With two tables left in the event, I was the chip leader, but there was still lots of work to be done. My table absolutely stunk! It was full of top players, while the other table was full of newer players.
Nonetheless, I held my own at that tough table and went to the final table of 10 players as the chip leader with more than $2 million. Very early on in final-table play, Jennifer Harman, who’d been playing like a wizard all day, raised from first position to $80,000. The blinds were $15,000-$30,000 at the time, so that was a pretty standard raise.
In second Bola88 position, the second-place chip leader Eric Weiner called the $80,000. Next to the button, I looked down at the 8clubs 7clubs and just loved the situation. If I could catch a lucky flop, this might be a good opportunity to put a stranglehold on the tournament.
Now, if you are playing the 8clubs 7clubs, you are really looking to hit a straight draw, a flush draw, a pair, or maybe even two pair. Well, how do you like this for a flop? 9clubs 6clubs 5spades! Not only did I flop the nut straight, but I also had a straight-flush draw, to boot.
Jennifer went ahead and bet $150,000 on the flop. For her to bet this scary board, she clearly had to have something, so I was already thinking about how I was going to get all of her chips. Should I make a small raise? Smooth-call and wait for the turn? Go all in? There were several options, but I decided to try to attach her to the hand by raising the minimum. If she had an overpair, as she was representing, it would be very tough for her to get away from it.
Just as I was going through that process, Eric Weiner declared himself all in! Wow, somebody pinch me; how sweet is this?! I was just hoping to get some action on the hand from Jennifer, and now I had a chance to bust the second-place chip leader.
So, obviously, I called, and Jennifer smartly mucked her Q-Q. At this point, I wasn’t sure what I wanted Eric to have, but my first instincts told me that he must have flopped a set. Yup, he had flopped three nines. When I called, he must have been ecstatic, figuring me for a smaller set.
Surprise, surprise, Eric, my bust ’em had hit the flop in a big way. He got no help on the turn and no help on the river, and I’d reached the $4 million mark in chips. By the time we got down to sevenhanded, I had well over half the chips in play.
With a monster chip lead, my strategy was pretty simple: “Stay aggressive, but don’t do anything stupid.” By that time, the blinds were already $30,000-$60,000 with a $10,000 ante, so I was raising to $150,000 at least twice a round. I didn’t have that many good hands, obviously, but since everyone else was so short on chips, they were forced to wait for a hand.
If someone reraised me, I simply threw it away unless I had the goods. That simple, aggressive strategy saw my chip count go from $4 million all the way up to more than $6.8 million with six players remaining. There is one valuable lesson I learned from something John Juanda once said that I’m passing on to you. John once explained that it’s important to protect a big stack. Too many people are preoccupied with knocking players out, figuring they can afford it, but it’s simply more important not to risk losing a large lead, because it’s an advantage you can exploit with much less risk. In other words, with that many chips, you don’t have to take the worst of it if the situation doesn’t warrant it. Let the short stacks fight for position while you pick up the scraps along the way.
The next day for the television taping, I picked up right where I left off, staying aggressive but not giving anybody the chance to double up unless I had a solid hand. I opened pots with lots of trash hands, but when I put in large sums of money, I always made sure I came prepared with a real hand.
I finally got heads up with Humberto Brenes with about a 4-1 chip lead, and aside from a couple of minor scares, the road to victory wasn’t all that difficult. It’s not because I played so great at that final table, that’s not the case at all. It simply illustrates the power of a commanding chip lead.
I played one final big pot with Humberto when the flop came 7-4-3. Humberto had top pair, 8-7, while I also had top pair with a king kicker. If Humberto won that pot, it would be the first time since day two that I had not had the chip lead. A 5 on the turn gave him more outs, but when he blanked out on the river, I felt more relief than I did joy.
It was a strange moment. Coming to the final table with that big a lead, second place would have felt like an absolute disaster. Unlike my Borgata win a month earlier, which was extremely emotional for me, the feeling this time was much less enjoyable. Hey, it’s not that I wasn’t happy, but the Borgata win seemed more dramatic and had my heart pumping on several occasions.
Coming to the final table as a prohibitive favorite adds even more pressure than normal. If you don’t win, coming in second is even considered failure. If you find yourself in a situation like that soon (lucky you), remember to maintain your focus, stay calm, and, finally, don’t do anything stupid!