Televised events such as the World Series of Poker and World Poker Tour usually focus on big hand with dramatic finishes on the river.
What’s often missing from view are the countless small pots that are contested along the way that, while they might not have the sex appeal, are crucial to the players as they build their stacks.
For instance, the real pros are folding every hand as they wait for pocket aces or kings. They are playing lesser hands, sizing up opponents and reading the texture of the board, as displayed in this hand by Erik Seidel, one of the best players in the history of tournament poker.
With blinds at $50-$100 in the World Poker Tour’s $15,000-buy-in Five Diamond World Poker Classic at Las Vegas’ Bellagio in 2006, Seidel drew A-9 off-suit and limped in from early position. Six other players limped as well, which is often the case in the first couple of levels in a tournament where you start with twice as many chips as your buy-in.
The flop came 2-9-7, two clubs, putting a flush draw on the board.
"With two clubs in the flop, I wasn’t too excited about it," Seidel, who won his eighth World Series of Poker bracelet in 2007 to move into a tie for fourth place on the all-time list, told the Chicago Tribune.
After the big blind checked, Seidel bet $300 to find out how good his top pair/top kicker was. Two players called, one behind Seidel, one in front.
"I thought I had the best hand," said Seidel, one of the originals of the Full Tilt Poker online site. "I just thought it was a very dangerous flop for somebody to be slow-playing. That’s why I thought I had the best hand.
"The first guy was the one I was concerned about slow-playing. The other guy had position on me, and I thought he would be crazy not to raise with a better hand than mine."
The turn came the 2 of diamonds, pairing the board and making trips, a flush and a full house possible — all hands that were better than Seidel’s pair of 9s.
When the first player checked, Seidel bet $1,250, about three-quarters of the pot, a strong play that could allow him to take down the pot right there or force an opponent to define the strength of his hand by calling or raising.
"I wasn’t so worried about the second guy because I thought if he had a better hand than mine, he would’ve re-raised on the flop," Seidel said. "The first guy was the only concern, but I thought it was likely I had the best hand."
Apparently, he did, as both players folded.
"I did think my hand was good with the way the betting went," Seidel said. "I would’ve been surprised if it wasn’t."
The top players say the real strategy doesn’t begin until after the flop when players start sizing each other up.
Indeed, that’s how most of the pots are won and lost, while waiting for that "monster" hand that comes around ever so infrequently.