Friday, December 11, 2009

"You ruined it for me!"

I played at South Point yesterday. It's not one of my favorite haunts. First, it's too inconvenient to get to. Second, my track record there has been only mediocre. As a result, I've only played there nine times now, the last time being in January of this year. But I was in search of cowboy hats (meaning those attending the annual big rodeo in town--on average pretty bad players willing to lose a lot of money), and all reports from the field were indicating that South Point was the motherlode of cowboys. It turned out that there was only one at my table when I started (I was there at non-prime time), and none when the two key hands of the day played out. In fact, by that time there was not a single player at the table that I would classify as bad, and I was thinking that I should probably go find greener pastures elsewhere. Good thing I didn't act on that thought right away.

I was down to about $150 of my original $300 buy-in when the first big hand of the day occurred. I was on the button and called a raise from one of the two loosest openers at the table. I had 3-6 offsuit. Again I realize that my reporting on such hands here must make it seem like I do this all the time, and again I have to stress that I don't. I take a flier once in a while when I have position and a table image that will preclude anybody guessing that I'm playing such junk. The UTG player came along after having limped. The flop was an unbelievably lovely 4-5-7 rainbow, giving me a straight and the second nuts, in a situation where it was virtually impossible that either opponent had the one hand (6-8) that's beating me. UTG bet $25. Original raiser called. I bumped it to $75. UTG moved all in, and had me covered. Raiser folded. I called. (Duh!) I showed right away, and hoped the board wouldn't pair, since I had to assume he had two pair or a set. No pair came, and he mucked in considerable disgust without ever showing.

That brought me back up to about my starting stack, which is what set up the big win a while later--a hand that was interesting enough to relate to you in detail.

I'm in the small blind with Ks-Kh. UTG limps. The guy who doubled me up in the previously described hand is down to his last $8 and puts it all in. Guy on my right calls from the button. I make it $25. The big blind thinks for a while, then calls. To my great surprise, UTG also calls. To my even greater surprise, the button calls, too.

Sometimes a hand starts out looking simple enough, then quickly careens out of control. This was just such an occasion. I had pocket kings. Desperate, short-stacked guy goes all in and gets a loose caller. I raise to isolate, fully expecting to be heads up as the odds-on favorite, folding everybody else out with some dead money in the pot. A no-brainer hand, with no more decisions to make after the definitive reraise scares everybody away. But then mere seconds later, I'm in a horrible quagmire: There's about $105 in the pot after the rake, and I have to act first against three opponents (plus the all-in guy, who isn't really a factor here), each of whom was willing to call a $25 pre-flop reraise, all of whom are at least as deep-stacked as I am, and none of whom are idiots or donkeys. How in the hell did this happen?

And, to make matters worse, I have two kings--the ace magnets. You just know what's coming on the flop, don't you? Yep. Right in the window, the ace of spades. Norman Chad may call it the prettiest card in the deck, but I assure you I find no beauty in it in this situation. The only redeeming value is that it is followed by the 10 of spades and the 3 of spades, giving me the nut flush draw.

I lead out for $50. The big blind tanks, and when he emerges, he announces himself all-in. He is a smart, experienced player--simultaneously solid and tricky--that I have seen around town several times before. He has me covered. Just as I'm pondering what in the world I should do with this mess of a situation, it gets stickier still, as the UTG guy also shoves. I don't recognize him, but his play and conversation have made it clear that he, too, is no dummy. Our stacks are very nearly even. (I had him slightly covered, as it turned out.) The button folds, and it's back to me.

Well, I have about $225 left, and the pot is effectively $600 ($100 from before the flop, plus my $50, plus $225 from each remaining opponent), giving me 2.7:1 on a call. I have two pulls at the nut flush, which should be the winner the great majority of the time. I worry only about the board pairing to make somebody a full house and destroy my flush. My king means that the only possible straight flush would have to be a perfect-perfect kind of ending, or a one-outer to complete a steel wheel, both possibilities too remote to bother accounting for. I think it's unlikely that either of these guys has flopped a flush, and it's mostly unthinkable that either of them has A-A, given the pre-flop action. If I'm right about those two assumptions, then either of the two remaining kings should also give me the winner. So I'm counting on 11 outs twice (9 spades plus 2 kings). Again, they're not pure outs because of the possibility of getting there and yet being defeated by a full house, and, of course, one or two spades may be in my opponents' hands (and maybe a king, too, if one of them has A-K). I'm probably between about 35% and 40% to win, or in the ballpark of 1.5:1-1.8:1, so it still looks like the math says to call.

Of course I have to assume that at least one of these guys has an ace--maybe both. I hate calling off all my chips when I have to believe that I'm currently behind and on a draw, but I know that sometimes it's the mathematically correct thing to do, and this seemed like one such situation. So after sizing up the numbers the best that I can, I grudgingly stack up my chips and put them in the middle.

The big blind shows Js-Jh. He is drawing nearly dead (6.5%), needing a third jack or runner-runner straight cards, without a spade hitting. The UTG player has Ac-3c for a flopped two pair, and is the heavy favorite to win (56%). The short stack has A-5 with no spades, but he can only win the little main pot of about $40, when it's the huge side pot that holds all the money, so he doesn't matter much. Besides, he can only win if a 5 comes with no spade. I'm 37.5% to win, or 1.7:1 against, which is about what I had estimated.

The suspense ends quickly when the dealer puts the queen of spades down on the turn. I don't even remember what the river card was, but it didn't pair the board, and the biggest pot I've won in a long time came my way. Single-hand triple-ups of a maximum buy-in don't happen very often in the games I play.

With a pot that big, there was predictably quite a bit of post-mortem discussion. The big blind explained that he had concluded that I had kings (though he obviously couldn't know whether I had the spade draw), and that his all-in raise would push me out of the pot. He had not anticipated being called by the UTG player. He asked me whether I would have called his shove if everybody else had folded. I almost never answer such questions (my stock answer, which is sometimes true and sometimes not, is, "I don't know. I'd have to actually be in the situation and see how it felt"), but this was a player I well respected, I knew I was going to be leaving soon to head to the bloggers' meet-up, and I thought the answer was sufficiently obvious anyway that I wasn't giving away any proprietary secrets. I said, "Probably not--not big enough pot odds."

UTG guy said to the big blind, "You ruined it for me!" Big blind replied, "You ruined it for me!" UTG had been planning a shove anyway, but was startled and worried by the big blind shove ahead of him. Although neither of them was happy with the outcome, they were both taking it in stride, and these comments were made in good fun.

But, interestingly, they were both correct. A push from either one of them alone would leave me in a bind such that I would probably have to fold. However, since I had to assume that the only way I could win was by hitting my draw, and since it was no harder to beat both of them than it was to beat just one of them if I succeeded, having both of their stacks in the pot changed the math of a call from unfavorable to favorable. They did indeed unwittingly each ruin it for the other.

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