Daniel Negreanu – Poker Articles
Shooting Star 2004 — the Weak LeadPoker article written by Daniel Negreanu and published in Card Player Magazine
It was the second straight year I'd attended the Shooting Star tournament, and I was honored to be one of the "Shooting Stars." The tournament is extremely popular among the players for good reason: It's well-run, players are treated well, and there is a ton of side action.
This was going to be the biggest tournament in Bay area history, with 245 players putting up $5,000 apiece, looking for that $360,000 first prize.
Going into the tournament, I felt a little rusty. I'd been playing in the side games at Bellagio, and other than playing in the Caribbean Adventure tournament, I hadn't really played much no-limit hold'em. Oh, wait a minute, I did sort of play in the World Poker Tour event at the L.A. Poker Classic, as well as the WPT Invitational, but my stay in both tournaments was so short-lived that I'd hardly call either a positive experience. I never had any cards in the Classic, and I didn't really show up with my "A game" for the Invitational.
I know I should have taken the Invitational seriously, as there was $100,000 up for grabs, but for some reason, I just couldn't psyche myself up to play well that day and basically gave my chips away. Similar to a hockey team that gets blown out in a playoff game, though, that ridiculous performance on my part had me really pumped up and motivated for the Shooting Star tournament. I went into it rarin' to go!
In the early stages, everything was going according to plan. My bluffs were well-timed, and I avoided any major hits that would jeopardize my stack. My first difficult decision came against a young Canadian player by the name of Haralabos. Haralabos is friendly with some of the other top young players, so we became acquaintances through mutual friends. My impression of him was that he was a crafty player who was capable of taking big risks if the situation warranted that he do so. I had played very little with him, but the one time we did play was at Commerce Casino in a $10-$20 blinds no-limit hold'em game.
I was having a little fun that day at the Commerce. In fact, I was playing a friend's discards! I just love doing that, as it's such an interesting challenge to me, similar to what I'd do in my early days when I'd go "Nut Bar" (Vol. 14, No. 26, Dec. 21, 2001). Nut Bar was a little drill I used to do. I'd play $4-$8 hold'em and raise every single hand before the flop and then do my best to play well after the flop. I'd do this for about two to three hours, and my goal was basically to break even while also sharpening my post-flop play.
Well, playing discards is my new toy of choice. Trying to beat a no-limit game in which everybody knows you don't have a strong hand is a challenge that is right up my alley! On that day I won more than $3,000, while my friend who was playing the "good cards" managed to win only $500.
Anyway, Haralabos was in the game at the time and I beat him for a decent-sized pot. After the hand was over, he made a comment: "I should have just come over the top of you on the river. I almost did, but I took too long." Hmm … I stuck that comment into my memory bank, since I believed it was sincere and I was now wary that a play like that was definitely in his repertoire.
So, why am I telling you all of this? There is a reason, I promise; be patient. OK, back to the Shooting Star, where I was cruising along, my first difficult decision was against Haralabos, and all of that background information on him was essential in making the right decision against him.
With the blinds at $150-$300 with a $50 ante, Haralabos came in with a late-position raise to $1,000. In the small blind, I looked down and saw two sevens. Rather than come over the top, I decided to play it safe and hope to flop a set, so I just called.
The big blind folded, so it was just Haralabos and I vying for the pot. The flop came 8diamonds 5diamonds 3clubs. Although I didn't flop a set or have a hand that was worthy of setting a trap, I still thought this was a good flop. If Haralabos didn't have a set, an overpair, or an 8, I was in pretty good shape.
I decided to check and see Haralabos' reaction to the flop. He checked quickly, and it felt to me that he had missed the flop. The turn brought the 2hearts, so I bet out $1,000. To my surprise, Haralabos quickly called, leading me to believe he had picked up a straight draw with either A-K or A-Q.
The river brought the 3diamonds, which looked like a pretty safe card for me. I know what you're thinking: How could a flush card that pairs the board be a "safe" card?
Well, if Haralabos had flopped a flush draw, I would have expected him to bet the flop. Even if he checked a flush draw, he would have to respect the board pairing, so he couldn't feel too strongly about his hand.
I decided that I wanted to milk a little value out of this hand, so I went with what's known as "the weak lead." When used properly, the weak lead can be an effective weapon, but on the flip side, it is often an open invitation for your opponent to outplay you.
A weak lead is basically a smallish bet into a large pot, with several goals:
(A) Getting a cheaper draw; for example, you are on a flush draw, out of position, and fear that if you check, your opponent will bet so much that it will force you to lay down your hand.
(B) Getting full value; a small bet on the river will usually get called by a wider variety of hands. If you fear your opponent won't call a decent-sized bet, the weak lead may get you full value.
(C) Avoid having to play a big pot; for example, you think your opponent may be bluffing, but you don't want to call all of your chips to find out. By making the weak lead on the river, you force your opponent to read through your weak lead and raise you.
Great players will often pounce on the weak lead. They'll also utilize it to trap other great players. How? They'll make the weak lead with the nuts, hoping their opponent will pounce on that weakness and raise. Well, in this situation, my reason for betting was a combination of (B) and (C). I wanted to get called by ace high, but I didn't want to have to call a large bet if I checked. So, I bet $1,500 into a pot of almost $5,000.
I was a little taken aback when Haralabos not only called my $1,500, but raised me $4,000 more! So much for my genius idea to use the weak lead, I thought.
With just the pair of sevens, the obvious choice would be to simply muck the hand and move on, but something just didn't smell right. What could Haralabos have to raise me when I bet that scary river card? Would he raise me with an overpair? I didn't think so. Would he raise me with a straight (A-4, 6-4)? I didn't think so. As far as I was concerned, he was making a gutsy raise with a flush or a set, or was making a play.
What to do, what to do. It was time to delve back into my memory bank: "I should have just come over the top of you, but I took too long." Wait, who said that? Voices in my head reminded me that Haralabos was capable of making a play like this. After all, he'd told me so not too long ago!
I needed more evidence to make this call, though. What would possess him to make this raise on the river? Ah, he too understands the weak lead. My bet screamed of fear, and Haralabos was pouncing on me! I called.
"You got it, king high," he said. Sweet. I had all of my senses working that day, and had taken the time to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together. How often have you made a bad call or a bad laydown, only to realize moments later how obvious the correct play was? If I'd simply taken the safe route here and laid my hand down like a good boy, I would have given away a nice pot.
There were 45 players remaining after day one, and after a couple of monster hits at the hands of Adam Schoenfeld, my chip lead of well more than $100,000 was gone, but I still ended the day in 17th place with $38,500 in chips.
In the next issue, I'm going to share with you a similar hand that took place on day two against one of the best no-limit hold'em players in the world, Huck Seed.
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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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