The late Kenny Rogers famously sang:
You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em. Know when to walk away, and know when to run.
Today we are going to analyze a famous hand where the person in question (Mario Ho) didn’t know when to hold ’em. The hand sent shock waves around the poker world when it took place.
If you prefer watching to reading, Doug Polk analyzed the hand on his YouTube channel in an episode of Polker Hands (keep scrolling for a written recap and analysis):
Without further ado, let’s jump into the action.
The hand took place on Day 4 of the 2017 WSOP Europe Main Event. There were 21 players left, and everyone was already in the money.
As can be seen here, the payout structure was weighted heavily towards the final table:
Before getting into the hand, let’s take a look at the players’ stack sizes at the table (the players who reach the flop have been bolded):
95 big blinds – Rainer Kempe
78 big blinds – Zhang
65 big blinds – Niall Farrell
65 big blinds – Jonkers
58 big blinds – Maria Ho
53 big blinds – Kristen Bicknell
22 big blinds – Osinovski
14 big blinds – Langrock
Kempe raises to 2.1bb with 9♥ 9♣ from the Hijack. Bicknell calls with A♠ J♠ on the Button. Farrell 3-bets to 9.5bb with A♥ K♣ in the Small Blind. Maria Ho calls with T♣ T♦ in the Big Blind. Kempe calls, Bicknell calls.
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After a preflop open, a cold-call from the button, and a 3-bet from the Small Blind, Maria looks down at T♣ T♦.
This puts her in a tough position because while Pocket Tens is a premium hand, she is up against a few strong ranges. In particular, a reasonable 3-bet range from the Small Blind should consist of mostly very strong hands. Here is an example of what that range could look like:
As you can see from the chart above, the Small Blind 3-betting range is going to generally consist of value, with a few bluffs mixed in. Even the bluffs will have a lot of equity versus calling ranges from from the other players.
Compiling all this information together, I would suggest playing a 4-bet or fold strategy in Ho’s spot.
Playing a strategy of only raises and folds here has several advantages:
- It simplifies the post-flop decision tree
- It avoids awkward spots playing out of position vs multiple opponents*
- She is either going to make a certain amount of chips (if she 4bets all-in or a 0 amount of chips if she folds)
*When Maria cold calls preflop, it gives the preflop raiser and the button caller great odds to call, which does indeed happen.
By just calling, Maria opens herself up to being squeezed out of the pot should the original raiser or caller choose to go all-in.
If Maria was to 4-bet all-in and Farrell was to call, versus this range (minus the bluffs) above you can see from the equities below that she is a marginal underdog.
With all the dead money in the middle from the original raiser and the button call, this means it would be +EV. This is also discounting the times when Farrell folds and Maria picks up all the chips in the middle without having to see a flop.
Denying equity from Ax / KQ is also not the worst outcome for pocket tens.
So overall, I think going all-in is the best play here. Folding at some frequency is also an okay play.
Flop (39bb): J♥ T♥ 7♥
Farrel bets all-in 55.5bb. Ho folds. Kempe folds. Farrel folds.
Farrel wins 39bb.
After heading 4-ways to the flop, Maria flops a set on the monotone board. She should be thrilled. But things get interesting when Farrel decides to overbet all-in with his nut flush draw.
However, Maria still should have an easy decision. Even facing an overbet, there isn’t much we can say here other than that Maria just has to call.
Sure, Maria can be almost dead sometimes versus a hand like J♣ J♠. But that’s just a marginal part of Farrells range. His range consists of way more hands like all the QQ / KK / AA / AK / AQ with a heart.
If we run the hand with all of the above, we can clearly see that Maria has a SIGNIFICANT edge.
This is also not including hands like King-Queen with a heart!
The only time that this could conceivably become a fold is if there are extreme ICM implications as I have talked in previous articles.
But even if that was the case, then Maria should probably just fold preflop. ICM implications don’t really apply in this situation. The payout structure is pretty flat up until around 13th place, when they start to become more than 1 buy-in pay jumps.
All-in-all, Maria is bleeding money here by electing to fold her set.
In the wise words of Upswing Poker co-founder Doug Polk:
Sometimes it’s just your time to die in tournaments
This is a dream flop after cold calling preflop and it will significantly cost you money long term if you are folding sets on the flop versus an all-in.
Ready for more tournament poker analysis? Read $22 Becomes $100,061 in Unbelievably Huge Tournament (Hand Analysis).
What do you think of Maria’s fold? Let me know in the comments below.
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