Tales From The Felt: London
UK Poker News’ roving young poker player, Stuart “Easy Pickings” Rutter, returned to home shores last week to play poker in the exclusive confines of the West End of London and then scooted up to the dreaming spires of Oxford to broaden his education….in poker. Here is his account.
At the end of April, I planned a few days back in England to take in two very different poker festivals. The first, at the impressive Sportsman Casino in London, would feature some of the best players on these shores. The second was a £20 rebuy event organised by the Oxford University Poker Society. A small affair it was not though, as a field of 335 runners made it the most well attended poker tournament ever staged in the UK. A number of invited pros and celebrities, including Dave Colclough, Malcolm Harwood and authors Tony Holden and Al Alvarez joined a large contingent of students in a magnificently run event.
The Sportsman was hosting its inaugural poker festival, starting with a £500 freezeout, and is sure to become a successful venue. It is located close to Marble Arch in Mayfair, and has the feel of a place where big money will be won. A small field of 78 for the first event meant that the big names - amongst others, Julian Thew, JP Kelly, Ian Woodley (recent star in Dublin) and Paul Alterman - would not be easily escaped.
Hoping to get off to a confident start, I called a raise from the button with Q9 of clubs. The flop came 10 9 3, with two hearts, and my check was mirrored by the raiser. A tricky 6 of hearts came next. Though it was likely that my opponent held nothing, there were possibilities that he held a made hand, and I did not want the pot to escalate with a bet. I checked, and quickly called my opponents near pot-sized bet.
I made the call quickly, feigning that I was on a draw, for two reasons. Firstly, I would find myself in a difficult situation if the river brought a fourth heart, but my signal that I was on a draw would at least keep my opponent honest. He would not be able to bluff on the end, a good thing as it would be impossible for me to call a bet. Secondly, by painting a false picture of my hand, I might encourage my opponent to bluff again if a blank fell on the end, a bet that I would be able to call. Indeed, a blank looking deuce of clubs came on the end, and after some deliberation, I called my opponent's ace high bluff.
I rose slowly in chips from the original 7k to 10k, but gave some back to the middle with, on reflection, a poor move. Calling a raise with QJ suited, a flop of K 10 2 gave me an open-ended straight draw. A semi-bluff seemed in order, and I did so via a check raise. However, by doing so, I let the hand run away from me, as my opponent was sharp enough to re-raise, putting all of his chips into the middle. I could not call, and had lost the opportunity of hitting a big hand. The semi-bluff is an integral part of aggressive poker, but it should never be used automatically without consideration for the situation as a whole. Here are a few factors to bear in mind when considering whether the timing is right for this move:
1) The semi-bluff, like any bluff, depends on the strength of your opponent's hand. If you have reason to believe that your opponent has a strong hand, then the move is pointless. On this occasion, my read was that my opponent had some kind of hand, so the good possibility of this being AK made my timing wrong.
2) Consider the effect the card you need to make your hand will have on the board, and on your opponent's hand. If your out to a really good hand may make your opponent a good hand, then it may not be right to try to take the pot away from your opponent on the flop. For example, with AK a distinct possibility for my opponent, an ace would make me the nuts and him an unpassable two pair. So, the implied odds of just calling, rather than raising, are very high. Sometimes making your hand will kill the action entirely, and there is no implied value to keeping your opponent in the hand. This makes the semi-bluff much more profitable. For example, maybe you hold the ace of spades on a board with three spades. If you do not raise and go on to hit your hand, your opponent will rarely pay you off.
3) Like any move in poker, an extremely important factor to its success is the size of your opponent's stack. Work out what the size will be when you have made your possible raise, and compare this to your opponent's remaining stack. The worst possible result for a move is if your opponent's stack is about the same as the size of the pot. Then, your opponent is put to a decision for all his chips, and if he does not pass, will normally re-raise, putting in the rest of his chips. The odds may well force you to call, and you have made it very expensive for yourself to see the next two cards. A more ideal situation is where you can raise the opponent for the rest of his chips. Not only is there the extra threat of elimination for your opponent, there is no extra expense possible to see the turn and river.
Not following these rules before I made my fateful move, I arrived at a new table with only 8k in chips. JP Kelly, only 20 years old but an awesome player who has had much success recently, was dominating the table with a massive stack. A dry run of cards hit me for a while, and suddenly 8,000 was a small stack compared to the quickly-increasing blinds. I used the tight image I had set to steal a few blinds myself, once with a risky re-raise all in, and found myself at Dave Colclough's table with a more healthy 16,000. After he opened the betting in an early position, I was lucky enough to find a pair of kings in the hole. He made a wise pass to my re-raise, but the stack had gone up to 21k, and we were soon down to eighteen.
The nervy moments come at this stage, so close to and so far from the final table, and so a hand like AJ becomes a difficult one to play. There were only seven at the table, so this type of hand was well worth a raise to 3,800, with a big blind of 1,600. A call from the big stack on my left was followed by an all-in for 18,000 from the next player. A pass here would normally be easy, but I felt sure about two things. Firstly, from what I had seen, the call from the big stack was probably a marginal hand that would not be interested in this escalating pot. Secondly, the all-in player seemed very loose, and had just lost a cruel pot, so could easily be on tilt. With odds of 3 to 1 being offered, I put all my chips in. I was delighted to see my opponent's pair of fives, but dismayed to see the first card out- a five.
I was now playing the short stack, and my fate would rest on the next hand I played. Unfortunately, my J 10 suited all-in was caught by Dave Colclough, and failed to improve against his Ace King. A couple of hours after I walked out the door a disappointed man, JP Kelly's awesome run continued with another big money victory.
Sunday brought me to Oxford for the earliest ever start I have seen for a poker event - 11am. It was completely necessary, however, as a wonderfully run, slow-structure event went on until three in the morning. I was happy to survive to the final 22, leaving Simon "Aces" Trumper with by far the biggest stack. He finished in second place, making George Kasparis a proud man as the winner of the biggest ever event in the UK.
Next month will see me much further than home, with events in Barcelona and Tallinn, Estonia.
Ed note: Stuart Rutter qualified for the Monte Carlo Millions on-line. Download 32Red Poker here for more of the same big tournaments!