An Amateur Faces The Poker Pros

FILE - This undated file photo provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shows Claude Howard Jones. A Texas judge has ordered DNA testing on a strand of hair that was the only physical evidence linking the death row inmate to the murder for which he was executed 10 years ago. Judge Paul C. Murphy ordered DNA testing Friday June 11, 2010 on a strand of hair that helped prosecutors convict Jones of capital murder in the 1989 shooting death of a liquor store owner. Jones, who maintained his innocence, was executed in 2000. (AP Photo/Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice, File)
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This report by Ken Adams is part of a series for chronicling his run at the 2005 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.
On my way over to the $2,000 buy-in No Limit Hold'Em event, I reviewed my notes from poker camp, particularly the advice from poker pro Phil Gordon who was head and shoulders the best teacher I had at camp.

I took my assigned seat and waited to scope out who my opponents would be. I was not a happy camper when Alan Goehring took the seat to my immediate left, and Carlos Mortenson took the seat to his left. Alan is a 42-year-old retired New York junk bond trader, who says he plays poker for fun, not for the money. He won the $1 million World Poker Tour championship last year, and has made a number of World Series final tables including the final table of the championship event once.

Carlos "The Matador" Mortenson is a 33-year-old professional poker player from Spain. He burst onto the tournament scene when he won the World Series championship in 2001. He won a million dollar tournament at the Bellagio last year, and has been a regular at the final table of World Series and World Poker Tour events. He is regarded as one of the most dangerous opponents on the circuit, as he is capable of playing any two cards. You just never know what he has, and he bets so aggressively you have to be prepared to risk death to challenge him.

Having to act before those two players in every hand was a HUGE disadvantage. Players like Alan and Carlos feast on less experienced, conservative players like me. I felt like a minnow tossed into a fish tank with two piranhas.

As I sat there thinking about how to adjust to this unfortunate situation, I spotted Phil Gordon settling into his seat at a nearby table. I decided that my poker camp tuition entitled me to a post-graduate refresher, so I went over and asked him for advice. Basically he recommended that I tighten up my opening hand requirements for the first few hours, and not play any hands that I would not be prepared to raise with and to call a re-raise from Alan or Carlos. He also predicted that because of their highly aggressive style, the odds were that both of them would bust out by the end of the third hour and my problem would go away.

In contrast to the satellites I had been playing in, which are designed to end within a short time, World Series events are designed to give the players more time to wait for good hands and good opportunities. Skill is a more significant factor, and short-term luck less so.

It turned out that having two strong, aggressive players on my left helped me play my best game. I was less tempted to limp in with marginal hands hoping to hit a big flop, as I had to assume that if I limped one of them would smell weakness and raise, forcing me to throw away my hand and waste the bet I had made.

No limit hold'em is a game of position. Being the last to act is a tremendous advantage, and being first to act is a big disadvantage. For that reason, unless you are a world-class player like Mortenson, you play very few hands in early position, and as many as possible in late position. The only time I would have a positional advantage on Alan and Carlos would be when they were in the blinds and I was last to act.