By Lou Krieger
The author of many best-selling poker books, including “Hold’em Excellence” and “Poker for Dummies”. A true ambassador of the game and one of poker’s greatest ever teachers.
Situation: 2004 World Series of Poker Final Table
Greg Raymer 7,920,000
Josh Arieh 3,890,000
Matt Dean 3,435,000
David Williams 3,250,000
Glenn Hughes 2,375,000
Dan Harrington 2,320,000
Al Kruk 2,175,000
This often discussed hand from the 2004 WSOP main event final table involved eventual winner Greg Raymer, along with professionals Josh Arieh, David Williams, and former main event winner Dan Harrington.
Arieh started the action by raising 220,000 with . Raymer called with . Harrington raised 1,200,000 from the button with . After the small blind folded, David Williams folded in the big blind.
We’ll examine this hand from the perspective of each protagonist, so you can analyze and evaluate the decisions you’d be confronted with if you were in their shoes.
You’re Josh Arieh: Your reputation is that of an aggressive player, and you haven’t disappointed anyone yet. You and chip leader Greg Raymer have been the most aggressive competitors at the final table. You have 3.89 million, which puts you in second place, though certainly not by anything resembling a commanding margin. You’re way behind Raymer who has twice as many chips as you do, and your lead over the five players behind you is not really substantial. Matt Dean, in third place trails you by less than half a million chips, while Dan Harrington, who is next to last with a 2,320,000 chip count, trails you by 1.5 million. Any one of your opponents who is fortunate enough to double up – even Al Kruk, currently in last place – would vault over you into second place.
You raise 220,000, which is typical for you. After all, you’re not going to fold that hand so you make a prudent raise of slightly more than 5 percent of your stack that’s designed to drive marginal hands, particularly any weak ace, from calling. You’d like to win the pot right there, without a flop. But even if you have to play this pot heads up, your king may be good, and you will certainly make a continuation bet if a king falls, and will probably make a continuation bet if any ace or queen hits the board too.
There’s no sense in making a large raise here. You’re out of position, and you realize that if anyone else has a really big hand, he’ll simply re-raise and you’ll be forced to toss you hand away. Your small raise sends the same message as a larger one, with far less risk to your chips.
You’re Greg Raymer: You’re the tournament leader with slightly more than twice as many chips as Josh Arieh, who’s in second place. Both of you have been aggressive at the final table and that’s resulted in some obvious animosity between the two of you. You probably read Arieh’s 220,000 raise for just what it is: an attempt to win the pot right there, or play against one opponent.
You call for slightly less than three percent of your stack. With you want to see a flop on the cheap and you’re hoping to make a big hand against a large field, where you can stack off at least one of your opponents. There’s no sense raising with this hand. If Arieh has a really big hand he’ll re-raise and you’ll simply have to fold – plus a larger raise won’t attract the large field you’re hoping for. You would have liked this situation even more if Arieh just called, allowing you to call behind him in hopes of attracting other callers too, allowing you to play your implied odds type hand for all the value you could milk out of it if you were to get lucky on the flop.
“Wouldn’t it be nice,” you’re probably hoping as you call, “if I can flop a monster and bust that smack-talking Arieh!”
You’re Dan Harrington: You’re next-to-last in chip count and realize you’ve got to start gathering chips if you hope to position yourself to win this tournament. You know your nickname “Action Dan” is a tongue-in-cheek, somewhat sarcastic reference to your reputation as a guy who plays only the highest quality hands. And your manner at the table supports this. You don’t engage in trash-talking, you are quiet, taciturn, and somewhat withdrawn. You are viewed as quiet, conservative, straight-forward, and cautious.
You don’t have any personal vendettas at the table, so no one will call you out of anger or spite, and you realize that each of your opponents respects your game, your reputation, and your style of play.
You know you need to start harvesting chips, and understand that your selective play has earned you a license to steal at least one pot and maybe more. When you raise, you realize that all of your opponents will credit you for a legitimately big hand, and if you are called or re-raised, you can be certain your opponent has a huge holding.
You put Arieh on a wide range of possible hands because he has been so aggressive, and you figure Raymer for exactly the kind of hand he has – one that’s worth a call because of it’s implied odds potential, but it’s probably not a big hand at all. It’s a hand Raymer can afford to play simply because his chip lead is so large. He can afford to play this kind of hand. Others can’t.
