Great bluff or the ultimate slow play

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Great bluff or the ultimate slow play

Two players going head to head in the final stages of the 1988 World Series of Poker. One player is none other than Johnny Chan, the other is Erik Seidel. Both players are supreme tacticians and deadly at the tables.

Twelve months previously Chan had taken the same event and was dominating the Poker scene at the time. In the heads up, final showdown for the 1988 bracelet, it was Seidel with a significant chip lead over the reigning champion and the former commodities broker was proving tough to breakdown.

We join the action with the small blinds at $10,000 and the big blinds at $20,000. That's right, there is $30,000 in the pot before any cards are dealt! Having concluded the first round of betting, the flop was dealt as follows:

  • Q - Hearts
  • 10 - Diamonds
  • 8 - Diamonds

Chan is the first to act on this hand and checks following the flop. Erik comes in with a $50,000 bet to which Chan eventually calls. The Turn card was a total blank and both players checked. Similarly the River was no good to either player and Johnny Chan checked.

Seidel was holding a Queen in his pocket cards and from his perspective, had seen no aggression from his opponent. Other than the potential straight flopped, no other scare cards had turned up. Erik felt there was a danger that Johnny had a Queen too, perhaps with a stronger kicker, but the lack of action from Chan convinced Seidel that he had a weaker hand. Remember, Chan had passed up his final chance to bet (for certain) by checking after the River.

Understandably, Erik Seidel rose to his feet and pushed all of his chips into the middle of the table, going all-in. This action was designed to get Chan off the pot even if he did have a slightly stronger hand (say a pair of Queens with a decent Kicker).

Sadly for Erik, he had badly misread Chan.

As you may have guessed by now, Chan had in fact flopped a Straight on the Flop with his pocket cards being Jack of Clubs and 9 of Clubs. Having being dealt a very strong hand, Johnny Chan checked whenever possible all the way through to the River and allowed his opponent to "do all the talking". This takes skill, judgement and an ice-cold nerve!

Doesn't a tight-aggressive player bet with a Straight on the Flop? Yes is the short answer, however, to be a successful poker player you have to process more information than just the cards before you, the external factors if you like. In this instance, Seidel was prepared to bet strongly from the start of the hand, so he likely had a hand of sorts. Chances are he was going to shove plenty of chips onto the table, so why scare him unnecessarily? Having checked all the way through, Seidel thought there was little to beat and so over-bet and went all-in. Perfect!

Johnny Chan went on to complete back-to-back wins in the WSOP in 1988.

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