Tales From The Felt: Barcelona
UK Poker News’ Euro-trotting correspondent and poker player, Stuart “Easy Pickings” Rutter, reports back from sunny Barcelona in Spain, where the great and the good of European poker gathered for a few hands of hold’em, heads-up style, while Stuart preferred some of the side events – a wise choice as it turned out!
At the end of May, the best in Europe headed to Barcelona for the World Heads-Up Championships. With a consistent string of second place finishes in Heads-Up matches, I opted to the stick to the side events. There was an impressive structure of events, as the week ended with a €1,000 freezeout and then a €2,000 Main Event.
At the start of the week, the favourites had fallen quickly in the Heads-Up Championship. The Devilfish, Marcel Luske, Xuyen Pham and Pascal Perrault were all first round casualties, and this meant the lesser mortals would have to spring another surprise in the toughened-up side events.
In the €1,000 freezeout, I survived to the second day and the money, and hoped to come back and make an impact. Just three hands in, the button went all in on my big blind, and I looked down praying for a hand. Looking down, I said "It would be a good time to find...CALL," finding two kings! My opponent was fairly weak, but unfortunately his A5 offered him some outs. Not one, but two, of those outs arrived, and I was down to the felt against trip aces, having to throw the last few remaining chips in with the next decent hand. This was KQ, and it failed to improve against the big stack's A3, and I exited in 14th. I was left reflecting that poker can sometimes be as cruel as it is exciting and rewarding, and hoping for better luck in the Main Event.
The big names gathered like vultures before the start of the next day's €2,000 freezeout, and I was relieved to have a slightly less recognisable table than expected. John Duthie, Tony Chessa and Jan Heitemann were the faces I recognised, and the action started off quick.
Just a few hands in, I hit a dream flop. In a pot with 4 limpers, my 33 became three of a kind on a flop of AJ3, two hearts. Continuing the good news, the German player to my right led out for a near pot-sized bet of 600. The crucial ingredient of the hand was the short stack sitting to my left, who I knew had exactly 1,350 in chips in front of him. I sensed that he was ready to throw them all in, and so flat called the 600. Indeed the rest of the short stack's chips went in, which of course complicated the issue by allowing for a re-raise.
It seemed so unlikely that the German player had limped with a pair of jacks or aces, and then bet out with trips, and I decided that I would have to be prepared to pay him off if that was the case. My concern was how best to get the rest of his 10,000 starting stack into the pot. Holding as he did a more marginal hand, the short stack had now given him a big problem. He would want to protect his hand against my likely flush draw, but at the same time risked walking into a set trap. To my delight, he made it 3,800 to go, leaving 5,000 in front of him. At this stage, it seemed a near certainty to me that he held AJ for two pair, and I considered for a moment a further greedy slow play to make sure to get the rest of his chips into the pot. I decided that the pot was already too big for greediness, and shoved all of my chips into the pot. Indeed, the German player found himself committed, and called with AK, top pair top kicker. It seemed that I would only have to survive the short stack's flush draw until a jack paired the board on the turn, giving the large stacked opponent a scary four outs to eliminate me. A beautiful blank fell on the river, however, and I had got off to the perfect start.
The first interesting aspect of the hand was the effect the turned Jack may have had if I had opted for a further slow play. As I had read my opponent for top two pair, it would have given me a really tough decision and an opportunity to make a horrible laydown! The often under-emphasised lesson from the hand is the importance of knowing the chip counts around the table, especially that of the short stack. The shortest stack being the most likely to go all in, knowledge of his stack size is essential in the hand as a whole. By making the mistake of betting just under half of the short stack, the German player allowed me to set a trap and gave himself a real dilemma when the action came back to him.
After this early double up, the deck hit me across the face once again, as my AK of hearts flopped the nut flush on an 873 board. I checked the flop, and a black queen fell next, probably the perfect turn card. I couldn't believe my luck as my pot sized bet was called to my left, and check raised by the big blind to 3,500. I went against my aggressive instincts once again, and decided just to call. If he was bluffing me, I did not wish to discourage him, and should a blank arrive on the river, I may well be perceived to be bluffing a missed flush myself. A 5 of hearts on the river seemed a slight disappointment as my opponent maybe would think that I had just made my hand, but to my delight he continued, with 4,000 of his remaining 6,300 stack. As he passed his hand to my all-in, it seemed likely he had been running an ill-timed bluff.
Things began to seem a little less rosy as I was moved tables, and found myself with Marcel Luske sitting two to my left. Sunglasses upside-down, he was full of song, and made it a very friendly table. I was soon in the action as I called a raise in position with two red jacks. A flop of AQ3, with two diamonds, looked like a miss for me, but my opponent bet small, and seemed unconfident. I called, hoping to maybe take the pot away with the right turn card, and a beautiful black Jack fell next. Something worried me, however, in the demeanour of my opponent as he checked. I thought long, but it seemed that the jack had either just done something serious for my opponent's hand or, if not, I was more likely to be called by betting the river. A blank-looking five fell next, and my opponent led out for 5,000. If my suspicions were correct, there seemed no point raising here, but equally I didn't feel I could pass. My opponent showed an offsuit K10 for the turned nuts, and, though disappointed to lose the hand, I was relieved to have not been dealt a bigger blow.
