Chris Moneymaker: Take 2 versus Sammy
I was walking out of a professional tennis match in February when I received a call from ESPN. They wanted to know if I would like to relive one of the biggest days in my life and play Sam Farha heads up again on the WSOP stage. Under the lights. On TV. It didn't take but a second to say yes. I thought this would be fun first off, but also wanted to see the difference eight years makes.
I haven't seen much of Sammy in the last eight years and didn't know what to expect from his game. I knew my game had improved a lot since that magical day. In 2003, my plan was to apply pressure and take any 50-50 shot I could to bust him. I felt outclassed in 2003 and most certainly was, but I had a strategy to negate his experience and it paid off.
Fast forward eight years. I feel very confident going into this match, and feel like I am the better player today. I have put a lot of time in to improve my game and played many heads up matches against top competition online at PokerStars. I knew going in, this game was going to play out differently than 2003, in that I would be more patient and control the action more than I was able to do in 2003. I felt good, but had zero idea what Sammy's game was like eight years later and was eager to find out.
The format of this match would be the best two out of three matches. The first match would be starting chips from the final hand at the 2003 WSOP (5.4 million for me and 2.9 million for Sam). The second match would be flipped stacks and the final would be even stacks. After some thought I felt I had the worst of the structure since I am playing someone I haven't seen in years. I was supposed to win the first match having the lead to start with. However, in a heads up match, the longer you play the more you learn about your opponent. I thought having the big stack first was a disadvantage in that I would know more about Sammy in the 2nd and 3rd match when I had a shorter stack.
That being said, I felt comfortable that I could play my game and come out on top.
I didn't know what to expect from Sammy. Was he going to go all 2003 and try to run me over? Would he be very sticky throughout hands? Or had his game changed completely? I really felt going in that I was not going to be able to bluff him but would be able to make large very thin value bets. Given what I knew of Sammy, my plan was to play pot control, play position, and get value from made hands.
Sam started with the button and we were off in our historic heads up match. The blinds would be 20k-40k with a 5k ante. First hand out Sammy sends a message; Raise to 200K! Sammy was here to gamble and apply pressure I thought. My first thought when Sammy opened the first three pots with 5x raises was GG Sammy. If Sammy were going to continue this line of play, he would be chewed up. I was shocked to see the big raises and it actually put me at ease. After five minutes, I knew I had a better than average chance to win the match. Sammy applied pressure and I made some light calls early in to see how he was playing different hands. The match got to about even in chips which was not good obviously, but in the process I picked up some valuable info. Sammy was overplaying hands and paying off every bet I made as well. I made a few adjustments and the match quickly went in my direction. I got him down to 11 big blinds and got it all in bad with an A8 vs and AT. This hand plays itself with 11 big blinds, I was happy to call his shove here and expect to have the best hand more than 50% of the time. As it turns out I had to get lucky, did so on the turn, and took the first match 1-0.
I was super confident going into match 2, even with the short stack. Sam used his stack very well and took about half my stack in the early going. Sam had changed his strategy to open limping the button with every hand except premium holdings. Gus Hansen recently used the strategy and I am sure it has its merits, I don't think it is an effective playing style. It was a big change from the first match and I commend Sammy with completely changing his style and making me play a different game in Match 2. The limping took me off guard but, I made a few changes and got back in the match. I ended up taking the lead in the match and had him on the ropes on a 6 6 7 board. We were essentially all in, him holding A7 and me 88. This heads up was going to end after just two matches, I was feeling great obviously. This all changed when Sammy spiked the Ace on the river and won the 2nd match.
I was unhappy with the result of match 2, but very happy with how I had played in the first two matches. I felt in control and had a pretty good idea of where Sammy was in most hands. Sammy came out in match 3 with a blend of his first two matches with big pre-flop raises and open limps mixed in. Match 3 started out horribly for me, flopping pretty good heads up with KT on a T36 board. Sammy had been playing top pair pretty aggressively and I felt pretty safe when he check raised my flop bet. I almost re-poped but didn't see many advantages in doing so in this match. An A hit on the turn and Sammy checked. The turn doesn't change anything in the hand (or shouldn't) so I felt comfortable making a pretty large bet. Sammy responded by shoving in. I have no idea what he had, but don't think he is ever bluffing me here. He either flopped two pair or a set I felt, so I folded. Will be curious to see what he had on TV. I battled back to closer to even when the hand of the match developed. I raised with J2 and the flop came JT2 with two hearts. I was opening every button at this point and Sammy was checking every flop dark. This flop was gin until I was raised by Sammy. Sammy's range here is pretty wide with this wet of a board, unfortunately for me he held the exact hand I had beaten 8 years earlier TJ. I had caught a cooler and was 2 outs away from being beaten by Sammy in the rematch. All the confidence I had felt throughout the match was gone. I felt great and real felt in control of all 3 matches, however it was all irrelevant as I was basically dead. And then it happened, the nice 2 on the river to double me up and cripple Sammy. After that it wasn't long till we got it all in, Sammy reraised all-in for about 16 big blinds. I had a borderline hand, but felt like I could be ahead with K J often enough to warrant a call. Luckily for me I had Sammy dominated with his K 10 and I was able to hold and take the 3rd match and claim victory.
Sammy played very different that what I had ever imagined. One of the goals heads up is to keep your opponent guessing and constantly react to your opponent. I think Sammy did this very well. He played two very different styles throughout the three matches and deserves a ton of credit and had me on the ropes for sure.
Sammy played well ,and at the same time I am very happy with the way I played in the match.
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