Daniel Negreanu Ė Poker Articles
Dave Newman and the Three-Year BluffPoker article written by Daniel Negreanu and published in Card Player Magazine
I can still remember the first time I played live-action pot-limit holdíem as if it were yesterday. I think I was about 17 years old, and was playing regularly at a private club called Check Ní Raise. I played $10-$20 holdíem exclusively, but occasionally they had a $25-$25 pot-limit game with all the big boys. I didnít have a big enough bankroll to play $10-$20 correctly, let alone pot-limit, but I had a lot of gamble in me as a teenager. Sports, blackjack, you name it ó I had all the vices that will destroy your bankroll.
One day after booking a nice win in the $10-$20 game, my bankroll was up to about $2,200. At the time, that felt like a monster bankroll to me. So, I decided to fork over the $1,000 buy-in and sit with the big boys. My plan was to sit tight, wait for the nuts, and hope somebody paid me off.
Honestly, now that I look back, that was a pretty hopeless plan. I was too young and undisciplined to wait for the nuts, but in any event, I started the game with that thinking.
After an hour or so, I had about $1,100 in front of me after scooping up two tiny pots when this hand came up: I held K-Q in middle position and limped in. It ended up being a four-way pot, with an aggressive early-position limper, myself, and the two blinds. The flop came Qclubs 10spades 9clubs. It was a decent flop, but it wasnít the nuts that Iíd been awaiting.
The player in the big blind was Dave Newman, a lawyer in the Toronto area who played in the game regularly. He could clearly afford the stakes, and had a pretty good understanding of the game, as well.
Anyway, Dave bet out $100. Not sure what to do, or what he had, I smooth-called and we were now heads up. The turn brought the 5spades, and Dave bet $150. Again, I had no idea where I was at in the hand or what my best play was, but I finally called again. The river brought the 4diamonds, which was no help. The pot had grown to $600, and I was hoping Dave would check and that my top pair would be good. Well, Dave didnít exactly check ó he bet the whole pot, $600. At this point in my poker career, the biggest bet Iíd ever faced was $40! For me, $600 was an entire bankroll, and now I was faced with putting it all in on one hand.
So, obviously, I took my time. It was time to think through his possible holdings and decide whether or not I could call this bet. I couldnít beat two pair, trips, or a straight. I couldnít even beat A-Q, or an overpair, both of which I thought were unlikely. So, what could I beat? I could beat Q-J, J-10, J-9, or a busted flush draw. Now, if this were a limit game, I would have already had my $20 in the pot, but, again, this was a ďbankrollĒ to me.
Another thought also crossed my mind: If I called and lost, I would have to quit, and I just wasnít ready to leave yet. So, I folded. I noticed that Dave made a strange nod with his head as he raked in the pot. At the time, I had no idea what that meant.
Letís fast-forward now to three years later. Iím in bed and about to doze off when that hand pops into my head once again. It was about 2 a.m., and I jumped out of my bed and said aloud, ďHe bluffed me!Ē
It took me three years, but I finally figured out what happened in that hand. Having three more years of experience, I had a much better understanding of the how the game works. So, what tipped me off?
There were some things I didnít realize when I made the laydown. There were some psychological implications that I didnít take into consideration:
1. I had been waiting for the nuts for an hour, and it didnít look like I was willing to put all of my money in with anything less. Dave Newman, being a skilled player, recognized that, and put me to a decision that he knew I would have trouble making.
2. He knew I was playing over my head and was also inexperienced, and that I would have likely raised earlier in the hand if I had the nuts.
3. He was clearly playing in his comfort zone, and a $600 bet meant little to him in comparison to what it meant to me.
4. Finally, it was the nod. At the time, I had no idea what the nod meant, but I knew full well what it meant now. It was the type of nod that you might see someone make when thinking, ďAll right, I played that hand perfectly. My read was correct, and my plan worked.Ē
So, what did Dave really have? I now suspect that at best, his hand was Q-J. After noticing how tight I was playing, I think he assumed it was no good and that he had to bluff me off a better hand. Or, another real possibility was that he was on a flush draw. After all, he bet only $150 (half the pot) on the turn, which could possibly mean he was trying to draw to his flush cheaply. Then when he missed, he decided to take the pot away from me by betting more than I could afford to call.
Unfortunately, I was never able to confirm my realization with Dave. Iím not even sure that he would have told me if he bluffed me, anyway, or if he even would have remembered the hand, for that matter. It was an important hand for my development, but it was probably just another hand for him.
Regardless, there was clearly enough evidence to make the call there. At the very least, I neglected to think through all of the important factors surrounding the hand. Not too long after that hand, I slowly got whittled down to nothing and lost my $1,000, as expected. The lessons I learned from that session, though, were well worth the $1,000 I dumped off. So, what exactly is the moral of this story? Iím getting to that, I promise.
Your memory of past hands is an undervalued weapon at the poker table, because you will make much better decisions when faced with similar scenarios that youíve already thought through. Making mistakes is OK, but learning nothing from them isnít.
I always recommend making mental or actual notes of hands that confused you during a session. Bring them home with you and try to think ďoutside the box.Ē Donít give up until youíve found complete answers that you can be satisfied with.
Currently, Iím thinking about a stud hand I played at the Tournament of Champions in 2000. Iíll let you know when I figure that one out!
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With over one hundred poker articles spanning the last five years and a new poker article written every two weeks and published in Card Player magazine, Daniel Negreanu brings the world of poker to the tables of countless poker enthusiasts and poker players alike.
As a regular Card Player columnist, Daniel's poker articles have helped many readers learn the game of poker from the early days of an upcoming professional poker player to the realization of a true poker champion last year as Daniel became the 2004 Card Player Player of the Year, as well as, one of the most successful tournament players in history with 36+ worldwide wins and bragging rights as the WPT All-Time Top Money Winner.
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