Saturday, August 19, 2006

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

How to play small pairs, in Texas Hold em

There's been much written on the subject of playing small pairs in Texas Hold'em. Small pairs consist of 2-2, 3-3, 4-4, 5-5 and 6-6. With so many words devoted to the topic, it's obvious that there are opposing theories regarding the best way to play them.

Here are my suggestions.

Unlike higher pairs, small pairs should not be played in all situations. Several factors determine whether you should enter a pot with a small pair: position, chip count, number of players, and cost to play.

In a typical ten-handed game, playing a small pair from early position simply won't show you a profit at the end of the year.

Your chip count and your opponent's stack size are also important considerations when deciding to call. If a player raises to 600 and only has 500 left, it's just not worth trying to catch trips on the flop, since you'll only be able to win an additional 500.

If, however, both you and your opponent have 30,000 in front of you, it makes more sense to see a flop for 600. If you're lucky enough to catch a set on the flop, you'll win a monster pot.

The number of players needs to be a considered, too, especially in a structured, limit game. Small pairs fare fine against one opponent, but generally don't do well in three or four-handed pots. However, if there are five or more players, you'd be getting excellent value. Go ahead and try to hit your set.

Small pairs want to see the flop as cheaply as possible. If someone just calls the big blind in front of you, then you can limp along for the minimum bet, hoping to capitalize after the flop. However, if the blinds are, say, 100-200, and an opponent raises the pot to 1,500, that's just too large a bet for you to stick around.

Once you've actually gotten to a flop, how you proceed depends on the number of opponents in the pot. If there are several players remaining, you should only continue if you flop three of a kind.

Against one or two opponents, though, you've got my green light to take one more shot at winning the pot. When choosing to do that, flop texture is of the utmost importance.

Suppose you're in a three-way pot and the flop comes Qh-10d-9h. This is a horrible flop for your lowly pair of fives; if anyone bets, fold. Even if they don't bet, you shouldn't try a bluff here, since it's far too likely that one of your opponents has something to go with that flop, like J-10 or Q-K.

A better texture would look something like Q-Q-3 or K-7-2.

With these flops, you can go ahead and bet your small pairs. Your opponents will probably fold unless they have a queen or king. If you consider yourself an aggressive player, you might try raising with these hands on occasion.

The best time to raise is when you're looking to steal the blinds. This strategy only works if no one has entered the pot before you. Also, being in late position increases the chances of the play being successful. If you raise from early position, there are too many hands to act behind you that might call.

When you raise with a small pair in position, you must play it strong after the flop. If an opponent in the blind calls your raise, then you must bet on virtually any flop -- even a flop as ugly as A-K-Q! Because you raised pre-flop, he'll think that you improved your hand. If he has a hand like Q-9, you'll probably win the pot with an aggressive bet.

Here's my rule of thumb: When playing small pairs, play them cheaply if you can, and only continue after the flop if you hit your trips.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Gold hits $12M jackpot by winning poker's top prize

Seventy-five minutes before Sin City struck midnight Friday, casino executives escorted by pistol-packing guards carried 14 briefcases from a vault at the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino and deposited the contents on a large, reinforced poker table next to the final table of the $10,000 buy-in, no-limit Texas Hold'em main event at the 37th annual World Series of Poker.
As the last five players of an original 8,773 who started play July 28 looked on, more than a half ton of $100 bills totaling $12 million was unloaded on the table 20 feet away.

The guards may as well have deposited the cash in Jamie Gold's bank account to save time. The 36-year-old television producer and former Hollywood talent agent couldn't have written a better script as he ruled the WSOP's main event from the first day he played and dominated action on the final day. Gold nearly went wire-to-wire with the chip lead after each daily marathon session of the two-week tournament and won the record $12 million first-place check from a record $85 million in prize money given out for the main event.

"This was the best poker I've played in my life," Gold said. "I was lucky sometimes, but I outplayed others on a lot of other occasions. I think I played well for the last week. I protected myself well, I protected my big chips leads, and I was on a good roll."

