Playing in poker tournaments requires large buy-ins. As a way to diversify our investment, many players have staking agreements with other pros. Sometimes it's a simple percentage swap, sometimes it's an outright stake - I'll pay $2,000 of your $10,000 buy-in for 20 percent of your winnings.
I generally avoid staking other players, as poker has too many variances, and I've found that many stakers lose more than they win. But for the World Series of Poker this year, I staked my good friend Ashkan Razavi in the $1,500 no-limit hold 'em re-entry event. I knew he had the skills and discipline to make a deep run, and sometimes you just get a gut feeling that it's someone's time.
Razavi made it to the final table, and late in the event he had a huge lead in heads-up play against Amanda Musumeci.
What happened next would ice the tournament for him.
Musumeci opened the button to 210,000, a standard minimum raise. Razavi looked down at Kd 10s, a decent starting hand heads-up, and called in the big blind.
The flop came out 5s 5c 3d, and both players checked.
The turn was 4h, putting a lot of straight draws on the board: any A, 2, 6 or 7. It wouldn't be uncommon for someone to play an A-2 or A-6 heads-up.
When Razavi checked and Musumeci bet 305,000 into a pot of just over 420,000, a red flag went up. Musumeci's bet-sizing was suspicious. There aren't too many hands where you'd bet that much. And from having played with her for so long, Razavi had to wonder why she was betting so big. The standard bet should have been around 250,000 or 260,000. When you play an opponent and their bet sizing suddenly jumps, that's information you can use to evaluate the hand. Did Musumeci have the straight, or was she just bluffing as if she did?
Watching from the sidelines, I couldn't figure out why she bet three-quarters of the pot. Razavi sensed something was off, too. His king high had a lot of showdown value, and he rightly believed that Musumeci didn't have ace high, so he smartly called the bet.
A 2c came on the river, offering another great poker lesson. When you have a huge chip lead - at this point, Razavi had about a 10-to-1 advantage - you have to use your stack to put pressure on your opponents. Force them into a mistake, a bad bet, a series of tough decisions. Put them on their heels.
Razavi led out for 470,000. Musumeci came over the top, raising to just over 1 million. Razavi raised it up to nearly 1.7 million. That bet was like a gut punch for Musumeci, who immediately mucked her cards.
I loved Razavi's bet there. First, he puts a lot of pressure on Musumeci. Second, unless she has a 6 to complete the high straight, there's no way she's coming back at him after his re-raise. Now her hand is polarized. Either she has the absolute nuts, or she's bluffing. And she couldn't afford to bluff.
That wasn't the end of the tournament, but it might as well have been.
A short while later, Razavi would finish off Musumeci and win his first WSOP title. I think I jumped 10 feet in the air. It was as if by staking him, it was me who'd won the bracelet. He got to keep the jewelry. I was happy to settle for a portion of his $781,000 payout.
Matt Jarvis is a professional poker player from Richmond, British Columbia.