What do you do when you are in the equivalent of poker hell? Let me give you an example of what happened to me during the first two levels at the 2009 World Series of Poker during the $1,500 Limit Holdem event.
About the third hand into the event, I get pocket aces. I raise and get two callers. I flop a set of aces and the pot winds up three-bet on the flop. The turn puts a flush draw on the board. Someone bets out and I raise. Still two players stay in. The river falls to complete the flush. Betting is checked to me, and I check. The button bets out and gets called by both of us. He shows a flush and I lose a big pot.
Next, I pick up A-J in late position and raise. Three players see the flop with me of K-Q-10. No flush draw on the board. I call a bet on the flop and the turn again throws a flush draw. I raise on the turn and get two callers. The river completes the flush and it is bet and raised ahead of me. This time I let go of my broadway expecting two flushes, and am correct when both the first and 2nd nut flushes are turned over.
I was not the only person suffering that day. In the first two levels I had a set cracked three times. Saw three straights flushed away and two flushes lose to a full house. The best hand of the two levels was four way with two players flopping a set of jacks. One had A-J and the other J-10. The turn put a flush on the board, which the third person made with K-Q of hearts. The river fell what seemed to be a harmless three, but then the fourth player woke up and put in a raise. The pot was capped at the river and that fourth player turned over pocket threes for a full house.
Welcome to poker hell, that special place where good hands will not hold and garbage turns into monster pots. While some people will claim that Limit Holdem is riddled with such beats, the extremes that it was occurring was painful. During the break, one of the other solid players at the table looked at me and said, “I think the best Limit Holdem players at this table are the ones with the shortest stacks.” He was right, three of us clearly played limit holdem regularly and we were the ones that were getting beat up on.
Most players would change their strategy and start playing the garbage hands. Actually, I saw one or two players try this and bust out in level three. I sat back and waited for strong hands and got what I wanted in another pair of aces. My opponent was one of the players that was playing rags to riches style poker and was getting very lucky. This time, I played my hand very fast pre-flop and when the flop came garbage, I just continued to pump the pot. I put this player on some hand such as J-10 or Q-J and confirmed as much when he decided to raise when the turn fell a jack. I put my last chips in and he turned over J-10 for a single pair. My aces held and I was back to my starting stack. A few hands later, I picked up queens and someone with jacks decided to get hyper-aggressive with me. I went from short stack to average stack in just about two hands.
When you get in a situation such as poker hell, the best thing to do is to try and play through it, especially in a tournament. Sadly, there will be times where you will not be able to battle your way out. However, many times poker hell is just a large variance in luck and luck does even out over time. Play your best game and the results will come. Good luck to you at the tables.
- James “compncards” Guill