Men “The Master” Nguyen’s trademark cackle announced his arrival long before he reached our table. We were down to the final 40 players (out of 166 starters) in the World Series of Poker H.O.R.S.E. event, and I was nursing an average stack of chips. My table was businesslike and quiet, with solid players Brian Nadell, Mark Tenner, Chad Brown, and Bob Feduniak. As players busted out and we combined to five tables, I looked up to see that Men had indeed drawn our table and was slowly approaching — one fist holding a pair of overflowing chip racks and the other clutching an overflowing bottle of Corona. It was clear that our table dynamics were about to radically change, especially when Men took the open seat to my left and proceeded to immediately spill his beer on the floor.
Men is a skillful, tricky, and dangerous poker qiu qiu player at all times, especially so when he has lots of chips and is sure to try to take control of the table, seemingly raising and reraising each hand, building huge pots that create huge swings that serve to unnerve even the steadiest player. As an opponent in these situations, you are faced with two extreme choices: sit back and let Men run over the table, sacrificing blinds and antes along the way, or get in there and gamble with him, hoping to outplay or out-catch him at some point.
I chose the latter option, even though we were in the stud rounds, Men’s strongest games. It was a make-or-break opportunity, and I decided to take a chance to accumulate some chips, knowing that Men’s relentless aggression didn’t necessarily indicate powerhouse hands. One hand in particular proved to be both very interesting and quite decisive to my fortunes:
Playing stud eight-or-better, I raised with a strong hand, a three-flush containing three low cards, showing a 5. Men reraised me, as he had done every single time I (or anyone else) entered a pot. Betting, raising, and reraising took place on every street. As we reached the river, my board read 5-9-9-A: I had a pair of nines, a four-card flush draw, and a 7 low draw. Men’s board read 5-10-7-8: a rough low or low draw, possibly a pair, certainly a straight draw of some sort, and possibly a flush draw. The action indicated that Men’s hand, like mine, had lots of possibilities, but that he likely had paired and did not have a made low on sixth street. I anxiously looked at my seventh-street card and found a complete blank — a queen that provided no help whatsoever and left me with only the open nines.
At this point, I began to outsmart myself. I was fairly sure that Men believed I had made aces up on sixth street, and I had played enough with him in the past to know that he was sometimes capable of laying down a pair of tens or perhaps even two small pair on the river if he missed his low draw. The pot was so huge that I decided it was worth risking a bet at this stage. I fired my chips into the pot.
Unfortunately, Men raised. My first instinct was to fold, but something about his raise didn’t feel right, and I remembered other hands I had played against Men or observed him play at this game. I began to suspect that he had indeed made a low hand with a weak (or nonexistent) high hand, and was trying to push me out of the pot in order to scoop. I thought for a long time, angry at myself for having gotten into this predicament, but increasingly reading Men as wanting me to lay my hand down. The problem I had was that I might be right that my nines might not be good; that is, Men might have been bluffing with the best hand. In hold’em or stud high, I could reraise, but if he had a low (as I supposed), a reraise would serve no purpose except to drain more of my increasingly precious chips. What a pickle I had gotten myself into; my bluff had failed and now I was tempted to waste another bet based solely on my history against Men.
I finally decided the size of the pot (even though I was almost certainly going to get only half if I was right) dictated that I call, based on my strong read that Men was making a play. As soon as I threw my chips in, Men smiled and said, “Good call,” giving me a momentary feeling of optimism. “Aces up are good,” he continued, “I made a low.” Now, I was becoming more pessimistic, but still hoping against hope. I announced that I didn’t have aces up, but Men continued to pull back only his share of the betting, as if he expected a split pot. Unfortunately, as he casually spread his cards, I saw the dreaded pair of tens that doomed me.
So, that’s how I lost two bets on the river in stud eight-or-better with no low and only a pair of nines for high, which — to make matters worse — were showing.