Battling with 'The Mouth'

by Phil Gordon

The poker room at the Venetian opened April 2nd with a glorious star-studded event. About 300 people gathered at the nightclub Tao for a pre-tournament party. At 9pm, we sat down at the brand new tables for a free-roll tournament. First place prize? A beautiful yellow Lotus Esprit, a car I have exactly a zero percent chance of fitting in.

Most of the best professional players in the world were in attendance. As we first walked in the room, I was completely floored: the space is stunning. The tables are nicely spaced, the electronics on the wall are easily viewable from any table in the room, and the place just feels classy. In 3 seconds, it became one of my favorite poker rooms in the world.

I was seated at table 32, seat 2. Mike “The Mouth” Matusow was in seat 8. Eskimo Clark in seat 1, was seated on my right. No other professionals were at the table. I loved my seat: I’m on the left of the aggressive professionals and I have opponents I should be able to read and take advantage of on my left.

We started with 3000 in tournament chips, with the blinds at 25-50 and going up every twenty minutes. This is a seriously fast structure, but somewhat normal for a freeroll tournament. In structures like this, you have to work to pick up chips early. You simply can’t wait around for pocket Aces or Kings and expect to pick up enough good hands to make it deep in the tournament.

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Mike, known for his overly aggressive style, came out firing and played the first 3 hands he was dealt. In one hand against Eskimo, Mike raised before the flop on the button and Eskimo called from the big blind. Mike then bet the flop and moved all in on the turn. Eskimo folded and Mike turned over 5-6 offsuit, no pair no draw.

Two hands later, Mike was in the small blind when a late position amateur raised to 200. The button called the 200 and Mike moved all-in. No one called, Mike flipped over A-Q offsuit. He was clearly on a kamikaze mission.

With the blinds still at 25-50, Mike was in middle position. He raised to 150. Everyone folded to me in the cutoff seat. I had A-T offsuit. I decided to re-raise. Here is my rationale:

  • Mike has been playing very aggressively and playing nearly every hand – A-T rates to be better than the hands he is playing.
  • Mike respects my play and I’ve been playing very tight. He’s very unlikely to call my re-raise out of position with a hand like A-J or K-Q. If he calls, I’ll have a very good idea what kind of hand he’s on.
  • If he re-raises, he’s going to go all-in and I’ll have a tough decision to make, but I can still lay down the hand and have 2500 in chips.
  • With my re-raise, I’ll take control of the betting. If Mike misses the flop, he won’t win the pot – I’ll follow up my pre-flop aggression with a post-flop continuation bet.
  • I will limit the competition with my re-raise and nearly always end up heads-up with Mike. Making it 450 to go will put significant pressure on the blinds and virtually force them to fold anything but the truly premium hands. With two pros in the pot, no way they will want to get involved.

I raised to 450, three times Mike’s bet.

Everyone folded to Mike. He called very quickly.

At this point, before the flop comes down, I like to run through the three levels of thought:

Level 1: What do I have? I have a sub-standard hand for the action thus far, A-T. My hand does not rate to be the best hand right now.

Level 2: What does Mike have? I think he has a hand like a small pocket pair. He might also have a bad suited ace, like A-3 or A-8. Suited connectors are also a possibility. I don’t think he has A-Q or A-K – he would have re-raised all-in with those hands because he is out of position and has done so recently. He might have A-J. He could also have K-Q suited, but I think that is rather unlikely.

Level 3: What does Mike think that I have? I’ve been playing very tight, and this is the first time I’ve been involved in a hand. Mike respects my play and knows that I like to play very tight in the initial stages of a tournament. He has to put me on A-Q or better. In all likelihood, he should put me on a premium hand. I certainly have a much worse hand than I should have for my action.

The flop came down: Ks Qd 6h

Mike checked.

This is my easiest decision in this hand, by far. It is time to put maximum pressure on Mike and move all-in:

  • Even if he calls, I have outs – any Jack will make a straight
  • Its very unlikely I have the best hand
  • It will be nearly impossible for Mike to call with a small pocket pair here, and even if he does call, I’ll have at least a 40% chance to win the pot (10 outs).
  • I can get him to fold A-J with an all-in bet – and that hand is the one I really need to get out of the pot. Against A-J, I only have 3 outs! I can get him to fold Q-J suited as well.
  • My betting is consistent with A-K or A-Q in this situation. I might even move all in with A-A, K-K or Q-Q. An all-in bet doesn’t feel “fishy”.

I moved in, and Mike thought for about 15 seconds before folding. He flipped up 7-7. “Too bad it didn’t come K-Q-7,” he commented.

Aggression is the key to the game. In this situation, I think I played this hand very well. I was aggressive, but took advantage of a loose player when I had position. My pre-flop re-raise isolated him and allowed me to win the pot.

(Originally published on April 04, 2006 by ESPN)


Additional Articles:
-Beating Up on Weak Players
-Go Big or Go Home
-Conditional Probability

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-Asian Poker Players
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-Lessons From the FBI
-The Gordon Pair Principle
-Battling with 'The Mouth'
-Grinding Out the Borgata
-Standard Pre-Flop Raises in No Limit Tournaments


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