You May Win Even When Your Hand Looks Dead
For the last four weeks, I have been discussing the NBC National Heads Up Poker Championship matches, which were broadcast recently on NBC. After advancing past Men “the Master” Nguyen, Paul Phillips, World Champion Huck Seed, Lyle Berman, and Antonio “The Magician” Esfandiari, I found myself staring down World Champion Chris “Jesus” Ferguson in the finals.
The final round, unlike all of the other rounds, was best two out of three. After breezing through the first match with Ferguson, I was feeling pretty good. I had won six matches in a row, and was on the cusp of being champion. But I knew the rules, and now I had a big 1-0 lead.
Just as I had in the first match, I drew the button (meaning I would bet last) and won the first two pots. Now I remembered that at this point in the last match, I called before the flop, and then Chris raised it up and I folded. Looking down at Ah-3s, I again called. I was thinking that it wouldn’t surprise me if Ferguson raised it up again, trying to win the pot right there, just as he had the last time.
Sure enough, Chris raised it up. I thought, “OK, I probably have him beat, but I’ll just call and give him a little rope.” In just calling his raise, I was putting pressure on my reading abilities because I knew there was a high probability that Chris would bet on the flop no matter what cards fell and no matter what he had in the hole. Of course I was thinking, “Let’s flop an ace!” but the flop was 9c-5h-2h. Chris bet out, and I called. The turn card was a very welcome 4h, giving me a straight, with an ace-high flush draw as backup. Now Chris checked, and I bet out $40,000. Chris called and raised another $80,000. And the game was on, putting a lot of pressure on my reading ability!
I began to rethink the previous pre-flop action, and the way that Chris had bet his hand, in round one and now. How had he put his chips in? Have I picked up any signs of weakness or strength? Could he have a flush or a 6-3 for a higher straight? Why did he raise only $80,000? Finally, I decided that I did have the best hand. I cannot tell you exactly how or why I thought that, but my reading abilities had been strong all through the tournament. In fact, they had allowed me to make it this far, so I wasn’t going to dog them now. Not to mention even if I was wrong and Ferguson had me beat, I could still potentially hit a heart on the end to claim the pot.
I asked Chris, “How many chips do you have left?” He said, “About $450,000.”
In all of my matches, I had taken my time and played small pots until the right moment — usually it took an hour or two. Could it be that now was the right moment, only two minutes into this match? Yes, I felt it was, and decided to move all-in!
Chris studied and said, “I believe there are 13 winning cards that I can hit.”
“Thirteen?” I wondered. “How can that be? Obviously, he believes that a heart will win for him.” Of course, I had the ace of hearts in my hand and knew that a heart would not win the pot for him. Now I was thinking that he had Qs-Qh, or something similar, and that he might be “drawing dead” (meaning no matter what the last card might be, he would lose the pot).
Of course, now I was really rooting hard for him to call, when he said, “I already messed this hand up pretty good, I may as well call.” His hand was 9h-2s, which means that he needed a nine or a deuce on the last card to make him a winning full house — he had thought that a heart would win the pot for him because he had the 9h. Of 44 cards left in the deck, 40 would win for me and four would win for him. I was a 10-to-1 favorite to win the title! As the last card was being dealt, I began to stand up to shout, “Yes!” But then a nine appeared, and I literally fell on the floor. We were now one match apiece.
Drawing dead means:
a) Wild Bill Hickok’s final hand
b) You cannot win no matter what comes up
c) You’re super lucky
d) You’re super unlucky