WINNING POKER has always been about aggressive play.
These days, though, aggressiveness seems to get taken to extraordinary levels. At the 2008 World Poker Tour's $9,700-buy-in event at Connecticut's Foxwoods Resort, with blinds at $150-$300, longtime pro Kenna James open-raised to $900 with K-Q of hearts from late position. The player on the button called.
The flop came A-8-5, rainbow. With the backdoor nut-flush draw, James bet out $1,300. The button called.
"As soon as he called me," James said, "I can sense that he's floating me, trying to see what happens on the turn and maybe take it away from me."
The turn came an offsuit 9. James checked. The button bet $1,600. James check-raised to $3,800.
"Now we're playing a psychological game," James said. "I wanted to make it look like I wanted him to call because I figured he had air, so I didn't need to risk more than that. And it also strengthens the play if you don't look desperate by making too big a raise. I made it a bait raise."
The button called.
"I'm shocked," James said. "I can't figure out what he's got." The river came the 6 of diamonds. With his king-high, James boldly bet $5,000, about half his stack. The button popped him for another $6,000, meaning a call would put James' tournament life at stake.
"I thought for a long time even though I only have K-Q because it just didn't make sense," James said. "There was just no hand I could really beat. I end up mucking it and he turns over 10-J offsuit.
"He called me with position before the flop, floated me on the flop, called for value on the turn because he picked up the open-ended straight draw, then value-raise-bluffed me on the river.
"He put $19,000 or $20,000 at risk with jack-high. That's what we're battling today. He said it was easy because the board read 8-9-5-6, so he knew that unless I had a 7, I couldn't call. I could've had A-7. It takes a lot of courage to make that play. That's a 22-year-old kid playing poker today.
"Even as an old-timer, I raised before the flop, bet on the flop, check-raised on the turn to validate it and bet out strong on the river - showed no sign of weakness - and this kid was still able to take it away from me with jack-high.
"Poker today is any way to win a pot. The game is elevating and you have to elevate with it."
Rainbow: A flop of three different suits.
Backdoor nut-flush draw: Holding the highest possible card to make a flush, but needing two cards of that suit to come on the turn and the river. *
Send e-mail to