In February, I made my annual three-day trek to Commerce Casino for the L.A. Poker Classic. My first game was a single-table satellite for the $1,500 no-limit hold’em event, and I started out on fire. By the end of the first limit, I had turned my $800 starting stack into about $2,400. Only one player had almost as much, but I had been unimpressed with his play. He had accumulated his chips by making some loose all-in calls and drawing out. Still, I knew I would have to get past him in order to win the satellite.
Then, an interesting hand came up. With the blinds at $50-$100, he raised to $400 from middle position. The action was folded to me on the button, and I looked down to find the 8clubs 8spades. I was pretty sure I had the best hand, but I didn’t think moving all in was my best play. He had shown a propensity to call all-in bets with some fairly weak hands, and I didn’t want to end up in a coin-flip situation against something like A-10 or K-J. Having position on him, I decided to call and see how the hand played out. Everyone else folded, so we took the flop heads up.
It came 10clubs 10diamonds 2clubs. He grabbed two handfuls of chips and pushed in his remaining $1,800. My overwhelming initial instinct was to call, but I never rush a decision that involves all of my chips, so I took a couple of seconds to make sure that I felt good about calling. After considering his overbet into the $950 pot, I was fairly confident that 8clubs 8spades was the best hand, and I made up my mind to call.
But before I had a chance to do anything, something unexpected happened. My opponent leaned back forcefully in his chair, folded his arms, and let out an audible sigh. Wow, what was that? Now, I had to reconsider my situation. I originally had thought that he was pushing an ace-high type of hand, but his physical actions were inconsistent with that read. A player who moves in and thinks he has the worst hand won’t typically make obvious physical or verbal movements.
The more I thought about it, the more clearly I was able to interpret his actions. He thought he had the best hand, but he also suspected I could outdraw him, and he didn’t want me sticking around. That eliminated trip tens or pocket aces, but I had eliminated those possibilities anyway. I thought he was putting me on A-Q or A-J, and didn’t know I had a decent pocket pair. The problem was, what exactly did he have? Was he feeling confident with 9-9, 5-5, or even something like A-K?
In the end, I talked myself out of calling. I felt that I had controlled the Bola88 table well to that point, and I could find a better spot to take him out. I folded, at which point he said, “I had you beat,” while showing me the 7diamonds 7hearts. I didn’t say anything, but the player to my left, who had apparently caught a glimpse of my cards when I folded, chimed in, “No you didn’t; he had pocket eights.” A conversation ensued, centered around that hand, while I kept my mouth shut.
The only thing that crossed my mind was that if we had been playing online, I undoubtedly would have made the call. It was only because I was able to see his physical movements and hear him sigh that I ended up folding. Other than that, I felt remarkably detached from the situation. As recently as two or three years ago, folding a winner like that might have taken me off my game. But on this day, it hardly fazed me. I reminded myself that I folded because I expected to get my money in later with the best of it, and I focused my attention on finding that better spot. Sure enough, I took that same player out less than 20 minutes later, and I went on to win the satellite.
I felt some solid momentum going into the main tournament, and I built my stack up nicely over the first six hours, but then I had the situation every tournament player dreads. My pocket kings ran into a large stack holding pocket aces, and I was out. Again, I felt remarkably detached. Maybe in the recent past, losing that way would have gotten me upset. It even might have negatively influenced my results for the following day. But instead, this time I just shrugged my shoulders, wished everyone good luck, and walked out with a regretful smile.
After all, what reason was there to get upset? I don’t realistically think I could have done anything differently. At the limits we were playing, there was no getting away from the kings, and it’s just one of those things that happens. There was no point in dwelling on it. All I could do was shake it off and try to make up for it later, just as I did with the pocket eights. Here is my point: Don’t dwell on the hands you’ve lost, which you can’t change. Focus on the future, over which you still have control. If you have to tell your “bad-beat” story to someone in order to put it behind you, do it. But after that, let it go.