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What you don't see as often are the hands where players joust over smaller pots to help build their stacks into the big ones you see at the final table. The top players aren't waiting for aces or kings. They are using lesser hands, sizing up opponents and reading the texture of the board, as displayed in this hand by Erik Seidel, one of the best players in the history of tournament poker.
With blinds at $50-$100 in the World Poker Tour's $15,000-buy-in Five Diamond World Poker Classic at Las Vegas' Bellagio in 2006, Seidel drew A-9 off-suit and limped in from early position. Six other players limped as well, which is often the case in the first couple of levels in a tournament where you start with twice as many chips as your buy-in.
The flop came 2-9-7, two clubs, putting a flush draw on the board.
"With two clubs in the flop, I wasn't too excited about it," said Seidel, who won his eighth World Series of Poker bracelet in 2007 to move into a tie for fourth place on the all-time list.
After the big blind checked, Seidel bet $300 to find out how good his top pair/top kicker was. Two players called, one behind Seidel, one in front. "I thought I had the best hand," said Seidel, one of the originals of the Full Tilt Poker online site. "I just thought it was a very dangerous flop for somebody to be slow-playing. That's why I thought I had the best hand. "The first guy was the one I was concerned about slow-playing. The other guy had position on me, and I thought he would be crazy not to raise with a better hand than mine." The turn came the 2 of diamonds, making trips, a flush and a full house possible -- all hands that were better than Seidel's pair of 9s. When the first player checked, Seidel bet $1,250, about three-quarters of the pot, a strong play that could allow him to take down the pot right there or force an opponent to define the strength of his hand by calling or raising.
"I wasn't so worried about the second guy because I thought if he had a better hand than mine, he would've re-raised on the flop," Seidel said. "The first guy was the only concern, but I thought it was likely I had the best hand." Apparently, he did, as both players folded. "I did think my hand was good with the way the betting went," Seidel said. "I would've been surprised if it wasn't." Table talk Top pair/top kicker: When one card in your hand matches the highest-ranking card on the board and your other hole card is an unmatched ace that might be used to break a tie.