T.J. has said that he is a friendly guy at the table and generally tries to make his opponents feel at ease. His strategy is somewhat based on playing solid poker and showing hands whenever he has a strong hand in order to give him a lot of bluff equity in later situations. This turned out to be very true; T.J. was talking, joking, and showing a bunch of hands. He appeared to be a fairly conservative player before the flop and didn't play too many hands, as he has said, although he did play more hands than I expected him too.
After the player sitting in first position made a raise of about four times the big blind, T.J. called on the button. The flop came A♦ 7♦ 2♠ and the pre-flop raiser made a pot-sized bet which T.J. immediately called. The turn was the 4♦ and the bettor bet again. This time, T.J. raised about four times as much as the bet in front of him. His opponent quickly called. The river was blank and it was checked to T.J. who made a pretty small bet, which was called, and T.J. flipped over the J♦ T♦ for a flush. His opponent showed AK and threw his cards in the muck.
A while later, T.J. raised first-in from middle position while I was sitting in the big blind and looking down at the 5♠ 5♣. With blinds at $25-$50, the raise was $150 and I decided to call and take my first heads-up flop with the legend. I had about $2,500 in chips and T.J. had $1,500. The flop came 7♥ 5♦ 2♦. What a flop for me as I just made a set of fives! I took a moment and thought about what T.J. has written in his books.
In order for him to raise first-in from middle position, he should have a big ace or a medium pocket pair; that is, if he practices what he preaches. I had many options to choose from: I could bet right out, try for a check-raise, or check-call and try to trap him later on. Then I thought about a move I first read in Doyle Brunson's original Super System, which was to bet into the raiser whenever you have flopped a set and are in the blinds. Mostly, this can accomplish two things; first, your opponent has two big cards and thinks you are bluffing and tries to re-bluff you with a raise; and, second, your opponent actually has a big pocket pair and raises to shut you out in case you are drawing. Both of these cases are good, especially when your opponent doesn't have a lot of chips and might pot-commit himself with a weak hand that he might have been able to escape from if he was check-raised.
I decided to bet out $250 into the $325 pot and T.J. immediately raised to $1,000, leaving another $500 in front of him. I thought, "This is great! I am going to bust T.J. because he probably has a big pair and will most certainly call my $500 re-raise," right?
Wrong. I re-raised T.J. all-in and he mucked almost without thinking. What was going on? I decided to show him some courtesy and flipped over my fives. T.J. muttered something about having bad luck and suggested that he had just mucked pocket kings. I didn't say anything but I felt pretty confident that not even a player of T.J.'s caliber would muck pocket kings with that board and so much invested in the pot. I could be wrong, but I believe T.J. was making a move at the pot according to the first above mentioned scenario.
In another situation, T.J. raised first-in from middle position again, this time with an AJ off-suit, and a solid player in the small blind moved all-in with a considerable re-raise. This time T.J. took his time before acting and seemingly went against his instincts as he finally said: 'Ok, I'll take the worst of it and call you.' The guy flipped over AQ but was busted when T.J. made trip jacks.
Conclusion: I ended up playing with T.J. for about 6 hours and I saw him play many more hands than recommended in his books. Many of the so-called "trash hands," like AJ off-suit (a hand that T.J. got involved with no less than four times), AT off-suit, and KQ off-suit, were played from any position in a number of scenarios not suggested in his writing. Overall, however, it was a great pleasure and honor to play with T.J. and he did play a very good game albeit with more gambling than I had expected of him. I think this is a style he has adapted to fit the new breed of poker players and their style of play. And, obviously, it is a successful playing style as he has already won a WSOP bracelet in this year's World Series of Poker.