Gold played especially well on the final table, knocking out seven of the eight other players. After 13 hours, 42 minutes and 236 hands, Paul "Kwickfish" Wasicka was Gold's final victim. With a pocket pair of tens, Wasicka went all-in with his final $6 million but saw Gold pair his queen on the board for the winning pair. Wasicka won $6.1 million for second place.

"(Gold) played awesome," Wasicka said. "His play got better every day. I thought I had a good read on him, but he was tough."

Gold, who once represented numerous actors including James Gandolfini of The Sopranos and Felicity Huffman of Desperate Housewives in negotiations with major studio executives, put a vise-like grip on the final table just before 9 p.m. Thursday when he won a pot worth more than $35 million and eliminated 55-year-old investor Richard Lee from San Antonio, Texas, in the process. Lee was in second place at the time.

Gold's pocket pair of queens held on against Lee's pocket pair of jacks and Gold suddenly had $54 million in chips, nearly $40 million more than his nearest rival.

"I built up enough of a chip stack that people had to get really lucky to beat me," Gold said. "I wanted to keep the pressure on when I got a huge chip lead."

Another major win for Gold came five hours later when he knocked out four-time WSOP bracelet winner Allen Cunningham, the only established professional player at the final table and considered by most pro poker players to be the favorite among the finalists.

Cunningham went all in with his last $7 million with a pair of tens and was called by Gold's king-jack. Gold hit a king on the flop and the pair held up.

Cunningham won $3.6 million for finishing fourth.

A little over an hour later, Michael Binger, 29, who describes himself as a professional poker player and part-time theoretical physicist – he earned a PhD in theoretical particle physics from Stanford earlier this year – was on the wrong end of a fortunate turn card by Gold.

All in with his last $4.3 million, Binger led with a pair of tens before Gold filled out his straight with a seven on the turn. Binger finished third and won $4.1 million.

Gold's good fortune against Binger was the way things were much of the night for him. Aside from one stinging loss of more than $11 million of his chips against Wasicka early Thursday night, Gold controlled the flow of the final table and hit key cards on a few occasions.

Using his sizeable chip lead – he started the final table with $25 million to lead by nearly $8 million – Gold was aggressive throughout the afternoon and late into the night, played a lot more hands than the other players, and walked away with $12 million, instant fame, and the WSOP champion's bracelet, which this year features 170 handpicked, full-cut diamonds.

Receiving instruction and tips from friend, two-time WSOP main event champion and 10-time WSOP bracelet winner Johnny Chan during the tournament, Gold made very few mistakes and took command early.

"Johnny kept telling me every day that I was doing everything perfectly," Gold said. "That's just his way of giving me confidence. He won't tell you, but he helped me so much. He doesn't realize how much he helped me."

As Gold said, Chan gave all the credit to the player.

"He played as well on the final table as I've ever seen," Chan said. "He played better than me today. He knocked out all the players except for one. Maybe I'm a better coach than a player. This is great. I feel like I won my 11th bracelet."

After the final nine players took their positions at a poker table with more than 2,000 people watching in the Amazon Room of the cavernous Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino, Gold knocked out the first player 15 minutes and five hands into action.

Dan Nassif, a 33-year-old account executive from St. Louis who started the final table with the fewest amount of chips ($2.6 million), had ace-king against Gold's pocket pair of twos, but Gold hit another two on the flop for three of a kind, which held up for the win.

Nassif joked after being eliminated that some of his $1.566 million payday for finishing ninth would go to his friends.

"To everyone back home who ordered the pay-per-view, I'm sorry. I'll give you $25," Nassif laughed. "Hopefully, all my friends back home all watched it in one spot."

Erik Friberg wasn't in a laughing mood three hours later when Gold knocked him out of the tournament. Despite cashing for $1,979,189 for his eighth-place finish, Friberg was a sore loser after his all-in bet of $5 million with a pair of pocket jacks eventually lost to Gold's three queens.

"I'm feeling very disappointed right now, because I played so poorly today," the 23-year-old Swede said. "Today, I don't know what happened to me. This is not the way I wanted it to end."

