Should He Fold Pocket Aces At The Final Table? (Analysis)
Some poker players love to set traps.
Players who trap too often are pretty easy to play against, but so are those who never trap.
Like most things in poker, balance is the key. It’s also important to navigate cautiously when a trap doesn’t go exactly to plan.
In 2017, Irish poker pro Dara O’Kearney made the final table of the Killarney High Roller where he met his old nemesis Upeshka ‘Pesh’ De Silva — the man who had defeated him heads-up for a WSOP bracelet in 2015.
During 3-handed play, O’Kearney attempted to ensnare his old foe with a low-frequency move.
Game: Killarney Festival €2,000 Highroller
Format: No Limit Hold’em
Button Ante: 30,000
- Upeshka De Silva: 52.3bb
- Dara O’Kearney: 56.8bb
- Adam Daniel: 60bb
Daniel limps the Button. O’Kearney calls in the Small Blind with A♦ A♣. De Silva checks in the Big Blind.
This is a particularly interesting spot to look at because all 3 remaining players are fairly deep and have similar stack sizes ranging from 52bb-60bb.
While in practice it is likely better to simplify your strategy and just raise 100% of the time with Aces, O’Kearney takes this line for exploitative reasons as he views De Silva as an aggressive player. Plus, his hand is now well disguised, a factor that could win him chips on later streets.
The flop comes J♦️ 7♥️ 5♠️. The pot is 4bb.
While O’Kearney’s Pocket Aces are under-repped, he failed to significantly define his opponent’s range by checking.
He knows De Silva can’t have a strong preflop holding, but that’s about all he can surmise. It’s similarly difficult to put Daniel on a range as he could have a trap of his own. But more likely, he has the middling category of suited hands, connectors, and perhaps some weak Ace-X combinations.
Consequently, O’Kearney should proceed with caution, using his hand as a bluff-catcher. A nice way to balance a betting range on this board texture and in this situation, out-of-position versus two players, is to bet two pair or better hands for value and weaker draws as bluffs that don’t mind folding to aggression.
The turn comes the 9♦️, making the board (J♦️ 7♥️ 5♠️) 9♦️. The pot is 4bb.
O’Kearney bets 1.7bb. Both players call.
The 9♦️ completes the Ten-Eight and Six-Eight straights plus some two pairs, but it is reasonable to discount them slightly as those holdings might have bet on the flop. This card also makes the board very draw heavy.
O’Kearney decides to bet 1.7bb (42% of the pot) to charge the draws and one pair hands. His range is uncapped, so he shouldn’t expect to get raised very often. He is hoping to get heads-up versus one villain to simplify his decision on the river. Unfortunately for him, both players call which makes matters trickier.
The river comes the 5♣️, making the board (J♦️ 7♥️ 5♠️ 9♦️) 5♣️. The pot is 9bb.
O’Kearney bets 5bb. De Silva shoves for 49.7bb. Daniel folds. O’Kearney folds.
Both checking and betting seem like decent options. Ultimately, O’Kearney elects to bet, feeling like he can reasonably target Jx and 9x hands.
Importantly, O’Kearney still feels like his range is protected. Sure, he has a well-disguised overpair in this instance, but his limp preflop also means that his range is so wide that he is uncapped on this middling-paired board.
Facing De Silva’s large shove, O’Kearney’s hand shrivels up in relative value. Also, De Silva is shoving with Daniel lurking behind, which implies more strength.
One more point is the small amount of ICM at play. While this isn’t a particularly significant factor 3-ways with this payout structure, it does take a few hands off the bottom of your calling range.
O’Kearney reasons this out and makes a good fold.
De Silva wins a pot of 64bb and takes the lead 3-handed. Unfortunately, we have no way to know what he had.
O’Kearney set a trap that ultimately backfired. It’s easy to say that ‘players get what they deserve’ when they limp with strong hands like Aces. But it is a play that can be deployed at a low frequency for balance.
The line has lots of upside versus aggressive opponents and, when it works out, it can result in a windfall. It is also a line that is fraught with danger so the important thing is to navigate the hand correctly from that point onward.
In other words, it is vital to know when to bail on a plan gone wrong.
What do you think De Silva went all-in with on the river?
Let me know in the comments.
If you want more tournament hand analysis, check out Should He Call All-In With Ace-High in a $250,000 Tournament? (Analysis).
This article (based on this video) 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.