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18/08/2006 No. 60
he Guardian Poker Column
Victoria Coren
Friday Aug 18th, 2006
How to play poker
(How to play has been running from issue 16)

The new world champion of poker is Jamie Gold, a 36-year-old TV producer and talent agent from Hollywood, who collected the coveted champion's bracelet and absurd $12m first prize just under a week ago. He is (or was) an amateur poker player, but he certainly has friends in high places. Johnny Chan, who I mentioned last week as the legendary holder of 10 World Series bracelets, is literally a close friend of Gold's. I say literally close, because Chan spent the final few days of the series standing right behind Gold's chair. You have to feel for the opponents here. There are various things you don't want to see when you sit down at a poker table: a gun, a bad beat, or Johnny Chan giving advice to somebody else.

Conveniently for headline writers, Gold enjoyed an incredible rush. Chip leader from early in the tournament, he seemed to hit every flop and win every race. The even-money shots all went his way; and if someone had a real hand, Gold had a better one. On the final table, he twice found pocket queens to eliminate opponents with pocket jacks.
But one of the more interesting eliminations came a couple of days before the final: the exit of Prahlad Friedman in 20th place. From middle position, Jamie Gold raised to $400,000 before the flop with a weak hand: 8 7. Prahlad Friedman, holding A 3, re-raised all in for $1,700,000. Jamie Gold, strangely, called. A flop of 6 5 4 came down for Goldenballs, and this "nut straight" knocked Friedman out of the tournament.

Now, this may look like a terrible call before the flop. Even if Gold thought that Friedman was "making a move" without much of a hand (which he was), the hand was presumably still better than eight high. Surely 8 7 is rubbish, to be thrown away for a re-raise?

Generally, yes. But this is an unusual case. Jamie Gold already had a dominant $18m in chips. He was investing a small percentage in making a statement to the other players: that when he raises, he will not pass for a re-raise. With a nerve-racking final table in sight, this was an affordable way to prevent opponents from trying to bluff him later. They would need to find real hands. And then, of course, he hit the flop and eliminated Friedman anyway.

This proves two points that I am always making about tournament poker. One: there is no "correct" way to play any hand. It all depends on the chips and the situation. Two: you need to get goddamn lucky to win.

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