Steven Holloway is the football writer for the NZ Herald.

Steven Holloway on poker: The funniest man at the table

Mike King finished in second place at the NZ Poker Champs in Christchurch. Photo / File
Mike King finished in second place at the NZ Poker Champs in Christchurch. Photo / File

Being seated at a big buy-in poker tournament can be a lot like attending the first day at a new school.

Players are directed where to sit, when to participate and what they can and can't say - and it all starts a little bit cagey, before the real personalities come out.

And poker tournaments attract the widest array of diverse personalities. It takes a certain type of character to stump up $1650 to potentially sit at a poker table for 25 hours, and the cross section of characters at my table in the Main Event of the NZ Poker Champs in Christchurch was a rare treat.

There was the kid who looked like he just turned 18, the loud-mouthed Australian businessman, the sweet-natured mean looking Maori with tats all over his arms, the farmer with a big heart, a middle-aged man with his mum in-tow and the jovial Indian gentleman, to name a few.

And my table got off to a rip roaring start - with controversy raring its head in the first level.

The Indian man (who was not involved in the hand) instructed the dealer that she had mis-counted one of the players' bets. This set off the Aussie, who bellowed "Mate, if you're not in the hand shut the f**k, up" an uncomfortable three times before the tension simmered down.

After a few orbits of awkwardness, normal service resumed, with bad jokes and quirky plays dominating proceedings. "Mate you don't need to go to the aquarium to see the fish," the Aussie bellowed to one of his friends, after being beaten by an unconventional bad beat, before the whole table cringed.

It made me slightly jealous when I scanned the room, to think of the clever gags and unrelenting wit that would be flowing at the table of Mike King - one of New Zealand's funniest comedians.

King flies down from his Auckland base to Christchurch every year for the NZ Open, and on this occasion managed to beat his previous best finish of third to scoop second place for $25,000.

King doesn't travel alone though, and I was fascinated to see his partner Jo sitting behind him for the duration of his 25 hour poker marathon over two days.

"She went through three books at the tables this year," King beamed. "She's my good luck charm."

King has suffered from a well-documented battle with drugs and depression but looked on top of the world at the tables, laughing, joking and eventually celebrating his pay-day.

"I have an addictive personality and poker is the only vice I have left after I gave up drinking, drugs and cigarettes," he told me after the tournament. "I only play tournaments and I might only play two tournaments series a year."

With his success at the NZ Poker Champs, a win at the Wellington Champs and three final tables in three tournaments at the Wellington series last year, the poker circuit regulars will be happy to see him play so little.

King credits his success to being old and experienced.

"I won't throw my chips away," he said. "These young guys have no fear at all. I guess that's because they don't know the real value of money. To them it's easy come, easy go, but when you have got a family to feed, ten bucks goes a long way.

"I've laid down some monster hands. Trips, QQ pre-flop when a guy had KK. I just refused to go in. Patience is the key and knowing when to fold cards. These youngsters don't know when to fold."

King didn't know it at the time, but he was referring to me.

While I might struggle to slip into the 'youngsters' category, he was bang on about the knowing when to fold bit.

We were about four hours in when the hand happened. I had slightly more chips than the 25k we started with and had cultivated a tight, competent image at the table.

A few players at our table had busted and one of them was replaced by Mike Tyler, a good player who had chopped* the repecharge tournament heads-up* a day earlier for $7,500.

Here's how the action went down.

This was an interesting hand, but I think most good players would be able to fold on the flop.

I like the way I played it up until Tyler raised me on the flop, but at this point I made a critical error.

I was trying to think about the hands Tyler could possibly have. I was 99% certain he was not holding AA - as he surely would have re-raised preflop, with three other players in the hand.

I thought AK, AQhh, AJhh, 88 and 66 were most likely, but thought it was more unlikely he would raise pre-flop at such a call happy table with 66 or 88 (mistake number one).

When the Aussie called my bet after the flop, I was convinced I was ahead of his holdings, and that he was most likely on a draw (half wrong, he had AQ).

This played too much of a part in my analysis. With so much money in the pot, and the Aussie most likely on a draw, I thought Tyler would raise AK, AQhh and AJhh.

But I would be nearly drawing dead to 88 and 66.

The question I should have been asking was is Tyler ever bluffing in this spot? He had only been at the table for a few orbits, but it would appear very unlikely with such strong action in-front of him.

So if he wasn't bluffing, I am barely ahead of the bottom of his range*, and crushed by the top. Easy fold.

But, the situation got the better of me, and instead I found myself pushing all my chips into the middle.

As it happened he ended up tanking* for about two minutes before making the call, repeatedly saying he must have run into AA. I tried to give my best "I have AA" impression, but it didn't work, as I was eventually dealt a crippling blow.

It made me respect King's words even more after the tournament, as I thought about how many better spots there would have been to get my money in.

I guess until next time I will be 'one of those kids who can't fold.'

For the poker illiterate

*Chopped - to split the prizepool at the end of the tournament between the remaining players.
*Heads up - when a tournament gets down to the last two players.
* Range - the scope of hands an opponent would most likely be holding.
* Tanking - AKA going into the think tank. Taking a long time to make a decision.

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Steven Holloway is the football writer for the NZ Herald.

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