Playing Tournaments against the Pros – “My First Encounter with Johnny Chan”

I have been playing in major poker tournaments since 1998 when I was lucky enough to win a trip for two to Las Vegas playing in a local poker tournament in the small city that I live in. The prize included a seat in the $1000 buy in limit hold em tournament at the Rio’s Carnival of Poker. T.J. Cloutier stated in one of his books that there are lots of local pros who come to Las Vegas to play with the big boys. He mentioned Joe Blow from Iowa. He must have been speaking about me. I was blown out of the tournament in the 2nd level of play. I never had a chance. Despite my poor showing, I was hooked on tournaments. I have played in 60 or so majors over the years and average around 10-15 per year now. I have had a moderate amount of success and have made the final table in 10% of my tries. In the last three years I have won two tournaments, placed second in three and a fifth in one other. I am not even close when you compare me to Men Nguyen’s, Daniel Negreanu’s or Phil Ivey’s tournament percentages, but feel that with a more regular schedule, I can improve on my success. My most significant win was a WPO event in 2001.

I have had many encounters with a number of the top tournament players and each time I come away better than before. I have had my failures but have also held my own. I know that there is a lot of luck in this game and for me to do well, I need my fair share. I still have a lot to learn and will continue to do so. In the meantime I have gained enough knowledge and confidence to play with the best. I am a realist and understand that for me to continue to succeed, I will have to learn everything I can about the game. I don’t have eight years of experience. I have about four years, spread out over eight. I hope to gain more experience in the coming months as I take a much needed break from my other life and embark on an adventure in the tournament circuit.

I have the ability to remember previous encounters with my opponents in the past. I even remember how they played. It is a definite advantage to remember that this guy likes to play small pairs up front for a raise or that guy had this hand when he tried to run a bluff in position. I have avoided many losing situations over the years due to this ability. I also have put people into uncomfortable situations when I recall their name and the fact that they own company B in Toledo, Ohio and the only time we played was three years ago in a no limit hold em tourney.

I have read many books and articles on poker over the years. It is my way to keep up with the tournament circuit for the other 49 weeks of the year. This definitely is an advantage that I have exploited over the years. I have knowledge on how some of the well known Pros play certain hands in different situations. On the other hand, they know very little about me. So now comes the story of my first encounter with Johnny Chan.

Johnny Chan

I went to the 5 Diamonds tournament mainly to play in the hold em tourneys. The no limit tournament was a $1500 buy in. I sat down at seat number 9/9 and immediately saw Erik Seidel in seat number 7. I have had a few run ins with Erik but nothing really too memorable. He is not one to give away any information about his hand for free. I have found him to be very difficult to read in the past but luckily we haven’t had any major confrontations. As I was thinking how Erik might change my strategy, I saw Johnny coming towards Erik. I had never actually met him in person but recognized who he was immediately, even with the sunglasses on. Johnny sat down next to Erik and I knew he was not there to chat. I looked at several of the other players and I could tell that some were already intimidated by the two pros sitting at the table. Most of the others were new faces.

A lot of amateurs reading this article would hate to be sitting at this table. I initially didn’t like it either until I thought of my strategy, given the table composition. I immediately felt that my position was ideal. I would play my normal tight strategy when I was in early position which I usually do early in a tournament anyway. This also was perfect given Johnny’s and Erik’s positions. I would avoid playing any trouble hands when they were in the blinds as well as when Johnny was on the button. Also having Erik to Johnny’s immediate left would keep Johnny in line somewhat especially when Johnny had marginal hands. At least I was hoping that this would be the case. Johnny’s and Erik’s presence also would make the players to their right play in a more predictable manner. Most of them were obviously uncomfortable and I felt that they would play tighter than usual and their tells might be more obvious too. I felt that I had an opportunity to steal more often if Johnny and Erik were out of the hand. Finally, I knew the table would not break up for a while.