You raise half your stack. If you’ve read your opponents correctly and understand how they perceive you, it’s clear that without a pocket pair of kings or aces, they won’t be able to call. If you are re-raised and have to surrender the hand, you’ll drop from next-to-last into last place, and although that’s not desirable, it’s not all that much of a fall.
You’re David Williams: You’ve got . That’s a pretty good hand, but you’re currently in the middle of a tightly-bunched pack of players who are all hovering around the 3 million mark. The last thing you want to do is go up against Action Dan Harrington, a guy who invariably has the goods when he raises, without the best of hands. And is not the best of hands – not now, not here, not against Harrington’s presumed range of re-raising hands. Although you have Harrington out-chipped, he has enough left to put you in a world of hurt if you were to call and find yourself trapped by a subsequent all-in bet. If that scenario played out and you lost, you’d be down below the one million chip mark – firmly ensconced in last place.
If you’re Williams, you’re saying to yourself: “I hate to let go. If it was just Raymer or just Arieh, I’d reraise without a moment’s hesitation. But it’s Harrington … Action Dan Harrington, and when he raises the range of hands he’s likely to play is pretty small. I’m guessing he has AA, KK, maybe QQ or AK, and all of them are way ahead of me. I’ll save my chips for a better situation.”
You flip your cards to the center of the table with a nearly imperceptible sigh.
You’re Josh Arieh (again): “Caught speeding,” you’re thinking. “I don’t know what Harrington has, but given the range of hands he raises with, there’s no chance my hand is good. Not only do I have to worry about Harrington, but Raymer called when I raised. He just limped in. He could have anything, from a drawing hand that he was hoping to play inexpensively, to a pocket pair of aces that he called with in order to lure me into a trap.”
You’re Greg Raymer (again): You’re thinking, “It’s down to Harrington and me. I have an ace, but knowing Dan, he’s probably ahead of me at this point. If he has an ace in his hand, I’m dominated to three outs. My chances of making a flush don’t justify the payoff when it’s heads-up. If Harrington has pocket kings, my only chance is to flop an ace and that’s a bad bargain too. Well, I limped in just to see if I could get a look at the flop inexpensively – and that’s not happening.
“I’ll just sit here, stare him down and talk to him, but I know Dan won’t give anything away. I can’t read him for anything other than a hand I can’t beat.
“Give him the money,” you say as you push your cards toward the dealer.
The drama and the lessons of this hand are not in what happened. Actually, nothing much really happened. Arieh raised, Raymer called, Harrington re-raised, and everyone folded. Everything of importance took place between each player’s ears. All of the drama was mental, perceptual, and psychological.
Harrington needed chips. He realized it and so did everyone else. But Harrington had a license to steal. And his opponents probably realized that too. Nevertheless, even if you know Harrington will bluff at some point, you don’t know when he’ll pull the trigger. And with his reputation for tight and cautious play, Harrington used his license to steal to stealthily snatch those chips out from under the noses of everyone who was actively sniffing around this pot.
Everyone involved in this hand made correct decisions under the circumstances, but Action Dan was the most audacious and came away the winner by forcing a decision on his opponents that none of them could call. Harrington played completely against type to win a pot by re-raising with ! I’m sure none of Harrington’s opponents realized until they watched replays of the final table on TV what well-executed larceny that was.
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This hand was covered by Action Dan himself in one of his books, I think Harrington On Holdem Part 2. I wasn’t aware there was video of it though.
Yes, you’re right – he talks about this hand in his book. There’s no harm in reviewing it again though, and not everyone will have read Harrington’s book (if you haven’t, you should – it’s great!)I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s worthy of a place in the masterclass section.
This, in my opinion, if one of the best hands in WSOP history
I beg to differ. You know EXACTLY when Harrington is going to do this play….late position in an unraised pot. Furthermore, Raymers limp you know is meaningless because he’s the chip leader and playing too many pots. I think Harringtons play here is rather weak…too predictable and with laughable cards. However, even weaker is David Williams play. Under normal circumstances he could maybe lay down the AQ because of two people behind him to act on the raise, but had he any brains, he’d have known Raymers call was meaningless and Harringtons was a bluff. David Williams shoulda reraised all-in.
Really weak play all around…and I expect nothing less from tourney players.