After five years of intense poker training, something was still missing, so for nine months prior to my first World Series of Poker Main Event in 2006, I went on what I call "The Poker Diet."
Wow, did it make a huge difference in my focus. I convinced myself I was going to win, dreamed about it daily, and off I went.
My key hand came on Day 1. Had I lost, I'd have been out of the tournament.
I had fought back from near elimination ($3,000 left at dinner break) and was up to $50,000 with one level left for the day. I was moved to a table where three of us with similar stacks acknowledged with knowing stares that we were among the chip leaders, and that it's common for the leaders to avoid each other when possible this late in Day 1 to ensure making it to Day 2.
With blinds at $200-$400 plus a $50 ante, I was dealt 3s 3c on the button. The first player to act (Seat 3), one of the leaders, raised to $1,500. Action folded to the other big stack (Seat 7), who minimum-raised to $3,000. I called, as did the initial raiser, and so the three leaders not interested in getting into a big pot with each other suddenly found themselves in a big pot with each other.
My thought process: The initial raiser had a premium hand -- pocket 10s or higher, maybe A-K or A-Q suited at worst. If all others folded, I'd fold. But then came the min-raise (odd move), and I instantly put this second player on pocket aces. I wouldn't have called if I
The flop came Kc Qd 3d, giving me a set. Seat 3 checked, Seat 7 bet $5,000, and I raised to $15,000. Seat 3 called, and Seat 7 folded.
Seat 3's call concerned me. I didn't see him bluffing given the situation, so I put him on Ad Kd or Ad Jd.
The turn came 10d, and Seat 3 instantly moved all in.
I felt like I'd been punched in the gut. Obviously, he had a straight or flush, or possibly (but less likely) a set of kings or queens. I had to fold. I still had roughly $32,000, a healthy amount. Easy fold.
But for some reason I couldn't throw my hand away.
Easy fold. Just fold.
I couldn't. I was staring at him, and something was off. I contemplated for about eight minutes, a long time. There was an end-of-day crowd around us, and the pressure was palpable. If I called and my suspicions were off -- or if I was right but got unlucky -- it was doomsday. Maybe I was ahead. But if he had a diamond in his hand, nine available diamonds and four available straight cards would still give him a 35 percent chance to beat me.
I felt like I was "in the zone," not hearing anyone around me, just staring him down, looking for a clearer answer. Seat 3 was getting antsy, unraveling in a way that only a bluffer would. He asked the floor man to put me on the clock, but in such a mad way that I confidently said, "No need for that. I call!"
He angrily turned over A-Q. I'd been correct, and when the river brought the 4c rather than one of his miracle jacks, I was propelled into Day 2 and went on to win the tournament.
Jamie Gold is the 2006 World Series of Poker Main Event champion. Follow him on Twitter @RealJamieGold and www.JamieGold.com.