Daniel Negreanu – Poker Articles
Championship Poker at the Plaza — Day OnePoker article written by Daniel Negreanu and published in Card Player Magazine
One of the coolest things about poker being televised now is that I can reference tournaments I've played in to come up with material for my column!
I played in the Plaza event about four months before writing this column, so having the TV backup helps me with the nitty-gritty details.
This tournament took place immediately after the World Series of Poker, where I had a poor showing in the main event but a great tournament overall. This tournament was put together at the last minute, so they didn't have a lot of time to market it. I kind of liked the contrast, though, as the tournament had a very warm, cozy feel to it because everybody knew each other. And as I wrote in a previous column, in the main event at the WSOP, I longed to see a familiar face.
A total of 68 runners started and the event would be broadcast by FoxSportsNet, which suited me just fine. The only other show that FoxSportsNet had aired up to that point was the Showdown at the Sands, and I was lucky enough to make that final table, but disappointed with a sixth-place finish.
I was determined to play my best game and basically bounce back from the brain cramp I had in the main event at the WSOP. Day one wasn't all that eventful for me, but there was one key hand that had several variables to it, and I'd like to share it with you:
With the blinds at $50-$100, I had built my original $10,000 in chips up to $10,400. My table was pretty tough (as were all of them), and I looked down at two black tens in the big blind. It was a decent hand, for sure, but not something I was all that crazy about. Paul Phillips, who's been one of the hottest players in tournament poker over the last two years, limped in from first position. At this point, I figured Paul could have anything. He's not exactly a rock from early position and likes to see cheap flops, which is a common trait of most great players.
In second position, Andy Bloch also called. I have a nickname for Andy that I find appropriate: "Calling Station." Andy is on my "unbluffable" list. He's a "math guy," so anytime the pot is laying him a decent price, he'll call you if he has any reasonable chance of winning.
On the button, Antonio Esfandiari also limped in. From what I'd seen of Antonio's play in limited experiences with him, he is very aggressive from late position and really likes to push marginal hands if he senses weakness. The small blind folded, and it was up to me. I had three options here: (1) just check and try to flop a set; (2) make a standard-sized raise and get value for my hand; or (3) make a big raise and try to pick up the pot right here. I opted for (3) for a couple of reasons:
1. It looked suspicious. Since I was up against three experienced players, I thought a big raise may set off alarm bells in their heads. Oftentimes when several people limp into a pot, one of the blinds will make a shutout raise with a trash hand, looking to pick up the dead money. Phil Hellmuth used to use this play a lot back in the "old days."
2. My hand doesn't play well out of position. If I made a standard-sized raise, chances were that all three of my opponents would call. Then when the flop came, I would be in no man's land unless I flopped a set.
So, I went ahead and overbet the pot ($450) and made it $1,000 more. Paul studied for a little bit, and I tried to get into his head: "Hmm, it looks like he is trying to figure out if it is worth trying to flop a set on me." When Paul finally called the bet, I put him on some sort of pocket pair.
As for Andy, he could call here with a wide variety of hands now that he was getting pot odds. Antonio folded on the button and three of us took the flop: Khearts Qclubs 8spades. Well, that totally missed my hand, and I planned on giving it up to a bet; I checked.
After studying for a few seconds, Paul bet $2,500. Oh well, it was time to abort this mission and move on to the next hand … or was it?
Andy folded and the action was back to me. Something smelled a little fishy about the bet, but I couldn't put my finger on it right away. It was time to look for clues: "He limped in from the one hole and called a $1,000 raise. Would he do that with K-Q? I don't think so," I thought. "How about A-Q? Nope, I doubt it. A-K? Possibly."
Before the flop, I had Paul on a pocket pair, so the hand to really worry about was three eights. Sure, he could also have K-K or Q-Q, but 8-8 was the most likely of the three.
I needed more clues. What else was odd about this bet? Aha, the decoy play! It was very possible that Paul had put me on a straight steal before the flop and was using the decoy play to bluff out Andy. Confused yet? Let me explain: If Paul sensed that I may have been bluffing, he could put extra pressure on Andy by betting the flop. Not only did Andy have to worry about Paul's hand, but he also had to worry about the initial raiser, which was me in this case.
OK, now we seem to be getting closer to solving the mystery, but was there more? Yes, there most certainly was. If Paul actually had A-K or A-Q, my guess was that he would have checked to Andy on the flop, looking to trap him. It was not a monster clue, but it still helped a little bit with my final conclusion.
Before I proceeded any further, I had to put myself in Paul's shoes. If I'm Paul and I have a small pocket pair, I'm thinking, "Daniel may have two jacks here and will have to fold, or he may just have two napkins. Andy could easily have 7-7 or 9-9." Paul, you are a smart guy! "There is $3,750 in the pot, and if I'm right, I can probably pick it up for $2,500, which is a decent price."
So, now the question was, how should I proceed? I now had Paul on either a set of eights or a small pair. I had $9,300 left, so could I raise him $6,800 more and possibly get him to lay down a pair of queens? "Hmm … no, that's unnecessary, and too risky," I thought. "Why don't I just call here and see what develops on the turn."
So, that's what I did. My call had to force Paul to put on the brakes if he was bluffing. After all, I very easily could have A-A, K-K, Q-Q, K-Q, or 8-8 here. The turn card was the 6diamonds, and we both checked. The river brought the 4spades, and again we both checked.
I turned up my two tens and later saw on TV that Paul did have a small pair — the smallest of the small: 2-2. Winning that pot gave me a boost to end an uneventful day one, and I had built my chip count up to $17,925, which was good for 18th place among 36 remaining players.
In the next issue, I'll bring you day two action from the Plaza.
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With over one hundred poker articles spanning the last five years and a new poker article written every two weeks and published in Card Player magazine, Daniel Negreanu brings the world of poker to the tables of countless poker enthusiasts and poker players alike.
As a regular Card Player columnist, Daniel's poker articles have helped many readers learn the game of poker from the early days of an upcoming professional poker player to the realization of a true poker champion last year as Daniel became the 2004 Card Player Player of the Year, as well as, one of the most successful tournament players in history with 36+ worldwide wins and bragging rights as the WPT All-Time Top Money Winner.
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