To play poker perfectly, you must not only know your opponent’s hand, but you also must know his mind. At the final table of the Colorado Poker Championship main event a few months ago, my friend Frank Yakubson found himself in the craziest hand I have ever witnessed. And he played it perfectly.
There were eight of us left, blinds at 50,000-100,000 with a 10,000 ante. Action folded to a solid 50-something player who made it 275,000 to go. He had about 4.5 million in chips, about a third of the chips in play. Everybody folded to Frank, who also had about a third of the chips in play, in the big blind. Frank defended his blind, and the flop came down Js 9h 8s.
Frank checked, the raiser bet 400,000 into a pot of 680,000, and Frank called.
Things got strange on the turn. It was the Ac. Frank checked, and the aggressor turned two queens on their backs. Bless the dealer’s heart: In rhythm, he let out a half chuckle and said, “Check or bet, sir?” The gentleman, obviously flustered, checked.
Proving that live poker is rigged, the river was the Qs. Frank broke the stunned silence of the congregation with the words “all in” and a bet of 4 million into a pot of nearly 1.5 million. This pot now held about two-thirds of the chips in play and would likely decide the winner of the tournament.
Frank’s timing and his disregard for the set staring him in the face made this hand awfully exciting. While Frank’s opponent pondered his predicament, I tried to figure out what in the world Frank had. It was easy to put a 10 into Frank’s range, given the line taken, but did he really think that this flustered older dude was going to risk his huge stack with a hand that was sitting face up on the table?
I had once found myself in a similar spot. I went all in on the river, but only for about 150 percent of the pot, and I got called. I was just trying to get the guy off top pair though. I think that a call by the queens is terrible, mostly due to ICM (independent chip modeling, a concept right up there with quantum mechanics in terms of complexity). The crux of his spot is that he’s risking 4 million to win 5.5 million, when 4 million is more chips than I had sitting in third place.
If Frank’s opponent called and lost, he’d be out in eighth place and would win just $8,000. If he folded, preserved his big stack and wound up dropping to, say, fourth place, he’d win $22,000, nearly triple what he would walk away with if he busted now.
After a long and tense time in the tank, Frank’s opponent called. He then shipped his entire stack over to Frank, who was holding Kh 10h. Frank rode that massive stack to a tournament victory.
I capitalized on the mistake by sneaking into second place for a nice present two days before Christmas. Frank’s execution was perfect, earning him the belt. Frank knew his opponent’s hand, but he used his skill to read his opponent and knew that he could get all of his chips. Every opponent plays hands differently. The best players know not only their opponent’s hand, but their opponent as well.
Bryan Devonshire is a professional poker player from Las Vegas.