Elite players can often come in different forms. For instance, Dan Harrington plays a much different style than ElkY Grospellier, but they are both elite. There is, however, something that all the best players do that separate them from mere mortals, they are willing to make plays that typical players wouldn’t even consider.
This isn’t Vegas, most of us in the region aren’t professionals. Most players have daytime jobs. Therefore, its much more difficult for that average player to grasp pulling the trigger on a strange move, because it might not work. Then they have to live with that result for the next three to four weeks until they play again. Pros will just play another tournament the next day – poorly-timed move forgotten.
Or, the standard player doesn’t have an unlimited poker bankroll. They have kids and a home. They don’t feel comfortable being ousted from a tournament in twenty minutes that they spent months waiting to play or losing a buy-in they worked all week to earn.
Probably worse than the fear of busting is the fear of looking like a donkey! Players who get caught attempting to make a play out of the ordinary are typically subject to ridicule from fellow players. Players that don’t understand level- two or level three-logic tend to quickly deem another’s play terrible. Just read my book “Poker Players are Narcissistic Sociopaths” for more on that topic. Did you like that shameless plug?
The point is, the best players are willing to go broke, even with garbage, if the situation is right. They don’t care what anyone else thinks. They know why they are making every play. They actually follow through on their instincts. They have an understanding of basic poker concepts and know why a particular play has become standard. They then utilize that information to create crazy ways to play hands. You can’t become a great poker player by playing standard poker. You’re not always going to be dealt big hands. Great players invent ways to accumulate chips, not by what cards they are holding, but rather by what cards YOU are not holding.
I’m about to tell you about a hand scenario that played out during the Pot of Gold tournament between myself and Kou Vang. In this instance Vang lost the pot, but how he played the hand, in my opinion, was genius. And he did what 99% of us wouldn’t have thought to do or had the stones to do. This is why we always see Kou Vang with a massive stack, he thinks at a different level.
I hope he’s not annoyed with me for sharing some of his secrets here. But I know the local poker community is fascinated with how he does it. So while the rest of us complain about being card dead and running bad, Kou Vang will be collecting our chips I’m sure.
Here’s the situation…
Vang had been moved to my table somewhere in Level 3. Fortunately for me, I have Vang on my right. He’s sitting in the three-seat, I’m sitting in the five-seat.
Not too long after, action folded to him on the button. He raised. I three-bet with QQ out of the big blind. He folded.
So we had that small bit of history at this table. Vang and I had played together a couple of times previously but nothing too extensive. Obviously doing what I do for a living I’ve stood and watched Vang play several final tables so I clearly know more about him than he knows about me.
The blinds are 200/400 with a 25 ante I believe. We all started with 20K chips. I was sitting at 26K, Vang with 28K.
Another player had recently been moved to our table in the nine-seat. He was a re-entry and talked a lot, clearly a loose cannon. We’ll call him Villain. Villain had lost a pot already and was sitting at about 16K to start the hand. He limps for 400 under-the-gun. As we all know, the UTG limper always seems suspicious.
It folds to Vang who pops it to 1,300. The four-seat folds and action is on me. Much to my surprise, I look down at pocket aces. With an UTG limper and a raise by Vang, obviously I need to raise here, I’m not looking to trap in this spot. I assumed if I raised the Villain would likely fold but may shove with some hand he was trying to be sneaky with. I didn’t anticipate him limp-calling a raise and a re-raise with 16K behind.
I decide to raise to 3K. I didn’t want to blow Vang out of the pot when I’m in position and I definitely thought 3K was enough for our Villain to fold. I wasn’t looking to play a three-way pot giving multiple opponents a chance to hit a set. If that happens I lose my whole stack.
This is where it gets weird. The Villain limps for 400 and calls the 3K re-raise.
Action is back on Vang. This is the move that separates the best from the rest. Vang knows at this point that I’m capable of re-raising him lighter than I would most players. I had already three-bet him once. He also knows that the Villain is not extremely strong at this point, likely 10-10 or JJ at best.
I’m guessing Vang believes I’m a solid player and capable of folding. Good players don’t bluff bad players because the bad players aren’t capable of folding, or don’t know they are suppose to fold.
