The television cameras don’t just add 10 pounds—they also affect the way people play poker. I was among a group of pros invited to play in the inauguralPoker Night In America high-stakes cash game at Turning Stone Casino, and I played a hand that illustrated perfectly how some people alter their play during televised events.
The blinds were $25/$50, and the buy-in ranged from a minimum of $5,000 to a maximum of $20,000. People bought in for varying amounts and played different styles depending on how much money they had. Because I was there on a pretty limited bankroll, I bought in for the minimum, which is important to remember later. Everybody knew that I bought in for the minimum and was not likely to go deeper, as opposed to others who bought in for the max and had more behind them.
So I was playing very, very tight in the game, which was pretty obvious. Greg Mueller had already tweeted about how tight I was playing—it was that noticeable. Even though I have a reputation for being a fast and loose player, I wasn’t playing to that image in this particular game.
The pot in question began when a guy named Mike Dentale put in a live straddle for $100. Greg Mueller, who had been playing very loose and aggressive, made it $300. Matt Glantz just called from the button, which told me that Matt had a hand. On limited occasions he would have a very strong hand there, because Shaun Deeb was in the big blind and is known to be a bit of a squeezer. But far more frequently in that situation, Matt would have a hand that he’s looking to gamble with.
I looked down at K-Q of spades. Given my image at that moment, I was thinking this hand had squeeze potential. I had maybe $5,200 in chips in front of me, so my first option was just to fold, considering I was out of position with multiple players left to act behind me. If I had more money behind me, calling would be an excellent option. But I didn’t, so I raised it up to $1,375.
Everyone folded to Glantz, who called $1,075 more on the button. At this point, I was thinking, What kind of hands can Matt have here? He shouldn’t have any sort of a gambling hand, because he’s not getting the price to draw to the hand. I clearly have a hand with only $4,000 behind, so he’s not really supposed to have any sort of a drawing hand. He shouldn’t have mid to larger pairs, because he would want to get the money in pre-flop with those hands.
So I thought he had a hand similar to mine—K-Q, possibly A-Q, possibly A-K, though that seemed unlikely. The flop came down 8-9-5 with two hearts—not the greatest flop in the world, but there was $3,000 in the pot and I couldn’t just leave that there. So I led out for $1,800, leaving $2,200 behind, and Glantz did not think very long before putting me all-in. I threw my hand away, of course, and he showed the five of hearts. Later, he told me that he called with 5-2 suited.
A good friend of mine, Nick Brancato, summed it up like this: “I would love to have someone show me the math that would ever make this pre-flop call a positive equity play.” You’re only going to hit the flop good about 20 percent of the time—and by “hit the flop,” I mean flop a flush draw, two pair, or better. Those are the hands you’re really looking to win a big hand with, and my stack was too small to make that math right. Matt was also in a spot where if he flops one pair, he’s pretty much committed to go with the hand. My range was pretty small, and K-Q is right at the bottom of it. He put himself in a situation where he called $1,075 to win another $4,000. More often than not, if he’s behind, he’s going to have to pay me off. And if he’s ahead, like in this hand, he’s not going to get paid off.
Mathematically speaking, I believe it’s a horrendous call. I have nothing but respect for Matt, but I honestly think this call was awful beyond belief. And I don’t believe it’s a call he would have ever made had it not been on television.
Is there value in running Gavin Smith off a hand on television? Maybe. Is there value in looking crazy on television? Maybe. Is there value in being able to turn over the five of hearts on television? Maybe. Those are all values that you get from the hand, but they’re personal values—not direct monetary values. And when you dissect the hand, personal values don’t wind up helping you. You have to boil it down to, “Am I making money or losing money on this hand?”
So did Matt make his decision with 5-2 of hearts because he thought it was correct? I don’t think he’s dumb enough to think that. Did television impact the way he played the hand? I think the answer to that is yes.
You have to be aware of how people change their games when they know they’re on television—especially people who are a little quieter and a little less rambunctious, who are looking for ways to be memorable. They aren’t flamboyant, they don’t make ridiculous comments, and they don’t have stupid long hair, so they may feel the need to make those plays. Television time these days is very limited, so some people feel the need to do crazy things for future benefit.
What’s also important to remember is that while I have this reputation of being a rammer-jammer crazy player, and sometimes I am that guy, sometimes I’m not. Watch how people are playing. I see a lot of good poker players turn into losing players because they make decisions based on opponents’ reputations, rather than how they’re playing that day. People should have looked at me that day and realized I was playing ultra tight, which makes Matt’s call infinitely worse.
In this example, he flopped the world—bottom pair and a flush draw—which doesn’t happen very often. When he flops a pair, he’s going to lose a huge percentage of the time. Even when he flops a flush draw, he’s only going to get there about one-third of the time. So overall, it’s a losing play. But he won the pot and was the hero of the day, and that’s how poker works sometimes.
Gavin Smith won a World Poker Tour title in 2005 and a World Series of Poker bracelet in 2010 and is a WPT Boot Camp instructor. You can follow him on Twitter @olegsmith.