Earlier this year I found myself playing heads-up for the $340 no-limit hold 'em preliminary event title at the Los Angeles Poker Classic. The LAPC has the second-coolest trophies in poker, behind only the famed World Series of Poker bracelets. They're these big, heavy, Remington cowboy-on-a-horse sculptures. I didn't have one and desperately wanted one.
We were two hours into our match when this hand came up.
Blinds were 20,000-40,000 with a 5,000 ante. I had 2.4 million in my stack, my opponent had 1.8 million. I had the button (and small blind) and was dealt 10s 9s. Following my usual desire to play pots in position, I raised to 85,000, and my opponent defended the big blind.
In a career spanning more than 2 million hands, I had only flopped a straight flush once before, and now, here was another: 6s 7s 8s.
My opponent bet 100,000 into the 180,000 pot, and it was my turn to act. I had the unbreakable nuts, didn't want him to fold, and did want him to lose all of his chips on this hand. I raised, making it 220,000. He called. Excellent.
The turn was the Ah. He checked. There was 620,000 in the pot, and he had 1.5 million remaining in his stack. I bet 420,000. I wanted to size my bet so that he had the illusion of fold equity if he wanted to shove all in. I wanted to be able to shove the river and have it appear to be a natural-sized bet that he would be more likely to call. And I wanted to bet the hand the same way I would bet a bluff. A bet of 420,000 seemed to meet all of those conditions.
But my opponent folded, showing me a single card, the 9d. I showed him my hand, and he asked, "Why didn't you let me get there?"
Once, during a home game in North Carolina, a good ol' boy bet $400 into a $60 pot. His friend asked quizzically, "Why'd you bet so much?" With an equally puzzled look, the good ol' boy responded, "To make the pot bigger." Rooted in that statement is some irrefutable Southern logic that we can learn from. And although our Tarheel hero was doing it wrong, I appreciate where his heart was.
Far too often I see players win small pots with monster hands because they slow-played them. Then they make top pair, play it fast to protect their hand, and lose a huge pot to a better hand. You're doing it wrong! Play big pots with big hands and small pots with small hands.
Slow-playing is easy to detect. Somebody checks the flop and now wants to raise the turn or river. Well, that means they were either slow-playing something big on the flop, turned something big (usually a set), or randomly decided to turn whatever they checked the flop with into a bluff. Remember, players' flop-checking ranges are stronger than their betting ranges, because players generally bet their air (lousy hands) on the flop and check mediocre hands with showdown value.
When you have a hand that wants to play for stacks, start building the pot, now on the flop. The bet/bet/bet line is very strong and usually represents either a bluff or a monster, but it's much harder to have a monster than a bluff. Encourage the pot to grow when it's young so that it can get big when it's older. Win the maximum with your big hands and lose the minimum with your losing hands.
My tough opponent beat me after another 90 minutes of battling heads-up, but the following day I had a shot at redemption and brought home the Remington, my first LAPC trophy.
Bryan Devonshire is a professional poker player from Las Vegas. Known as "Devo" on the tournament circuit, he has amassed more than $1 million in career earnings.