There was plenty of history and prestige at stake at the $15,000 buy-in World Poker Tour No-Limit Texas Hold'em Championship at the Bellagio in Las Vegas way back in December 2004, not to mention the first-place prize of $1.8 million dollars.
On the third day of this five-day marathon tournament, the following hand came up between an amateur player — let's call him Mr. X — and me. At the time, only 45 players out of the starting 400 entrants remained.
With the blinds at $3,000/$6,000 plus a $500 per player ante, Mr. X, who had $164,500 in chips, opened for $15,000 from the 7-seat. I was in the 3-seat with $285,000 in chips and looked down at pocket kings.
How should I play this big hand?
Sure, I love having pocket cowboys but I just couldn't decide how to play them against an unknown amateur in this situation. I figured I had two options. I could either smooth-call my opponent's bet and hope to extract a lot more of his chips later in the hand, or I could re raise his bet and give him the chance to reraise me back.
The smooth-call would entail merely calling his pre-flop $15,000 bet in order to disguise the strength of my hand. My goal, obviously, would be to make my hand appear much weaker than it really was. Then, later in the hand, I'd try to draw another $40,000 to $120,000 into the pot since my opponent might assume that I was trying to steal the pot with an oversized bet.
But I also knew that a re raise before the flop would alert my Mr. X to the strength of my hand and would likely cause him to fold. Then again, there was also the possibility that my reraise would induce Mr. X to move all-in with an inferior hand like J-J, Q-Q, A-K, or even worse. In that case, I'd be a huge favorite to win a ton of chips in this poker game.
Well, I chose to make the extremely safe play. I made a huge pre-flop reraise.
Here's my reasoning. First, I wanted to protect my hand. There was no way that I was going to give Mr. X a free card to beat me. Second, I had already decided that I would move all-in for the rest of my chips on the flop in the event Mr. X called my massive pre-flop reraise, assuming a non-ace flop like Q-9-4 or 2-2-7. I'd have to protect my hand from a potential bad beat one more time.
So I raised my opponent's bet up to $80,000, a $65,000 reraise into the $40,000 pot.
Somewhat surprisingly, though, Mr. X responded by shoving all-in for $164,500. I made the call in a split second and turned up my pocket kings. Mr. X's face looked ashen as he showed his Ad-Jd. I was now a 2 1/2-to-1 favorite to take down the pot.
The flop came down K-Q-J. Yes, a beautiful set of kings for me! I was so close to taking a massive $460,000 chip lead. All I had to do was dodge a ten on the turn or river, but you guessed it, a ten hit on the turn and Mr. X made his Broadway straight.
I was still in the hand, though, as any card on the river that paired the board would give me the winning hand. Nope, didn't happen. The last card was an eight and I was crippled.