At the Bay 101 tournament in San Jose, Calif., one of the draws used to promote the event is the presence of poker celebrities, who are labeled “shooting stars” and have a $2,500 bounty placed on them. That means every opponent has a significant incentive to play big pots with the stars, especially if it could eliminate them.
It’s an interesting experience for any poker professional to be a shooting star for the first time, and it leads to people playing against you in a very different way. It’s a poker version of “The Hunger Games,” except everyone agrees that you should be killed off immediately.
My roommate at this year’s Bay 101 event in March was Dan Smith, whom I’ve written about before following his huge year in 2012.
He and I have been traveling together through California, and I’ve enjoyed lounging around and listening to Smith explain why he played hands the way he did during a tournament.
Smith played the Bay 101 event on Day 1a without being a shooting star and was eliminated.
So he re-entered on Day 1b and this time had a bounty placed on his head. Smith arrived at his table and found mostly unfamiliar players, and he observed that most of them played too passively, in a rather straightforward way.
Blinds were 75-150 and five players had limped in when Smith looked down at 7s 7c in the big blind, so he decided to make a small raise to 600 – a “pot juicer” as he calls it. Three of the limpers called, leading to a 2s 2h 5d flop, and Smith bet 1,600. The only caller was the second limper, a recent arrival at the table.
The turn was the Jd, and Smith checked. He felt his hand was probably good but that he couldn’t get more value by betting it, so the best play would be to check-call.
He was expecting a bet from his opponent, but instead the player checked behind, and the river brought the 9d, completing a backdoor flush draw.
“I decided to make a fake blocking bet,” Smith told me after the hand. “I just kind of had a feeling he would go for it with a bluff-raise, like he had no showdown value and that would be the only way to win the pot. I think when I bet small it’s real transparent what I’m doing – he just doesn’t expect me to call.”
So Smith bet 1,800 on the river, a tiny bet into a pot that contained nearly 6,000. His opponent obliged with the expected raise, making it 5,150.
“I called pretty quickly,” Smith said. “And when they saw he had six-high, they were like, ‘Woooooow.’ ”
His opponent had been bluffing with a missed straight draw, holding 6c 3c.
“I feel like a lot of people at the table didn’t really understand what happened,” Smith said, “but I guess if I saw someone else play that hand, I wouldn’t really understand either.”
Tony Dunst is a poker pro and host of “Raw Deal” on World Poker Tour telecasts. Catch him every Sunday night on FSN.