game!
Let’s break down this final hand. I should not have called $20 more with 9-8 before the flop because we didn’t have enough chips in front of us to warrant the call. I like Blake’s $30 bluff on the flop with ace high. I made a good $30 call on the flop with my inside-straight draw, sensing that Blake was weak. I made a good $40 bet on the turn. Blake made the $40 call on the turn with only one thought in mind: he was planning to bluff me out on the river! Considering that I was weak, and that he did successfully bluff me out on the river, who am I to say that he did anything wrong here? Blake made a great bluff on the river, and props to him for bluffing so quickly (betting quickly gives the illusion of strength). Nice move, Blake — you win this match!
Calling a bet with the intent to bluff your opponent out later:
A) is advanced strategy
B) is super aggressive
C) is beautiful when it works
D) all of the above