My favourite hand: Johnny Chan vs Erik Seidel

In 1988 Johnny Chan was going for back-to-back World Series of Poker Main Event wins, when he found himself heads-up against newcomer Erik Seidel…

Chan: J-9

Seidel: Q-7

Board: Q-8-10-2-6

Both players limp into the pot and flop big hands – Chan has the nut straight and Seidel top pair. Seidel checks the flop, Chan bets 40,000, and Seidel continues to be aggressive, making it another 50,000 to go. Chan slow-plays his hand, calling the bet and both players check the blank on the turn.

Johnny Chan

We’re going back to the days of long hair, when I was 30 pounds lighter and everybody smoked. It’s when Erik Seidel played in a style that made him easy to trap. You checked, he bet – you knew he would bet no matter what. After starting the final day [of the 1988 no-limit Hold’em Main Event] with only 200,000 chips, I managed to run it up to about 1.4m. [In the final hand] Erik had close to 300,000. I was dealt J-9 and not much happened before the flop. Then it came Q-8-T rainbow – perfect cards for me. He checked and I’d flopped the nut straight. I knew it was sweet, but I focused on the best way to get as much of Erik’s money as possible.

The pot probably had 60,000 in it. I bet 40,000, Erik came back and raised me 50k more. I took time making my decision, figuring out the best play. I thought that if I moved in, he might fold. I knew that if I raised a little bit he might call. But I thought that if I just called he would bet on fourth street. That had been his pattern. I didn’t want to lose my man – I wanted to keep him in there.

Setting the trap

After the turn brought a blank, Erik checked. I was like, ‘Boy, I didn’t expect that one.’ When he check-raised me, he always bet the turn. I figured that he might smell something, so I checked back. I knew he was drawing dead and I had position on him. I said to myself, ‘Please let him catch up.’

The river card was a blank and Erik moved all-in. I looked down at my cards, made sure that I had the nuts, and called. That was the greatest play I ever made. Erik was young and inexperienced. I knew he was frustrated. I had him out-chipped and the pressure was starting to wear on him. Checking the turn was my key play. Had I bet, he might have folded. My checking made him think he had the best hand. I have a lot of good plays, but this stands out as my favourite. Erik Seidel did exactly what I set him up to do.  

I won $700,000, but best of all was the excitement of taking down my second WSOP Main Event in a row.

Erik Seidel

When we got to heads-up I was tired and in an odd spot because it was my very first tournament! It felt surreal to be sitting there with the cameras on me and lots of people watching. I wasn’t thinking very well and had a lack of understanding about how to play short-handed – I raised the same amount every hand to prevent Chan from getting a read on me.

I played more aggressive than most people would throughout the tournament and most of the time [that strategy] worked. But on that last hand, Johnny Chan played it correctly. He laid back and let me lead the betting – which I did with my top pair of Queens. But it wasn’t until Rounders [with its scene in which Matt Damon’s character watches a video of Chan knocking out Seidel] that people started making a big deal about this sort of reverse bluff. Really, it’s how any good player, or even any bad player, would proceed against an aggressive opponent who doesn’t know what he’s doing. 

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