Thursday, September 07, 2006

WSOP Final Table Hand No. 187: Having the Heart to Go Big-Time

Who has the heart?Later on in Jim Thompson’s The Getaway, a mix-up in a train station allows a small-timer crook to make off with Doc McCoy's bag full of loot from the bank heist. As McCoy pursues him through the train station, the thief notices the man chasing him isn’t shouting after him as one might expect a robbery victim to do. The small-timer correctly surmises that there must be something in the bag that is preventing him from calling out. “The thief was very cocksure, it should be said; in this particular branch of crime, he had to be. Also -- and it is hardly necessary to point this out -- he had known no criminals of Doc McCoy’s caliber.” Things don’t end well for the small-timer. (Also hardly necessary to point out.)

There were a number of interesting hands prior to Hand No. 187.

There was Hand No. 141 involving Gold and Cunningham. From UTG, Cunningham bet 1 million on a flop of Ah8c2s and Gold called from the button. Both checked the turn card, the 6d. Then when the river came 2h, Cunningham bet 2 million and Gold quickly raised all-in. As Cunningham contemplated what to do, Gold stood up and said “Gotcha!” and made like he was ready to turn over his cards. Cunningham had no choice but to fold.

There was Hand No. 155 where Wasicka, as he had done in Hand No. 134, made what appeared to be another sketchy decision. After raising to 1 million UTG, Binger reraised all-in from the button. Wasicka thought for quite a while (nearly three minutes), then called with KQ-off only to see Binger turn over a pair of cowboys. The board didn’t save Wasicka this time, and Binger doubled up.

There was Hand No. 170 in which Gold and Cunningham both called Rhett Butler’s short-stacked all-in, then Gold bet into the dry side pot on a board of Jd6h5d2c. Cunningham folded, Gold showed KcJh, and his jacks outlasted Butler’s pocket fours. Butler finished fifth.

So they were four-handed as Hand No. 187 began. Blinds were 150,000/300,000 with a 50,000 ante. Gold had just about exactly 50 million chips, Binger around 14 million, Wasicka 12 million, and Cunningham just over 10 million. Cunningham raised to 800,000 from UTG, Binger folded on the button, Gold called from the small blind, and after a bit of thought Wasicka chose also to call from the big blind. A rare instance of three-way action (at this stage). The pot is 2.6 million.

The flop comes an eyebrow-raising JhAh9h. All three players check fairly quickly. Ali Nejad asks Robert Williamson (the current guest in the booth) why Cunningham didn’t bet that flop. “Suited and coordinated,” explains Williamson. The turn is the Ac. “Somebody might take a stab at this now, with that ace on the turn,” Williamson suggests. Indeed, Wasicka, acting first, bets 1 million. At not even 40% of the pot, Wasicka’s bet is either a simple probe bet to see how the others feel about their hands or a potential trap. Cunningham thinks a moment, pushes out 1 million to call and says he’s going to raise. Even before Cunningham announces the amount of his raise, Gold tosses his cards in the muck.

After some deliberation, Cunningham eventually pushes in 2,975,000 more chips. It isn’t clear why he didn’t put in exactly 3 million for the raise -- it appears from the dealer's tone he might have simply missed grabbing that last 25,000 chip before pushing in. (“I do that on purpose sometimes,” says Williamson.) Gordon and Williamson agree that Cunningham probably has an ace with a high heart kicker.

The pot is now 7,575,000 million and the action is on Wasicka. Gold’s early fold had enabled Wasicka to contemplate his next move for a bit even before Cunningham put in his raise. He waits about twenty seconds then announces he’s all-in. “Wow,” says Williamson. “Oh, my goodness,” says Gordon. It appears neither saw that coming. “Paul must have a heart flush or an ace,” says Williamson. Since Wasicka has him covered, a call would force Cunningham to put in his entire stack. He takes only a moment and then folds.

As the crowd cheers, Wasicka shows his hand -- KdQd. No ace. No flush draw. Nothing, really. “That was a big boy bluff right there,” says Gordon. Cunningham smiles sheepishly in appreciation of the play. “Two tens with the ten of hearts,” he says to someone else at the table, revealing what he had held. “Trying to get him to fold a jack.” [EDIT (added 9/28/06): ESPN's edited version of the final table confirms Cunningham indeed held ThTc. Gold, incidentally, had Kc7c.]

Cunningham was a little bit like the thief who stole McCoy’s bag here. For a moment it looked like he might get away with the loot. But he ran into a higher-caliber criminal (on this hand, anyway). Wasicka’s “big boy bluff” looks sick, all right, although if you think about it, Cunningham just about has to have what Gordon and Williamson speculated he did have (an ace with a high heart kicker), or perhaps JJ, to continue with the hand. After the tournament ended, Gold spoke of Wasicka as the one player at the final table he could never figure out. This was probably one of the hands that helped make Wasicka appear more of a "big-time" opponent in Gold's eyes.

This was also probably the hand that determined how both Wasicka and Cunningham would be finishing, securing Cunningham’s eventual exit in fourth place and allowing Wasicka to stick around a bit longer. Winning that pot pushed Wasicka up to 19 million; meanwhile Cunningham had been knocked down to 7 million. Within three hands Cunningham would begin moving all-in repeatedly in a last-ditch attempt to recuperate. On the hand in which Cunningham is finally eliminated -- Hand No. 208 -- he again holds pocket tens, this time losing out to Gold’s KdJd after a king flops. (And, as it turned out, Wasicka also loses with pocket tens on the tourney's final hand.)

I have one of my own hands I’d like to solicit advice about in my next post. After that I’ve picked out two more hands from the latter stages of the WSOP final table that seem worth talking about. One of those features a lot of interesting table talk (the best thing about this here pay-per-view, I’ve decided). The other is the hand in which Binger gets eliminated in third. Being a small-timer myself, I’ll be leaving that final hand for commentators of a higher caliber to discuss.

Image: Brach’s Conversation Hearts (adapted), Amazon.

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