Anatomy of a Hand: I called with Ten High

Anatomy of a Hand: I called with Ten High

In a World Series of Poker that was devoid of highlights except for a depressing cavalcade of bad beats and coolers, I left 2012 with one memorable hand:  I called with Ten High.  For the series I had been three for three with hero calls so my radar was tuned in.   

Also, I really didn't make any bad or loose calls, so it's not like I'm some call station who got lucky three times and whiffed 20 others.   I'm pretty good at ferreting out when a story doesn't make sense, when a bet size is off, or a physical read just reinforces that my opponent doesn't have what he's representing. 

When all three go together I'm willing to make a hero call when I'm really light.  One of my best skills in poker is winning money in these spots and sometimes it makes me feel like I'm playing the game backwards.  Everybody else wins with aggression while sometimes it's their aggression and not mine that gives me my biggest pots.  It's hard to win this way.

Best Field I've Ever Played

I can't say I was afraid of the moment, I called with thee high in the Best Field I ever l played and probably one of the top five toughest at the Series this year.  The National Championship featured a field of 100 players who had to win their way into from the year long WSOP circuit, and only the top 100 ranked players in the world were eligible to buy their way into.  Around me I saw Jason Mercier, Phil Hellmuth, and Bertrand Grospellier all sit down and do battle.  My table draw lacked any glitzy names, which I was happy with, but still had three players who plopped down 10k to join because they were ranked among the top 100 in the world.

I must confess with a little research from my friends at home they confirmed the table assessments I made had me fearing the right guys.  There were no weak spots at the table or really in the tournament. However, the three buy-ins guys just seemed tougher and more comfortable than the rest.  They were all world ranked players.  Of course it was one of them I decided to call.


I had a pretty good table image even though I just paid off a set of nines on a nine high board with a big pocket pair.  I checked called the last two streets and almost folded the river.  Based on the action if it was against a worse player I would have folded.  A good player it's a harder fold, but still possible and probably correct.  Even losing the pot, it's likely they knew what I mucked and nobody had seen me get out of line, so my table image was pretty good.

Therefore when a player limped before me, I raised with 109 suited in late position.  The big blind and the limper called.  The big blind, a player from Chile Nico Fierro gave me a slight read of weakness the way he called.  Certain players on marginal fishing hands seem to toss their money in the pot with a genuine almost "why not" shrug.  It's kind of indescribable but one of those things I recognize when I see.  Typically it means low suited connectors or a weird hand they hope to nail and blindside someone with.   

The Flop and the Turn

An ace, a 5 and a 6 hit the table with two spades.  They checked to me and I continuation bet in position.  Fierro called again with the same type of nonchalant weak fishing motion.   The turn was a non spade 2.  He checked to me.  Already I was drawing conclusions.  If he had 34 he probably leads into me hoping I have the Ace and have to call him.  It's hard to give him credit for the nuts.  Plus, I'm not sure he would call me with 3,4 preflop or on a gutterball after the flop. 

I don't give him the Ace because with two spades out there he probably pops me back on the flop or leads the turn.  He might have just two big cards but even that didn't seem likely with his preflop and turn nonchalance which also make it unlikely he had an Ace.  Yes, he could be floating me with big cards but it didn't feel like the spot to do it on the flop with somebody to act after him. 

The River

Another two hits.  Making the board A5622.  He gathers his chips together and makes a slightly bigger than pot sized bet. Since I had chipped down, this was for a good portion of my stack.   What is he trying to represent here, I ask myself?  I go into the tank and though I'm not really looking for tells off a top 100 player I observe that's he's uncomfortable.  Nonetheless, I just have ten high.  Jack high, Queen high, and even King high are uncomfortable and all beat me.  Arguably, even a hand like third pair, a pair of fives, could bet here, not like his spot and show discomfort.

I go through the hand again.  My check on the turn let's him know I probably don't have an ace.  He's apt to bet a lot of hands on the river.  However, he's got showdown value with a lot of hands too.  Checking and hoping for another check  or check/ calling something as low as King high might not be a terrible play  there, nor is it with a pair of fives.  So, if I can rule out showdown hands as being too strong to bet, there's not much in his hand he can have.

He could have A2 for a full house and planned on check raising the turn.  My read of weakness kind of ruled that out, but some sort of monster like this was possible if he's good at Hollywood-ing.  Nonetheless, I thought his bet was a little too big for a monster.  It just felt like he didn't want a call with the size of it.  To be clear I was wary enough to know he's just as capable of getting max value with a monster by making that bet, but the bet size combined with the physical read to me made this far less likely.

Call or Raise?

So what could he have?  I remember reading a couple of years ago an incredible hand Faraz Jaka played where he called with Nine high.  The texture of the board and his reads were very similar.   He put the guy on a draw and knew he had a great chance of being right.  I was in that exact spot and I thought back to the hand.  78 made a ton of sense.   Then, I contemplated raising him. 

One drawback of making hero calls is sometimes your read is right but their weakness is still marginally better than yours.  So you call and see with disappointment they have you pipped.  Often times it's better to just raise and scoop the pot.  It's a tough balance because other times re-opening the action is dangerous and suddenly you have to trust your read for way more chips if they push back on you with an equally strong read of weakness of you.  I decided in this spot he either had exactly what I was putting him on or a hand that could still call a raise that would beat me--so better to call.

Extra Benefits of Calling

What helped push me to a call were the meta game benefits of "soul reading" a guy with ten high.  I show that to the table, and despite their collective excellence they aren't going to want to mix it up with me.  Certainly they aren't planning on bluffing me.  If he had Jack high and was floating me, I could still get the same value by saying I knew you were on air, and show ten high.  Though being right is decidedly better than being wrong.   For whatever reason, it's a lot easier to label you an idiot when you are wrong than it is to see the genius in almost being right. 

Another great possibility for me was that he might be so weak that he auto mucks and I scoop the pot without having to show my hand.  Certainly Jack high, Queen high, and other hands that could have me beat would be apt to do that.  Thus, I could win the pot two ways by calling.


I say to the table I can't beat much and he seems even more uncomfortable so I throw in the call.  In a stroke of good fortune Fierro doesn't muck he turns over 97.  He already expressed some confusion about the rules governing when you show the hand.  On the LAPT if the river is checked down the last act of aggression (the last to bet/raise any street) has to show first, whereas at the WSOP it's by position.  He sought clarification on that earlier, so in retrospect I think he showed just to be safe. 
In the moment I'm surprised he's shown and almost think I'm beat.  I ask what's he got, as one card almost fully covers the other.  When I'm assured it's nine high, I say "Good" and toss up my ten high to win the pot. 

Everybody goes nuts and poor Fierro looks like I just kicked him in the stomach.  The table can't restrain themselves from ribbing him and I get the obligatory "I'm not going to try and bluff you," "Soul read," and looks of amazement.  For the next hour I steamrolled the table.

Fierro Laughs Last

As good as that call was from me, it was Fierro who played almost all the way until the money.  I didn't even make it out of day 1.  Nonetheless, this hand will be one I always remember and treasure.  I spoke to a friend who made a good living as a heads up pro for five years and he said he saw me tweet that I called with ten high.  He  assumed I was joking.  Then he told me in all that time playing heads up the best he ever called with was Jack high.  That made me feel good.  Now I know I can compete with and sometimes out play the best players in the world.   I look  forward to getting back there next year.


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