A few years ago my late friend Ken introduced me to his home game. The monthly game included a no-limit hold’em tournament along with cash games. This past month was my last time in the game (mainly because of the distance from my home).
Four of us were competing for three World Series of Poker seats. They weren’t $10,000 main event seats; rather, we’re low rollers who compete for $1,000 donkament seats. The tournament structure was super-fast. Any time a player was eliminated, or after each orbit the blinds increased. We also started with T5,000 in chips, so the blinds quickly became large.
With six of the starting seven players remaining, I looked down at Kc-10h in the small blind. It was folded around to me and I raised, of course. My hand was far better than the average hand my one opponent figured to have. I also made my raise slightly larger than normal because I did not want to play the hand out-of-position. I preferred to win the hand right now. But that didn’t happen, because my opponent quickly called.
The flop was Ks-9d-5c. With top pair I was likely ahead. The only hands that beat me were A-K, K-Q, K-J, K-9, K-5, 9-9, and 5-5. I could exclude A-K because he’d almost certainly re-raise before the flop with that hand, and K5, which he’d probably fold before the flop. If I assume he’d call pre-flop with about his top 25 percent of hands (say, 66+, A2s+, K6s+, Q8s+, J8s+, T8s+, A7o+), I was a 73 percent favorite.
That wasn’t the problem, though. Assume I bet. My opponent would probably call only if he had me beaten or held a draw. There just weren’t many draws available on that flop—perhaps he’d call with Q-J hoping to spike a ten—so I’m likely only getting called if I was beaten.
Suppose, though, I check. My opponent would likely bet, hoping to take the hand down then and there. I could check-raise him and unless he held specifically K-Q, 9-9, or 5-5 I’d likely take down the pot and win some much needed chips. He could also check, and I would then be able to win the pot on the turn.
I chose this plan, and it worked almost to perfection. He bet, I raised (all-in) and he called. Unfortunately, he held K-Q and I didn’t get my miracle.
Would I play this hand the same way in the future? Probably, given the structure. You don’t win tournaments sitting on your hands unless you get really, really lucky. I was a 60 percent favorite over his random hand before the flop. In today’s game you need to take every edge you can as players have improved over the past few years. This is especially true in a fast structure.
There is one obvious comment about K-T that bears mentioning. It’s a trouble hand in early position in a full ring environment. You’d much prefer to flop a ten rather than a king as you then won’t have kicker trouble to contemplate. This hand also demonstrates that it’s far easier to act in position than out of position.
I’m going to be rooting for Jeff, my opponent on this hand, during the WSOP, as I have a little over 8 percent of his action in the event he’s playing. I hope he runs just as good there as he did against me.
Russell Fox is the co-author of “Mastering No-Limit Hold’em,” “Why You Lose at Poker,” and “Winning Strategies for No-Limit Hold’em.” He’s a federally licensed tax preparer specializing in gambling, with a blog at taxabletalk.com. E-mail Russ at firstname.lastname@example.org