The Great British Poker Tour Final, Bristol
The Final, Bristol
The schedule of big buy-in poker tournaments in England has expanded exponentially in the last year, and the Gala Great British Poker Tour stands out as one of the most brave and successful additions. A tour of events held around the country during the last few months culminated in a £2500 Grand Final at Bristol’s Harbourside casino last week.
The excitement of the big buy-in and great structured tournament attracted an incredible mix of players. Winners from each leg on the tour were rewarded with a free seat, and other lucky satellite winners would mix with the best in England, Europe and beyond. The Hendon Mob would put up their usual strong fight in the form of Barney Boatman, Joe Beevers and Ram Vaswani, and their challenge would be a stern one. The Americans had arrived, in the shape of Antonio Estfandiari, Phil “the Unibomber” Laak, Jennifer Tilly and Robert Williamson III.
There was a special sense of anticipation before the event with both satellite hopefuls and top pros taking their seats. My starting table would be typical of this mix. English stalwarts Matt Tyler and Paul Gourlay sat either side of me, but the biggest threat would come two seats to my right, from Robert Williamson III.
Such a top player normally aims to steal chips from the start, and hungrily seeks out his victims. I decided to stand up for myself by countering his aggression with aggression of my own. Pulse racing, I called his raise with and the advantage of position. The flop of missed me, and prompted a pot size 300 bet from the American. I knew that such a dry textured board was likely to have missed the opponent, and pumped the action up to 900. A minute’s thought from the Amercian challenged me to try to keep a straight face under the pressure of examination, and ended with the bad news of him throwing his chips into the pot to call.
It felt very much like the American was playing with a marginal hand and seeking an opportunity to steal he pot himself. However, I still had to get lucky. The which gave me top pair on the turn was this massive slice of luck, and we both checked. The board on the end read , and Williamson fired out 1,600. I felt fairly confident in my read that he was turning a reasonable hand into a bluff, and my eventual call came with the good news of him tabling for a lower pair.
Now the table had seen my raise without a hand on this and other occasions, and so came a time of adapting my strategy to try to catch a hand. However, a frustrating run of marginal hands left me only just above the 15,000 starting stack.
I still felt in contention in an event that was proving very enjoyable. On the next table, Phil Laak and Antonio Estfandiari were disguising their immense skill by joking loudly and finding every opportunity to make some kind of prop bet. This was a poker event at its best. With world class play in a light hearted atmosphere,everyone was having a good time.
Meanwhile, I looked down at , and followed two others by limping into the pot for 150. The player on the button announced a confident “raise,” and I prepared to muck my hand. However, his raise to 450 was suspiciously and invitingly small, and was called by the other two limpers. My suspicion that the raiser had a very big hand was actually a good reason to call, and try to win a big pot by cracking it.
The flop gave me only a gutshot straight draw. However, the three limpers’ checks were mirrored by a check from the button raiser, and we were allowed to see the turn card. The turned , to fill my top straight, was a genuine poker miracle card. Not only did I hold the nuts, I was now feeling very strongly that the original raiser had flopped a set of aces or kings.
I tried to control a hand tingling with excitement, as I bet 1,800, a near pot bet. I willed the original raiser to commit himself with a raise, but he made just the call. The other two players left the pot, and the board on the river became . The third diamond was slightly worrying news, and I chose a defensive value bet of 2,800. My opponent’s flat call meant that I happily knew I was winning a big pot, and I shot up to 22,000 in chips.
The sight of my opponent’s hand, however, would leave me ruing a real missed chance. As he tabled in frustration for what had been the top flopped set, I realized I had got the hand horribly wrong. My suspicions had been correct, and I had not kept cool enough to use them to their full potential. With the top straight against the top set on the turn, I really could have taken as many chips as I had wanted. It is not often in tournament poker that it is right to over bet the pot, but here had been a great example of one of those rare occasions. It would have been unconventional, but actually if I had really trusted my instinct, the correct thing to do on the turn would have been to mutter the words “all-in.”
These things are not worth using energy on at the table, and I settled down to try to grind my stack upwards. A frustrating hand occurred where I held in a pot with three limpers, and raised the action from 300 to 1,500 in late position. Chaz Chatta, a young gun from London and member of the impressive “Hit Squad,” stared me down, before pumping up the action 3,000 more. My problem in this situation was that my late position raise in a limped pot looked much weaker than a pair of tens, and I knew that someone with a sharp mind like Chaz would know this. I eventually passed, however, and was pleased to see the Hit Squader flash his .
An enjoyable but exhausting eight hours of play came to a close, and I was happy to be coming back for the second day with a stack of 16,700. 42 others would return with me, and included on my table the fearsome Barney Boatman, and cunning Jim Reid. One table along sat the classy Estfandiari and chip leader Jennifer Tilly.
Returning with a decent but not substantial stack, I knew that my first pot would be a crucial one. Almost immediately, I was in the big blind, and found Jim Reid limping in the small blind. My was a strong hand, but I took the decision not to raise, as a subsequent all-in by Reid would put me in a horrible spot. We checked the board on the flop and turn, leaving me feeling I was ahead with ace high. The on the end gave me the top full house, and seemed to almost guarantee me victory.
Reid made a rather small bet of 800. I could have flat called and showed down the probable winning hand, but decided there was some value in raising to 2,800.
I had not particularly planned for what then happened. Jim Reid quickly pushed all-in, for 8,600 more. It was a bizarre situation, and had me in deep though for a full five minutes. The situation was so strange, as despite holding the top full house, I could only really beat a bluff. There was no possibility that seemed a likely one, as I knew it would an incredibly courageous move from Reid if he indeed was bluffing.
On the other hand, the story he was telling did not quite seem right. If he was playing the for four of a kind, he had played it firstly for a small bet of 800, and now for a massive move all-in. It did not seem to fit, but I was fearful, and trapped in one of the toughest situations poker can throw up. I eventually made the call, and a surge of relief came over me as Jim Reid simply tapped the table, and left his seat. An incredibly brave play had very nearly worked, and I felt guilty to have made him sweat for so long on his outright bluff.
Reid had not been the only bust-out, as our table was soon broken and I would take a refreshed 25,500 to the table starring Tally and Estfandiari.
Having “The Magician” Estfandiari sitting two to my right was not going to be easy as he was raising so many pots, but it might give me an good opportunity to use counter aggression to try to steal back a pot. I waited for any kind of playable hand in the right spot to make my move, and found it when I looked down at on the small blind against Antonio’s 3,800 raise on the cut off. There was enough money in the pot to make it worthwhile for me to commit myself all-in, and so I chose a strong looking raise to 14,000, which left myself 9,000 back.
I then suffered four or five of the most uncomfortable moments in poker; I tried to keep composure whilst subject to intense stare down and questioning. I knew that I could be in awful shape if caught. Antonio’s decision was tough, as he was holding , and he eventually rather bizarrely flat called, leaving just 9,000 in my stack. I prayed for a queen or jack, but lost the race on a board. The only saving grace was that we checked the action down, and I was left to fight with 9,000.
With so much in blinds and antes in each pot, I had to push with any decent hand. This meant, however, that I was always hanging by a thread, and unfortunately the end soon came. Holding on the button was a good enough spot to push, but I would have to outdraw the small blind’s . The board came , and I felt gutted at how suddenly poker can turn from boom to bust. I had recovered however, after a few minutes’ massive disappointment, and was happy to hear the next day that the event had been won in impressive style by the Hendon Mob’s very own Joe Beevers.