Folding Pocket Kings at the 2013 WSOP Main Event

Carlos Mortensen folds the second-best starting hand in hold'em at the 2013 WSOP Main Event (Photo: Jay Newnum/BLUFF)

As has happened every summer since 2008, the World Series of Poker Main Event reached its not-quite-climactic climax again with the mid-July pausing of poker's biggest tournament with just nine players remaining. With the final table not coming until November, the WSOP Main Event is surely the most marathon-like of all poker tournaments, with the nine players who've survived from the 6,352 starters already having made hundreds upon hundreds of decisions that have affected their getting this far.

Each has survived seven full days' worth of poker, with the tournament having moved into the 35th two-hour level when 2001 WSOP Main Event champion Carlos Mortensen was eliminated in 10th place by current chip leader J.C. Tran sometime after 2 a.m. on the final day.  

It was only a few hours later I was packing up to return home after having spent another summer in Las Vegas reporting on the WSOP for PokerNews, and like most who had been there Mortensen's elimination was certainly foremost in my thoughts as I did. But along with his knockout I found myself thinking a lot about a hand he had played the day before, as well as a particular decision I'd seen both he and other players face during this year's Main Event -- namely, whether or not to fold pocket kings.

Two of those instances I'd watched first-hand as a reporter, both of which involved players having been dealt K-K and facing preflop action that severely put them to the test.

Folding pocket kings before the flop in a tournament is something many players confess they have either never done or perhaps only very rarely, with the occasion(s) usually memorable enough for them to narrate readily all of the details whenever the topic arises.

I remember a couple of years ago having played in one of those "Deep Stack" tournaments at the Rio during the WSOP in which I was dealt pocket kings during an early level, got involved in a raising war with an opponent, and found myself being eliminated after having committed the last of my stack only to see him turn over A-A.

In hindsight I found ways to doubt myself and think of how I might have avoided my fate in the hand. But in truth there was little chance of me finding a fold.

I was reminded of that hand late on Day 2c of the Main Event when I happened to be present to watch from the beginning a hand play out that involved Yevgeniy Timoshenko, Chris Tryba, and Jackie Glazier.  

It was Level 10 -- the last of the night -- and the blinds were 600/1,200 with a 200 ante. Timoshenko began the action with a raise to 2,700 from the hijack seat, then Tryba three-bet to 5,700 from a seat over. Glazier then put in another reraise from the button to 9,400, which raised the eyebrows of everyone at the table (and of yours truly).

All three players had well over 100,000 to start the hand, meaning their stacks were especially deep (i.e., ranging between 80-120 big blinds). When the action returned to him, Timoshenko quickly let his hand go, but Tryba very deliberately reraised again to 22,700. Glazier sat for a while, then reraised again herself, making it 36,000 to go.
That's when Tryba acted somewhat quickly for the first time in the hand, setting out a stack of chips to reraise once more to 70,000.  

That would be a "seven-bet" for those scoring at home.

It was an interesting situation to witness as an observer. Glazier took a lot of time -- about two minutes, I estimated in my hand report -- as she thought about what to do. It was long enough for players not involved in the hand to get up from the table and stretch their legs a little at the end of a long day of poker. One moved over to where I was standing and engaged me in conversation, leaning over at one point and quietly asking a question.

"Whaddya think they got?" he said.

Not wanting to pursue the subject, I just shook my head in response, but I did have an answer. Aces and kings, I thought. Had to be.

It's one thing to have figured that out, but it's another to act accordingly. And after that long session in the tank Glazier finally pushed her hand away to the dealer, and Tryba promptly showed her his Ad-Ac. Glazier then said she'd let go of K-K, and no one doubted her.

Tryba would ultimately be eliminated on Day 3 shy of the cash, while both Timoshenko and Glazier would make it much further, with Timoshenko taking 22nd (for $285,408) and Glazier 31st (for $229,281). Indeed, Glazier would make it farther than any other woman in the event, but that deep run might never had happened had she not found a fold in her hand versus Tryba.

I would end up witnessing a second, somewhat similar situation that came up late on Day 4 of the tournament, a hand between Sterling Savill and Clyde Tjauw Foe.

That hand I came upon after preflop betting had already commenced between the pair. The blinds were 6,000/12,000 with a 2,000 ante (Level 20), Foe had around 740,000 to start the hand, and Savill something close to that. In other words, both were around 60 big blinds deep with a little less than 300 players left in the tournament.

To make a long story short, I arrived to see Foe reraising, then saw Savill slowly reraise back and Foe snap-shove. That sent Savill into the tank, and finally he called, turning over Kh-Ks and then watching Foe show As-Ah.

"I even thought about folding," said Savill as he stood and watched the community cards come to seal his elimination in 282nd ($37,019). "But I can't do it," he added. "Can't fold them."

It was a tough spot for sure, and as I was saying above with Glazier's decision, to fold kings before the flop is most certainly easier said than done.

Finally, I mentioned it was Mortensen's bustout in 10th that had inspired all of these thoughts about players folding kings. That's because "The Matador" had himself folded K-K in a hand on Day 6.

I didn't see this hand as it happened over on the feature table and I was assigned elsewhere, but my colleague Mo Nuwwarah did and he reported it for PokerNews. In a way this hand belongs in a different category from the other two, as it involved Mortensen folding pocket kings after the flop and not before, in fact on the river.

It had begun as a three-way hand with Mortensen picking up two callers after a preflop raise, then only he and Jorn Walthaus had reached the river with the board showing Jh-Jc-8s-7h-2h. That's when Walthus bet 975,000 into a pot of about 2 million after having led both of the previous post-flop streets.

Mortensen thought a long time about his decision, since calling the bet would mean leaving himself with only about 1 million chips (about 16 big blinds or so at the time). In fact, Mortensen thought so long about it the clock had to be called on him. He let the tourney director count down his remaining decision time to the last few seconds, then tossed his hand away.

There's a reason why the hand stood out in my mind. That's because Mortensen didn't actually show his hand to the table when he folded, but we all knew what he had thanks to the fact that Jay Newnum of BLUFF Magazine had been there to snap a quick picture at the moment Mortensen tossed his cards.  

Up above appears only the top half of Newnum's photograph; here it is in full:


Notice how Newnum managed not only to grab a glimpse of Mortensen's hand -- Ks-Kd -- but also included in his photo the mass of chips and the board below. I also like the expression on Mortensen's face as he folds, that look of tempered frustration absolutely suitable for someone who has found it needful to let go of pocket kings.

We don't know what Walthaus had -- perhaps if the hand makes it to ESPN later we will. In any case, there were a little over 50 players left when Mortensen made his fold. As noted, he'd make it all of the way to the final hand of the summer before falling in 10th ($573,204).

And perhaps it was Mortensen's being able to let go of the second-best hand in hold'em that enabled him to extend his run as far as he did.

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Folding pocket kings before the flop in a tournament is something many players confess they have either never done or perhaps only very rarely, with the occasion(s) usually memorable enough for them to narrate readily all of the details whenever the topic arises.

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