World Heads-Up Championship

British poker star Paul ‘ActionJack’ Jackson looks
back at his amazing run in the World Heads-Up
Championship and asks if chimps play limit

I think I’m playing a new Spanish prodigy, as no-one’s heard of him, but it emerges he’s spent three years playing heads-up at private cash games

On the plane to Barcelona with Dave Colclough, Nick Gibson, Marc Goodwin, Tony Chessa and Mickey Wernick, we start a game of crash (13-card brag). The European Crash Tour continues when we arrive in Barcelona, where Mickey makes a valiant attempt to relieve himself of his ‘crash bitch’ crown by winning €7,000.Meanwhile, Dave and Marc make reasonable attempts at acquiring the crash-bitch crown with dismal fish-like displays. In fact, Dave’s so disturbed by the experience we all hope to draw him in the first round of the World Heads- Up Tournament.


However, the first event is the €1,000 no-limit tournament, where things fall my way. I’m chip leader with 15 left and stay chip leader until the last two players. On the first hand heads-up, my opponent sets the tone by raising 50k. I fold (he’s going to make me his bitch). On the second hand, I limp, he raises 50k and I fold. On the third hand, he raises 50k, I fold and he has me bent over. On the fourth hand, I limp with A-K, he raises 50k, I move all-in, he calls with K-10, doesn’t improve and I take the first prize. He pushed me around and dominated me for at least three minutes and I receive 52k and the trophy for my weak play – a fair exchange, I reckon.

Back to the ECT and we welcome a new member to the ranks in JP Kelly. As old-timers, we do our best to educate JP on the true value of money and to respect it as a tool of the trade as we attempt to buy a suite (around £700) at one of the plushest Barcelona Hotels in order to play crash in comfort. Unfortunately, the hotel’s full, so we go to Marc’s room to play, leaving at around 6am the following day.

Next, it’s time for my first-round encounter in the Heads-Up tournament, where I can’t stop catching cards. My second heads-up match is harder work against Xuyen ‘Bad Girl’ Pham. I get through, but make the serious error of going straight from that match into the €300 fixed-limit tournament. I don’t fully appreciate the nuances of fixed limit poker and it always seems to me that it’s a game devised by a chimpanzee that wanted to call for a back-door flush at the cheapest possible cost.

I fare better in my next heads-up match against a very good French player, Antony Lellouche, which wins me a match against Carlos Mortensen. Carlos says he doesn’t want to have the game televised, so we play in the normal tournament area with a crowd around us watching. I have the run of the cards again and he never looks comfortable.

I have a good read on my next opponent, high-stakes cash player Markus Golser, thanks to Chris Sokrati, who has advised me Golser tends to bet any flop with a pair. I’m starting to take control and can see his unease so expected him to make a big move to change the flow of the game. The final hand comes when I raise to 1,200 with K-J on the button and he flat calls. The flop comes 5-7-J, he checks, I bet 1,200, he reraises to 2,900 and I flat call, thinking this may be a move. The turn is a 4 and he bets 4,000, which seems a bit of an overbet, I call and he visibly gulps.

The river is a 2 and he immediately moves all-in. I count my chips. If I call and lose, I’ll still have a playable stack of 9,500-odd. This, together with his gulp on the turn and the over-aggressive betting makes up my mind – at which point, he mucks his cards and says, ‘Good call.’ I’m through to the semi-final.

I play German George Danzer and it’s a complete nightmare. After about half an hour, I’ve been outplayed and become desperate to win just one hand. I’m in the small blind with 10-4 and the flop is 10-9-5.He bets, I move all-in and he calls, holding 9-5. Lucky for me, I hit a 10 on the turn to double up and take the chip lead.


The final hand comes on the very first hand of the third level, when he raises out of position and I re-raise a tempting amount with K-K. He thinks I’m making a play at him to slow him down at this new level (he tells me this afterwards) and he calls. The flop is K-J-2. I lead out with a very weak-looking bet and he moves all-in (he underestimates my sneakiness).He turns over the worst hand I could have seen –Q-10. Fortunately, he doesn’t improve and I go through. I’m grateful there’s injustice in poker, as the best player on the day didn’t win.

On to the final and I think I’m playing a new Spanish prodigy, as no-one’s heard of my opponent. However, it later emerges that he’s spent the last three years playing heads-up at private cash games around Spain. For the first third, it’s nip and tuck, but 31 hands in, I raise with Q-Q and he calls. The flop comes 9-7-4, I bet and he calls. The turn is a lovely 4, killing most two pairs that he may hit and making any pair he has seem more significant. I bet again and he calls again, and the pot’s getting big.

The river’s a 9, I check. I don’t want to bet and then struggle to call a re-raise, although I think he’ll probably re-raise on the turn if he has a 9. In addition, if he misses a straight draw or thinks I have high cards only, by checking I may induce him to make a move with no hand. He bets, I call and he shows A-9. He’s lucky, but he has played well; it’s just one of those things.

From then on, I’m under pressure against a very good player who rarely makes mistakes and knows how to use his three-to-one chip lead. I manage to struggle on for a further 70 hands. Then I move all-in with 8-4, hoping to take the blinds with a flop of 10-8-7. After a little thought, he calls with 10-J, I fail to improve and that’s that.

He was a worthy winner and, all in all, I’m absolutely delighted with the week. I’ve developed a tendency to keep coming second and although it’s not the healthiest outcome for your bankroll, at least it’s a good chat-up line.

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