Tournament poker can be a fickle mistress, but always striving to improve, to learn, and to better my game means that even a run of bagels in the cashes column can still be worthwhile.
A mate who couldn’t make the GUKPT London festival but always wishes me well text on Sunday night to ask how the week had gone.
“No good. KK v AK all in pre in the Mini Main, aces all in pre in the PLO and made day 2 short and lost a 40/60 in the Main Event,” came my reply.
“Running bad mate, it’ll change soon enough,” he reassured me, but while I agree I didn’t run that well, I know that kind of thing soon evens itself out (I might not tell as many people when I beat the kings with AK or when I crack aces in PLO!) but there was no doubt in my mind that the most significant hand of the week for me came late on day 1b of the Main Event and losing that, and a significant chunk of my stack, ultimately led to my exit in an unavoidable spot early on day 2.
The GUKPT London Main Event was a great poker tournament, with over £120k up top for a £1k buy-in and 467 runners, and while there were some spots around the room, it was a really tough field, with the likes of WSOP Main Event champ Martin Jacobsen, the guy he beat heads-up Felix Stephenson, Sam Grafton, Ludo Geilich and plenty more besides all duking it out.
My starting table was solid, everybody playing pretty snug, and only one player getting knocked out as we approached the last two levels of the day, so when I moved to my new table with 37k, playing 500/1k, I was pretty happy with the situation.
Having had a good grasp of how everyone on the first table played though, a lot of the new table were strangers to me, and rather than having time to acclimatise, I was thrown straight into a crucial hand straight away when really I could have done with sitting back and watching how the table played.
Under the gun first hand, I raised to 2500 with two black jacks and it folded to the button, where a 50-year-old foreign guy I’d never played with before looked me up and down, did the international sign of ‘Can I see your chips’, then in a French accent asked “six or seven?”.
I didn’t understand the question, I thought he was asking how much the bet was, but he was asking how many yellow 5k chips I had.
As required by the rules, I let him look though didn’t answer. He mumbled “Hmm six” – I actually had seven, either way I’m sure his strategy wasn’t that mathematically dependent on whether I had 30k or 35k back, though the fact he bothered to look so closely and act maybe gave some clues to his hand strength.
He then 3bet to 5500 and after the blinds had folded I decided to call and see a flop, which fell T-8-3 with two clubs.
I checked to the aggressor and he continued for 8500, quite a large sizing. I didn’t think I could fold an overpair, but raising didn’t feel like an option, so I called again.
An ugly looking ace of clubs hit the turn, completing the flush as well as bringing an overcard, and I checked again. My opponent picked up all his big chips and pushed them forward, effectively setting me all-in, and it was back on me.
With black jacks I did have the third nut flush draw, but I couldn’t call all-in for my tournament life, and I was left folding with 23k back. I folded the last few hands of the night as well, and bagged up 21k to come back with on day 2 at 600/1200 and never won another significant pot, eventually shoving blind on blind with 11.5bb at 800/1600 with T9o and not being able to run down A8o.
So what could I have done different in that tournament defining JJ hand, if anything?
Let’s break the hand down.
My standard open was met with a very small 3bet, 2500 to 5500. This could give clues to both the strength of my opponent’s hand and his poker ability (small 3bets generally signal strength in both holding and in general as a player).
However, once I check in flow, the aggressor fires 8500 into a 13k pot, a much bigger sizing on what’s a pretty safe flop for the big overpair that he is representing.
When the ace of clubs hits the turn, he now bets the maximum. Of course a third club would be scary for a non-club overpair, but an ace is far scarier for anyone holding queens or kings, and if they hold aces, surely they don’t want to be the max with top set, even though they obviously don’t have a club.
Apart from the small preflop sizing, the rest of the hand really screams AK without a club. Not many other hands make much sense, possibly a random weaker ace but at this stage they’re essentially the same, top pair holding.
If I’m now folding because I put him on AK, it begs the question, could I have played this hand better? Should I have 4bet preflop, or check raised the flop? Or did the small preflop sizing make me weight him more to overpairs, and now I’m only really deciding he has AK after the ace has hit and I’m faced with calling with an underpair? Is there any way I should be calling with the flush draw on the turn, are there enough (any?) occasions where my jacks might be good and the villain has a total airball?
I asked my #TeamGrosvenor teammates in our WhatsApp group and really the general conclusion is there’s really not much I could do.
Just like having kings against aces, it just feels like having this hand in this situation with this lack of knowledge about both the table and the opponent, is just going to cost me chips and there’s not much I can do about it. Everyone always cites pocket jacks as the hand they hate, and maybe this is just another example of why.
If you think your opponent has enough bluffs, then 4betting preflop comes into play – you’ll pick up the dead money the times he has nothing, you’ll be up against AK a lot and win that race more often than you lose it and have 80k for day two and a shot at a deep run in the comp, and the times you’re up against an overpair, well, you’ll outdraw them 20% of the time and be heading to the bar 80%, but with the same winnings as looked likely when making day 2 with under 20bb as played.
At the end of the day we play poker to win money, and the conclusion must be to do whatever you feel leads to most profit. If it’s 4betting preflop, you’re doing to have to deal with the times you blast off 37bb with jacks into an overpair or lose against AK, but if you’re fine with that, and not just enjoy the times you pick up dead money or beat AK. If on average that will lead to you winning more money, then go for it.