Life has a funny sense of irony. Just as I wrote an insightful blog on how to play your hands under the gun last week, this past weekend I found myself booted out of a tournament because I made the kind of mistake that I advised you not to make. Let’s take a look at where I went wrong.
I was under the gun at an 8-man table and the blinds were at level 3 (25/50), so it was still fairly early in the tournament. I hadn’t really gotten any good cards thus far, so I had only seen a few flops.
I got an A-10 off-suit in this position. Tired of mucking rags, I decided to give it a chance and limp in. I called the 50 entry fee. The action went around the table to the other players. One other limped in and then the guy on the button decides to raise and make it 200 total to play. I wasn’t sure if this was a position raise or if he really did have a solid hand.
With all the chips already in the pot, plus the 50 I already put in from my own stack, I decided to call with A-10. Both the big blind and small blind players folded and the other limper also called. The flop came out: A-2-7 rainbow.
I hit top pair. The bad part is, because of my position UTG, I was first to act. Now what? If I check here, I know the button will for sure come with a bet, which I will have to call. After all, I have top pair in a raised pot.
So I decided to throw out a feeler bet to see where I stood. The 3rd guy in the pot folded and the button only called. Now I wasn’t sure if the button was slow-playing some monster or he was just calling because he thought I was trying to represent the ace. The turn card came: an 8.
I checked and then the button bet 500. What now? He could be sensing weakness and trying to steal the pot here, or just betting his premium hand. He could be on a good pocket pair like JJ or QQ. I feel "pot committed" here and I still have top-pair, so I call.
The river came and it was a 6. I checked, and the button went all-in for 1500 more.
At this point, I’m thinking I already have a lot of chips in the pot and I am getting over 2:1 on my money, so I pretty much have to call here. I don’t like it, but I have already dug myself into a hole. Folding would leave me severely short stacked with only marginal chances to cash in the tourney. I have to trust my aces and hope the guy was position-raising with an Ace-smaller kicker or with a pocket pair like QQ or JJ. I call.
Sure enough, the guy shows his Ace-Jack, and rakes in the pot. I’m out. The reason I lost that big pot wasn't just the cards, it was also my positioning. Notice how at every stage of the betting I was left wondering and unsure what was going to happen. It was also my own impatience, trying to force things out of position.
If you're under the gun and you hit top pair on the flop with a mediocre kicker, you're just asking for trouble. If I was in a poker school, they would make me write that sentence 100 times in my notebook so I’d remember to stick by it next time.