Poker is a beautiful game of skill. Its depth and complexity have always drawn me in. I think that in it one can find the ultimate expression of rationality and self-discipline in their raw forms. I had just bubbled out of a small poker tournament due to a momentary lack of both. For those of you whom are not familiar with tournament poker terminology, finishing on the bubble means that I finished one spot outside of the money payouts. In this case, I had finished in 11th place, when 10 people were to make the money. Then again, if you did not know this, you probably won’t gain anything by reading on… Save yourself some time and move on ;)
If you know tournament poker, feel free to read on for the TL;DR:
With 13 people left, I had a chip stack of approximately 17.5 big blinds. It was 6 handed at my table and I looked down at the TT in the cutoff. I had been raising a lot of hands in this position, and my standard raise was 2.5 big blinds. I made it 2.5BB again. The guy in the big blind had about 13 big blinds. He had not played a single hand for approximately 5-6 orbits. He asked me the following question: “Why do you keep raising my blinds?” I answered: “Because I have a huge hand.” To this he responded by immediately declaring: “I am all in.” I analyzed the situation and came to the following conclusion: “This guy had not played a hand in approximately 6 orbits and he immediately pushed all in when I told him that I had a huge hand in that specific situation and sat back in his chair.” It’s as if he told me: “The worst hand I can have here is TT+ or AQ+.” In that situation, there was no way I could ever be far ahead - it’s as if he played his hand face up. At best, I was a 57.2% favorite (if, for example he had AQ). At worst, I was a 4-1 underdog. The pot was laying me about 1.5-1 money odds. A truly miserable situation any way you slice it. Even if it were to be a coin toss, it wouldn’t have been exceptionally favorable equity. Against that gentleman, it was almost never going to be a coin toss.
Instead of folding and leaving myself with 15 big blinds (in this case, I would have still had the second biggest stack on the table and the third or fourth biggest stack in the remaining field), I went completely against all rationality and took one last look at my otherwise very strong hand of TT and shoved in the remaining 10.5 big blinds. To those of you whom have been paying attention, I don’t need to tell you what he turned over: KK. The rest was history.
There were 5 other players on that table, against whom calling with TT in that same situation would have been a standard play. Against that individual, it was the worst possible mistake of the tournament. It ultimately cost me the money bubble, and likely a top 3 finish - given that the rest of the field were some of the softest players that I’ve played against in a long time.
When playing poker against live opponents, always side with reason and use all past observations to your advantage (so long as you have been observing your opponents up to that point). In that case, your hand is merely secondary to the meta-game and the observations that you had made up to that crucial moment.
First place was $4750. Next time.