Wrong Time, Wrong Place for Pocket Kings?
In the $10,000 buy-in no limit Hold ‘Em Championship Event at the World Poker Open in 2002 in Tunica, Miss., the chips were flying! I was in the mood to last since this event was four days long and I had to make it to 300 out of 400 players to win.
Earlier, I had thrown away pocket kings on the flop after making a pre-flop raise only to have the board come down 7s-8s-10c. Three players checked to me, and then I bet out $1,700. Dolph Arnold check raised me $3,000 more, and made it $4,700 to go. I studied him and I was fairly certain that I had him beat. However, I thought that he had a big draw, and therefore I believed that I was only a small favorite to win this hand (maybe around 13-to-10 or so). So I saved my last $7,000 and threw my hand away because I felt like I would be a 4-1/2-to-1 favorite later on in the tournament if I could wait long enough.
A few hands later, I called a small raise in the big blind with Ks-Qs, and a player known as “Judge” called as well in the first position. The flop came 4h-10s-Js. What a great flop for me! I had flopped an open-ended straight-flush draw, with two over cards — the ace of spades would make me a royal flush! I checked, the Judge checked, and the button bet out $500. I quickly decided to just call the $500 bet. There was already $1,500 in the pot. Then the Judge called the $500 — and raised it all-in! The original raiser studied for a moment and then folded his hand.
It was up to me. There was $3,000 in the pot, and the Judge had raised my last $6,000. What to do? I hate drawing for all of my chips, but even if the Judge had flopped trips then, I was almost even money to win this pot. I didn’t think that the Judge had an ace-high flush draw, but even if he did I was still almost even money to win the pot. If the Judge had two pair or one pair, I was a favorite to win the pot. No matter how you sliced it, it looked like I was at worst a very small underdog to win this pot (11-10 odds), and at best, a 3-to-2 favorite to win this pot.
On the other hand, the bet was all of my chips. I believe that my chips in a championship no-limit hold ’em event are very valuable, especially if I am on top of my game. If I called and lost, then I was out of the tournament. If I called and won, then I would have $15,000 in chips pretty early. If I folded, I would still have $6,000 in chips left.
Finally, I decided that I could afford to fold this hand because the blinds were only $100-$200, and I felt like someone would mess up and put their money in against me as a 4-1/2-to-1 underdog. I then folded my hand.
I didn’t know when I folded my cards face up that it would cause such a firestorm of talk and discussion! The news of this hand spread throughout the room very quickly, and no one could believe that I had folded my hand. Every other top pro that I talked to said they would have called with my hand. Huck Seed was in shock, saying, “What the heck are you doing? You were even money against trips!” I defended my play and said, “I just decided to wait for a better spot.”
Sure enough, about an hour later I had $5,000 in chips and I put them all-in before the flop with pocket kings against pocket queens. At this point I was 4-1/2-to-1 favorite. The flop came Q-J-5. The turn card was a J, making a board of Q-J-5-J, and I thought to myself, “Well done, Phil, you’re out of the tourney. But you waited for the right situation.” By then, there were roughly 20 other players standing around the table, and some of them — like Amir Vahedi — were calling for a king on the last card. Wham! A king rolled off on the last card, and I was back in business!
Was throwing away an open-ended straight flush draw the right move? Believe me when I tell you that it isn’t the right move for most players. However, if you’re confident that you will be a bigger favorite later on in the tournament, then yes, it is the right move. It was the right move for me, as I went on to make the money, finishing in 17th place.
If I have an open-ended straight-flush draw and my opponent has trips, then I’m:
a) a 4-1 underdog
b) a 3-1 underdog
c) a favorite
d) an 11-10 underdog