The Grand Sierra’s Winter Pot of Gold featured three events nearly every day from December 2nd to December 11th for a total of twenty-eight events. The fields were smaller than I would have liked with about fifty for the noon events, slightly less for the 4pm events (which were typically non-hold ‘em events) and up to eighty for some of the 7pm “turbo” no limit hold ‘em events. I played in eleven of the events in all. I never got to play in the 7pm turbo because I was either off property (shaking my head after a particularly bad beat) or, more hopefully, still in an earlier event. The Winter Pot of Gold was a huge success for me, personally. Of the eleven events I played I won two, came in second three times and also had a bad luck third place finish. Two of the second place finishes should’ve/would’ve been firsts if the cards would have broken fairly and the third place finish was really unlucky, but I really can’t complain.
Amidst this success, a number of people asked me what I was doing “differently.” The fact is, either I had no idea what I was doing to “play better” or I was just playing my solid game and the cards were breaking my way (mostly). Of course there are some people out there that would tell you that I never have any idea what I’m doing and I just got extremely lucky! To each their own. But I can tell you that when all the chips went into the middle, I usually was a huge favorite. In other words, when I played a big pot, I had a big hand. Also, I really didn’t bluff that much. I didn’t have to. About the only “bluffs” I really made were when I was the pre-flop raiser and got only one caller. In this heads up situation, I would make a continuation bet almost 100% of the time. But I don’t really consider these as bluffs, because if my opponent missed, whatever hand I opened with figured to be the best hand. And remember, your opponents will miss the flop 2 out of 3 times if they don’t start with a pocket pair.
On my way to winning one of the no limit events, there was one particular orbit of the button that I’d like to share with you. The blinds were 200-400 with a 25 ante. In eight hands I went from 18,550 to 1225 back up to 37,600. What a ride. So let’s look at the hands.
Hand 1. I start the hand with 18,550. There are only two other players at the table who have me covered. One has been playing solid, the other has been playing pretty erratic: bluffing a lot and getting paid on his big hands. I open for 1100 UTG+1 with 77. One player calls behind me as well as Mr. Erratic from the small blind. The pot has 3900 in it. The flop is 669, rainbow. My hand still figures to be best, so I bet 2100. Both players call. My thoughts: Uh-oh! The pot has 10,200 in it. The turn is a glorious 7. Mr. Erratic leads into me for 6,000. I call, hoping the player behind me has a 6 and gets frisky. Unfortunately, he folds. Still the pot is a behemoth with 22,200 in it. The river is a 9. Mr. Erratic nonchalantly throws in 8,000. I know he makes this bet with any 6, any 9, any straight, 78 and maybe a missed big card flush draw that he could have picked up on the turn. Because the only hand I’m worried about is the random 9 and there are many more hands he plays this way that I beat, I make the call. He shows 94 for a rivered bigger full house. Ouch! The-dreaded two outer. The call leaves me crippled with 1250 in chips (1225 after I ante). The key take away here is that my opponent made a mistake. If he bets 9250 on the river (or just announces “all-in”) my tournament is over.
Hand 2. I look down at an ace and move all in for my 3 big blinds (I actually have A8). Everyone folds to Mr. Erratic on the button who re-raises with KT off-suit. Apparently he wants to finish the job he botched on the previous hand. The blinds both fold and I hit my ace to nearly triple up to 3250. I’m still short stacked. The only thing worth mentioning about this hand is that I wouldn’t move in with less than an ace or two face cards here because I’m always getting called by someone. I would much rather wait for my big blind on the next hand and call off with two random cards against a single raiser than raise with junk with seven people behind me.
Hand 3. A player raises the button with AT off-suit. I look down at two Jacks in the big blind and shove. He calls and my jacks hold. I’m up to 6,650. A pretty standard hand.
Hand 4. A player under the gun limps, I limp from the small blind with QdJd and the big blind checks. There is 1400 in the pot. The flop comes QcTd9d. I’ve got top pair with a decent kicker and an open-ended straight flush draw. Nice! I check because I’m not worried about giving a free card here. Even if the dreaded ace comes on the turn, my hand wins enough to feel good about getting all my chips in. Besides, I’m hoping for some action. The big blind bets 800, the limper calls and now I shove. The pot has 3800 in it plus my 5425 more that the players have to call. Amazingly, no one calls. I’m up to 9225. I show my hand, just so the table can see that I wasn’t shoving light.
Hand 5. An early position player raises to 1200. Amazingly three players call. I have kings on the button. With 5600 there’s no reason to get tricky here with a small raise hoping for extra value. I shove my whole stack in. I have the original raiser covered and he calls with AQ. The kings hold and I’m up to 18,775.
Hand 6. The blinds are up to 300-600 now. Everyone folds to me in the hijack. I look down at 8s9s and open to 1500. Everyone folds to the big blind, the solid player who had me covered when this all started). He thinks for a minute and raises to 4500. Now there is a little background in order here. I had probably raised this player’s big blind 4 of the last 5 orbits. Twice he seemed to consider re-raising only to call and then fold in disgust to my continuation bet. So I really can see him re-raising me light here. With that in mind, I shoved! This may seem like a pretty odd play, but Mike Matusow describes it as a standard play in his arsenal with a similar stack size. The key to the play is the re-raiser has to be able to 3-bet fold. (Remember, I described him as solid earlier. That combined with the likelihood of him re-raising me light out of frustration, makes the conditions right.) I’m also aided here by showing a huge hand every time I shoved in the last ten minutes. Even if I get called here by AK or AQ, a mid-suited connector plays pretty good all in pre-flop. Plus, if I get called by an overpair, 89 suited is the most likely hand to crack it. Unfortunately, my opponent wasn’t re-raising light. He beats me into the pot with kings. The flop is lucky for me coming out QJT. I’ve got a straight, but he has a draw to a bigger straight. I stay lucky and drag the 37,600 pot.
After that hand, I was the chip leader when the tournament was down to four tables. I held that lead all the way to the wire, finishing in first place. With the exception of winning a couple of races when I had another all-in player covered, I never needed to get “lucky” again. But getting lucky with 89 suited for my tournament life was certainly the key. Anyhow, I guess the moral of the story is “never give up.”
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