Early on, a multi-way pot developed between Per Ummer, David Chiu, and 1993 Main Event champion Jim Betchel. I wasn't able to see the pre-flop action so I caught the action on the flop. The flop was 9-2-2 rainbow. Bechtel checked and Chiu bet 6,000. Ummer folded and Bechtel called. The turn was a 6 and Chiu bet 9,200. Bechtel, amazingly, shoved his entire stack of over 110K into the middle and was quickly called by Chiu who had flopped a full house with pocket 9's. Bechtel had aces and when he didn't hit his two outer on the river his day was over less than 30 minutes after it started.
Let's look at this hand from Bechtel's perspective as there was nothing wrong with what Chiu did. On the flop, Bechtel obviously thought his aces were ahead and decided that he would try and trap his two opponents. This is a viable play, but once Chiu makes a bet he should evaluate what his best course of action is. He can do one of three things:
- Fold – obviously not an option here
- Call – the option Bechtel chose here. This isn't a terrible choice but when you make this decision you need to have a plan for how you will prepare for the turn. The problem, however, with just calling here is that you don't get any information on Chiu's hand and you're setting yourself up to play a big pot.
- Raise – the preferred option in my opinion. By making a raise to say 20,000 here, Bechtel would get a better idea of where he stood. If Chiu folds, he wins the hand right there. If Chiu calls, he can use the turn to place a bet that will define whether Chiu is trapping or has a worse hand than the aces.
Once the turn comes, Bechtel has two choices initially. He can either lead out or he can check with the intention of check raising. You could supposedly check call here, but that's treading on dangerous water. Once Chiu makes the smallish bet of 9,200, Bechtel again has three options:
- Fold – again still not the right course of action, especially since we don't have a lot of choices.
- Call – believe it or not, while I don't like a call on the flop, I like a call here. It keeps the pot small for the river and you can get a show down without having to risk all of your chips. There's nothing wrong with winning (or losing) a small pot with aces. Calling here will lead to probably a 20K or so bet on the river from Chiu, which would result in a net loss of approximately 35K. This would have left Bechtel with 85K, which would be over 200 big blinds – plenty to play with.
- Raise – this is the option Bechtel chose and while this is probably the play I would have made as well, pushing all in is a terrible decision.
Because one, it's only going to get called by something that has you beat and two, it allows hands that are actually worse than the aces to make a good decision and fold. The all in bet allows people to play perfect poker. They call when they have the best of it and fold when they don't. The better bet here would have been to re-raise to 25-30K and seen what Chiu does then. Likely, Chiu would have pushed and Bechtel would have faced a tough decision, but at least by re-raising a smaller amount he gives himself options.
Moral of this hand? It's ok to play small pots with pocket aces post-flop early in a deep stack tournament. Don't be afraid to take a more cautious approach when you are uncertain of the hand your opponent holds.