Although my bid to reach the final table of the WPT Bellagio Five Diamond World Poker Classic ended late on Day Four, my roommate and frequent poker mentor - despite being four years my junior - Andrew "Luckychewy" Lichtenberger made the final table third in chips and in excellent position to take his first major title.
Standing between Lichtenberger and a piece of history was as formidable a final table as they come: World Series of Poker main event final table-ist Soi Nguyen, who held the chip lead; British online shark James Dempsey; Vanessa Selbst, arguably the best female poker player in the world; WPT champion Antonio Esfandiari; and Vitor Coelho, who made the final table of the previous WPT event in Jacksonville.
Play was quickly reduced to four-handed with the surprisingly fast eliminations of Esfandiari and Coelho. Nguyen was building his stack by choosing his spots for aggression, while Dempsey was attempting to run over the table by applying the most aggression. He had three-bet preflop against both Nguyen and Lichtenberger early on, winning both pots by firing on later streets. Lichtenberger had played a few small pots, but his stack was mostly unchanged since the start of the final table 34 hands prior.
With blinds of $40,000-$80,000, it folded to Nguyen on the button, who made the minimum raise to $160,000 with a pair of nines. Dempsey was next to act in the small blind, and he re-raised to $450,000. Lichtenberger was sitting in the big blind with $2.8 million to start the hand, and after looking down at a pair of eights, he announced that he was all in.
Because Lichtenberger held only 35 big blinds and was aware that Dempsey could be attacking Nguyen's button raise with a wide range of hands, Lichtenberger's move-in would be considered standard by modern professionals, and he'd likely move in with any pair in that situation.
This presented Nguyen with a difficult scenario. He was sitting on $5 million while Dempsey held $6 million, but if Nguyen wanted to play his pocket nines against Lichtenberger, he would have to commit his entire stack, since he could not call and then fold to further aggression with over half his stack in the middle. What Nguyen had to decipher was how much of an adjustment Lichtenberger was making in his four-bet range as a result of the previous three-bet aggression displayed by Dempsey.
If Nguyen concluded that Lichtenberger would go all in with most, if not all, pocket pairs in his spot, then getting in his nines could be very profitable. Nguyen also knew Lichtenberger could be holding a number of unpaired hands, and since Dempsey was applying so much pre-flop aggression, it was less likely that he had a big hand as well.
Eventually, Nguyen decided to commit his stack, leading to a quick fold from Dempsey. When the hands were turned over, Lichtenberger realized he would need an eight or face elimination, and when the board ran out Q64QJ, he was knocked out in fourth place.
It was a keen adjustment by Nguyen to get his nines in, and many players I spoke to agreed that it's likely the lowest pair a player can feel comfortable going all in with in that situation.
Tony Dunst is a poker pro and host of "Raw Deal" on World Poker Tour telecasts. Catch him every Sunday night on FSN. Poker Pros will appear every week.