Tuesday, September 05, 2006

WSOP Final Table Hand No. 134: Friends Don't Let Friends Get Trapped

Early in Jim Thompson’s The Getaway (discussed in the previous post), we read about “Doc” McCoy’s father (as a way of getting to know just what kind of character Doc really is). Thompson explains the elder McCoy’s “code of friendship,” which consists of believing that “a man’s best friend is himself, that a non-friend was anyone who ceased to be useful, and that it was more or less a moral obligation to cash in any persons in this [latter] category, whenever it could be done safely and with no chance of a kickback.”

Such is the attitude that Doc demonstrates in his dealings with others in The Getaway. Others have significance only to the extent that they are useful . . . and if they stop being useful, you get rid of ’em if at all possible. As a matter of moral principle, even.

While despicable in real life, such a ruthless outlook can be enormously beneficial at the poker tables. When your opponent stumbles before you, you don’t stop to help him up. You keep on going, stepping over (or on) him if needed. Poker is first and foremost a self-interested activity. Occasionally a situation arises where one might get richer by indirectly aiding another . . . say when two players check down a hand in which a third short-stacked player is all-in, hoping to bust him and move up a spot in the tourney as a result. For the most part, though, you’re on your own. Old man McCoy’s code is the only one that matters.

I got back to the WSOP final table broadcast and have now made it almost to the end. I’ve picked out a few more hands to discuss, the first being Hand No. 134 (involving Paul Wasicka and Jamie Gold). Now that I’ve made it near the conclusion, it has become increasingly evident to me that while Gold certainly had his share of good cards and draws, his decision-making was more than a little impressive. Gold repeatedly demonstrated at the final table his readiness to “cash in” others whenever the opportunity arose -- an essential trait for the big stack to have in order to succeed.

By this hand -- the last hand at the 120,000/240,000 (plus 40,000 ante) level -- they were down to five-handed. Rhett Butler is shown folding UTG. Wasicka (with about 10 million in chips) then looks down at his cards in the cutoff, sniffs, momentarily rests his head against his closed left fist, and decides to raise to 800,000. Cunningham and Binger quickly fold. Gold (who has something like 52 million) thinks for a moment and calls from the big blind, casually smiling and saying “What cards am I gonna fold?” as he stacks the needed chips to call.

The flop comes KdQd2s. The action is on Gold. He takes another look at his cards, genuinely appearing as though he isn’t sure what exactly he had (and perhaps is checking for diamonds). He checks. Wasicka carefully counts out and places a stack of green chips in the center. “How much?” asks Gold. “1.1 million,” says Wasicka.

Gold is shown in profile rolling his eyes. He then looks at Wasicka for a moment and announces he wants to raise. He puts in the 1.1 million, then says “Another four” (i.e., 4 more million). After pushing in the stacks, Gold leans back in his chair and tosses a few chips back and forth in his hands while looking at Wasicka. Gold again has that dismissive-seeming, “Doc” McCoy-like attitude he’s exhibited so frequently thus far. Wasicka considers a bit, then quietly says he’s all-in. “I gotta call you,” says Gold, standing up. Wasicka cringes, drawing in air through his closed teeth as he sees Gold’s cards -- AcKh. With KsTs, Wasicka also has top pair, but with a worse kicker. He’s drawing to two tens or a runner-runner straight (AJ or J9). According to CardPlayer’s Texas Hold ’em Odds Calculator, Gold is 81.62% to win the hand.

We hear Gold saying to someone “I just trapped him . . . I’m playing well, right?” The person answers “You’re playing fantastic.” Gold removes his jacket as they await the turn. He’s nodding his head in affirmation of how he played the hand. He leans forward, hands on the edge of the table, and tells the dealer “We’ll take a queen.”

No queen. Rather, the Td. Not what Gold wanted to see. The crowd -- disproportionately full of Wasicka supporters, it seems -- goes wild. Gold can still win should a jack, queen, or ace appear on the river -- still a 22.73% chance, actually. Gold looks disgusted. “How much better can I play?” he asks someone off to the side. The river is the 8d, and Wasicka survives, taking the nearly 20 million chip pot.

As the crowd noise dies down, Gold sits defiantly with his arms crossed. Again he says “I can’t play any better than that.” Wasicka readily agrees. “You outplayed me,” he says. Gold nods and says “Thank you." Then adds, "Nice hand, though.” A less than sincere afterthought, one imagines. He exhales, stands up, and goes for a short walk around the table.

Civilities aside, it is clear from this hand (and later ones) that Gold had no intention of waiting around for the short stacks to knock each other off. In this instance, he took a mild risk check-calling big slick, but the payoff was (nearly) enormous. At the conclusion of the hand, Gold still had 44 million in chips (with Wasicka now his nearest competitor). In other words, with still about half the chips in play, Gold could well afford to do the dirty work on his own rather than wait for others to help out. And he knew it. He knew that -- at the poker table, at least -- a man’s best friend is himself . . . .

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