We feel most comfortable and focused when we are in control of a situation. At the poker table, a cold run of cards or a table full of tough opponents can make us feel uneasy and powerless. Under such conditions, many players become impatient and try to force a win.
With the deep stacks and tough lineup at this year’s World Series of Poker Main Event final table, we were bound to see at least someone in the November Nine attempt a desperate move.
Following a long stretch of solid play by everyone at the table, a critical hand began with blinds of 250,000/500,000 and a 50,000 ante. Sitting in the hijack seat, Jorryt Van Hoof open-raised to 1.1 million with 8s 7h. Mark Newhouse called from the cutoff with 10h 10c, the button folded, and William Tonking reraised to 3.75 million from the small blind. Action folded back to Newhouse, who chose to call again.
Heads up with 9.55 million in the pot, Tonking and Newhouse saw a flop of Jh 4c 2d. Tonking bet 3.5 million, and Newhouse called.
The turn brought the 4h. This time, Tonking decided to check, and Newhouse fired out 4.5 million. Tonking called.
When the river brought the Jc, Tonking checked again, and Newhouse moved all in for his last 10.2 million in chips. Tonking called, showing down Qd Qc, and eliminated Newhouse in ninth place.
This hand underscores the depth of frustration and pressure that the November Nine players have to deal with.
Starting out, Newhouse just called the preflop raise from Van Hoof with the strong but vulnerable pocket 10s. There are only two good reasons one should do this: out of caution against running into a bigger pair, or to trap another player into overplaying a weak hand. With such a solid lineup of veteran players, all of whom had fairly deep stacks, neither of these reasons could have been valid. Entering the hand with a possibly unclear plan in mind, Newhouse set himself up to play it out in an inconsistent, disjointed way.
Facing the reraise, Newhouse made a fairly standard and almost certainly correct call, getting great odds to see a flop and having a little better than a 40 percent chance to win against Tonking’s likely range of pairs 10s and up, ace-king and ace-queen. For the same reason, his call on the flop was also mandatory. After Tonking’s check on the turn, however, Newhouse changed his approach, playing his hand as a bluff instead of accepting the cheap showdown he was offered. Firing off the rest of his chips on the turn and river, he gave Tonking excellent odds to call – a proposition that would be irresistible to any opponent holding a hand stronger than pocket 10s.
Newhouse confirmed in his exit interview that he had not planned to bluff and did not have a detailed reason to bluff either. It was an understandable mistake, but to win the Main Event requires navigating high-pressure situations like this with patience and discipline. Learning not to force the situation is essential to the mastery of poker tournaments.