Every year during the World Series of Poker I get the chance to witness big hands, often table side in real time. Many of these hands are demonstrative of big poker concepts. For instance, during the recent 2015 WSOP, I watched WSOP bracelet winners Barny Boatman and Antonio Esfandiari play a monster, one that embodied what it’s likely to suffer a truly bad beat, and perhaps more importantly, how to recover from it.
The hand happened on Day 3 of Event #42: $1,500 Extended Play No-Limit Hold’em — a tournament that originally began with 1,914 players who created a prize pool of $2,583,900. Just 115 players returned for the third day, and before the dinner break they were down to approximately 50 when a big hand went down involving the pair.
It happened in Level 18 (2,500/5,000/500) when a player on the button opened for 11,000 and Boatman three-bet to 30,000 from the small blind. Esfandiari four-bet to 64,000 from the big, the original raiser folded, and Boatman five-bet to 174,000. Esfandiari then moved all in and Boatman called off for 467,500.
Boatman was in trouble, but he was lucky to improve on the flop. Neither the turn nor river helped Esfandiari, and he sent the majority of his chips over to Boatman.
What was originally a cooler for Boatman turned into a bad beat for Esfandiari. Such a hand would send most players spiraling into full-blown tilt, but what about a consummate pro like Esfandiari?
“The most important concept to realise is that once the hand is over there is nothing you can do,” he told me a little later on. “It’s up to you now to decide how strong you want to be emotionally, to either let it go or sort of linger in your system.”
“I chose to play this summer without any emotion, so when it happened, as much as it hurt, I didn’t allow it to hurt,” Esfandiari continued. “I went on with the next hand. I can’t say it didn’t still sting when I was laying in bed, but that moment when it happened I just decided not to feel the pain. You can choose to do that.”
Esfandiari suggested amateurs try their best to do the same when such bad beats occur.
“Just try to take emotion out of the game. If it’s done, there’s nothing you can do about it. Just go on with the next equation, that’s it. Sometimes it hurts right away, sometimes you get frustrated — it just depends on the player and how much control they have. Historically I take beats pretty well. This summer I’ve handled it much better than I’ve ever handled it. It’s just different for everybody, but somehow it’s going to linger through your pores at some point at some level. There’s nothing you can do to get rid of that.”
Esfandiari did his best to recover, and managed to ladder up a bit before exiting in 40th place for $9,457. Meanwhile, Boatman went on to bag the chip lead heading into Day 4. He then proceeded to make the final table, and will be returning today in second position among the five players who remain.
I also had the chance to get Boatman’s take on the hand that allowed him to make such a deep run.
”There was a lot of history between the three players,” Boatman began. “The guy who was on the button was very active. Antonio had come to the table more recently and had seen me the last few rounds come back over the top of this guy who had raised on the button because he was doing it all the time. Antonio had also been re-raising me, and we played two or three hands where I called and then check-raised him on the flop, so there was a dynamic going on there. Even without any of that, the hand kind of played itself because of the positions.”
“Of course I’m sickened because I’d been having a great day,” Boatman continued, referring to his having run his kings into Esfandiari’s aces. ”I’d come from a short stack and built right up. For a moment I was disgusted, and the next moment I was elated. At the same time, I kind of felt bad for Antonio because I know what it’s like when you get a beat like that. I didn’t celebrate. I’d rather win the chips because I had a bad beat, but then again it was only a cooler. These hands, they’re not bad beats if no one plays wrong. I think I cost him a bracelet, and I’m very sorry but I’m going to buy him a steak so I hope that makes up for it.”
Bad beats happen. For every player that gets lucky, someone gets unlucky. Sometimes it happens in crucial points of a tournament. As cliché as it sounds, that’s poker. If you want to succeed, to become a world-class player, you need to find a way to roll with the punches. Of course oftentimes that’s easier said than done.