In late November, I attended the World Poker Tour's Caribbean event on the island of St. Maarten. I intended for the trip to be a sun-filled vacation and assumed that I would bust out early, as usual. Instead, I hit one of the best streaks of luck in my career and found myself entering the televised final table of six with the chip lead.
My opponents were all young, smart, capable players -- and two of them were already WPT champions. One of the players I was less familiar with was Robert Bakker, who entered the final table third in chips. Bakker was a young Dutchman who lived on the island for most of the year and usually played online. We'd barely played together entering the final table; the play-down from nine to six players happened so quickly that I hardly got to observe him in action.
Nothing substantial happened during the first few orbits at the televised final table, and I still wasn't sure what to make of Bakker when we entered a big pot together at the 8,000-16,000 blind level. With a stack of 1.5 million, I raised to 32,000 under the gun with Jc 10c, and when it folded to Bakker in the small blind, he made it 90,000. I made the call with my suited connectors and hoped to drill the flop.
I got what I wanted when the flop came Ac 10s 5c, and Bakker bet out 85,000. Our stacks were too deep for a raise to be appropriate, so I just called with my pair plus flush draw.
The turn brought an irrelevant 2d, and Bakker bet 197,000. I figured he likely had a strong hand to double-barrel on that board, but my draw was still too good to fold, so I made the call.
The river was arguably the most ideal card in the deck, the Qc. Bakker moved all in for his remaining 615,000. I rechecked my cards and quickly called. Bakker tabled Ah As for top set and was disgusted to see that I'd run him down with my flush draw. He was eliminated in sixth place, and I won a massive pot that put me in position to eventually win the tournament.
During the break after his elimination, Bakker asked me if I thought he could have done anything different on the river. After all, flush draws were some of the most likely holdings in my range, and he still had plenty of chips remaining if he didn't bet. But I told him that the only reasonable option was to go all in, and I believed every word of it.
Although flush draws were indeed some of my most likely holdings, the Qc on the river actually eliminated many of my potential holdings. Bakker could expect me to fold small suited connectors to his preflop reraise, and many of the hands I would potentially call with contained the Qc. The queen falling on the river meant that the only hands I could have that would beat him were Kc Jc, Kc 10c, 10c 9c, 9c 8c, and the hand I turned up with, Jc 10c. There's a variety of other hands I could have had that would've been worse than his top set, some of which would call the all-in bet and make him the chip leader.
I've always felt that winning poker tournaments was about waiting for your turn. You show up fresh and focused, strive to make optimal decisions, and then wait for your turn to be the guy who runs the best. The worst thing I can say about Robert Bakker's play that day is that it simply wasn't his turn.
Tony Dunst is a poker pro and host of "Raw Deal" on World Poker Tour telecasts.