Back in the days when no cell phones were allowed at the table, I used to bring a journal with me to some tournaments and write entries when I had the time. Looking through one of those journals not long ago, I found something inspirational and educational.
This entry was written during a tournament in Tunica, Miss., and became part of an article I wrote for a 2005 issue of Card Player magazine. It was about a hand I played against one of my biggest rivals, legendary pro Billy Duarte, who died in 2006:
Billy is definitely one of the toughest players on the tournament circuit, and I truly admire him and have learned quite a bit from watching him play. The blinds were $1,000-$2,000 with a $300 ante, I was still playing aggressively, and Billy was to my immediate left. He had not played a single hand against me up to this point, and was playing the same tight, solid style as Robert Williamson III. I also suspected that he might have been waiting for an opportunity to make a big play on me at this point.
Everyone folded to me in the cutoff seat, and I raised it to $5,000 with pocket queens. Billy glanced at his hand, grabbed some chips, shook his head very discreetly, looked back at his hand, and then announced that he was moving all in for $45,000.
Both blinds folded, and it was another $40,000 for me to call. I had $75,000 in chips at the beginning of the hand. At first, this seemed like an automatic call. If I called and lost, I would still have $30,000, which was about average at the time, and if I called and won, I would have a 2-1 chip lead on the second-biggest stack in the tournament with about 55 players left.
I took my time and started to wonder what type of hand Billy could have in this spot. The more I thought about it, the louder the alarm bells in my head rang. I knew that Billy didn't want to tangle with me. I knew he would smooth-call my raise if he had A-K and position on me. I also concluded that he thought I would never be able to put him on aces or kings in this situation from the way he played it.
After about five minutes, I was approximately 92 percent sure he had me beat. Before making my final decision, I did consider a couple of other factors. One thing I took into consideration was my dominant stack at the table and the flow of the game at that point. I had been building my stack consistently, without much confrontation, and was winning lots of blinds and antes. I was pretty sure I was beaten anyway and decided not to gamble.
I folded the queens face up and begged Billy to show his hand. He showed me the Ad, and I muttered something like, "If you don't show me the other card, I'll jump into the river!" He then flipped over the Ah.
Making a great laydown like that had a huge effect on me. It boosted my confidence and proved to myself that I was in the zone.
Scott Fischman is a professional player in both the live and online poker worlds. He has won two World Series of Poker bracelets and has accumulated nearly $3 million in career earnings. Send your poker questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @scottfischman88. Poker Pros runs every week.