Monday, September 11, 2006

WSOP Final Table Hand No. 218: Honest Abe

Was over on Full Tilt Poker this afternoon and realized there were more playing that $200/$400 Omaha Hi-Lo game (twelve players, including Allen Cunningham) than $0.50/$1.00 limit hold’em (eight players, including your humble servant). Starting to think FTP is a great site for watching, but not so hot for playing . . . at least if yr a short-stack like me. (Ranted about this circumstance once before, actually.)

Speaking of watching poker . . . I have two more hands from the WSOP Main Event Final Table to talk about. I see that ESPN’s edited version of the Main Event has made it through day four so far (six episodes down, six to go). Not sure when exactly they’ll be getting to the final table, but I’ll probably take a peek to see some hole cards on a few of these hands.

By the time we get to this particular hand, they were down to Jamie Gold (nearly 62 million), Paul Wasicka (about 16 million), and Michael Binger (around 12.5 million). The mood around the table has lightened considerably since Cunningham went out. It’s about 3 a.m., so they’ve been at it for eleven hours or so, minus the breaks. Chris “Jesus” Ferguson is now in the booth with Ali Nejad and Phil Gordon answering questions about three-handed play. Ends up delivering a mini-sermon here on the subject. And it was good.

What would Jesus do? Well he’d never limp from the button. Rather, when on the button, he says to raise half the time and fold the other half. He says definitely play any king or ace. When in the small blind, he says to call a third of the time, fold a third of the time, and raise a third of the time.

On Hand No. 217, Gold had raised to 1 million from the button. (The blinds are still 200,000/400,000 with a 50,000 chip ante.) Wasicka folded in the small blind, then Binger moved all-in from the big blind. Instead of deciding on his own what to do next, Gold asked Binger what he wanted him to do.

“It’s fifty-fifty,” Gold explains. “You wanna go all-in fifty-fifty? You tell me . . . call or fold.” Binger smiles nervously. “I don’t know what you have,” he says. “I’m telling you, I don’t have much,” Gold replies. “If I had a big hand, I’d call you in five seconds.” Gold is grinning from ear to ear. Binger asks him “You have a pair or an ace?” Gold slowly blinks, saying “I don’t have a pair.” Finally, after some more hem-and-hawing, Binger says he can’t tell Gold what to do. Gold nods and tosses his cards into the muck.

As the cards are dealt for Hand No. 218, Nejad confidently suggests “Michael Binger is showing that he is unafraid of Jamie Gold.” Nejad is dead wrong, of course. Anyone paying even a little bit of attention can see Binger just now demonstrating that he’s very afraid of Jamie Gold. The man has him outchipped five-to-one, and Binger has little desire to tangle with the chip leader when the difference between second and third place is two million clams.

Binger also seems to be having difficulty figuring out what Gold has from how he’s playing. Case in point: Hand No. 218.

The action moves fairly quickly here until we get to the river. Wasicka folds on the button, Binger raises to 1 million from the SB, and Gold calls from the BB. The flop is 9sQc4h. Binger checks, Gold casually throws out a minimum bet of 400,000, and Binger calls. The pot is 2,950,000. The turn is the Ad and both players quickly check. The river is the 8s. Binger checks and Gold casually stacks twelve green chips and pushes them in the middle -- a bet of 1,200,000.

“Ten and jack?” quickly asks Binger. Gold appears amused at the question. He smiles and exhales. There is absolutely zero chance he has a straight here. “I’ll show ya,” says Gold. Binger looks up at the dealer and asks “Can he show me before I make my decision?” The table shares a chuckle.

Then Gold actually flips one card over quickly, briefly exposing it before turning it back down. Binger leans forward in an exaggerated gesture, asking “What was that?’ “I dunno,” Gold shrugs. “Was that the jack of diamonds?” says Binger.

“He can’t do that,” says Gordon. “If the tournament director sees him do that, that is a ten-minute penalty.” The commentators will continue to discuss the violation for the next couple of hands, and while Gold is never assessed any penalty, it ultimately matters very little. Sitting out ten minutes at this juncture would’ve caused Gold to miss at most four or five hands, perhaps six if Binger and Wasicka agreed to fold each hand immediately after it was dealt. That’s two orbits or so -- at most a 1.5 million chip hit to Gold’s massive stack, probably evenly divided between the two short stacks. Not a factor.

The subsequent exchange between Gold and Binger is one of the better examples of table talk in the whole broadcast.

Gold: “You wanna donate, donate.”
Binger: “I’m thinking about it.”
Gold: “I’m probably bluffing, man.”
Binger: “I know.”
Gold: “1.2 million, man . . . . Put it in . . . .”

In the booth, Ferguson says “The bet actually does smell a lot like a bluff.” Gordon agrees. “He’s been Honest Abe so far when he’s talking at the table,” Nejad chimes in.

Binger: “Aye-yi-yi.” (He slaps his hand to his forehead.)
Gold: “I bet small enough so you can call. Then you’ll see my hand.”

Binger takes a moment to calculate pot odds and then compute what percentage of the time Gold would have to be bluffing to justify a call here. You know what I’m talking about. That piece of mental calisthenics you read about in Harrington on Hold ’em but have yet really to implement in your game. The pot is nearly 3 million. Gold bet 1.2 million, so Binger is looking at about 3.5-to-1 odds to call. As Harrington explains, that means Binger needs to be right only once every 4.5 times he calls here to break even. As Binger himself finally concludes, “if you’re bluffing like 20-30% of the time, I gotta call.” “So you’re priced in,” says Gold. “Here you go. Let’s call. Get it over with. You’ll see my hand . . . and . . . rock ‘n roll! I’ll show you either way.”

Binger continues to deliberate. “You got me,” Gold finally confesses. “C’mon!”

Binger folds and Gold immediately shows his Jh3h. Jack-high. In other words, jack squat.

“Aaaaaugghhh,” cries Binger, doing a nice imitation of Charlie Brown just after Lucy pulls the football away. Again.

[EDIT (added 9/28/06): The hole card cameras on ESPN's edited version of the final table show us Binger indeed folded the best hand -- Td9d.]

Binger shakes his head, takes a swig from his water bottle, slaps the padded table edge, and tells Gold good hand. “I told you you got me,” says Gold. “I’m having fun. Easy for me to say, with a stack like this . . . .”

Gold’s having fun, all right. So is the viewer. (Good thing, too, since the outcome has been all but decided.) A great example, really, of where the live broadcast beats the edited version.

Okay, one more hand (Hand No. 229) and we can get on with our lives. Meanwhile, I’ll be railing that crazy Omaha Hi-Lo game on FTP . . . .

Photo: “The first 1953 $5 Silver Certificate printed (Smithsonian)” (inset), National Museum of American History. Public Domain.

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