Saturday, August 26, 2006

WSOP Final Table Hand No. 5: The Mighty Ducks

Had a buddy pass my way a copy of the ESPN telecast of the WSOP Main Event final table. I began watching it yesterday . . . it will probably take me a week to get through this sucker. I’ve only seen the first ninety minutes or so, but my initial impression of the telecast is favorable. Both Phil Gordon and Ali Nejad seem to be doing a good job explaining and commenting on the action. So far they’ve interviewed WSOP Commish Jeffrey Pollack and T.J. Cloutier. The interview with Pollack didn’t add much to the show (or to my previous knowledge), but Cloutier’s contributions were enlightening. (When isn’t Cloutier enlightening, really . . . ?)

As I slowly work through the marathon program, I thought I’d discuss here a few of the more interesting hands. All of the ones I’m choosing to write about qualify as “what-would-you-do”-type hands -- they all have at least one (and sometimes more than one) moment where a player might easily have played the hand differently, I think. (By the way, CardPlayer has a hand-by-hand rundown of the entire final table, something I’ve been consulting now and then as I watch whenever it isn’t crystal clear what is happening on screen.)

The first hand I want to discuss is Hand No. 5. Jamie Gold (with over 27 million chips, about 10 million clear of Allen Cunningham in second) smooth calls the 160,000 big blind from UTG+1. (Gold does quite a bit of calling from early position at the final table, a strategy that has drawn a lot of varied reaction.) When calling, Gold has that same bored-looking expression he often seems to have whenever he first gets involved in a hand. The table folds around to Dan Nassif on the button. Nassif is the short stack with only 2.5 million or so. He looks at his cards, takes a sidelong glance in Gold’s direction, then announces a raise to 700,000. The blinds both fold and the action is on Gold.

Gold points and asks Nassif how much he has left. Nassif counts it up and together they estimate he has about 1.6 million left. Nassif doesn’t look nervous, but he doesn’t really look like he wants Gold to call. Gordon suggests that Nassif should have reraised all-in, since “he’s pot-committed, anyway” here. As Gold contemplates, Nejad tells how two days before Gold had called Pralad Friedman’s all-in bet of 1.7 million while only holding 78-offsuit. (The flop came 654 and Friedman was out in 20th place.) Gold makes the call. Then, just a moment before the dealer turns over the three flop cards, Gold announces “I check.”

The flop is 2c3s5s. Nassif pauses and quietly says “I’m all in.” Gold quickly calls, rising from his seat as he does. Nassif has a sheepish grin on his face and actually says “you flopped a set” even before Gold reveals his cards: 2h2s. Nassif was right. Meanwhile he's way behind with the AcKd.

Gold and Nassif immediately walk toward each other and start discussing their preflop thought processes. Gold explains how he had to call Nassif and how he knew if he hit the flop they’d both be putting in all of their chips. Nassif readily agrees that he was going all-in regardless of what had come out on the board (if Gold had checked, I assume . . . or perhaps even if Gold had bet). They continue to talk as the dealer prepares to reveal the turn card. Gold tells Nassif that he would have folded had Nassif gone all-in preflop. “You gotta move with that . . . you priced me in,” Gold explains. I don’t hear all of what Nassif is saying, but from his tone it sounds like he’s in agreement.

The turn is the Ah, which Gold correctly says “was a good card” for him. Now Nassif can only chop if the 4 does happen to come. Gold and Nassif appear to have established a relationship of sorts, and it actually sounds like Gold tells Nassif to be sure to give him his phone number. “Give him the four,” pleads Gold. “I want him to stay around.” The river is the Ts, and Gold gives Nassif a hug. “I had a blast,” says Nassif as he shakes hands with all of the other players.

It’s hard to know, frankly, whether the hand might have turned out differently had Nassif gone all-in preflop. Given how Gold played during the next few orbits, I tend to believe him when he says he would’ve folded his ducks. Most accounts characterize Gold as sometimes acting the part of the reckless bully with his big stack at the final table, but so far I'm not seeing him going out of his way to give any “courtesy double-ups.” (At least here during the first hour or so of play, anyway.) I could be wrong, of course. It would have been interesting to see if after checking in the dark Gold would’ve called Nassif’s all-in without having flopped his set.

Should Nassif have gone all-in? Would you have? And what about that check in the dark? Worked out beautifully for Gold here, but is it a recommended play?

The next hand I’ll discuss is the first big pot in which Allen Cunningham gets involved. And again, as is the case with just about every big pot at that final table, Gold is there, too.

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