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Online Poker News Archives - February 9, 2006

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Copyright © 2006

February 9, 2006

Title Defense at the Bellagio Five-Diamond World Poker Classic

Author: Daniel Negreanu

Exactly one year had passed since the most memorable moment in my poker career. Going into the last event of the year, I’d just been passed by David Pham for Card Player Player of the Year honors, and had precisely one tournament to regain the lead. If I made the final nine out of 376 players, I’d regain the lead.

Well, not only did I make the final table, but I did so with the biggest chip lead in World Poker Tour open-event history. I won that tournament, the Player of the Year award, and $1.8 million, to boot.
What a difference a year makes! 2005 had been a struggle for me. I still ended the year on the plus side in tournament poker, but nowhere near the $4.5 million I’d won in 2004.

I was hoping for a little December magic to put a nice finish on the year, and was prepped and rarin’ to go. I was as focused as I could be, and poised to make a run at defending my title.

The first key hand I played set the stage for me to some degree: If I made the right call, I’d be cruisin’; if I blew it, I’d be in the doghouse again. Here is the hand:

Clonie Gowan limped in from early position and my instincts were telling me she didn’t have a monster hand. It was more likely that she had a small pocket pair or maybe a hand like J-9 suited. Two other players limped, one from late position and the other from the button.

In the small blind, I looked down at the A 10. Now, 95 times out of 100, I’m just going to complete the small blind and take a flop; however, I wanted to start getting aggressive early, and since we had $30,000 in chips, I thought I could take a few calculated risks.
With a raise here, I thought my chances of picking up the pot before the flop were excellent, since my read on Clonie was that she had a weakish hand. So, I raised to $850, making my opponents pay a solid price if they wanted to take a flop with a small pair.

Clonie folded, so I assumed that I was home free. Then, the player who limped in from the cutoff seat went into the tank for a bit. He finally called, and it screamed to me of a hand like the A 6 or something like that. Why spades? Heck, I don’t know, that’s just the first suit that popped into my head!

The button folded and we took the flop heads up: A J 6. Well, I was semibluffing before the flop, but now it looked like I had a winner. I decided to bet $1,200, and my opponent called.

The turn card was the 3, giving me a 10-high flush draw to go along with my aces. I didn’t want to “dog it,” so I bet $2,500. My opponent hesitated ever so slightly, and called again.

At this point, I believed I had him with my kicker. I put him on a weak ace and was fully planning on betting the river, looking to get value for my hand.

Well, the river was the 4. Now, I didn’t want to scare him too much, and I also didn’t want to risk too much in case he was trapping me with a better hand, so I bet $2,800. To my surprise, he raised to $7,000!

My gut was telling me that I had to dump the hand. He must have A-10 beat, no? Considering how poorly I’d been doing in tournaments, that started to creep into my head. I was thinking everything imaginable to convince myself not to pay off the hand, but there was one thought that just wouldn’t go away.

Looking back, I had put him on ace-rag suited. Now, since the A was on board, he couldn’t have the nut flush. If he had a flush, he would have had to call my large raise with a suited king or some other type of suited connector. It was possible, but I didn’t think so.

The other possibility was aces up or a set, but would he raise me on the river with the flush already there? If he had A-J, wouldn’t he have raised the turn or the flop? If he made aces and fours on the river, was he the type of player gutsy enough to make a value raise?
Something just didn’t add up, and oftentimes in those situations, that means it’s a bluff or the nuts. However, if he was bluffing, what could he be bluffing with?

Frankly, I was pretty confused, but then I remembered one thing: He reads my column! He’s read about laydowns I’ve made, protection bets I’ve made, kings I’ve folded preflop, and other goofy bluffs I’ve pulled. I called.

He turned over the A 2 and I raked in a nice pot early on. This was no easy call by any stretch of the imagination, and the reason it was so difficult for me was because my initial read on the hand, that he had ace-rag, conflicted with my thinking that he could be bluffing.

Most players, if they actually had an ace, would be happy to just call on the river and hope that I was bluffing and their aces were good. So, when he raised me, if I figured him to be a typical player ( I did not, obviously), I could beat only a total bluff. The problem with that is, as I’ve mentioned, he would have had to have a completely different hand than the one I’d put him on all the way. The K Q and 7 7 were hands I could beat, but I didn’t think for a second that he could have those hands.

It was just such a bizarre bet that it literally made my head spin before I finally came to the conclusion that I should stick with my initial read. If he made aces and fours and had the moxie to raise me, more power to him.

I made it through day one, although it was a struggle after that. My bid for a title defense ended late on day two. Oh well, I was pretty happy with my overall play in the event, and am pumped up for a monster run in 2006. I’m starting the year in the Bahamas, Australia, and Mississippi, and finally will be rounding out the month of January in Atlantic City.

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