The Third-Time Charm — Part II

In Part I, I covered the first three days of the Doyle Brunson North American No-Limit Hold’em Poker Championship. This event concluded the third Festa al Lago tournament, a series of 11 events conducted in mid-October at the five-diamond Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The championship honored Brunson, a man many consider the premier living legend of poker.

 

Doyle was on hand for the taping of the final table. If you read Part I (if not, it’s archived on cardplayer.com), surely you came away with the idea that I believe we should study the top players’ thought processes in an effort to improve our games. So, who better to hit up for some ideas than “Texas Dolly”? I sat down with Doyle before play started and asked, “We know the top players are aggressive and have heart, but is there a lesser known trait that runs through them?”

 

Doyle responded, “That’s sort of like the question I’ve been asked most: What does it take to become a great poker player?” I nodded, and he continued, “I think the answer to that is the ability to recall what happened in the past. Sometimes I’ll remember a situation with a player that took place 15 or 20 years ago. When that situation arises again, I vividly recall it and take advantage of it. For example, Stu Ungar had a habit of stacking his chips very neatly before he bet when he was bluffing. I remembered that and won a big pot from him. So, if you have a good memory, you have the capability of becoming a good poker player.”

 

Interestingly, at Sam’s Town in 1999, I asked T.J. Cloutier what one thing contributed most to his tournament success, and he answered in similar fashion. T.J. told me he might not remember an opponent’s name, but if he ever played against him for any period of time, he’d always be able to recall the way he played.

 

The previous day, we had 10 players sitting at the final table. But, for PPT qualifications, a WPT final table consists of six. Huh, PPT? The Professional Poker Tour is a WPT Enterprises undertaking. Approximately 200 players will be invited to join the PPT during its first season. The listing of players and more information on the PPT can be found on the worldpokertour.com website.

 

You may have noticed that there should be at least $6,240,000 in outstanding chips. After activating my clay detector and unsuccessfully scouring the area, I decided that some random chip-up exchange or movement from one table to another had gone awry. Let the conspiracy theorists have at it.

 

After situs poker online pkv games Tournament Director Jack McClelland individually introduced the players in the foreground of the beautiful shooting fountains of Bellagio, play began at 7:18 p.m. with blinds of $12,000-$24,000 and antes of $3,000 for each player. The champion hoisted his trophy almost six hours later. There were numerous breaks (but no dinner hour, which violates every union contract I have).

 

It is important to keep the chip count and limits in mind because, as tournament players know, decisions are often predicated upon value and urgency. With $54,000 in chips up for grabs preflop (less than 1 percent of the chips in play) during each hand at this level, and the short stack (David) having nine times that amount, I anticipate some conservative play early on. There is one more factor: Players enjoy television exposure. They try to avoid an early exit, when possible.

 

Hand No. 1: Juan Carlos, born in Ecuador 32 years ago, has the button. David raises $41,000 and everyone folds.

 

After Kido raises and wins the next pot uncontested, David takes the third hand away from Kido with our first reraise (to $180,000). The Dragon is not about to have his flame extinguished by playing tight. After watching Carlos play big stacks extremely aggressively through the years, I wonder how long it will take him to start bullying. Not long. Mortensen opens for $61,000 from under the gun in hand No. 4 and all players muck their cards.

 

Hand No. 5: Hung La comes in for $70,000 from the cutoff seat (just right of the button). Carlos defends from the big blind. Our first flop (K-Q-9) interests La, who pushes $125,000 forward. The conquistador mucks.

 

In the next hand, we hear from Erik Seidel. He examines David’s $70,000 raise from behind his button position and decides to triple the amount. The Dragon gives way.

 

Hand No. 7: Carlos is on the button and becomes our first player to limp in, calling the big blind amount. When Kido completes from the small blind and Juanda taps the table, we see our first three-way hand. The flop is Kspades 8diamonds 4hearts. Everyone checks. Juanda likes the turn card (Ahearts) and, after Kido checks, bets $60,000. Carlos calls. Kido folds. The river card looks mundane (6clubs), but JJ checks. Carlos shrugs and turns over K-10 to win. Note, he could have waited for John to show his hand, but Carlos isn’t one to squeeze out every last bit of information on opponents. He is one of the most approachable players in the game, but when in action, he reminds me of a large, ferocious fighting bull charging down the narrow streets of Pamplona during the festival of San Fermin. Coincidentally, during that annual event there are always six bulls running, and they almost always lose in the ring that day. Will Carlos meet a similar fate in the Fontana lounge later this evening?

