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The Hot Seat
CEO "Rocket Boy" 01.29.2007

If you've played enough poker, you've seen it. Some guy in seat X wins a big pot with a monster hand, then another, and another. Then he wins big pots holding junk and rivering people because he can afford to miss. His stack just keeps getting bigger no matter what two cards he plays. Other players fold when he bets big on the river, and when someone finally stands up to him he crushes them with the nuts. He busts people left and right, and just can't lose. He's in the hot seat.

Is it luck? Is it skill? I think it's a little of both. I've seen mediocre players build monster chip stacks just by hitting monster card rushes. So yes, luck is a major factor. The flip side of a mediocre player building up a huge stack is that he is pretty likely to lose some or all of it back. On the other hand, if the player in the hot seat is skilled as well as lucky, it'll be tough to get those chips back because he'll use them as weapons. Do you really want to risk busting out of a tournament with your KK when there's an ace on the board and he puts you in? Or, in a cash game, do you think your pocket jacks will hold up after he's raised big from early position preflop? He is, after all, on a rush.

I've been in the hot seat on occasion, and won tournaments with a late card rush. But far more often I've seen one player in the hot seat win big while everyone else sat there getting cold decked. In a recent no-limit cash game at my local casino, I moved from seat 1 to seat 2 because I don't like getting elbowed by the dealer and because I can't see everyone easily. And then the player who took seat 1 immediately went on an un-ending winning streak. He won huge pots when several players moved all-in and he looked down at pocket aces. Twice.

He flopped several sets, busted more people, and quadrupled up in an hour. Then a really terrible player sat down and just plain firehosed about 5 buyins into the game in an hour and left. Seat 1 got most of it. Seat 1 flopped nut flush draws that hit, he flopped sets that beat top pair, etc. I got 72 offsuit four or five times, my KK got cracked by a guy with AJ when an ace flopped, I'm forced to fold AK after I called a preflop bet when I whiff the flop. (I'm from the school of "ace-king is only the nut nothing if you miss the flop.") Seat 1 wins two more huge pots with pocket aces. That's four times he got the pocket rockets and won big with them. Meanwhile my KK gets cracked again by a guy with jack-ten who hits runners for a straight. Chips!

Bad seat change for me. If I had stayed put, I could have gone from 1 to 8 buy-ins in 4 hours instead of him. Woulda, coulda, shoulda.

There's not much you can do against a player who's that hot. But if you're in his position, in the hot seat, you need to adjust your play quite a bit. You're playing deep-stack poker now. Seat 1 had about 250 times the big blind after several hours. He also had far more chips than anyone else at the table. He saw far more flops after building up his stack, simply because it was such a small fraction of his stack. He could afford to call the standard 3x to 5x big blind preflop raise and fold if he thought he was beat. No problem. It just happened that he kept on flopping huge draws, sets, top two pair, etc. But his big stack made it relatively cheap for him to see flops and outplay people if he sensed weakness. (Yes, he's a regular there and he's a really good player.)

And despite his huge run, he never lost his toughness. Some players will play poorly with huge stacks. It's almost as if they're thinking "Oh well, I can afford to lose lots of chips. It's not my money anyway." Not this guy. If someone made the standard 5x big blind raise but only had 15x the big blind left in his stack, seat 1 wouldn't play a speculative hand. If he missed the flop, and the short stack pushed in, he'd fold if he'd missed. I know because he showed me the hands he folded several times. If he wasn't getting the proper implied odds because the raiser was short stacked or there weren't enough callers, he'd fold.

In other words, he didn't "play the rush." He saw more flops, even against raises, but never chased, never gambled recklessly. He played every hand independently, skillfully, and it just happened that the deck hit him. The worst nightmare for the rest of us at the table. I'm just glad he and I are buddies.