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Set your trap -- then be patient

Celebrity Poker Showdown's co-host, Phil Gordon, can really hustle. He has books coming out, business interests to watch out for, and his TV show to shoot. He'll be making so many personal appearances during the rest of 2005 that he'll have time to play only a few poker tournaments. But Gordon misses playing big-time poker tournaments! I know the feeling. It's hard to be a businessman, promoter and writer, and still maintain your poker schedule, which, is, after all, how we made our names. Gordon and I, along with all of the other top poker players in the world, share a love for the World Series of Poker (WSOP). All the great players, in fact, keep that six-week stretch open each year, so as to focus on winning gold bracelets and making additional poker history. During that six-week stretch, you can play in a meaningful event almost every day. The rest of the year, you have to fly to Reno, Paris, Atlantic City, Connecticut, Mississippi or somewhere else far away just to play in one meaningful tournament; and no matter how good you are, you're a long shot to win it, because the tournament will be fielding 800 players. Gordon made two final tables at the 2005 WSOP (losing at one of them when his pocket aces were beaten by an opponent's pocket eights, all-in before the flop), and came awfully close to winning the following tournament. With 27 players remaining in the $3,000 buy-in pot-limit Hold 'Em tournament, and the blinds at $400-$800, Gordon picked up A-10 in the small blind, and after everyone else folded, he made it $2,400 to go. In the big blind sat Marco Traniello, previously best known for being married to Jennifer Harmon Traniello, the celebrated poker player, but after his amazing eight-times-in-the-money performance at the 2005 WSOP, Traniello is now known as a very good poker player in his own right. In any case, Traniello called the $1,600 raise, and the flop came down Q-10-8 rainbow (''rainbow'' meaning that the three flop cards were of three different suits). It was a decent flop for Gordon, who now bet out $4,000 of his $43,000 in chips (Marco had $55,000 in chips), and Traniello called. After a five came off, Gordon bet $10,000 into the pot, and Traniello again called. On the river, a 10 came off, making Gordon ''thirty miles of railroad'' (slang for trip 10s), with a board of Q-10-8-5-10. Gordon, having hit his best card in the deck, bet out $20,000 into the $34,000 pot. Traniello now moved all-in, effectively raising Gordon his last $9,000. Gordon called, and Traniello showed him a queen-high straight -- the Q-10-8 on the board combined with his J-9 in the hole. The last card, the 10, which had looked so promising for Gordon, especially with an ace kicker, was actually the one card that guaranteed he would go broke. It was a tough break for Gordon, set up partially by the expert way that Traniello played his hand. Marco had twice succeeded in trapping Gordon by smooth calling with the best possible hand. The old "I call, I call" play with a super-strong hand, instead of the more conventional "I raise, I raise." If Traniello had raised Gordon on the flop, or on fourth street, he would most likely have forced Gordon to fold his hand -- Gordon had only second pair -- right then and there. Because Traniello opted to slow play his hand, he reaped huge benefits. Did Gordon do anything wrong here? His pre-flop raise was very good; his bet on the flop was also fine; his bet on fourth street was a little aggressive, but not bad; and finally, there was nothing he could do on the end, short of making a great 'out of his mind' read on Traniello and losing a bit less by folding, but even had he done so, he would still have lost a ton of chips. Reflecting on the bad luck he endured during this hand, Gordon now says, 'That's poker.' Phil Hellmuth is a nine-time World Series of Poker champion and the author of Play Poker like the Pros and Bad Beats and Lucky Draws. His column appears Sundays in Tropical Life.


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