 

The Dragon raises $46,000 to win the next hand uncontested.

 

Hand No. 9: Carlos, second to act and sitting behind $2.5 million in chips, once again limps in. Kido takes that as an invitation and raises to $200,000. Everyone folds to Carlos, who immediately motions all in. Kido, just as rapidly, calls and shows the Aclubs Qclubs. Carlos tables the red queens (a 66-34 favorite). The board comes with three clubs and Kido survives. His call tells us he will gamble with Carlos.

 

Hand No. 10: Erik decides to punish David for limping in from the small blind and raises him out of their heads-up pot. In the next hand, Kido, now a millionaire chip holder, raises $36,000 from the button and takes down the pot.

 

Hand No. 11: In a battle of the blinds, Erik tangles with Carlos. Seidel checks the flop of 9spades 7clubs 2spades. He calls Mortensen’s $25,000 “feeler.” When Carlos continues with $100,000 after the 3hearts turns, Erik gives up.

 

Hand No. 12: Carlos crashes down on La’s $46,000 raise by moving $270,000 in from the small blind. La studies our chip leader for four seconds and folds.

 

Are you wondering whether I’m going to scribe the entire 123 hands? The answer is no, but I wanted you to get a feel for the early action and the pace from the first two rounds — 27 minutes of play. By the way, my 123 total agrees with the WPT, but I’ve seen the number of 124 in another report.

 

Hand No. 15: Carlos raises to $64,000. La defends from the small blind and the two take a look at the Ahearts Jclubs 5spades flop, then check. The turn card is the 9diamonds. La bets $130,000 into the uncoordinated, rainbow board. Carlos raises $170,000. Does he sense a steal attempt on La’s part or is he value-betting a big hand? La folds his hands (a normal posture for him when contemplating a play) and mucks his cards after 28 seconds.

 

Hand No. 29: The stakes are raised to $20,000-$40,000 with $5,000 antes. Folding through a round will cost a player $90,000. La now trails and opts not to wait. He moves in with $280,000 from the small blind and David moves out.

 

Two hands later, Juanda picks up his third pot of the day when he shoves his chips and wins uncontested. Alas, JJ’s day ends on the following hand; his pocket pair is dominated by Kido’s higher pair (10-10 versus Q-Q). For his first television exposure, Kido, who is 33, married, 5 feet 7 inches tall, and 135 pounds, looks comfortable in khaki slacks and an earth-tone cotton shirt under an olive/tan sweater. If pho (Vietnamese soup) is the breakfast of champions, he will win tonight.

 

Hand No. 35: One of the best things about poker is, as Yogi Berra once said about baseball, “It’s never over till it’s over.” Was Yogi also responsible for “a chip and a chair”? What the great Yankee catcher meant is that a team trailing by five runs with two outs in the ninth can rally to win. But, in a timed game such as football, if Texas Tech leads Nebraska 49-10 early in the fourth quarter (as they did earlier this season), the outcome is not in doubt. That’s because baseball and poker are not timed games — usually.

 

In a battle of our chip leaders, Kido opens for $80,000 from under the gun. He and Carlos take a flop of Kspades 8spades and a red 3. Mortensen bets $140,000. Pham considers his plan of action for 75 seconds. He raises $600,000. Carlos sits erect, looking to his left. He places his left hand on his chin briefly. The chip leader then folds his hands in front of his face. He extends both index fingers to touch his nose. Now, he leans back and folds his arms across his chest. For the next several minutes, the conquistador changes positions as frequently as a Kama Sutra demo class. His expression remains constant — one of deep concern. Pham sits motionless with his right hand covering his right cheek.

 

After five minutes and four seconds of decision time, La believes Carlos has hogged enough camera time and asks Jack M. for a clock (to ensure Mortensen acts within one minute). I sense a bit of frustration on La’s part. He has been thwarted several times, having to fold against over-the-top preflop reraises. Hung has won just three hands. McClelland complies and starts counting at 15-second intervals until he reaches 10 seconds; then by ones until he says, “5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1 … dead hand, Kido wins the pot.” Carlos, the man in black, says nothing and does nothing. His cards are taken from him.

 

 

Hand No. 41: The Phams (they are not related) hook up in a six-minute battle. The Dragon raises three times the big blind from the cutoff seat. Kido, drinking green tea, calls. They “check,” “check” the flop of Aspades 10hearts 7spades. After Kido knuckles the table on the turn (9diamonds), David moves a mere $80,000 (less than one-third the size of the pot) into the pot. A minute later, Kido calls. The 5clubs completes our board. Kido checks yet again. His namesake quickly bets $120,000. I sense a bluff, but am proven wrong when Kido calls and David shows him A-4 for a top-pair win.

