We don't want to settle for less in life. We want more of everything, and we spend a lot of effort pursuing it. At the poker table, paradoxically, most of us tend to think only about how to win the hand, not about how to win the most possible chips.
A friend of mine in Las Vegas recently asked me for some help with his no-limit hold 'em tournament game. In our conversation, I recalled a hand that I played back in 2008. It was a $5,000-buy-in tournament at Bellagio, each player starting with $15,000 in chips.
Late in the event, with blinds at $1,000-$2,000 plus a $200 ante, I was dealt Kc 9c in the cutoff and action folded to me. Having a stack of about $56,000, I elected to raise to $4,225, hoping to steal the blinds and antes but willing to tangle for a bigger pot if necessary. A solid, conservative player with about $50,000 in his stack called on the button, and a loose-passive player with a little more than $12,000 called from the big blind.
The flop came Ks 10h 5h, and the big blind checked. With my top pair, and with a short stack involved in the hand, the standard play for me would have been to just bet and hope to get all in against him.
However, the button had $50,000 in chips that could potentially end up in my stack -- a lot more than the $8,000 remaining in the big blind. I wanted to get some of those chips as well.
Instead of betting, I elected to check. I thought that the big blind would feel pot-committed with many different hands, so his stack was as good as all in already. The button, on the other hand, was unlikely to have hit this board strongly but could well have a draw or a medium-strength hand that he would take to the felt against the short stack. These hands were dangerous for my vulnerable top pair, so I did not want to let the button see a turn card without having to be all-in for his tournament life. So, I went for a check-raise.
My gamble paid off when the button fired $5,100 at the pot, and I could tell that he assumed I was giving up on the hand, freeing him to get all in against the big blind. As expected, the big blind went all in.
At this point, I felt my best move was to go all in myself, surprising the button and representing at least a decent draw, if not a big pair or better. He deliberated for a moment and finally elected to fold, taking the conservative route as he usually did.
When the big blind flipped over Js 10d, I was in good shape. The turn and river brought the 3h and 9d, respectively, and I scooped a nice pot.
I won an extra $5,100 chips -- better than one-third of a starting stack -- because I was not satisfied with simply stacking the big blind. It is never enough to be content with simply winning a pot. To shine in this game, you must always try to win the maximum amount.
Corwin Cole is a poker coach whose instructional videos can be found at CardRunners.com.