I’ve got an interesting hand for you today, folks.
Three huge factors were at play in this one:
- A $25,000 buy-in online is just about as tough a game in which you could find yourself.
- Steve O’Dwyer is just about as tough an opponent with whom you could battle.
- Defending your big blind with a hand at the bottom of your continue range is just about as tough a situation as it gets in No Limit Hold’em.
Put those three things together, and you have a recipe for an incredibly tough spot.
Irish poker icon Dara O’Kearney faced off against high-stakes tournament pro Steve O’Dwyer in the Partypoker POWERFEST High Roller and was put in an excruciating spot by the river.
He broke down that hand in a strategy video on ‘The Chip Race’ podcast. Take a look at the video below, also featuring strategy guest Daiva Byrne, or read on for a written version.
Editor’s Note: This article is by Irish tournament pro and Unibet Poker ambassador David Lappin who is a great follow on Twitter. Alongside Irish poker legend Dara O’Kearney, David produces and hosts the GPI global poker award winning podcast ‘The Chip Race” sponsored by Unibet Poker. All episodes are available on Apple Music, SoundCloud and Stitcher.
Game: $25,000 Partypoker.com POWERFEST Highroller
Ante: 3000 BB Ante
Stage: Just before the end of late registration
Steve O’Dwyer – 100bb
Dara O’Kearney – 32bb
Steve O’Dwyer opens the Lojack to 2.2bb. Dara defends his big blind with 8♣ 4♣.
Dara’s defend in the big blind is standard, even facing a 2.2x open. He acknowledges, though, that had he known the opponent was Steve O’Dwyer, he would have only called with 85 suited or better. This is because he prefers to shave off his worst defends versus such a strong and accomplished player.
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The Pot: 5.9bb
The Flop: A♠ T♣ 8♥
The Action: Dara checks. Steve bets 2.7bb. Dara calls.
On a flop like this, life is not easy. Dara is going to have to call one bet (assuming the bet size isn’t very big) and fold on a lot of turns.
Our opponent has a range advantage, but we have far from whiffed. Dara highlights the importance of the backdoor flush draw, which adds a lot of potential playability down the streets.
In short, check-calling this street versus a small bet is simply mandatory, so when Steve fires out 2.7bb, Dara has an easy call. If he folded this hand, not only would he frequently be mucking the winner, he’d also be folding way too often versus Steve’s c-bet.
The Pot: 11.2bb
The Turn: (A♠ T♣ 8♥) 8♠
The Action: Dara checks. Steve checks behind.
This is a super interesting turn.
Dara has more 8x hands in his big blind defending range than Steve has in his Lojack open range. That said, Steve has more nuttish-type hands.
A PioSolver analysis reveals a preference for a mix of actions from Dara. When given the option between leading for 65% of pot, leading for 35% of pot, and checking, the solver likes to:
- Bet 65% of pot at a 25% frequency
- Check at a 75% frequency
If Dara decided to have a turn leading range, his hand is a decent candidate. That said, trips with a stronger kicker are usually preferred by the solver. Checking 100% is also a fine strategy, if you prefer to keep things simple.
When Steve checks back, his range is likely comprised of:
- Some give-ups
- Some marginal value-hands (weaker Ax, 10x and pocket pairs)
- AA and A8 combos that have a virtual lock on the hand and block many of the hands with which Dara would continue.
A hypothetical betting range could contain value hands that benefit from some protection (AK/AQ/98/78) mixed in with strong hands that don’t block the ace (TT/T8) and some semi-bluffs.
Editor’s Note from Mike Brady: If you want to learn all about the strategy of leading into the aggressor on turns and rivers, read my article This Poker “Cheat Code” Will Help You Win More Hands.
The Pot: 11.2bb
The River: (A♠ T♣ 8♥ 8♠) 7♦
Stack-to-Pot Ratio: 2.5:1
The Action: Dara bets 6.7bb (~60%). Steve shoves for 27.1bb effective. Dara tank-folds.
The river completes J9, one of the open-ended straight draws from the flop. Notably, Dara is more likely to have J9 since he would have defended preflop with J9s and J9o, whereas Steve would only have raised preflop from his position with the suited variety.
Figuring that Steve has a lot of value-hands that check back, Dara decides to bet himself to extract value from Ax. He chooses a 60% sizing, which Pio determines to be a minor error. It prefers to check 75% with this hand and, interestingly, it likes to overbet 1.2x pot 25% of the time.
The logic of checking is that we need to have a balanced and protected checking range, one which contains enough hands that can call a river bet. So, weaker 8x go into this checking range at a high frequency.
We also need a balanced range when we overbet. The range should contain enough value hands to go with the bluffs, and those bluffs need to bet big to make enough of Steve’s range indifferent. Hence, the 84 is sprinkled in as an overbet to beef up the value range.
When Steve shoves, he lays Dara a great price with his trips. But in truth the relative value of trips with a bad kicker facing a shove is hugely diminished. Dara replays the hand, determining Steve’s value range as AA, J9s and 77. He struggles to think of natural bluffs.
What about unnatural bluffs? In these spots, in the pursuit of equilibrium, PioSolver finds bluffs by mixing in a wide variety of hands, favoring small pairs and some Ax, each at a small percentage. Due to its complexity, this is probably the aspect of poker where solvers and humans diverge, and therefore the most bountiful area of exploitation, even against an elite player.
For that reason, even though Pio would find a call with Dara’s hand, I prefer his fold.
Dara folded his trips and Steve won the pot, later revealing to a Dara that he had A8.
Preflop is standard, even if the call is at the bottom of Dara’s range. The flop is a must call. There is scope for different options on the turn and while Dara’s river sizing is not deemed optimal, the EV loss of a 60% bet is negligible at equilibrium. This hand is really all about playing versus the river raise.
It’s impossible for a human player to calculate the optimal line on the river but the fact that PIO splits between mostly checks and some overbets reveals a lot about this type of spot.
By checking, we simplify things as we have a nice check-call candidate and I would advocate for that if the recommended overbet frequency was sub-10% (it’s good to have simplified implementable strategies). However, the recommended frequency is 25% so we should probably be randomizing.
As played, facing the shove, Dara should only call if he thinks that Steve is turning some 22-66 combos and some Ax hands into bluffs. If Steve is not doing that, then Dara needs to make the counter-exploitative fold.
Most players are not capable of finding bluffs here and against them I think Dara has a much easier fold. Versus Steve O’Dwyer, it’s not that easy.
What do you think of Dara’s play? If you were Steve, could you find enough bluffs on the river?
Let us know in the comments.
If you want more hand analysis from high stakes tournaments, read Top Pro Plays Pocket Queens Passively with $2.7 Million On the Line.
Thanks for reading!
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