Tales from the Felt: Estonia
UK Poker News’ roving Rising Star, Stuart “Easy Pickings” Rutter, once again sends a despatch from his very own European Poker Tour, this time from the historic city of Tallinn where the Baltic Open Championship was held. Here is his report:
Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is a wonderful Baltic city, with a beautiful, undestroyed old town, and is attracting more and more visitors. The Olympic Casino in the centre of town is trying to do the same thing by organising a succession of international poker tournaments, and successfully so.
Pleasantly surprised by the city and well run hotel-casino complex, my second surprise on my arrival day came as I found myself surviving deep into the Omaha tournament. A game in which I have next to no tournament experience, the lack of pressure helped me to play an aggressive game and, to my amusement, I found myself amongst the chip leaders with 11 people left. How disappointing then to lose three consecutive all-ins with the better hand, and achieve an unfortunate first for me - I exited on the bubble, and could only hope for better luck in the next day's Main Event:
The start of a tournament like this with a 10k starting stack generally sees few large pots, but the difficulty that it does bring is the problem of having to play against an opponent who you have not seen play at all. A tricky river card gave me this exact problem against an unknown Estonian player. With two limpers and the big blind in the pot for 50, the flop came 752, of three different suits. This gave my 64 of diamonds an open-ended straight draw, and I raised the big blind's bet of 150 to 400. He passed, but only after the other limper had called my re-raise. I planned to continue the aggression, but needed to find out what type of hand my opponent had. It was possible he had concealed some strong holding on the flop, like trips or two pair, but more likely that he also had a decent draw, with a hand like 68, 34 or 46. A bet on the turn would give me this information, but more importantly set up a bluff on the end if I judged that my opponent also had a drawing hand, and we should both miss.
The turn missed me, coming a king, a second club. I continued my plan, hoping to steal on the end, and bet 1,000. My opponent called, and I was pleased to see an eight of clubs come on the end to make my straight. With the board reading 7h 5c 2s Kc 8c, I made a smallish value bet of 1,200. My opponent thought and thought, before surprising me with a re-raise to 3,200. The tough decision was now on me, but the smallish nature of my opponent's re-raise made me trust that he had hit a hand. Indeed, having called a pot-sized bet on the turn, his hand was an open book. He must have had both straight and flush draw, and now have hit a low flush on the river, either with the 86 of clubs, or the 43.
So, an easy fold, right? Well, it was definitely right not to call, but the fact that I felt fairly confident that I knew my opponent's hand might help me in an altogether different way. At the start of a big tournament with a deep stack, would he call a further raise for all his chips with just a low flush. Unfortunately, this is where I needed a smidgen of information about the man sitting across the table. I know that many people would fold, as long as the nut flush hand fitted with my betting pattern on all three streets, but I was plagued by doubt. Some players are so happy to make a good hand like this that they would not give a moment's thought to throwing it away. Some players even can be convinced that they are beaten, but are still unable to stop themselves calling. What if the reason I hadn't seen this man was indeed that he was playing for the first time? I took the gutless option and passed my hand.
I couldn't say whether this was right or not, but the important point is that there are two situations here where a bluff can be right, but people do not tend to think of it as an option. They are the times when you judge that your opponent has just made a good hand, but by knowing this you know also that it is far from being the nuts. Also, it can be right to bluff on occasions when you yourself hold a good hand. Here are a couple of examples:
1) You chance your luck against a raise with 45 suited, and are lucky enough to hit a flop of 10 5 4, giving you two pair. Your opponent bets out, and calls your re-raise and a big bet on the blank turn. You read him therefore for an over-pair. A second 10 comes on the river, destroying your hand, and your read is made stronger as your opponent checks. Oh well, if this read is right, then you got lucky on your opponent, and now he has outdrawn you.
But wait! People often "forget" to bluff here, and it can work a wonder. Your previous genuine betting had indicated a strong hand, and your opponent will have every reason to think that this may include a ten, or indeed that you made trips on the flop. With a decent-sized bet from you, he might not sniff that your strong hand was the exact one that he can now beat.
2) You hold ace king, and hit a flop and turn of AQ22. Your opponent seems to struggle to call both times. A nine hits the end, and your opponent bets out. Everything seems to tell you that he has outdrawn you with A9. But, do not automatically think that this is the end of the hand. He is a careful player, and you have bet strongly throughout. Is he disciplined enough to believe, with a big re-raise, that you have been betting ace queen all the way? Here, the funny thing is that you need your opponent to be "good" enough to think the hand through. You really need to know your man for this one, as even then, the fact that your opponent "knows" that he is beaten does not mean that he will bring himself to throw away.
Unfortunately, the Main Event would soon turn into the "non-event." With 7k left of the starting stack, I limped with 89 suited and was joyed to see a rainbow flop of J107, more so that my opponent put all of his chips in on the flop. Things weren’t quite as rosy as they had seemed, as my opponent had made three jacks, and a turned ten brought about my downfall. Disappointed by the fact that I didn't think I had done much wrong, and that even the Omaha had seemed a cruel blow, I learnt my biggest lesson of the weekend. We all know that poker can be a cruel game, and this sometimes means a whole trip where the cards can make failure inevitable. This is why the game can't be taken too seriously, and why it is so important to keep smiling through the outdraws.
That was easy enough in a lovely city where a cheap bar meant that the evictees were well entertained. The height of the fun came when a poker-playing acrobat declared he could hold his leg vertically in the air, balancing a bottle on the sole of his foot for ten seconds. The acrobat found a rich Russian backer, and twenty minutes of heated debate followed as to the exact terms of the bet. This meant that it was even more hilarious when the bottle toppled after one second, much to the anger of the Russian gentleman, who will not be backing the acrobat again! Tales next time come from Barcelona!
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