The beauty of balance

Last week I had the privilege of doing some commentary on the EPT Live webcast at the Monte Carlo EPT Grand Final. It's a privilege not least because I get to work with an astonishing web production team; when you get down to it, working with awesome people is what makes a job, right?

But I digress.

Another reason it was a privilege was because I got to watch some great poker, and that's the subject of this piece. Now, if you've heard my rant about what makes good poker, you can probably just go over to the SCOOP schedule and see what event you want to play next. If not...

Here is not what makes good poker: two players are all-in, one has pocket threes, the other has pocket sixes. The dealer somberly, with appropriate dramatic pause at each burn card, puts out the board. A three hits on the river and the railbirds go berserk; the massive underdog busts his opponent.

And I am being 100% serious when I say that I am continually impressed by James Hartigan and Joe Stapleton in that they do make the moment seem dramatic. Because (forgive me, gentlemen) this strikes me as about as dramatic as:

"Oh my god, James - the roulette wheel came up green zero!"

In short, unlikely events will happen.

But let me tell you about this hand...

At the final table of the main event, Andrew Pantling raised preflop with 7-6 and Steve O'Dwyer called behind him on the button with Q-9. The flop came 9-7-3 (I'm not sure about the three - it's unimportant; the nine and seven are not). Andrew checked and Steve made a decent bet. Andrew called.

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This is a standard sequence and doesn't really say much about either their cards or the hand itself.

The turn was another small card (perhaps a deuce). Andrew checked again and Steve made another, healthier, bet. Andrew called.

Now the real poker had started. The "raise, call, (flop), check, bet, call" sequence is mostly a choreographed pas de deux these days, like standard chess openings. The turn is when the real chess poker starts, where the hand strength definition and mind games get serious.

The river was an eight, making the board 9-7-3--2--8. No flush was possible, but some number of straights had gotten there. And certainly a lot of two-pair combinations had just arrived.

Andrew checked again.

Steve paused and I thought he was going to simply turn over his hand, thinking he was probably best, but unwilling to reopen the betting.

And then he started reaching for chips.

I all but jumped out of my chair for joy. He had sensed that Andrew had serious value, but almost certainly less than he. This was great poker. Finally Steve slid out 650,000 chips - a massive near-pot bet that put huge pressure on Andrew.

Knowing that Steve's parents were watching the webcast, I commented, "Mrs. O'Dwyer, your son is a value-betting genius." I was absolutely sure there was no way Andrew could get away from that pot, given their history and the strength of his hand.

But then, Andrew stopped and tanked. You could see him working the hand backwards in his head and trying to get a read on Steve. He picked up chips and put them back down again. Absolutely sure of my read, I think I said something in the commentary like, "There's no way he can fold here; he's got too much value."

And then Andrew did the amazing: he folded. I wish I'd known his mom and wife were watching (they were) because I'd have told his mom, on-air, that her son had just played brilliantly.

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That's the thing: we got the joy of watching two poker players both play the same hand beautifully against each other.

It's like watching baseball. Home runs are fine, but generally they involve the pitcher making a pitch he'd like to take back. In fact, such a pitch even has a name - it's called a "gopher ball". To me, the beauty in baseball is when the batter hits a wicked line drive down the third base line but somehow the third-baseman, combining reflexes and athleticism, leaps into space and snags the ball before it can go by. That is, the batter did nothing wrong, and indeed would be delighted to hit that same line drive every single at-bat (he'd be a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame). But the third-baseman took the game to another level and stopped the ball. That's awesome baseball right there.

Andrew Pantling and Steve O'Dwyer took poker to another level during that hand. It'll never make the highlights reel or the TV show, but it was the sort of awesome poker that has me chomping at the bit until the EPT Barcelona event in season 10.

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Lee Jones the Head of Poker Communications at PokerStars; he first joined the company in 2003. He has been involved in the professional poker world since the mid 1980's.

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