Vang can fold here and only lose 1,300 of his 28K stack. But he has some good information to work with and there’s now over 8K in the pot. He decides to come back over the top of me to 13K.
I was pretty stunned and semi-excited. At this point because I have Aces, I actually put Vang on the same hand with AA or at worst KK. If I were to have had KK, I seriously may have folded here and Vang knows that, which is why his move is genius. Very rarely does a player with a mediocre hand have the stones to come back over the top of a player who just re-raised him. This usually only happens on TV when the players are 100 big blinds deep.
He made it 13K because its enough to get me off anything except AA and there’s really no hand the Villain could have at this point to limp-call 3K and then commit his entire stack with a bevy of raises going on all around him. Vang knows I’m capable of making a re-raise on him relatively light but also good enough to fold a strong hand. It was such a calculated move. This still leaves him with 14K or 28BB if I actually do have the one hand I can play in this spot. As a poker-rube, I love what he did there. If you don’t understand how good that is based on the situation, then you’re the sucker.
Now its on me. I was trying to determine if I want to just call – to look weak – so Villain may possibly commit his entire stack behind me or do I shove and get the Villain out to avoid him flopping a set. I tanked for a minute or two thinking it through. This is a key pot. I wanted to make sure I was getting every last dollar out of this thing.
I decided to shove all 26K. Like most, I hadn’t been feeling the run-good as of late so didn’t want to give the Villain an opportunity to catch his hand.
Shockingly, the Villain insta-called with his 16K stack. None of us saw that coming. Wow.
This now puts Vang in a very tough position. After a few seconds it was easy to take him off AA. He had made a great, calculated move that didn’t work. I know most of the time he would simply fold and move on with his 28BB stack. But the Villain keeps making things extremely complicated.
With the Villain shoving his chips in the middle, there is now over 60K in the pot and its only 13K for Vang to call. He has about 15K behind. Vang knows he has a hand that can crack ours and is now working the math, realizing he’s probably priced-in. Most players without KK or AA would just fold here and not even consider the odds.
Vang tanked for a while and reluctantly made the call. He showed 5♣4♣. The Villain showed K♣J♣. As hard as it would be for most players to get their stack in there in Vang’s spot with 5-4 (and have to show it), I really believe statistically that was the right thing to do based on how things played out. It certainly wasn’t ideal for him at that point but he had to take a shot at that massive pot for only 13K more when he would still be alive if he missed.
Obviously this was a dream scenario for me as they both had clubs. The flop ran clean, the turn was a King, Vang was drawing dead. I faded a King and Jack on the river to scoop a big pot.
Unfortunately for me that was the highlight of my tournament, it was all downhill from there. I grinded to about 30th of 170 before fizzling out.
Vang was left with 2K or five big blinds. He, as he always does, turned that 2K into 12K within ten minutes. The table saw the freight train comin. Soon after he exited with KJ on a Jack high flop to an opponent with QQ. Nobody was disappointed to see him go.
As fun as it was to actually get aces and win a big pot, it was exciting to see how the great players think at a different level. Vang made an advanced, educated move here. I’m not sure how many of the players knew at the table what had just happened but I certainly appreciated the poker that was being played. The best players don’t bluff just to bluff. They make moves in situations where they will win the pot a high percentage of the time based on information they have gathered. That’s how their stack size consistently rises. Not to mention, when a player like Vang actually does have a big hand, he gets paid off. His image gets him paid. If YOU bet, everyone folds, YOU get minimal chips.
Moves like Vang attempted don’t always work, but you have to be able to live with that to be great. If I have anything less than AA there, Vang will take that big pot down…and probably win the tournament.
Later that afternoon I was sitting across from Matt Alexander, another great player who also has an “active” reputation. Alexander sits down at the table and raises the first hand. Villain #2 shoves all-in over the top. Alexander – with a mountain in front of him – makes the call and shows 10-10. Villain #2 flips king-jack. The 10’s hold. “King- Jack sir?” Alexander said. “Everyone always thinks I don’t have anything,” as he scoops another nice pot.