I had two black aces. I raised preflop, some people called. The flop was J-10-3, all spades. I had the best pair, the best flush draw, the most chips, and most players in my spot would be looking forward to this hand. I checked and folded instead.
It's important to always consider all the information available when choosing an action. Poker is really just a series of multiple-choice questions. It's your turn -- do something. Check or bet? Fold or put more money in the pot? Always consider which action will earn you the most money, using strategic thought to plan ahead and plot your course to a wheelbarrow full of money at the cashier's cage.
Poker players often discuss decision-making processes based on ranges of possible hands an opponent can have. Rarely do they consider that since humans instead of computers are controlling the chips, ranges are subject to conditional probability.
The event was a $500 buy-in no-limit hold 'em tournament high in the Rocky Mountains. Roughly 140 players showed up, generating a prize pool paying $19,000 to the winner and less to 12 others. We were down to two tables, I was either the chip leader or close to it with 550,000 in chips. There were 17 players left, holding on tight to get to the money.
Blinds were 3,000-6,000 with a 1,000 ante. I made it 13,000 to go from under the gun with As Ac. Opponents viewed me as borderline psychotic. One guy who had 160,000 and rarely folded held true to form by calling. Two tight dudes of differing generations called. A solid thinker called out of the small with 180,000. The big blind said something betraying a marginal hand, then lit money on fire by calling. Really tight game, huh?
The flop came Js 10s 3s. There was 84,000 in the pot. The biggest stack among my opponents was 500,000, but the rest of them had less than 200,000. I checked.
Most people in this spot would have bet, and there's nothing wrong with that, except in certain situations there are better options. This was one of them. I had a stack to my left that could really hurt me. I had a great hand, but still only one pair. I wasn't worried about giving a free card because I was either way ahead or way behind. I checked with the intention of getting it in against certain opponents, but I wanted to acquire more information.
The kid to my left angrily bet 50,000, and I did mental cartwheels, knowing instantly based on his mannerisms that he had one pair at best, and my top pair with the nut-flush draw crushes all other one-pair hands. Then the conservative gentleman two to my right announced that he was all in.
The Voice was instantly displeased, and over a decade I've learned to listen to that inner voice. After two minutes of agonizing like a junior-high girl fretting over her first breakup, I folded the hand. It should have taken me less than 20 seconds. We were near the bubble. This dude was tight. He was comfortable and confident.
The player behind me instantly called. The caller rolled a red ace-jack, and the conservative gent in the small blind turned over Qs 9s. The turn was the Ks, making a straight flush.
My stack survived. I lost nearly 350,000 right after that hand and likely would have busted had I made that call. Instead, I made the final table and pocketed a bunch of money.
Bryan Devonshire is a professional poker player from Las Vegas. Known as "Devo" on the tournament circuit, he has amassed more than $2 million in career earnings.