Bullington: Shuffle Up and Deal – Vol. II

By: Bruce Bullington, GreensboroSports.com staff writer

We got a lot of good responses to our first poker column. There are a lot more people in the area playing poker than either Bill Frist or the local ALE office would like.

One of the emails we received covered a scenario all of us have been in one time or another. We’ll let Rod H. of Burlington tell the story:

Last Sunday was my shot at greatness. However, it was not meant to be. The PokerStars Sunday Million (PSSM) was to be my first journey to the big time. With a $215 buy-in and a prize pool of over $1,000,000 – this tournament is not for the faint of heart. It is the online version of the big leagues. Win this one and you are on your way to playing professionally. This is how my PSSM experience went down. I would love your opinion of my play.

The first hour was a bit daunting. I made a few small hands. It became pretty apparent I had an individual at the table that was taking advantage of “scared money” during that first hour. This guy just kept raising and check raising each smaller raise and everyone continued to fold to him. I finally had a good hand and went up against him. Didn’t put a lot on the line but he sucked out on the river. A few hands later, a similar situation presents itself. I make a small raise in late position, he re-raises and I just call. I hit a set on the flop. He bets strong. I call. He bets strong again, I raise. He calls. He checks, I bet his remaining stack. He folds. This was the start of a good run for me.

Had a few bumps. Had to battle back at one point. But 3.5 hours in, I find myself at 60k in chips with only a few hundred left to the money. That might sound like a lot of people, but we started with some 6000 entrants and people were dwindling extremely fast.

It’s at this stage I usually tighten up and ensure my placement in the money. From there I go on the hunt and play my aggressive game. However, for this tournament, I didn’t just want to squeeze into the money. Perhaps I was over eager, perhaps it was just stupidity. But here’s where things went south.

I’m feeling great with 60k in chips. Average at this point was 48k. I was second in chips at my table. However, the chip leader at my table was also the overall chip leader. He was just over 200k in chips. The one thing I said to myself, “do NOT tango with this guy”. Just stay out of his way and prey on the other stacks. Did I listen to my advice? Obviously not.

So I’m on the button and I’m dealt AdQd. A fairly nice hand I’m thinking. One limper in front of me, I raise about 4x the BB. Chip leader is in the BB. I should have paid better attention. I raised unaware that he was in the BB and would probably play almost any hand at this point. He calls my raise and the limper folds.

Flop comes 9 8 3 with two diamonds. He comes out betting. Okay, my mindset went like this. He’s obviously playing his stack, as he should be. However, I really think he’s full of (expletive) at this point. Call it intuition, call it a gut feeling, whatever. Point is, I really believed I had a better hand at this spot. And in the case that I did not, with the nut flush possibility on my hands, I saw this spot as an opportunity. Like I said, I did not want to just squeeze into the money. I wanted this to be my swan song. I took a chance. I pushed back and went all in. He insta-calls with pocket 5s.

Turn and river bring no help and I’m out of the tournament. Just like that, in the blink of an eye – gone. My Sunday Dream had just become a Sunday Nightmare!

It took me a while to cool down. I don’t know about you but I tend to get pretty upset when I get bounced from a tournament. Obviously, I’m still bent out of shape over this (or I would not have written in). I’m sure a pro such as yourself would analyze this play and beat me up over it…but I felt good about my move. Had I walked away the winner in that hand, I would have been sitting with about $140k in chips and a commanding presence moving into the money. My goal was not to play too cautiously. I wanted to be aggressive in certain situations. I deemed these one of those situations and it didn’t work out.

In hindsight, would I have played it any differently? I became too attached to this hand, that much I realize. However, thinking back, I should have paid better attention to whom was in the BB. I got carried away with my great position with a good starting hand. Had I just smooth called here, I believe he would have raised and I probably would have come off the hand.

This is the classic dilemma that big, multi-table tournaments put us in time and again – sit back and crawl into the money or splash around trying to build a stack and giving yourself a shot at the big payday reserved for the final table.I really don’t think you can play this hand any differently. You can’t go folding hands like AQ given the lack of strength shown by anyone prior to your raise just because a monster stack is in the big blind. You’ll never have to worry about making the big money anyway if you play that passively.

Once this flop hits, you’re absolutely stuck. This is a monster flop for you. The only way you’re not a small favorite on the flop is if he has AA, KK or a set. You have to play this fast. He made a maniacal call with his small pair and actually got lucky to win the hand. The nut-flush draw with two live overcards is a hand to be played fast and if someone with a small pair wants to put all their chips in on the flop, you should certainly do it.

Now, your post-tournament neurosis over this hand is understandable. It’s a concept Alan Schoonmaker covered in his must-read book, Psychology of Poker.

Since you lost the hand, your mind tells you do did something wrong and will cause you to avoid doing things that causes you that kind of trauma again. While this is normally a good function of the human brain (this keeps you from putting your hand on a hot stove after having been burned), this is something for an aspiring poker player to overcome.

If you played the hand correctly, got your money in good and simply got unlucky, then you have to ignore the result and make the same decision again and again.

This same principle applies to all areas of the game. If we run a bluff and get picked off, your brain might tell you not to do that again. However, if you never bluff, you become too predictable.

All players out there need to condition themselves to the idea that, over time, they are going to put their money in and get drawn out on and they’re going to get picked off when they run a bodacious bluff. This game we love is an emotional roller-coaster. The elite players are able to make the proper play, given the incomplete information available, and don’t let the results keep you from doing it again the next time.

Keep those stories coming. Send them to bruce@greensborohockey.com