Sam Razavi

Sam Razavi

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

The hand that changed my life.

Each month, we throw light on how one hand changed a poker player's life. This month, the Clown Prince of Poker himself, Sam Razavi.

In 2011, one of Britain's most charismatic characters burst onto the scene when he won the UKIPT Cork title. Now based in the Philippines, the former UKIPT Leaderboard winner is the current back-to-back APT Player Of The Year. He's one tournament from making it three in a row. We spoke to Sam about the hand that altered the course of that infamous heads up battle in Ireland.

First of all, what was the dynamic at the table between yourself and your opponent, Ireland's David O'Connor?

I felt throughout the final that David was playing very solid, but fairly tight. We didn't get involved in many hands, but I tended to avoid running multi-street bluffs against him if I felt resistance. Heads up, though, before this hand came up, we had already played a fair few hands. I felt I was getting the better of the match; I was 3-betting virtually every hand and taking down a lot of small pots and David hadn't done a ton of re-raising pre-flop, so I was feeling pretty comfortable.

You went into heads-up behind in chips at a ratio of roughly 2:1, but with the edge in experience. How highly did you rate O'Connor at that time?

It was really hard to tell with him; I felt he was the dark horse at the table. He sat there in the bushes like a silent assassin and played very few hands, winning most of them. I was a bit apprehensive going into the heads up, but I was still fairly confident I had an edge given my experience in heads up play.

What heads up were you playing in the build-up to that tournament?

I was playing mostly heads up cash, but I did venture into heads up Sit 'n' Go's. I was showing an incredible ROI on them but, for some absurd reason, they bored me, so I stopped playing them. Heads up cash excited me so much, so the explanation might have been that I knew exactly how much I was playing for, in SNGs, whereas in heads up cash, I could be playing for anything up to a whole stack, and the games get a lot deeper.

Looking at the action in the hand, you raised it up to 125k at 20k/40k with Ah-9d - O'Connor re-raised out of position with Jh-6h to 290,000 and you called. What was your thinking at that point?

It's interesting, as the broadcast only showed I think three hands of the two hour heads up match we had. At this point, we had just come back from a break, and I spotted O'Connor having a chat with Max Silver and Nick Abou Risk amongst others. I'd been getting the better of the match up to this point and doing most of the three-betting. I didn't feel a ton of aggression from David, however, when we came back from the break, I tried my usual trick with J-Q off, and this time David actually four-bet me. I five-bet him to something like 900k and he responded by shoving. I assumed he had a hand, but shortly afterwards, I opened the Ah-9d. Now O'Connor decided to three-bet. I was sure he'd been advised to ramp up the aggression and to stop letting me get away with what I was doing, so I thought this would be a great spot to flat call. I know that my Ace-high is going to be good most of the time; I'm ideally hoping to flop an Ace and get three streets of value, or find another way to win the pot post-flop.

Sam Razavi 3

You called his re-raise of course, and see a flop of Td-Th-8d. O'Connor opens now, to 360k. Again you opt to just call. Why?

Barring an Ace or nine high flop, this is a great flop for my hand. I have back door possibilities, but that felt irrelevant as I was confident my hand was the best. At this point my plan was to call the turn and river on most run-outs, and if he gets there he gets there.

He then got there on the turn, not that you knew it, when the Jd was turned over. It's a bit of a belly-buster, giving you an open-ended straight flush draw and O'Connor bet 580k. You called, and declared "This looks like it's the one', to which O'Connor replied 'Really?' - what did that tell you?

Again, on the turn, I'm still thinking I have the best of it, so I'm still planning to call the river too. I'm trying to sound confident on the turn when I tell him “this is the one”, because there is that small chance that he actually has the best hand and I now want to get to showdown as cheaply as possible. I didn't get much of a response from O'Connor either; I was hoping to pick something up there, but sadly I couldn't!

The brick-looking 5s then landed on the river, and you got a very quick check from O'Connor. How much did this influence your decision to shove all-in?

O'Connor's check on the end was the key. I was hoping he would bet a good bluff-sized bet, say in the region of 900k. It's funny, because if he'd bet the river I was just going to call, and he wins the hand. Now I've gone from thinking I have the best hand to now thinking “hang on a second, it's not me that wants to get to showdown cheaply, its him!” I certainly didn't put him on a random Jack, but it was possible he had an eight with the King or Queen of diamonds for example, or a random hand that has paired the five on the river. I was certain he had something of value, but not enough value to be able to call a big bet. He might have sigh-called a smaller bet, so I had to empty the clip and cross my fingers, hoping he didn't find the hero call. I was about 85% sure my bet was going to get through.

Was the reverse-curse of telling him "The title's in the bag" a cheeky way of underlining this?

Well, (laughter), now he was thinking of calling, so I needed to plant a little seed of doubt. It's risky, because he could have sniffed it out for what it was, but I had to say something and try to give off an air of confidence about myself.

Well, it worked! He then made what was obviously the wrong fold and you told him 'This is how you play, my friend.', showing the bluff. On TV, it looked like a rubdown, but there was history behind it, right?

Yes, there was a hand maybe half an hour previously where I'd value-bet two-pair on a board showing four to a straight, and he raised me on the river. Given what I had seen so far of O'Connor's play I never thought he would be bluffing there. I folded pretty quickly. He showed queen-high and needled me, so I knew I had to come back with at least one needle of my own!

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It clearly riled him, and you went on to win the tournament shortly afterwards. What effect did winning that hand have on your career?

Obviously winning that hand was a major step to winning the tournament, it gave me a great deal of confidence going forward. I'd run deep many times but fallen short in UKIPT Main Events. You can never underestimate the confidence that winning a major title does for your game.

What's happened since that win and do you look back at the hand often?

I've spent a lot more time living in Asia and playing the Asian circuit. I've had a lot of success out here, but having said that, I know it's not the most profitable decision. Living out here makes it tough for me to play the bigger tournaments on the European circuit (not least the EPTs), where the really huge money is. But poker is more fun out here; people don't take the game so seriously and that is something that more than makes up for the smaller prize pools. I actually won UKIPT Player of The Year following that win in Cork, but missed a couple of my freerolls (Pokerstars awarded the POTY Winner a ticket to every stop on the tour the following season) due to playing out here. I went on to win the ANZPT Melbourne which was definitely a big win in my career. I tried to complete the Pokerstars triple crown when I made the final of the LAPT in Panama the same month, but fell short.

Are you still as hungry for success in the game as you were before winning UKIPT Cork?

These days, I feel hungrier for the number one spot than I do for the cash. I've won the APT Player of The Year for the last two years running, and with one stop left in Manila in December, I'm two hundred points clear and close to winning my third. That's my immediate goal. I met my now fiancée while playing the APT in Cebu where I ended up finishing second. Incidentally she finished in second place behind me on the APT Player of The Year last year. She's as competitive as I am, and I'm sure our son Eli, who just turned six months, will be a force to be reckoned with once I manage to smuggle him into a cardroom somewhere!

Finally, would you change anything about the hand if you played it today?

As an isolated hand, I would probably opt to take the lead pre-flop with this hand. Given my read on David and the situation at the time, I think the hand would probably play the same way. Maybe I've 'nitted up' though and I might have considered checking the river behind.

Tags: Sam Razavi, interviews, The Hand That Changed My Life