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A New Internet-Inspired Poker Strategy

This report by Ken Adams is part of a series for offering commentary on the world of poker.

I just returned from a long weekend at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut, where the World Poker Tour has been underway for the past two weeks. I played in three events, as well as a multi-table satellite (to win a seat in the $10,000 championship event) and 15 single table satellites.

The bottom line is that I did not finish in the money in any of the three events I played, nor did I win a seat in the multi-table satellite. I won 5 of the 15 single table satellites I played, so I ended up making money in the satellites but not making any money in the tournament events.

As a result the trip was not a financial success. But in a strange way I consider it to have been a victory, and it leaves me very optimistic for the rest of the year. Here's why:

As I indicated in my previous report from Atlantic City, I am intrigued by Erick Lindgren's new book (co-authored by my friend Matt Matros), "Making the Final Table." It explains why the young Internet players are doing so well against the older, more experienced tournament pros. It shows the power of their strategy, which is opposite in some ways from conventional "by the book" play.

My first efforts to integrate Lindgren's approach into my game in Atlantic City were confused and distressing. But by the third event at Foxwoods I felt like I was able to employ the best of both strategies.

The moment of truth came when the field of 204 was down to 23 remaining players. There was $600,000 in prize money, which would be paid out to the top 20 finishers. I had about $40,000 in chips. It cost $6,000 per cycle (every 8 hands) just to pay the blinds and antes, assuming you folded each hand.

If my primary objective was to finish "in the money" (the objective I had set for myself at the beginning of the year), the correct strategy was to fold everything but A-A or K-K, and wait for three more people to be eliminated.

However, the players who finished 13th through 20th would win less than $5,000. To win $10,000 or more you had to make the final table. The top three finishers would win $60,000, $110,000 and $204,000 respectively. The Lindgren/Mattros book rejects playing safe just to finish in the money, in favor of taking calculated risks (including the risk of busting out just out of the money) in an effort to accumulate enough chips to have a real shot at finishing first, second or third.

At that critical juncture, I was dealt 7-7 in late position. There was $6,000 in the pot (from the blinds and antes). Another player bet $7,000. There were a lot of hands with which he might make that bet, hoping to pick up the $6,000 already in the pot if no one called his raise. He had about $100,000 in chips at the time.

I had to decide whether to fold and play it safe, waiting to limp into the money before taking any risk, or move all in and try to get him to concede the $13,000 in the pot to me. I decided to move all in. Everyone else folded, and it was up to the initial raiser to decide whether to call my $30,000 raise. I did not think he would call for nearly a third of his stack unless he had A-A, K-K or maybe A-K. He thought long and hard before making a decision. Undoubtedly he was trying to decide what kind of hand I held, and whether he was a favorite or an underdog before the flop. In the end, he decided to call.

When he turned over 9-9 he was relieved to see that I had a smaller pair. If I had had a higher pair he would have been a big underdog, and if I had A-K, A-Q, or any two cards higher than 9, he was risking a third of his sizeable stack on a coin toss.

I did not get lucky, he won the pot, and I was eliminated in 22nd place. Within minutes, two other players were eliminated and the rest were in the money. The guy who beat my 7-7 eventually went on to the final table with the second highest number of chips. He ended up finishing 6th, winning $20,000. Had he laid down that hand, I am confident I would have finished in the money, and with a little luck I might well have made it into the top five.

So I am content with my performance overall, and am eager for July to arrive so I can test my new approach at the World Series. Until then I will work to improve it by playing small buy-in tournaments on the Internet.

Before I close, here are a few more details from Foxwoods for those of you who are interested in more details.

  • I was playing a single table satellite one evening, sitting next to a nice guy in his thirties from Louisville, Kentucky. At one point between hands he flipped open his cell phone to catch up on his text messages. The next thing I knew he was showing me the picture on his phone. "Want to see my house?" he asked in an odd tone. I looked at the picture and didn't see a house. "That's where my house used to be," he said. "It just blew away in a tornado." He proceeded to drink three scotches in the next half hour, and (not surprisingly) lost all his chips. I felt really bad for him. But there was nothing he could do, except call his insurance company in the morning.
  • One of the highlights of playing tournament poker is testing your skills against the top professionals. In one event I played, I found myself at the same table with Carlos Mortensen (who won the World Series championship in 2001), David Pham (WPT Player of the Year in 2004, based on the highest number of final table finishes on the WPT tour), and Erick Lindgren (the 2003 WPT Player of the Year and author of the book that has changed my thinking about optimal tournament strategy). I outlasted Mortensen and Lindgren. David Pham ended up finishing 9th. It was exciting playing against them, especially Pham who made several exceptional plays, including one against me.
  • I was the beneficiary of a bizarre error by another player a few hours into the $3,000 No Limit Holdem event. I had doubled up early, and my opponent had a decent stack too. I was dealt a pair of sixes (6-6), which has been a lucky hand for me historically. I raised before the flop, and one player called from the big blind. When the flop came out K-4-2 with two hearts, he made a modest "feeler" bet. I raised, figuring he would fold if he did not have a king, or would assume I had a heart draw. If another heart came out, I figured I could take the pot away from him even if I were behind. Another king came on fourth street. He bet and again I called quickly. It was a terrible call, as I had to assume he had a king at this point, meaning that I could only win if a 6 came on fifth street. The odds against that happening were more than 20 to 1, and the pot was not offering me anywhere close to 20 to 1 odds. Then an unusual thing occurred. The dealer turned over the 4 of hearts on the river. My opponent checked, and I moved all in. Another really stupid play, as there were two pair on the board. If he had either a king or a four in his hand he would call and win. The only chance I had to win was if he had made a heart flush and folded in the belief that I had made a full house. As soon as I said "I'm all in" he JUMPED out of his chair and flung his cards down on the table in disgust. He had K-8 (offsuit), but did not appear to realize that he had made a full house. I can only surmise that he put me on a heart draw, and was wishing so hard that the last card would not be a heart that when the 4 of hearts was dealt he did not realize he had made a full house and that a flush would be irrelevant. All he had to do was say "I call". But he did not say anything. The dealer couldn't believe he meant to fold a full house, and she sort of sat there stunned and doing nothing. Finally another player said, "Come on dealer, he folded his hand, push the pot." I sat stony still, with my cards still face down, waiting to see what the dealer would do. Finally she killed the other player's hand and pushed me the pot. Only then did one of the players ask my opponent whether he realized he had folded a full house. The guy nearly jumped out of his skin when he realized his mistake. Not surprisingly he played rather poorly after making that costly mistake, and was eliminated a while later.
  • I managed to outlast nearly 90 percent of the field while holding very little in the way of good hands. I was only dealt two premium hands in 12 hours of play – AA once, and KK once. No pocket queens or jacks. On the whole, I feel like I made the most of what I got.
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