I’ve been playing live poker tournaments for about 9 years, and I’ve written down countless interesting hands along the way.
Hands from 2009 to 2011 — when big events were unbelievably soft — tend to be the most interesting. In this article series, we’ll take a close look at few of these hands so we can see how strategy and poker analysis has changed over the past decade.
After all, back in the day we didn’t have the knowledge, software and other tools that we have now. Game theory-oriented thinking barely existed. Bet sizings were all over the place.
So, while these hands should make for entertaining reading, my aim is also to find an educational aspect about each one of them.
Of course, with the knowledge and tools we have now it’ll be easy to point out mistakes made then. But it will be interesting to think about those mistakes in a historical context.
This is the first article in a 2-part tournament hand review series. Keep an eye out for part 2 on Wednesday, September 13th.
€8,300 EPT Event: When to shove with a huge draw
Tournament back story
I was just starting my live tournament career. I had only played cash games online, and lacked crucial experience about short-stacked play.
Forever the degenerate, I naturally chose to register for an €8,300 buy-in EPT event, despite having only a couple of international tournaments under my belt.
Somehow, I managed to make the money and stay afloat for quite a while with a short-stack. With just 45 players left I was guaranteed a €18,000 payday, but my eyes were on the €850,000 top prize.
Unfortunately, my dream of winning was shattered in a very interesting hand against Carter Phillips, the eventual winner of the tournament.
Phillips has over 600,000 chips and is the tournament chip leader. So far, he has opened virtually every single hand. I start this hand with 145,000 chips.
€8,300 EPT Event. Blinds 3,000/6,000 with a 1,000-chip ante. 145,000 Effective Stacks.
Flop (41,000): A♦ K♦ 6♥
Hero checks. Carter bets 16,000. Hero calls.
Let’s begin with aspects of this hand that will be unclear to anyone who was not playing live tournaments in 2009.
Hero is in the big blind with Q♦ J♦
Phillips raises to 15,000 from EP. folds to bb. Hero calls.
The first thing to note is that Carter’s 2.5bb open size was completely standard for the time. By contrast, in today’s games it would be standard to raise smaller (even just a min-raise would be fine, although I’d prefer to make it 2.2bb or so), since our EP open range is supposed to be strong.
Additionally, fewer players considered opening ranges in 2009. With a chip-lead as massive as Carter’s – the tournament average was around 200,000 – it was not unusual to open 50 percent from any position until somebody dared to play back. This point is crucial to understand, otherwise some of the assumptions I’ll be making below are going to sound crazy.
(If you don’t believe me, feel free to scroll down now and see what Carter had in this hand.)
The last thing to note is that flatting the big blind was uncommon in 2009. I remember posting this hand in the TwoPlusTwo High Stakes MTT forums, where some of the best MTT players in the world posted regularly. Several posters responded that I should have just folded pre-flop—seriously!
With those preliminary points in mind, let’s discuss the hand
I can’t think of many hands that are more logical to flat with pre-flop than our precise holding, and it should be obvious that flatting is both standard and profitable.
That said, I like to check how many chips a shove would make any time I have a re-shove stack, even if it seems like a no-brainer call. Back in 2009, figuring this out would’ve required some serious work, but now it takes just a minute:
As you can see, I gave Carter a 46.3% opening range. If that sounds batshit crazy, well… that’s because it is. However, his actual holding is essentially the nut bottom of this range, and based on what I’d seen from him, I thought he was probably opening at least 46 percent.
I also gave him a realistic but slightly loose calling range of 77+, AJs+, AQo+. Remember, my shove would be for 24 big blinds against an early position open; I find it really unlikely that he’d call with worse.
Given that he’s opening with 46.3% and calling only with top 6.3% of hands, we can profitably shove with any two cards.
I recommend doing these calculations routinely, and learning to recognize that you can often shove very wide from the big blind against a loose opener. With no players left to act, it’s rare that a player will call a big shove with anything outside of the top 10% of hands.
When a player opens 50% of the time and folds to a shove at least 80% of the time, it’s very easy to find profitable shoves you didn’t know existed. Not to mention the ~30% equity your hand will have when called.
Should I have shoved with my Q♦ J♦, then?
That’s a tough question to answer. As you can see, shoving would net over 4 big blinds, which is rarely an edge worth passing up.
But it’s interesting to see that QJs doesn’t make much more than a hand as weak as J2o. That’s because virtually all the value in the shove comes from our opponent folding the majority of his hands.
