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Steve Martin in No Poker Jerk

Last month in Manhattan, I had the privilege of emceeing a charity poker tournament benefiting the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (www.chop.edu), the No. 1 children's hospital in the USA. I'm pleased to announce that almost $1 million was raised for this fantastic institution.

Knowing that he's frequently in New York City, I invited global entertainment icon Steve Martin to play in the event. Steve is a great guy, and a very good poker player, too. He definitely takes his game seriously. In fact, he used to play in a regular poker game in Hollywood that was so tough to get into, even A-list celebrities couldn't wrangle a seat at the table.

It wasn't that a lot of money changed hands in this legendary Hollywood game, it was that Johnny Carson, the major studio heads, and many famous film directors always showed up to play.

Meanwhile, back at the CHOP event, where Steve Martin was my pick to win it all, action began with fourteen tables.

With only four tables remaining, and the blinds at $1,000/$2,000, a player opened for $7,000. Two players called, and then Steve called with pocket eights from the big blind.

The flop came Q-Q-2 and Steve moved all-in for $17,000. Two players folded but an amateur decided to make a donkey call with J-10. Sadly for Steve, the turn card was a jack, and with no help on the river, he was eliminated.

Now, I love the way Steve played his hand. His pre-flop call and all-in bet for $17,000 were perfect plays. His opponent's loose call with J-10 was pretty ugly but not really unexpected for a charity event. I can only imagine how I would have reacted if someone did that to me in a major tournament!

I gave Steve a couple of pointers to consider before play began. I reminded him that there are two major differences between playing in charity tournaments as opposed to regular tournaments or cash games.

First, in regular tournaments and cash games, it's best to wait patiently for a good spot to put your chips into the middle of the pot. That's not the case in charity tournaments because the blinds increase so quickly that you're often forced to play big pots with only marginal hands. Second, in regular tournaments and cash games, you'll be competing against solid and experienced players. Again, that's not how it goes in charity events where players are, well, they're not very good at all.

As a consequence, in regular tournaments, where I would typically play strong hands like A-K, A-Q, J-J, or 10-10 aggressively by raising or reraising, I would play them cautiously in charity events. That's because too many players in charity tournaments will call big bets with hands that they just aren't supposed to. They'll mistakenly put in a ton of chips with hands that skilled players would never play, like Qd-Jd.

Man, those suited paint cards just look so appealing to beginning players!

In charity tournaments, if I raise or reraise with A-K, I can reasonably expect two, three, or even four players to come along for the ride. But when I reraise with A-K in a regular tournament, I often expect to take down the pot right then and there.

So here's my advice: In charity tournaments, wait until after the flop before putting big chips into the pot. Limp in with A-K. If you get lucky on the flop, that's the time to toss in a big bet. Similarly, limp in pocket jacks. If your jacks are still an overpair after the flop, you've got the green light to throw in a bunch of your big chips.


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