Sunday, November 28, 2021
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The Bellagio Five-Diamond World Poker Classic — Part 1

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In a previous column (“The Player of the Year Race,” Vol. 18/No. 2, Jan. 28, 2005), I set the stage for my final attempt at winning Card Player’s Player of the Year honors. I’d led for most of the year, but out of nowhere, David Pham came from behind and passed me with just one event left — the $15,000 buy-in Five-Diamond World Poker Classic championship with 376 entrants. All I needed to do was crack the final nine and I’d regain the lead, as long as David or John Juanda didn’t finish higher.


For the two weeks prior to the event, I was totally useless. I had no focus, no motivation, and just no shot whatsoever. Coming into the main event, though, I felt great. I got all of that sloppy play out of my system and was ready to give it 110 percent in this event. I just love it that athletes always say that — as if 100 percent isn’t good enough. Well, if it were possible to give it 110 percent, that was my plan.


From hand one, I was totally calm. My goal on day one was to get every single chip that I was supposed to get. Many old-school thinkers believe that day one is a day of survival. While I respect them, they are just wrong. Poker’s changed so much in the last five years that surviving on day one should take a backseat to scooping up some dead money.


After all, the worst players in the tournament are likely to go broke on day one — and I want those chips. If I don’t get them, someone else will. If it doesn’t work out and I get knocked out on day one, so be it. More often than not, I’ll receive a Christmas gift here or a birthday present there. You’d be amazed at some of the hands people are willing to put all of their money in with on day one.


In one extreme case, I remember getting it all in with the nut flush on the river when I reraised an opponent and he reraised me back all in with … jack high! Apparently, he thought he had a jack-high flush, which would have given him the fourth nuts. Merry Christmas, Daniel!


While day one wasn’t a day that I received any early birthday presents, I was able to take full advantage of some old-school thinkers who were looking to just survive day one. While they were surviving, I was picking up all kinds of small pots. This is going to be hard for you to believe, but I think I won more than twice as many pots as any player at my table on day one.


There was only one player at my table who posed any threat; all the other players obviously read too many books on “proper play.” Kido Pham didn’t read any books. Kido Pham had raw talent and honed his skills playing in private games in Dallas. I had watched him earlier in the year at a final table against my good buddy Carlos Mortensen when Kido finished second, and I was wary of him — as he was very tricky.


Nearing the end of day one, the blinds were $300-$600 with a $75 ante. I was doing great, running my $30,000 starting stack up to almost $120,000, when Kido raised from early position to $2,500. The button called and I defended my big blind with the 7hearts 3hearts.


The flop came Adiamonds 7clubs 5spades. It was not the flop I was looking for threehanded, so I checked to the raiser. Kido checked, as did the button. The turn brought the 3diamonds, giving me two small pair. I lazily threw out a $5,000 chip, hoping to feign some weakness and maybe pick up a call from a hand like K-K or Q-Q.


Kido was also a big stack at the table, so when he reached for chips to raise me, I was genuinely worried. He threw out four $5,000 chips and then clumsily added one more for good measure, making it $25,000 to go. The button folded, I hesitated a moment, and then finally called.


The river was the Qclubs, which missed all potential draws. I quickly checked, just hoping to take what was there without risking any more chips. Kido appeared to grab $40,000 in chips, and then added $10,000 more for good measure, making a huge bet of $50,000. Other than Kido and I, I don’t think anyone else at the table even had that much!


I was sick. I thought to myself, “What am I doing in this pot in the first place? The last time I checked, the 7hearts 3hearts didn’t make Group Three on Sklansky’s chart, and I also don’t remember seeing it in Phil Hellmuth’s list of top 10 hands!” Well, I had to forget about that now. I needed to figure out what was happening in this hand — and fast.


The safe play was to fold. “You can’t lose what you don’t put in the middle,” as Mike McDermott might say. If I folded, I’d still be in great shape with $88,000. If I called and lost, I’d fall below the average with $38,000. If I called and won … well, I’d put a stranglehold on the tournament.


Normally, I don’t waste much time when thinking through a hand, but this was a tough one. “6-4, Kido?” I’d already seen Kido pull that trick earlier, making a wheel with the 4spades 2spades (he raised that pot, as well). He didn’t budge. “Oh, my word, you made another straight, Kido?” Still nothing.


When adding up all the clues, it felt like his most likely hand was 6-4 for the nut straight. I realize for those of you who have trouble understanding how a 6-4 could ever be someone’s most likely hand, that’s tough to fathom. But I knew Kido, and I also knew that he was a real Situs pkv games player. Knowing that only compounded my dilemma, though, as I also knew he had the courage to run a big bluff here with a busted flush draw.


Another minute went by and I delved deeper into my memory bank. Earlier in the day, Kido had intently watched a pot in which I laid down two pair, tens and sixes. Yes, I was in the big blind, and yes, I called a raise. Oh, and yes, I know that the 10hearts 6hearts doesn’t make Sklansky’s Group One hands or Phil’s top 10.


On that hand, the board read J-9-6-10-4. On the river, my opponent bet about one-fifth of the pot and I laid it down. Now, if I were a “math guy,” I would have been forced to make this call, but I was certain that I was beat, so I mucked it. Before mucking it, though, I made sure that I showed it. Yes, I know that you aren’t “supposed” to show your hand, but if you are a regular reader of my column, you should know by now that I don’t conform to “conventional wisdom.” My approach to the game is anything but rigid; it’s more free-flowing and includes a good amount of psychological warfare.


Kido saw me lay that hand down. When I did, he looked slightly puzzled, almost as if he was making a mental note right then and there: “If the right situation arises, I can move Daniel off a hand.” After several minutes of deliberation, I finally looked over at him and decided that he looked extremely nervous. He hadn’t moved, spoken, or even breathed during the entire time I was thinking. “Sure, you can’t lose what you don’t put in the middle, but you can’t win much, either. I call.” (That quote is courtesy of Michael McDermott, once again.)


“I have a straight,” Kido said.


“Oh no, you idiot!” I thought to myself.


Just then, Kido fired his hand toward the muck in disgust. He was just kidding! I never got to see what Kido actually had, but I imagine he must have had a busted flush draw.


It’s hands like this one that remind me that it’s OK to play Group 37 hands or the top 225 hands as long as I play them well after the flop. That pot put me over $200,000 in chips, and I ended day one with $217,175, second out of 231 remaining players. I’ll discuss more hands that you aren’t supposed to play in the next issue.

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