Gold didn't have anything to do with the third player eliminated from the final table – Douglas Kim, a 22-year-old recent graduate in economics from Duke University, who finished seventh to win $2,391,520. His two pair of nines and fours lost to the 25-year-old former bartender Wasicka's pair of queens and fours.

Lee, who went all in with his last $17.4 million chips against Gold, was the fourth player eliminated – the third by Gold.

"I gave it my best shot," said Lee, who won $2.8 million for finishing sixth. "Jamie was raising a lot of pots and I thought I had him beat, but obviously, I didn't quite evaluate the hand the right way. I just came up short."

Eleven hours into play, Gold took out Rhett Butler, a 44-year-old insurance agent from Rockville, Md. Butler played very conservatively for more than 10 hours until going all in with a pair of pocket fours. Gold's pair of jacks finished Butler, who won $3.2 million for fifth place.

"I was waiting for cards; if I get any cards, I will play," Butler said. "But I kept feeling dominated by the other players, so I had to fold a lot."

Thursday, August 10, 2006

9 players left at World Series of Poker

Nine players — four pros, a former talent agent, an insurance broker, an ad salesman, a recent college grad and a retired businessman — were all that remained from a field of more than 8,700 hopefuls vying for poker's biggest prize of $12 million early Wednesday.

Around 2:20 a.m., after a dozen hours of play, Fred Goldberg, a 30-year-old general contractor from Hollywood, Fla., bet all his remaining 2.8 million in chips on the only hope he had left: that no other players had decent cards and that he could pick up the blind bets and antes that left a pot of 440,000 chips for the taking.

Unfortunately for him, Richard Lee, the businessman from San Antonio looked down at his cards and saw pocket kings, and called.

"I wasn't happy going to the final table without chips," Goldberg said after being knocked out in 10th place. "I got very unlucky."

Goldberg's queen and three received no help from the board, sending him home one seat away from the final table, but with a $1.15 million payday.

Afterward, the surviving players shook hands and congratulated each other for making it to poker's biggest stage.

Some were youngsters who had honed their skills in one of dozens of Internet poker sites that are based offshore because they are illegal in the United States.

Douglas Kim, a 22-year-old who graduated in May with an economics degree from Duke University, spent $3,000 buying into online satellite tournaments and won the last one available for $650. He'll start work at a financial consulting firm in New York in September, but said he is trying not to think about anything but the cards and players in front of him.

"I just still can't believe it right now," he said.

Dan Nassif, a 33-year-old newspaper ad salesman from St. Louis, qualified for his second
World Series main event in two years online. Last year he busted out in five hours. This year, he's guaranteed to go home a millionaire.

"I'm living my dream," he said. "My boss even text messaged me, wanting to know if I was quitting. I told him not to worry, that I wasn't going to."

The 55-year-old Lee said his wife forced him to get out of the house after retiring from running several businesses eight years ago. He returned to playing poker. It was a game he learned at the age of 14 when his father hosted games at their home with local bigwigs.

"My father would be smiling on me right now," Lee said.

Rhett Butler, a 45-year-old insurance agent from Rockville, Md., returned to his former profession after a hiatus of several decades during which he got married and had children.

"My buddies put up half the money," he said. "They're here rooting me on."

Heading into the final grueling day of poker on Thursday after a day of rest, former Hollywood talent agent Jamie Gold was chip leader with 25.6 million, four-time World Series bracelet winner Allen Cunningham was second with 17.8 million and Lee was third with 11.8 million.

Nassif had the smallest stack at 2.6 million, while Swedish pro Erik Friberg was 4th with 9.6 million, Internet player Paul Wasicka was fifth with 8 million, Kim was 6th with 6.8 million, and Butler was 7th with 4.8 million.

Michael Binger staved off elimination late in the day, doubling up to about 3.1 million, in eighth place, when his ace and queen caught a miracle ace on the turn, beating Goldberg's pocket 10s.

"The burden is off," said the 29-year-old pro from Atherton, Calif. "I'm at the final table and now I can play poker and go for the win."

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

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Tuesday, August 8, 2006

WSOP Main Event Update - 27 Player Left

The big names are in short demand at the 2006 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event as only two former WSOP gold bracelet winners remain in the final grouping of 27.