Unfortunately, things don’t always go the way one wishes. Johnny started out quickly. He limped early in a hand and won a nice pot by value betting his AA the whole way. Then in another hand, he flopped trip10’s against the chip leader (who had doubled through on the 2nd hand). He had AK this time on an A-10-x flop. Johnny doubled through and had over 4k. So much for Erik keeping Johnny in check. I was also getting fairly good hands in early position. I raised with QQ once under the gun and raised it three times the big blind. After everyone Folded, I showed the hand. A lot of authors have advocated not to reveal your hand for free. I have had much more success revealing certain hands for several reasons. I wanted Johnny and Erik to respect my early position raises. I hoped that this would stop them from playing weak ace hands. I definitely didn’t want Johnny to call behind me in position with his big stack. Later on with the blinds still at 25-50, I had an AK offsuit in the big blind. There were 6 limpers in the pot including Johnny and Erik. I did hesitate for a minute or two as I thought about making a large raise. Given my poor position, I checked. The flop was K-K-10 with 2 clubs. The small blind checked and I bet t200 after a slight hesitation. Everyone folded in turn except for the small blind who called. The turn was a jack and he checked quickly. I didn’t think he had a king so I decided to bet the pot size (t700). I thought he had a draw when he finally called. The river was an offsuit 9. He bet t400 fairly quickly. I thought for a little while and decided that he either hit a straight and would call a raise or he had a flush draw that missed. Also a fullhouse with that board was a possibility. I really hated the river. I decided that I had to call here as a raise was a negative expectation bet. He turned over the J-5 of clubs. This pot really was a boost to my stack with an additional t1550.

I played in a few multi way pots but never hit. I was able to steal a few times in late position and also hit 2 pair on a hand and won a small pot when my opponent folded on the turn. Johnny and Erik had both been steadily increasing their stacks as well. Johnny had t8500 and Erik had around t5500. I had t3700. The blinds had increased to 50-100 when I picked up QQ under the gun again. This time I raised it t400. I like to vary my bets occasionally just to be deceptive. I don’t always start out this way but in this particular situation I felt that Johnny and/or Erik might make a wrong assumption about the value of my hand when I had raised smaller earlier and showed the QQ. I still had a tight image and had only shown a few hands.

Everyone folded to Johnny on the Button. I was watching him as he looked at his hole cards. Just like out of the scene in rounders when Johnny and Matt Damon’s character got into a raising war in a high limit hold em game at the Taj. Johnny acted strong as he reraised it to t1600. Immediately my instincts said, ” I have the best hand here.” I thought for several minutes and went through the various hands that Johnny might have. If he had AA or KK, I obviously should fold. I was almost sure that he didn’t have either one of those. A-K was a possibility, but again my initial feeling when he raised was that he was trying to resteal the pot preflop. I decided that if I reraised he would fold small to medium pairs and any lesser ace. If I just called, I believe my best play would be to check the flop no matter what came. There was no way I was going to fold. A bet by me defeated the call preflop for the most part. I would use that play only when I was short stacked and was attempting a resteal. The flop came A-9-8 rainbow. I actually was watching Johnny as the flop was revealed (a difficult thing to do and stay undetected). Unfortunately, this did not help me decipher his possible hand (I was not too surprised by this). A play that some pros like to use is to steal on the flop by representing the ace (Phil Helmuth and Daniel Negreanu come to mind immediately, but there are a lot of others as well). It is particularly effective against weak tight players, but can also be used against inexperienced players too. I felt that Johnny most likely would use this play if I checked. If he actually hit the ace, I felt he would probably check it. I didn’t think he would bet until the turn especially if he had a big ace. Knowing this I checked. Johnny immediately bet t2200, exactly what I had left (I knew he would have me counted down). I called almost immediately and at the same time that I was revealing my QQ I asked, “You don’t really have an ace do you Johnny”? As soon as I said that I knew he didn’t by the look on his face. He turned over his 4-4 and the turn and river was no help for either of us.

This confrontation had a number of positive effects. First, I took over as chip leader. Second, I put a seed of doubt in Johnny’s mind about my play. How could he call there? Why didn’t he fold preflop or on the flop with an ace in it? Finally it was a huge psychological boost for me. My first confrontation against Johnny Chan and I doubled through.

I wish I could say that I took control of the table and played brilliantly, got my fair share of cards and luck, and took home the money. Unfortunately I trapped the trapper in a confrontation a while later at 100-200 blinds. I flopped trips and lost to a 2 outer on the river. Johnny “the trapper” Chan can get lucky once in a while too. That’s Poker!

The Poker Players Who Stop Learning! Stop Earning!

The article was written by Scott Aigner and its part of the interested poker stories over the past few years that will be published here.