 

We complete the next 13, relatively unexciting hands (for me, anyway). After hand No. 54 is completed, we move to $30,000-$60,000 with $10,000 antes, and I show these cursory statistics:

 

I jot down, “Phams are playing feisty” and “Erik winless last 16” (he wins No. 55, though). Seidel, one of my top-three-rated players in our game, rarely appears frustrated, but I sense he has picked up more than his share of 9-3 type hands. Ah, I see the missing chips have resurfaced (probably added during the “rounding up” to remove the $1,000 chips).

 

 

Hand No. 59: Once again (see hand No. 10), Erik decides to punish David for limping in from the small blind. The former New Yorker raises to $210,000. Almost immediately, Pham reraises all in ($490,000 additional). Erik contemplates, calls, and places the Khearts 10hearts in front of him. Pham shows the Aclubs Jclubs, a 61-39 favorite. He wins the battle of suited hands and doubles through.

 

Hand No. 71: La begins his journey back to Manhattan Beach with $120,000 more than he had when he arrived when his Qdiamonds 10clubs fails to overcome Carlos’ favored red eights. He also picks up 620 “Player of the Year” points in Card Player’s prestigious tournament player rankings. If anyone catches Negreanu for POY, I’ll start wearing hockey jerseys and give up ugly sport shirts for a month. Mortensen moves to $2.7 million in chips and we move to fourhanded play, where I expect to see more action.

 

Carlos wins the next three hands, two with raises to $180,000 and a walkover (everyone folds to the big blind, who wins uncontested). He is in overdrive.

 

Hand No. 77: Seidel, now short-stacked, moves in with the Qclubs Jdiamonds and runs smack-dab into Kido’s pocket aces. Pham takes the $650,000 pot and three players remain.

 

Hand No. 84: We move to $50,000-$100,000 with $10,000 antes and David moves in with the 3diamonds 3spades against Carlos’ Aclubs Jclubs. The board comes 10diamonds 6clubs 5spades 9spades 4spades and allows David to add about $450,000 in chips.

 

Buoyed by this win, Pham flings $300,000 forward from the button in hand No. 85 and wins without a fight. He gets a walkover (often a by-product of previous aggressive play) in hand No. 86. A hand later, he raises $200,000 from the small blind. Carlos calls, but releases to David’s bet when the Kspades Jclubs 7clubs flops. By Linda Johnson’s chip count, David has taken a small lead over Kido, with Carlos trailing our new leader by $600,000.

 

Hand No. 93: Carlos is on a streak. The former chess and pocket billiards player has won the last two hands. He fingers the felt after Kido folds from the button and David limps in for an additional $50,000. Suspicious plays? Both check a flop of the Aspades 7spades 5hearts. Are they worried about the ace? When the Jclubs turns, David decides to lead with $200,000. Carlos calls. The board pairs on the river (7hearts). David checks. Will Carlos interpret this as a sign of weakness and bet? No, he checks and wins with Q-J, taking down David’s king high. The crowd, predominantly rooting for the conquistador, roars.

 

 

Hand No. 100: Carlos limps in from the small blind. Kido decides to play for more and successfully moves his opponent off the pot with a $300,000 raise.

 

Hand No. 103: In this ebb-and-flow match, the 2001 world champion is now watching his stacks shrink (albeit only to $1,870,000). After David opens for $300,000, Mortensen moves in. David, holding the Aclubs Qspades, calls the $1,570,000 raise after 37 seconds and has the lead in this pivotal hand. Carlos can’t be too happy with his Adiamonds 5diamonds, but the diamonds in the Qdiamonds 5hearts 3diamonds flop excite his many fans. David, who was a 67-33 favorite before the flop, is now down to a 57-43 favorite to win. But before the turn card even hits the board, he sees all hope vanish … it’s the 6diamonds. We have had an unusually high percentage of “best hands holding up” today. This was an exception.

 

Three hands later, David, now short-stacked, commits to the Khearts 5hearts and doubles through Carlos’ favored A-4 when both score bottom pair.

 

Carlos’ strategy includes moving in frequently. With $180,000 now up for grabs before the cards are dealt, his (presumed) “steals” have accounted for a fair portion of his $4 million in chips. His opponents may have begun to think about the appreciable difference in prize money between second place ($496,400) and third place ($255,000). If so, Carlos knows to take advantage of the style of play that type of thinking leads to. At the stroke of midnight, he begins a run of all-in wins, pushing five times out of six hands and winning uncontested. In the sixth, Carlos was in the big blind and both opponents folded.

