Four-time World Poker Tour champion Darren Elias is a master of catching on to opponents’ tendencies and exploiting that information to the max.
Upswing Poker’s newest instructor put that ability on full display en route to winning one of his four WPT Main Event titles.
With a six-figure first prize on the line, Elias’ observations on his opponent’s bet sizing led to a huge decision that swung the tournament massively toward Elias’ favor.
The video above and text below includes Elias’ own analysis of three critical hands played at the final table of the WPT Caribbean Main Event. The information Elias picks up in the first two hands leads to an incredible call by the tournament crusher in the third hand:
The first of three hands Elias analyzes in this video comes during four-handed play at a WPT final table. Elias eventually ends up heads-up against Christopher Rosso for the tournament title, and picks up some critical information on Rosso during the following hand:
Stack sizes and positions of relevant players:
Mike Linster is seated in the Cutoff (489,000 chips)
Christopher Rosso is on the Button (2,189,000 chips)
Linster opens to 17,000 with , Rosso 3-bets to 40,000 with , Linster calls.
Linster could probably just fold the , even in this four-handed final table spot. He’s got the chip leader on his left and there’s a short stack in the Small Blind, so he should be tightening up his preflop ranges.
Rosso’s 3-bet with pocket aces, as well as his raise sizing, is good.
Note that Rosso falls into the category of loose-recreational player, one of five player categories defined by Elias and Nick Petrangelo in their upcoming Upswing Poker tournament course titled Road to Victory.
(Throughout the Road to Victory course, Darren talks about how he adjusts his strategy to counter each of the 5 different player types.)
Linster, having already made a marginal open, should definitely fold to the 3-bet. Linster calls, however, taking this WPT final table hand to the flop.
Linster checks, Rosso bets 100,000
Elias notes that Rosso uses a full-pot sized as a continuation bet in this 3-bet pot with his overpair on a draw-heavy flop. He’ll use this information about Rosso’s bet sizing choices later.
The two shorter stacks have busted and Elias is now playing heads-up against Rosso for the WPT title when this hand takes place.
Player stack sizes and positions:
Darren Elias is on the Button (679,000 chips)
Christopher Rosso is in the Big Blind (2,800,000 chips)
Elias opens to 32,000 with , Rosso calls with
Both players’ preflop actions are standard in this spot.
Rosso checks, Elias bets 33,000, and Rosso calls.
Another straightforward street of action. Elias has a hand worth value-betting and Rosso’s gutshot + queen-high is good enough to take a turn card versus Elias’ wide Button range.
Rosso leads out for 45,000, Elias calls.
Facing this lead from Rosso, Elias doesn’t have much of a decision with his top pair. Calling is by far the best play, especially against a loose-recreational player that might bluff in this spot with hands he shouldn’t use as bluffs.
Though Elias has a trivial call with his top pair, he kept a close eye on Rosso’s sizing choice here. Unlike in Hand #1 when Rosso potted the flop with his overpair, Rosso sized down to around 33% pot.
Rosso bets 60,000, Elias calls.
Elias has another easy call against this small bet size.
But crucially, this hand yields another data point on Rosso’s bet-sizing tendencies as the heads-up match plays on. As Elias notes:
One, we’ve seen him bet pot with a very good hand. Two, we’ve seen him bet 30% turn and 25% river with a bluff. As we’re putting together the pieces and watching more hands, we’re looking for things to corroborate that theory that we have that (Rosso) is basing his bet sizes on the strength of his hand, and not any kind of fundamental board texture or range calculation that he’s doing.
Later during heads-up play, the chip stacks are roughly even between the two players as the following hand plays out:
Player stack sizes and positions:
Christopher Rosso is on the SB/BTN (1,900,000 chips)
Darren Elias is in the BB (1,600,000 chips)
Rosso opens to 60,000 with , Elias calls with
The preflop action from both players in this hand is standard. Q7o is a certainly strong enough to raise on the Button. And A7o should always just call against a raise heads-up with deep stacks.
It’s worth noting that even if Elias had a borderline 3-bet hand, he should lean towards just calling because, as the stronger player of the two, he is incentivized to keep the pot small. This keeps the stack-to-pot ratio (SPR) high and forces the lesser-skilled player to make tough decisions postflop.
Elias checks, Rosso bets 75,000, and Elias calls.
Elias’ is too strong to fold just yet. While it’s certainly fine for Rosso to bet this flop, the bet size he used could indicate that Rosso isn’t that strong, based on the sizing tells he’s given off in previous hands. As Elias contends:
Important to me that it wasn’t a pot-sized bet, as I would expect (Rosso) to bet hands like top pair or better for an even bigger size. Although (60%-pot) is not a small bet, that gives us some immediate information on where he was at on the flop, given our prior knowledge of how he plays.
Elias checks, Rosso bets 100,000, and Elias calls.
If Rosso bet bigger, Elias certainly folds the turn here. Against Rosso’s 40%-pot bet, however, Elias’ A-high could still be good. If Rosso bets small again on the river, Elias could be compelled to make a hero call on the river with just the A-high.
Elias checks, Rosso bets 200,000, and Elias calls.
Against some opponents, Elias could consider check-raising as a bluff, as his hand blocks straight combos like 7-6 and 9-7. Rosso’s previous sizing tells, however, convinces Elias to think differently:
Against this 40%-pot bet, I’m really putting a lot of weight into the sizing choice, and what we’ve seen earlier in the tournament. And basing my decision off of that more than any kind of range or fundamental calculation in what he might have. I’m less concerned about his exact holdings, and more on the fact that he’s betting small, and I believe he has a weak hand.
Elias trusts his bet-sizing tell, makes the call, and wins a big pot on the way to winning a WPT title.
What do you think of Elias’ call with A-high?
Let us know in the comments below.
Darren Elias joins the Upswing Poker team as one of the most successful poker tournament players in the history of the game.
He holds the record for most World Poker Tour titles (four and counting), and has more than $11 million in live tournament earnings to his name. He’s also fresh off a $313,000 win against the world’s best players at the US Poker Open.
His next video (and accompanying article) comes out next week on this blog and the Upswing Poker YouTube channel.
If you missed Darren’s first two videos/articles, check them out here:
Elias has teamed up with fellow Upswing Coach and elite tournament pro Nick Petrangelo for an upcoming course, which is a must-watch for all serious tournament players.
The new course, titled The Road To Victory: The Ultimate Tournament Course, includes learning materials for players of all experience levels, with Elias and Petrangelo providing insights based on years of high-stakes play both live and online.
This course offers something different from the usual solver-heavy poker training materials, focusing more on exploits, the tournament journey from early stages to the final table, ICM, and maximizing profit against the real players at the table.