Trust Your Instincts
I have received a number of complaints recently through newspapers and Card Player magazine along the lines of “Phil, please don’t tell us the results of a ‘Poker After Dark’ episode before it airs.” Furthermore, it is now in my contract with NBC and “Poker After Dark” that I cannot reveal the results. OK, I can still talk about the lineup and a hand that I played during an episode. As many of you know, “PAD” appears on NBC six nights a week, 52 weeks per year at 2 a.m. A hit show, it gets better ratings than most other late-night programs.
“PAD” reminds me of the old days when I competed with mostly great players, many of whom have something interesting to say because they are clever, witty and sharp as a tack. And some are just plain characters! I love the fact that “PAD” shows every hand — or the vast majority of them — instead of “highlight-hand poker” that appears everywhere else. The hand that I’m going to talk about in this column occurred during a show with Clonie Gowen, Phil Laak, Gavin Smith, Mike Matusow, David Williams and me.
I was three handed with $48,000 in chips. The blinds were $600 to $1,200, and I opened for $3,600 on the button. Player A, in the small blind with around $38,000, announced, “I raise,” and threw in $10,000 or so. When the action came back to me, I began to think about my scouting report. I rarely, if ever, scout players, but the week before I happened to watch Player A on “PAD” reraise quite a bit with ace-rag hands (A-8, A-6, A-4, etc.), especially in the blinds. I also witnessed Player A move all-in with Jh-9h when the heat was still four handed.
For some reason, I remembered Player A’s tactics, and I’m referring to this prior knowledge as my “scouting report.” Knowing that Player A was capable of reraising me with a weak ace, I decided to move all-in. Player A called me immediately with A-K. I cannot reveal the rest of the hand; either I won the pot as a two-and-a-half-to-one underdog with my A-J versus Player A’s A-K or I lost the pot. But win or lose, we can talk about my tactics here.
First of all, maybe there’s a good reason that I do not scout players, and that I simply trust my instincts. If I am going to watch “PAD,” the natural scouting benefits should concern my opponent’s facial expressions, not his or her strategy moves. Back to the hand: My pre-flop raise of $3,600 was standard — three times the big blind. Player A’s $6,400 reraise was also pretty standard with A-K. You do not want to raise it up too much with A-K, like more than the size of the pot, because you risk losing someone with A-J or A-Q. To raise it up more than the size of the pot usually indicates strength, and by showing too much strength, you give opponents a chance to lay down a hand with which you want them to move all-in.
Conversely, you do want to raise it up a little and tempt someone with Q-J or a small pair to call you pre-flop. My all-in reraise of $28,000 was definitely weak. Why risk the chip lead with A-J off suit when the blinds were only $600 to $1,200? I mean, if I’m wrong (and lose), I’m the short stack. I should have waited for a better spot, like when I have A-K, or J-J, or something really strong. With the blinds this small, there was a lot of time to wait for a better spot — and plenty of poker left to be played.
But the thing that bothered me the most about my all-in move: I didn’t give myself a chance to read Player A. I should have studied Player A, and then decided what to do. If I decided that Player A was weak, and I was wrong, so be it. At least I would have felt that I did everything I could with the hand. If I somehow could read that Player A was strong (and this is what I do for a living), I could have folded my hand and been a hero. Instead, I trusted a darn scouting report. Of course, even if I got lucky and won the pot, it was still the wrong move.
At the highest levels of poker, it is all about reading your opponent. Is your opponent weak, or is he strong? If you can figure that out, then I’ll see you at a final table soon.