The Best Hand I Ever Played: Winning Poker Lessons From The Past

Poker has long been a love of mine. It’s also been a passion. A living. A way of life, many times over. Poker is something I will always be drawn to, whether I am in the midst of a break or in the middle of a weekend-long grind session.

As luck would have it (no pun intended), I happened to be taking a break from playing poker in the last month. Holidays, mentality, working on personal relationships, work… you know the drill. Sometimes you need to just take a breather. And as I was taking that break from the game I sorely love, I was also reading a bit more. Another thing I love to do, read.

So, as I’m walking through the nearby mall, I passed a book store which I have never heard of before. I don’t even remember the name of the store, but know exactly where it is located, what books I perused, you know, the random stuff that doesn’t matter but somehow seems important now. Anyway, as I always do when in book stores, I ask where I can find Ian Fleming, any Shark Tank authors, and/or Greek mythology. Oh, and where the poker section is.

That latter one always brings a laugh or a “Oh, the gambling section? Right this way.” Gee, thanks. Some things never change, am I right? I used to take such offense when people would call poker gambling, or laugh and say it’s all luck or that I don’t know what I’m doing. Poker, I know how to play. It’s always the other things that came along with being a great player I couldn’t handle. But I digress.

I’m shown the gambling section, and actually uncover a few hidden gems. Usually, the poker books I come across (wedged between the how-to-count-blackjack or bingo for dummies), are ones I’ve read or owned before. There’s always a Phil Hellmuth book or two, and/or the classics from David Sklansky, Doyle Brunson, etc. But this time, I saw a book I didn’t even know existed.

“The Best Hand I Ever Played: 52 Winning Poker Lessons From The World’s Greatest Players” by Steve Rosenbloom

Naturally, I skimmed a few pages and it seemed like something I could get behind poker-wise, with how I was feeling towards the game recently. It looked like a quick and easy read, not in word choice or reading level, but the format it was in. 52 poker players, 52 hands played, and an explanation from each one in the how’s the why’s. Very cool. Very simple. Very straightforward.

As I’m reading through it, I asked my lone poker playing friend what HIS best hand ever is. He rattled off a couple instantly, which kind of surprised me. Surely, I would have some great, big thousand dollar winning pot, or a huge bluff in which I netted a thousand more from. The only problem was, I did have those. Too many, in fact, that none really stood out. A good problem to have, I know. Stay with me here.

I legitimately could not come up with a “greatest” type of hand. I have hundreds of memorable ones. A lot of hands I can remember that lead to great wins or great losses. Ones that won me a great deal of money and lost the same. Eventually though, I landed on one hand. Two hands signified the type of player I am and was, back in my “heyday,” but for the sake of not making this article an hour to read, I settled on the internet hand.

Note to my readers: Heyday basically means my twenties, in which I was an abrasive, young, aggressive player. I’m 35 now, but I played with such passion back then that I would drive home in tears sometimes when I lost or I would throw things around in joy when I won. What can I say, I wore my heart on my sleeve.

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Heart (and tattoos) on my sleeve (s).

Throughout my poker playing, I have pretty much been a live and online player almost split evenly. At one point I was strictly an online player, then I became more of a live player, and have gone back and forth since. However, one hand just signifies everything a poker player thinks about in the matter of minutes, the how and the why. Here’s the thought process behind it all…

I had the AK off-suit and was playing in a heads up (me vs. one other player) cash game. The blinds were .50/1.00, and we both started with the maximum allowed ($100). I came in for a raise of $3 with AK and was re-raised by the villain to $10. Usually when talking about hands, we are the “hero” and the player against us is referred to as the “villain.” Yeah, ain’t it cool?

As I’m facing the $10 raise, I only need to call $7 in a pot of $13 with AK heads up. It’s obviously a call at the very minimum, but as I’m thinking of raising, I think to myself, “How can I get the maximum out of this hand?” Calling is the answer here, as he could have anything yet and my range can still be decently wide as well, by just calling, whereas if I re-raise again, it’s pretty clear I have a great hand, and he can fold if he has nothing. So I call the $7 and think of letting him take control, hoping I can hit a little something to help.

The flop (the first three cards dealt out on the board) brings me 8 K K with two diamonds. Basically, I’ve got this hand already locked up. But, remember, we’re not trying to win the $20 in the pot, we’re trying to win the rest of the villain’s $90. You would think a check is in order here, giving him the lead, as I originally planned, but instead do the opposite: I lead on the flop for $10! A simple bet, nothing too big at all, but on the surface it screams stupidity, as I have three Kings with an Ace kicker. Lest we forget, I’m playing for it all, so I’m playing a meta game, in which I’m trying to think what he’s thinking.

My lead on the flop is me trying to portray someone taking a stab with Ace high, a middle pair maybe or even a flush draw. Because in a heads up game, no one would lead on that flop, right? Exactly. He bites, and re-raises me again, this time to $30. I think for awhile, feigning someone who is deciding on continuing with the hand or folding. Again, by shoving, I get worse hands to fold, so I just call again.

The turn (fourth card dealt) brings the 5 of clubs, now putting two clubs out there as well. My plan here was to check and then call his bet, then go all in on a safe river. Instead, he foils my plan by checking back on the turn. Very smart on his end, I will say. He seems to be playing things the way I would have, as I can’t put him on a hand yet either.

With $80 in the pot and $60 behind each of us, we already know the river is going to get someone to put all their chips in. The river (the last card dealt) brings me the beautiful fourth King! I now have quads. Quad Kings. An unbeatable hand. No matter what he has, I have him beat. Now, do I go all in, and hope he calls or do I check, hoping he bets and I can go all in then or call his all in? I decide that he would check back most hands here so I go for the all in myself. It screams like a bluff to me, as no draws hit. No flushes, no straights, and I could conceivably have something like QJ of diamonds or Ace high or even a low to medium pair (like 6’s or 7’s).

He ends up instantly calling me with pocket 10’s and I take down the $200 pot. I hit quad Kings, yes. Most people will look at that on a surface level, but in looking deeper, you can see what it took for me to get there. He had to have a good hand in order to call that bet, yes, but I also had to play it the way I did in order to gain the maximum, against a thinking player. I thought of an alternate route to winning all of his money, instead of a little, and that’s the risk I took vs. playing it aggressively throughout the hand.

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In my “heyday,” I actually made a training video regarding this hand.

I’ve won and lost so many greater hands than that one. I’ve won five figures before and lost four figures like it was nothing. I’ve never been a “big time” player, but I’ve also never been afraid to put everything on the line when I feel it is right. I make the decisions I do with a thought process that can lead me to the greatest outcome. Well, most of the time, anyway.

Everything worked out greatly in my favor, but to me, it was everything going according to plan that meant the most to me. And that’s why, that seemingly insignificant $200 I won, is my greatest hand ever played.