Allen Cunningham, one of only four players to win four gold bracelets before the age of 30, currently resides in 13th place and has a respectable $2.65 million chips.

His stack is one million below the average and well behind the chip leader Jamie Gold ($13 million), but his experience and solid play may just land him at the final table come Thursday.

Cunningham has already won a bracelet in 2006 and considering his consistent play this summer, a continued strong run through this huge field may boost him past poker upstart Jeff Madsen for WSOP Player of the Year honors.

Cunningham already has a player of the year title on his mantle from last year's WSOP.

Big names falling during Tuesday's action included Humberto Brenes and Cong Do. Brenes was the only player among the final 45 who had previously made a WSOP Main Event final table (1988). Do, primarily known as a cash player, has two final tables and six cashes in his WSOP career.

Gold continues his dominance, using his massive chip lead to subdue would be challengers. He began the day with a little more than $7 million in chips and was almost able to double that total on Day 6. He will begin Tuesday's play with nearly a 2 to 1 chip lead over second place Erik Friberg ($7.735 million).

Other notable players still in the hunt are Jeffrey Lisandro (8th Place) and 2003 Pot-limit Hold'em bracelet winner Prahlad Friedman (16th place). Lisandro has six WSOP final tables to his name and Friedman is the only other player remaining besides Cunningham who has won a WSOP event.

Main Event play will begin today at 12 p.m. PST. Each of the 27 players remaining is guaranteed $494,797. Below is a listing of the pay structure for the remainder of the Main Event.

27 thru 19 - $494,797

18 thru 16 - $659k

15 thru 13 - $907k

12 thru 10 - $1.15 million

9th Place - $1.56 million

8th Place – $1.98 million

7th Place – $2.39 million

6th Place - $2.8 million

5th Place - $3.21 million

4th Place - $3.62 million

3rd Place - $4.12 million

2nd Place - $6.1 million

Winner - $12 million

Sunday, August 6, 2006

1,159 players remaining in World Series of Poker

After six days of poker, 1,159 players remain in the hunt for poker's biggest prize, the $12 million top purse for the winner of the main event at the World Series of Poker.
Dmitri Nobles has the lead at 549,200 in chips when play resumes Friday at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino after a day off.

Ken Jacobs, son of poker pro Tom Jacobs, was fourth with 375,300, while Canadian "Kid Poker" Daniel Negreanu was sixth with 331,000.

On Friday, for the first time this tournament, all the survivors of the original pool of 8,773 entrants will be playing in the same room at the same time.

The $10,000-buy-in, no-limit Texas Hold 'em tournament also will begin paying off those who get knocked out, starting with the 873rd-place finisher, who will receive $14,597. The final table of nine will play down starting Aug. 10.

Defending champion Joseph Hachem was well back in the pack with 114,100 in chips. Other notable pros still in the hunt include Humberto Brenes with 148,300, Ted Forrest with 130,900, Josh Arieh with 85,600, Cyndy Violette with 79,000, Juan Carlos Mortensen with 77,600, Hoyt Corkins with 67,900, Annie Duke with 67,000, Freddy Deeb with 64,500, Chris "Jesus" Ferguson with 55,200, Kathy Liebert with 48,500 and Phil Ivey with 23,400.

Notables who have busted in the 37th annual World Series of Poker main event include Phil Hellmuth Jr., Doyle Brunson, Greg Raymer, Mike "The Mouth" Matusow, Jennifer Harman, Huck Seed, Adam Schoenfeld, "Machinegun" Patty Gallagher, Men "The Master" Nguyen, Eric Froehlich, Barry Greenstein, John Juanda, Andrew Black and David Williams.

Also on the sidelines as play resumes are Lennox Lewis, Erik Seidel, Erick Lindgren, Max Pescatori, Vince Van Patten, Lyle Berman, Sean Sheikhan, Sam Farha, Benjamin Lin, Liz Lieu, Jennifer Tilly, Gavin Smith, Tiffany Williamson, Paul Darden, James Garner, Tobey Maguire, Chris Masterson, Mekhi Phifer, Antonio Tarver and Norm MacDonald.