Poker tournaments are won and lost at crucial moments which cannot be foretold.  A big hand can come at any moment.  They just happen.  Some of the most important moments come early in a tournament, allowing a player to double-up or survive.  Other important moments take place during the middle of an event, and serve as a major turning point.  Then, there are crucial moments late in the tournament, often at the final table, which ultimately determine winners and losers.

Good poker players see these crucial moments as opportunities.  Strategic decisions are not merely responses to routine situations but are, in the best scenarios, bold initiatives.  Then, there are really great poker players who not only see opportunities, but create their own turning points out of situations that would otherwise be missed by average poker players.

An excellent example of this concept is the thought process of a 27-year-old professional poker player from Chicago, named Josh Tieman.  He recently won the $5,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em Shootout.  The victory gave Tieman his first WSOP gold bracelet.  It was also his tenth time to cash at the WSOP.

Tieman is not a household name (yet), but he has a unique talent that goes above and beyond the poker table, which is the ability to analyze complex situations and craft out-of-the-ordinary courses of action.  Tieman was interviewed shortly after winning his first WSOP gold bracelet, which took place on June 3rd.  What was otherwise a routine post-tournament question and answer session evolved into one of the deeper strategic revelations any WSOP event winner has conveyed in recent memory.

Tieman was asked about some of the key hands that propelled him to victory.  His comments reveal a great deal about how a champion poker player thinks and how he breaks down a hand.  The hand was not particularly memorable for any other reason than Tieman decided to seize an opportunity and make it momentous.  Virtually all other players would have mucked their cards instantly when facing an identical situation, instead preparing for the next hand to be dealt.  But Tieman -- demonstrating a thought process that is was exceptional as it was clever -- maneuvered this one hand to his benefit.  Was it the most important hand of the tournament?  No.  Did it generate Tieman’s biggest pot?  No.  But it was one of several steps on the path that eventually led to his winning a WSOP gold bracelet.

The hand took place on Day Two of the three-day tournament.  He was playing in the second of three rounds of the No-Limit Hold’em Shootout – which meant only the table winner would advance to the next round.  Play was at three handed.  Tieman is quoted verbatim for the remainder of this article:

I think I made my biggest bluff ever in this tournament….In all three rounds (of the Shootout), I basically lost a third of my stack, before even winning a single hand.  The second round was definitely the longest and most grueling.  It started out six-handed and got down to three-handed really quickly.  It was just kind of a weird situation.  I couldn’t get a strong read on one of the players, and I just wasn’t picking up too many hands.

In round two when we were three-handed, it seemed like I couldn’t get anything going.  It felt like I was getting pushed around a little bit.  I wasn’t picking up hands to fight back with.  One player raised me on the button.  He had been playing pretty aggressively.  The player in the small blind flat called, and I decided I was just going to three-bet with whatever I had.  

I had been playing sort of tight, because one player had been calling all of my three-bets.  So, I wasn’t getting any real cards to three-bet with.  So, I just three-bet anyway hoping to take down 20,000 in chips.  The first player folded, and I just thought the second player would fold for sure, because she had been three-betting a ton of hands.  She had been playing well and tight.  But she had been-three betting pretty light and when she didn’t three-bet I figured she’d fold for sure.  But she ended up calling.

I think the flop ended up being      , with two diamonds.  She checked.  I bet out small -- maybe a third to half the pot expecting her to fold to that.  But she raised me a little bit more than a mini-raise.

I had     off-suit.  I had nothing.  

I just sat there thinking for about five minutes thinking what hand she would actually make this play with.  I figured if she had a flush draw she would make a bigger raise, and just re-shove.  I really didn’t think she had anything bigger like A-9 or A,-10 or A-J because I thought she would three-bet those hands before the flop.  You know, I kind of thought maybe she had (pocket) 8s, or 9s, or 10s -- but I didn’t really know why she would mini-raise there.  I was running through all the possible hands she could possibly have, and nothing made sense to me.  So, I was just kind of debating because I didn’t think she had anything.  But I had absolutely nothing.  Before I even really thought it through, I just found myself pushing (all of my stack) in…and was kind of, you know, talking to myself, like…what the bleep are you doing here?  Going all-in with 7 high? 
She pretty much instantly folded, and that was like a really big pot.  That turned the momentum, because I was just folding, folding, folding three-handed and just getting knocked down and, you know, the other two players had all the momentum.

That really got me some momentum and crippled the other player.  She pushed a few times and was knocked out by the other player.  Then, we went heads up.  I’m really comfortable playing heads up, but it was a really, really long match.  It went a couple hours.  There were some big pots back and forth, but eventually I took it down....There were some huge hands in there.  But I think that was the hand I’m most proud of in the tournament -- moving all in with 7-2 offsuit.