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Sometimes a hot poker player needs to cool down

Jul 23, 2008 7:02 AM

Road to the WSOP by Joe Awada | The final table for the World Series is set and the nine finalists have four months to prepare for the poker game of their lifetime.

I didn’t play last weekend, but I was there for the final day’s action.

The day before, Jim Snead, the CFO of a casino in Washington, gave me a call.

Jim’s a good friend, and was calling to tell me his younger brother, Paul, was among the final 27 players, and asked me to give him some advice.

Of course, I was happy to help. When I arrived at the Rio’s main event poker room, I noticed most of the players in the field were younger, probably in their 20s.

I suggested to Paul that he "take it easy" and play on "cruise control" for awhile, at least for the first 20 or 30 minutes, when players tend to be nervous, emotional or otherwise too wound up to think straight.

At the start of the day, Paul was sixth or seventh in chips – a very good position. And even though he was guaranteed at least $250,000, he was shooting for the final table, worth at least $900,000, plus another million or two in potential endorsements. I suggested he keep these goals in mind.

Once play began, however, he got involved immediately. In the first hand, he duels with Tiffany Michelle and takes just about a million or million and a half chips from her.

I could see Paul was hyper, so I kept advising Paul’s wife to encourage him to slow down and take it easy.

But he’s on fire and takes another pot, pushing his chip total to over 11 million – up among the chip leaders.

"You’re in great shape, but you can’t continue to get involved," I told him. "You have to be more selective. For now, just cruise, unless you get a big hand."

I guess the adrenalin somehow affected his hearing because he immediately got involved in another pot with ace-jack.

Well, the flop comes king-jack-jack and Paul feels he has a big hand with trip jacks. His opponent, let’s call him "The Kid," leads out with a bet of three or four hundred thousand. Paul re-raises for about $1.5 million, which was his first mistake.

Like I told him, if you’re going to play, make a big move. He should have raised all-in, or bet enough to put the kid" all-in with a call.

But he didn’t and, after a lengthy deliberation, the kid calls the bet.

By calling the bet, you have to believe the kid has a decent hand, maybe pocket aces or ace-king.

Anyway, the turn brought another king to the board, which now has two jacks and two kings showing. The kid bet the rest of his chips, about two or three million and, unfortunately, Paul calls him.

The kid turns over ace-king, giving him a higher full house, and Paul loses the five million he just won.

I call Paul over and tell him, "Look, you still have six million and you’re back to where you were. Just take it easy, especially now. A great player knows how to handle losing a hand like that."

His response was, "Yeah, but if I had taken that pot, the tournament would have been over."

Wrong! I told him, "Paul, if you won the pot you would have had $16 million, but the tournament wouldn’t have been over. The only thing that can end today is you. You can’t win the tournament today, you can only lose it."

We came to a well-needed break in the action, and retired to a lounge set up for the players. I met with Paul and his wife, who was practically begging him, "Please, listen to Joe."

I explained to Paul that he was playing far too many hands and that he needed to show more patience.

As far as his bad beat – he lost when one of the kid’s only two "outs" hit the board – he needed to put it out of his mind. "You have to have a short memory," I said. "Remember that you’re playing for the final table. You may come back next year and duplicate this effort, or you may never get this close again, ever. So, take it very seriously. You’re not playing for yourself, or for the TV cameras, but for your family – your wife and three kids."

As we got back into the tournament room I felt like a manager sending his fighter back into the ring. "Even though you have six million chips left, play as if you have only two million. Thus, don’t play any hand unless you have the greatest chance of winning it."

But like many fighters, my protégé failed to heed my advice. It wasn’t five minutes before he was involved in a pot with jack-six, both hearts, against the young kid again.

Of course, this is not a hand you want to be involved with, especially when you need to call a raise to stay in the hand.

In any case the flop shows jack-10-3, two diamonds and a heart. All right, Paul has top pair (jacks), but there’s a possible flush draw on the board. The kid checks and Paul makes a bet. Well, the kid comes back over the top and re-raises all-in.

I’m telling Paul’s wife, the kid has to have something, even if it’s only a flush draw, and I’m hoping Paul throws away his hand, even though it was top pair.

But after a long deliberation, Paul calls the bet with nearly all his remaining chips. They show their hands, and all the kid has is ace-four, off-suit. He has nothing, no pair, no flush draw, just an ace in need of another ace.

The turn comes with the eight of hearts. That helped Paul, whose jacks are still good and he now needs another heart for a flush; and if the ace of hearts appears, it won’t beat him.

 That left only two aces in the deck that could crush him; just like the previous hand, in which there were only two outs (kings) that could beat his hand.

 Sure enough, the ace of diamonds lands on the river. It broke my heart to see that card come up. I felt like I was playing and lost the pivotal pot of the day.

 Down to practically nothing, Paul soon busted out in 21st place.

 I really felt bad for the young guy and his wife. It’s a shame the way it turned out, because I think he could have cruised to the final table.

But No Limit Hold’em is unpredictable, it shows no mercy and there’s no margin for error. Well, maybe next year.