High stakes poker pro versus fearless amateur…
It’s a matchup that happens daily on poker tables around the world. But it usually doesn’t happen with the World Series of Poker Main Event title and $8,000,000 on the line.
In the final hand of the No Limit Hold’em championship, German pro Koray Aldemir held a slight chip lead over aggressive amateur George Holmes.
Then, the biggest pot of the tournament commenced.
Blinds: 1.2M / 2.4M with a 2.4M big blind ante
Koray Aldemir – 202.7M (84.5 big blinds)
George Holmes – 194.2M (80 big blinds)
1st place – $8,000,000
2nd place – $4,300,000
Holmes raises to 6M on the button with K♣ Q♠. Aldemir calls with T♦ 7♦.
With a full big blind ante juicing the pot, both players should play quite a bit looser preflop than in a typical heads-up match.
Holmes makes a good raise with KQo, but it’s worth noting that he should be playing around 100% of hands on the button given his stellar pot odds. PioSolver likes playing a mixed strategy including both limps and raises (click here to see the PioSolver range).
Aldemir has a clear call with T7s in the big blind. The solver likes 3-betting a lot of hands at differing frequencies, but T7s is not one of them. It’s the perfect just-calling hand.
Let’s see three.
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The flop comes T♥ 7♠ 2♥ with 14.4M in the pot.
Aldemir checks. Holmes c-bets 6M. Aldemir check-raises to 19M. Holmes calls.
Aldemir starts with a check to the preflop raiser, as he should with his entire range.
Holmes couldn’t go wrong on this flop — both c-betting and checking back are fine options. PioSolver likes playing a mixed strategy with KQo in this spot, betting 65% of the time and checking 35% of the time. That said, this specific combo (K♣ Q♠) prefers to check around 61% of the time.
Against the bet, Aldemir should almost always check-raise with his two pair. On this dynamic flop, he wants to build the pot with his monster hand as soon as possible and try to get stacks in by the river (barring a scary runout).
The decision by Holmes to call the check-raise may seem loose, but it’s actually solver-approved. Aldemir has a monster hand in this instance, but he could also have a semi-bluff (like 98o) or a top pair hand going for thin value (like JT).
Holmes only needs 25% equity (risking 13M to win 52.4M) to call this raise profitably, and he certainly has that versus a well-built check-raising range. Indeed, the solver opts to continue versus this check-raise virtually every time with KQ.
However, the solver assumes Holmes was checking back with KQo a good chunk of the time. If he always c-bets with it and then always calls the check-raise, he most likely is playing overly loose in this spot with KQo. But it certainly can’t be too bad to float versus an aggressive pro’s check-raise with two overcards.
Let’s see a turn.
The turn is the (T♥ 7♠ 2♥) K♠ with 52.4M in the pot.
Aldemir bets 36.5M. Holmes calls.
Aldemir continues with a 70% pot-sized barrel (a solver-approved bet size). This sets up stacks nicely for the river, on which he will have the option to shove for just a bit more than pot. He should expect to get called by worse quite often with so many potential draws and strong one pair hands in Holmes’ range.
Aldemir can also set the trap with a check on the turn (which PioSolver opts for 37% of the time). Should Aldemir check and face a bet, check-raising all-in would be his preferred play. Given the dynamic nature of the board, Holmes would be forced to call — in theory, at least — with strong one pair hands like KQ and AA.
Versus the turn bet, Holmes has a clear-as-day call with his newfound top pair.
The river is the (T♥ 7♠ 2♥ K♠) 9♣ with 125.4M in the pot.
Aldemir checks. Holmes goes all-in for 132.7M. Aldemir calls.
It’s far from the scariest river card in the deck, but the 9♣ does complete a number of draws (QJ, J♥ 8♥, J♠ 8♠, 8♥ 6♥, 8♠ 6♠).
Aldemir has a few options to consider.
- Bet all-in. This allows him to get max value from strong-but-inferior hands (like T2s) or bluff-catching hands (like JT) that Holmes may get sticky with.
- Block bet for ~25% pot. This may induce some crying calls from hands that would be unlikely to call a shove, such as 98 or Tx.
- Check. A cheeky check may induce some bluffs if Holmes has missed a draw, as well as some value bets from worse made hands.
Since he decided to check, it’s fairly safe to assume that Aldemir did not think Holmes would call down light here and/or he thought it was fairly likely Holmes would bet when checked to. Bet all-in and check are the solver-approved options here.
Faced with a check, Holmes has to decide whether or not his hand is worth a value bet. PioSolver opts to play a mixed strategy with KQo, betting all-in (for value) 29% of the time and checking 71% of the time. And Holmes’ specific combo of KQo likes betting, probably because it doesn’t block the missed flush draws.
But let’s put the solvers to the side for a moment and consider this spot using plain old logic.
Consider all of the worse made hands Aldemir could potentially have given his line:
Group #1: Flopped top pair that has not improved
Specific hands: QTs, QTo, JTs, JTo, T8s, ATo
Caveat: Aldemir won’t play these hands this way every time. He would likely just call on the flop or slow down on the turn at least some of the time. Additionally, he would likely 3-bet the suited versions of QT/JT preflop.
Group #2: Turned top pair that check-raised the flop as a bluff
Specific hands: K8o, K6s-K3s, missed flush draws that contain a K
Caveat: If he would indeed check-raise them on the flop, Aldemir may choose to block bet these hands on the river (as the solver does).
Group #3: Rivered third pair that check-raised the flop as a bluff and barreled the turn
Specific hands: J9o, 98o, 98s, 96s, missed flush draws that contain a 9
Caveat: It seems unlikely Aldemir would call with these hands against the river shove.
After reviewing this list, it becomes clear that Holmes’ shove will get called by worse quite infrequently. (The solver would call down with some hands from all three groups, which are tough/unlikely call downs for a human to make in-game.)
But if Koray had one of the Kx hands from group #2, there’s a solid chance Holmes would be your 2021 Main Event champion right now.
It’s hard to fault Holmes for going broke with top pair for 80 big blinds in a heads-up match. If this was a cash game hand, I would argue he played this hand perfectly. But given the gravity of this situation, he would have been better off checking.
Loads of credit to Holmes, though — this was a very impressive performance from a “home game hero” against a world-class pro.
What do you think of the way this hand played out?
Let me know in the comments below.
Want more tournament hand analysis? Check out Doug Polk Semi-Bluffs All-In With $3.7 Million at Stake (Analysis)…
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