Yet, I don’t think we should shove 100% of hands, and when we start putting certain hands into the flatting category, hands like QJs and JTs are obvious candidates.
Assuming that we have a strong read on his absurd opening range—which I had at the time—I think we should always shove a hand like A-2o, which has a relevant blocker, plays relatively poorly post-flop, and makes nearly the same amount of big blinds. I don’t know where exactly to draw the line between calling and shoving hands, however, since the spot is so incredibly crazy, and since it just doesn’t occur often.
We generally want to shove blocker hands that don’t flop well and flat with suited connector type hands that are easy to play post-flop. We also want to flat with a bunch of other hands for board coverage and for leeway in case an opponent is not opening quite as wide as you think.
In short, shoving here would be fine, and boy does the results-oriented side of me wish that I had done so. Shoving would’ve been especially good in 2009, when ranges were seldom considered, and everyone more or less just played their current holding.
In 2017, we need to play a sophisticated strategy that’s split between shoving and calling (and maybe folding some hands too; although we probably shouldn’t fold anything in this case since shoving a hand as bad as 72o still nets nearly three big blinds), and here it makes sense to flat.
Let’s move onto the flop
Flop (41,000): A♦ K♦ 6♥
Hero checks. Carter bets 16,000. Hero calls.
After we check the flop, Carter will likely c-bet with most of his range. Consequently, check-shoving is a very profitable play, since we’ll very often win the pot right then and there, and we still have 34% equity when we run into the top of his range. However, it may not be the best possible play for a few reasons:
- We already beat all of Carter’s bluffs
- Carter will likely over-bluff the turn, allowing us to extract an extra bet out of him before going all-in then
- It’s tough to form a strategy that includes a lot of check-raising when our range is capped — like it is on this flop
(Admittedly #3 was not in my mind back in 2009 — I didn’t consider game theory or my overall strategy back then — but the first two were.)
I remember arguing endlessly about this hand with friends, and being told I should’ve just gone all-in on the flop. I disagreed then, and still do.
Luckily, we now have resources like Piosolver, which can tell us what’s correct according to game theory.
I gave Carter the same opening range from the pre-flop simulation above. I gave myself a flatting range that is in line with what I would have flatted back then. (You can see from the range I gave myself that I would’ve missed out on some slam-dunk pre-flop shoves.)
I only gave Carter one c-bet size (the one he used, which is a bit big for 2017), plus the option to check. When Carter c-bets, Pio only wants to check-raise with a select few hands—QdJd isn’t one of them. It’s noteworthy that our hand is a 59% favorite against Carter’s assumed c-betting range, since it’s absolutely crushing all his hands that haven’t hit the flop. Most of those hands are expected to barrel the turn, so we can basically trap with queen high and almost certainly get more value from bluffs if we make our hand.
Once we get to the turn, I don’t think we have much of a decision left
Turn (73,000): 7♣
Hero checks. Carter bets 32,000. Hero raises to 113,000 all-in.
One could argue that since queen-high is still sometimes the best hand, we can just call. (This is what Piosolver advocates, but the simulation gets moot after the flop, since Pio is assuming that Carter won’t be barreling with the hand that he had.)
However, the board is draw-heavy, we have a ton of equity, and we have just over a pot-sized bet behind. If we believe Carter folds to a shove a reasonable amount of the time, we need to go for it.
Moreover, the pot is already big enough, and I have no idea what I’d do against a river bet on anything but a ten or diamond, especially against someone as spazzy as Carter. Perhaps I’ll revisit this hand 8 years from now and find out that I should’ve just called again using Piosolver 9.0, but for now I’m very happy with the way I played it.
Carter tanked for a while and eventually called with K-3o. I bricked the river, and busted in 45th place while he went on to win the tournament.
Back in the day, I remember feeling crushed and thinking that Carter had completely owned me. Bet-calling with just second pair on the turn and being right—it doesn’t get much better than that.
Now, I think about the hand differently, and I see that Carter played every street very poorly: he opened too wide from early position, made a questionable c-bet on the flop, and an absurd bet/call on the turn.
But such is the beauty of poker. You can do crazy, even stupid things sometimes and still end up with all the money.
How would you have played this hand?
Let me know in the comments below!
Read more from Miikka on UpswingPoker:
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- Learn Miikka’s strategy for How To Open-Raise in MTTs So The Big Blind Doesn’t Crush Your Soul