- Steve Rosenbloom, ESPN Poker Club
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He became known as "Fossilman," but he represented "Everyman," and in 2004, he won everything - every bit of the $5 million that went to the winner of the World Series of Poker championship. Not bad for an Internet qualifier.
In the biggest event in the history of poker - nearly 2,600 entrants - Greg Raymer, a patent attorney from Stonington, Connecticut, stormed to the final table of the $10,000 buy-in event with more than $8 million in chips and proceeded to run over the competition until he collected every last one, finally busting David Williams in heads-up play.
Known as "Fossilman" for his use of actual fossils as card protectors at the table - after the tournament, he interested more than a few fellow players in buying some - Raymer was also best known for his cheesy green, lizard-eyed glasses, bought from the Tower of Terror at Disney World during a family vacation.
When Raymer decided to play a hand, he would make his bet, then sport the reptile specs to stare down opponents - or give them headaches - and prevent them from picking up tells.
As you might expect from a new multi-millionaire, the forty-year-old Raymer (who was a regular at Foxwoods Resort Casino even before his magnificent World Series) has since left law to play poker full-time.
Fittingly, the 2004 champion says the best hand he ever played came during his championship charge, but it was not at the final table. Instead, the hand came with about fifty players remaining against Danish pro Marcel Luske.
"The important part of this hand is not so much what I had. What I like about this hand is that I came up with a plan before I looked at my cards. Marcel is very active. He plays lots of hands. Sometimes he'll have relatively junky hands - small suited connectors, one-gappers, hands with which you usually can't call a big re-raise. But he'll also open the same way with a big hand, as well."
With blinds at $5,000-$10,000, Luske open-raised for $30,000. Raymer's stack was $250,000-$300,000. "He opened this pot from early position, and for whatever reason, I feel he has a pretty decent hand. Nothing I can pin down. It could have been random chance that I felt that way.
"There were about four or five players in between us, and while I was waiting for them to act, I'm thinking to myself, 'If I look down and see A-A or K-K, instead of just making a pot-sized raise, which would've been maybe a third of my stack, I thought I'd push in for $300,000.'
"But what I'm going to do is if I look down [and see one of those hands], then really fast with kind of a caveman grunt, I'm going to push all in. Then I'm going to sit there really, really passive, so it's going to look like a scripted play, and it is scripted.
"That way, he's going to say, 'That looked scripted; he just decided to re-raise me no matter what.' So, if he has A-10 or K-Q or some decent hand, he's going to call.
"I looked down. I did happen to find aces. I did the caveman grunt. And then sat there. It actually took quite a while, but he called with A-K."
The flop came Q-Q-small card. Luske needed to catch a running J-10 or running K-K to win. His cards did not come, and Raymer doubled up.
"I was particularly proud of that hand. It may not have mattered. He had such a good hand, he might've called my bet anyway. But I really like that hand."
The important part of this hand is not so much what Raymer had. It is that he had a plan and executed it. Raymer had played with Luske for a while and had a read on him as a loose-aggressive player, but also as one who can spot a trap. So, Raymer orchestrated a move intended to look orchestrated. Players call it playing one level beyond your opponent.
If Raymer had done the expected - sat back and riffled his chips and thought about it for a while, and then pushed all in - Luske might have folded because he is very good at putting an opponent on a hand.
Raymer's overbet was also a factor. Like most players in that situation, Raymer tended to make a pot-sized re-raise. But re-raising all in looked suspicious, giving Luske the impression that Raymer was trying to steal the pot right there.
You don't necessarily need anything as elaborate and audacious as Raymer's act, but you do need to have a plan, not limited to one or two hands, but for your entire session. Sure, it will change based on opponents and stack sizes, but being prepared for how you plan to at least start the day - aggressively betting pots or calling to try to outplay the table after the flop, for instance - is crucial to having success.
Steve Rosenbloom's book "The Best Hand I Ever Played" is available at bookstores everywhere. A regular contributor to ESPN.com, he is also author of a syndicated column for the Chicago Tribune. To leave Steve some feedback, check out his mailbag.
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