 

Hand No. 117: Kido moves in for $440,000 from the button. David has a difficult decision for several reasons. Jack has announced that the limits are going up the next hand, to $80,000-$160,000 with $15,000 antes. Carlos looms behind David. The Dragon confirms that if he and Kido are knocked out this hand, he will take second-place money. He’s counting and thinking. Finally, he moves in. David is relieved to see Carlos smile and muck

 

9-2. The Dragon shows pocket fours. Kido has K-9. When the flop comes K-10-5, David is reduced to two outs twice. He fails to connect.

 

 

Hand No. 118: David has the button and less than the big blind amount (I can’t see exactly, but possibly $60,000). He’ll have to take his shot with this hand or the next. He chooses to fold. While there is not much chance that Kido will get involved with Carlos before his fellow countryman is eliminated (or doubles through a few times), David’s fold has merit on a “decrease your margin of error when possible” basis. Carlos takes a look at the $285,000 up for grabs preflop, realizes both players are handcuffed by the relative chip positions and the prize pool distribution, and motions all in for the ninth time today. Kido quickly calls. Huh? With the other Pham on fumes, I believe Kido needs a minimum of K-K to call, and will proudly show that hand or A-A. I’m wrong; he tables a mere 10spades 10clubs. David is ecstatic, realizing Kido’s bravado may net him $241,000 before taxes.

 

Folks, I realize Carlos’ play is situational, but I can’t see Kido calling with a hand that figures to be at least a 30 percent loser to a random, median-type hand like J-7 (one overcard versus a pocket pair). But, Kido has gamble and may have reached his limit of folding to Carlos’ pushes. Fortunately for him, Carlos only has a single overcard (Aspades 5diamonds). Kido doubles through when an ace fails to appear.

 

In the next hand, David, who just experienced a “spectator” high and a low, sends his final chips in and rolls with his 9hearts 8diamonds. Kido snuffs The Dragon with his Qhearts 9diamonds, a 72-28 favorite. I watch David exit and can’t help but recall hand No. 103 and what could have been.

 

 

Hand No. 120: The gorgeous Shana Hiatt leads the Bellagio Beauties (off-duty cocktail waitresses) from the veranda to the final table. They carry bundles of $100 bills in 10-gallon hats (in honor of Doyle). The money is dumped sloppily on the table. Shana has to stay and rearrange it neatly to cheers from the mostly male audience, now in their sixth hour of sitting on small, hard, wooden chairs. Kido has the small blind and button. He also has a tad less than one-third of the chips. He raises to $680,000 and wins our first heads-up pot.

 

Carlos moves $700,000 forward in the next hand and takes the pot without a tussle. He also wins hand No. 122 when Kido folds from the small blind.

 

Hand No. 123: Mortensen raises to $600,000. Kido moves in for close to $2,075,000. Carlos calls and takes his first shot at the trophy. In a battle of suited kings, he shows the Kclubs 10clubs versus Kido’s Kdiamonds 8diamonds. The conquistador will win outright 65 times in 100 tries and lose 26 times (with nine split pots). They peruse a flop of the Kspades 3hearts 2diamonds. These cards improve Carlos’ chances of an outright win to 75-17. The turn card is the 7clubs, thus David must rely on catching one of the remaining eights. At 1:03 a.m., Carlos watches the dealer deliver the harmless 4clubs. He is the champion of the third Festa al Lago tournament. It was his third $5,000 or greater buy-in championship.

 

Carlos is calm, friendly, alert, and focused. His demeanor rarely changes. He often fires $10,000-denomination chips as if they are nickels, but backs off when necessary. Here, he won in similar fashion to the way he captured the L.A. Poker Classic $1,500 pot-limit event eight months prior. At that event, he had the chip lead when final-table play began, surrendered it, but took over and poured on the pressure in the late going. In both tourneys, he chose to shift gears frequently and on the proverbial dime. That’s the right way to change your pace of play.

 

“Superstars shift gears. More than that, they shift suddenly from first to third and then back to first again, seldom using anything in between. Many skilled players realize the psychological advantage of varying the speed of their game, but they tend to play in long, fluid waves. They get slightly more aggressive hand-by-hand until, eventually, they reach a peak. Then, they gradually ease up and play more conservatively until they reach a valley from which they begin to open up again. That’s not the right way to change speeds. Shifting gears correctly is possibly the single biggest secret you should master if you want to play poker at the highest levels.” — Doyle Brunson