Yet another flopped set, this time three fives, came soon after, and this time the same opponent had a smaller piece of the board, and I was up near the 50,000 mark. I was moved across tables a few times in quick succession, but the action slowed down for me. Most of the interest came from the next table, where the two kings of Marc Goodwin, big chip leader in the tournament, had somehow managed to clash all in before the flop with the A2 of a Spanish lady, who herself had 70,000 in chips. An amazing 345 flop had the Spaniards screaming for delight, and Marc Goodwin white in the face with disappointment.
With the top 18 paid and now only 30 players left, thoughts turned to the points and prizes. To succeed in a hold’em tournament needs the right judgement and right timing, but very often another crucial ingredient is winning the big race. As I raised with ace king offsuit, the aggressive Swede in the big blind went all in for 33,000, and, after long consideration, the 2 to 1 pot odds and large possibility of a coin flip scenario forced me to make a horribly big call. A king hit the flop, and though a 10 and a 9 offered a few more back-outs, I was delighted to see the turn and river come blank.
Approaching the end of a long day and with everyone ever nearer to the last 18, I tried to use my big stack to steal the blinds and antes. The two pots that did arise, however, could have played themselves out. First, I raised in late position with A4 against the short stack's blind, a certain Marcel Luske. I told myself to push the rest in whatever the flop, but the 235 that came changed my mind. I had hit a miracle, and flopped the wheel! I hoped one more card would help Marcel's hand, and indeed he couldn't avoid losing the rest of his chips as the turned queen gave him top pair.
Pocket kings is always a lovely hand to find, especially so after raising a few hands in succession. When Swede Per Sjogren pushed all in, I hoped he was simply standing up to me. His two aces were quite a weapon to stand up with, and I couldn't avoid a dent in my stack. Shortly after, however, the adjacent table knocked out the unlucky eleventh player, and I would be coming back for the final table the next day with 110,000 in chips.
After eleven hours or so to catch some sleep and for the nerves to build, we were back for the final table, and had a massive chip leader. Sitting immediately to my left, a local player started the day with 350,000 in chips, and had soon dispatched two players, amazingly winning two "races", with J10 against two queens and J8 suited against two jacks! Lady Luck must have been permanently on his side for the previous day and a bit, and he seemed compelled to make a lot of calls and take a lot of gambles. I, along with the rest of the table, sensed a big opportunity to make some chips. First I was put to a real test as I raised with two jacks, and the big blind, having my 115,000 covered, quickly said "all in”. Something was different in her demeanour to her previous all in, where she had shown a big hand, and I eventually called. Pleased to see A10, I still had bullets to dodge, but three queens and two blanks helped me to double up to 230,000.
My problem now was the three tricky and experienced players to the left of the Spaniard immediately on my left. I knew that they all had the nous and, importantly, the right number of chips, to put all their 100,000 or so stack in when I raised and the Spaniard made his wide-ranging call. When exactly this happened after I raised with AQ, I had to bite the bullet, and myself re-raised all in. I was pleased to see him pass and the young Swede's ace jack, but a double paired board kept him alive and denied me the scoop.
Soon, after a rare pass round, I came up against the monster stack in a battle of the blinds. I made up the blind with 93 suited, and assumed from the Spaniard's check that he too held a weak starting hand. A flop of A23 with two diamonds made it likely that my hand was in front, and I bet the pot. I was called, and a concerning 6 of diamonds came next. I knew that a small bet would get an answer as to whether my opponent had the flush, as he was inclined to always bet big with made hands. A black ace paired the board on the river, and I needed a long think. It was possible that I was in front against this calling type player, and unlikely that I was facing a very strong hand such as a made flush, flopped straight, or three aces. Thinking it through, what seemed very likely was that I was slightly behind. Yes, a three, possibly with a higher kicker, or indeed a 64 or 65, giving him a gutshot on the flop and now a higher pair seemed to fit this pattern exactly. Well, I thought, if I can bluff him off the better hand now, and show it to him, I've set up the situation for a big hand later on.
Unfortunately, Easy Pickings had struck again; he called my 80,000 bet immediately and showed the one hand I thought was very unlikely, three aces. Though most players would raise either before the flop or on this dangerous flop with an ace, it should have come as no surprise that this Spanish gentleman preferred to call. In hindsight, the lesson is that it is often worth concentrating massively on the player at the table against whom you are most likely to play a pot, indeed a very big pot, and trying to work out all the details of their play before that big decision comes.
Never mind, I thought, I still had 125,000 in chips, indeed not far different from three of the other five players at the table, with one shorter stack and one now very clear leader! As the small stack moved in on my big blind, pot odds compelled me to call with A5 against the Spanish lady's A7 in clubs. She was not a quiet character, and as she flopped the nut flush, she yelped and high-fived her watching friends, and amazingly high-fived me! It's not something I've ever seen before, but I thought it was rather nice and added to the feel of a really friendly tournament! Unfortunately, it was a tournament in which I was now the shortest stack, and, with large blinds and antes, it was worth me pushing with a large range of hands. This I did with A6, but I was caught, once again by the Spaniard, with A8. I didn't quite get the spilt pot I hoped for, as the board came 2725A, and left the 6th place finisher. One split pot from the two low ace versus lower ace confrontations would have been nice, but to rue my luck would have been to forget my luck of the previous day, and I left a happy man.
Soon after, a deal was agreed between the top four finishers, with local Diego Pradera surely taking by far the biggest cut. Congratulations to him and to Thomas Kremser and team on running a very friendly event. The next tales of delight and woe come from the Irish Poker Tour Final in Dublin.
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