Like many players in Minnesota, I underestimated Kou Vang. This isn’t terribly embarrassing, I didn’t know anything about him and had not played with him when I made my mistake, and it didn’t cost me much. I simply bet on Everett Carlton when the MSPT event at Canterbury Park was three handed. I got a good price, I knew Everett was a very strong player, and I made an educated gamble. It just wasn’t educated enough, and Kou won the event, costing me $180.
The real problem is that I underestimated him twice. Once is completely forgivable, but I should have known better the second time.
Not long after he won the BLUFF Mid-States Poker Tour event, Kou contacted me and I got to know him a little bit. We played in a number of smaller tournaments together, but we didn’t play any big hands and it was never for a long period of time. I never got a good feel for his game or an understanding of how well he sees the game until he was on my right for six hours at the $500 Big Stack Avalanche tournament at Running Aces.
Spending a few hours talking to Kou, three-betting Kou, and eventually giving almost half my chips to Kou, helped me understand that he really thinks about the game clearly. One hand from that tournament illustrates how we both see the game and how a typical tournament pro looks at a hand, as well as (sadly) exposing my willingness to play a big hand against a strong player when I probably shouldn’t have.
The blinds were 50/100 and Kou and I both had over 20,000 in our stacks to start the hand. He was on the button to my immediate right, and I was in the small blind. The hijack seat, two to his right, raised to 350 pre-flop and Kou called on the button.
Mistake #1 – I called because there was a caller and I had a reasonable, speculative hand with A♥9♥. I thought the pre-flop raiser might be a good target, but I didn’t consider the fact that having a strong player in the hand with position on me isn’t going to make me any money, and it might be better if Kou hadn’t called. Truth be told, if Kou hadn’t called I might have just thrown the hand away, and having him in the hand is never a good reason to get involved.
I called and the big blind folded. The flop was K♥10♣3♥, giving me the nut flush draw. I checked, the hijack bet, and Kou called. I have to either call or raise here, but it’s a tough choice. Some very strong players will say that this is a raise every time and if necessary you just get your chips in. I wanted to avoid that. The bet was 700, and with Kou calling it, the pot was around 3,000. I would have had to raise to 2,500 to have any chance at making them both fold. With two opponents and a king on the board I was hesitant to raise and give one of them a chance to shove on me when all I had was a draw. I called, planning to reevaluate on the turn.
The turn was a brick, the 7♣. I considered betting out, but with two opponents, I didn’t want to face a big raise and be blown off my draw. I checked, and the hijack seat checked. Now I knew he could be forced to fold even if he had a made hand like Ace-King, and I really didn’t think he was very strong. Kou bet 2,375, about 2/3 pot. Once the hijack and I both check, I know that Kou will almost always bet. It’s the smart play with any reasonable hand because we have both shown weakness.
I didn’t think that Kou would check a big hand like a set or two pair on the flop with the draws on the board, and I didn’t think he would bet a draw and open himself up to being check-raised off his hand. I was pretty sure he had a medium strength made hand, either a king or a big ten. A set of 7’s was a small possibility, but I thought a king was most likely. If he had a medium strength made hand, and I made a scary raise, I thought he would fold, worrying that I had a better hand, assuming that I wouldn’t make a play with a draw on the turn, and knowing that I don’t get out of line very often with a deep stack.
Most of these things were true.
Mistake #2 – I underestimated Kou for the second time. After we talked about the hand later, and he gave me permission to write an article about it including his thoughts, I learned that he was thinking a level higher than I anticipated. He knew there were draws on the flop as well as I did. He knew I wouldn’t usually slow play a big made hand with a board full of draws. And he knew that I was a thinking player, capable of making a move on him.
Most intermediate players would assume I had a big hand here. They would put me on a set or two pair and throw their hand away. But Kou knew that I wouldn’t usually play a flopped set or two pair this way because of the draws. He knew that there was almost no chance I would hit the seven with the range of hands I could over call with out of position on the flop. Somehow he knew that I was full of it when I check-raised to 6,700 on the turn.
Kou told me later that he would have folded the river if I pushed all-in. This was a surprise. I figured that any hand that would call that large a bet on the turn, except possibly queen-jack, would have to call the river as well in case I was bluffing with a draw. The pot was huge on the river, but I believe him when he says he was folding to a river shove. Maybe he just knew I didn’t have the guts to shove the river with air in that spot. And he’s right, bluffing off a big stack early in a tournament isn’t my style.
The river was the K♣, and any thoughts I had of shoving (I did have them) disappeared. Much of his range included a king in his hand, and I didn’t want to shove into top trips. We both checked and he showed a ten to win the hand.
Mistake #3 – I have played my hand like I have a monster so far. If Kou had a big made hand, he would have shoved the turn to punish me in case I was on a draw. If I shove all-in, and he doesn’t have a king, he has to fold. With two kings on the board, he is not likely to hold one, and I’m sure that he doesn’t have ace-king or he would have shoved the turn. I should have pushed all-in on the river, trying to win a pot that was bigger than my stack with a better than 50/50 chance that my opponent would fold.
Of course Kou went on to chop the event, get two hours of sleep and stumble into Canterbury the next day to have a deep run in the Winter Freeze Out event. When a good player is running good there is no stopping them. I’ll get you next time Kou. Because now I know what I’m up against.