A tough laydown

Updated: July 7, 2006, 4:21 PM ET
By Phil Gordon | ESPN.com poker columnist

In the $1500 buy-in pot-limit hold 'em event, my best friend, Rafe Furst, was at the final table with about $500,000 in chips and four players remaining. Here was the situation:

Seat 1: Rocky, a somewhat inexperienced player, around $250,000 in chips.
Seat 2: "Rizen," a tough, online pro with around $750,000 in chips.
Seat 3: Rafe, a very tough player, first WSOP final table, $400,000 in chips.
Seat 4: George, a somewhat inexperienced player, around $250,000 in chips.

Eric was under the gun with the blinds at a very large $15,000 and $30,000. He folded. Rocky, on the button, also folded. With just the blinds in action, Rizen, the small blind, announced "Raise pot" and made it $90,000 to go, a raise of $60,000. The action was on Rafe, ESPN cameras rolling, hearts pounding.

Rafe found As-8s, a far above-average holding, and one that he felt was likely to be the best hand. He instinctively decided to reraise the pot. So he carefully matched the $60,000 raise from Rizen, and then counted out another $120,000, for a total bet of $180,000. This raise left him with $220,000.

Rizen immediately announced a reraise all-in and Rafe faced a very difficult decision for his tournament life. The pot contained $580,000 ($400,000 from Rizen, $180,000 from Rafe) and Rafe had $220,000 remaining. He was getting nearly 3 to 1 on his money, and from the audience, this looked like a nearly automatic call. Rafe needs to win the pot only about 27 percent of the time to justify a call.

Now, against a big pocket pair (other than aces), his A-8 suited will win about 30 percent of the time. Against a bigger ace (A-K, A-Q, etc), his A-8 suited will win about 25 percent of the time. There was also a non-zero (though small) chance he was up against a very small pocket pair and he would win about 50 percent of the time.

All told, from a pot-equity perspective, it really didn't matter if he called the raise or folded -- his equity was nearly the same against Rizen's likely starting hands. After several minutes of anguish, Rafe chose to fold his hand and try to get his money in the pot in a better spot. His opponent revealed that he had J-J, and Rafe now knew that he had made a "bad" equity laydown -- he was about 30 percent to win the pot and only needed to have a 27 percent chance to win to call. By folding, he gave up a small amount of equity in the pot.

When playing no-limit or pot-limit poker, keep this situation in mind. I think it is particularly instructive. Essentially, the lesson is this: avoid a bet or raise if that action has a high likelihood of leading to a tough, near-zero equity decision in the future. When you bet or raise, make sure that you have a clear-cut plan if your opponent puts you to the test with a subsequent action.

A quick way to determine if you're in danger territory is this: If your action will commit anywhere around half of your chips to the pot and you're uncertain of your reaction to your opponent's potential reraise, consider taking a more conservative approach to the hand.

After that laydown, Rafe went on to win the tournament, the biggest pot-limit hold 'em tournament in WSOP history. Maybe this laydown was the difference, maybe not. We'll never know.

Phil Gordon is a World Poker Tour champion, co-host of The Poker Edge on ESPNRadio.com and plays online exclusively at FullTiltPoker. Phil Gordon's educational poker DVD and books are available at ExpertInsight.net.

Phil Gordon

ESPN Poker Club
Phil Gordon has been contributing to the ESPN Poker Club since March 2005. Gordon, a professional poker player, is a World Poker Tour Champion as well as the host of Celebrity Poker Showdown. Gordon is the author of "Phil Gordon's Little Green Book" and "Poker: The Real Deal."