Could you make a sick call with bottom pair with 3 players left in a big tournament?
It takes guts, the lack of a certain type of fear, and a level of confidence that is often the result of years of experience playing at a high level.
Patrik Antonius is no doubt a player with those traits.
With an $825,000 first prize on the line, he went up against Bulgaria’s Fahredin Mustafov in the following hand.
Series: 2022 Triton Poker Cyprus
Event: $25,000 High Roller
- 1st Place – $825,000
- 2nd Place – $557,000
- 3rd Place – $362,000
- Fahredin Mustafov: 34.75bb
- Patrik Antonius: 16bb
- Steve O’Dwyer: 13.25bb
Mustafov raises from Button to 2bb with T♥ 8♣. O’Dwyer folds Q♠ 8♥ from the Small Blind. Antonius calls from the Big Blind with J♥ 2♥.
Mustafov can play a pretty wide range of hands in this spot because he’s the big stack on the Button in a high ICM pressure situation. While I don’t think O’Dwyer or Antonius will be playing “scared”, they should be a bit more risk-averse against this raise given how valuable survival is at this point. Ten-Eight offsuit is simply good enough to risk those 2 blinds.
After O’Dwyer’s easy fold, Antonius has an easy call with Jack-Two suited. He’s getting a phenomenal price (4.5 to 1) with a suited hand that has a face card in it. Sometimes it really is that simple.
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The flop comes 7♥ 6♣ 2♣. The pot is 5.5b.
Antonius (J♥ 2♥) checks. Mustafov (T♥ 8♣) bets 1.75bb. Antonius calls.
Antonius starts with what is essentially a procedural check to the raiser. Not much to say about that.
Mustafov goes for a bet with his gutshot, two overs, and 8♣. Semi-bluffing with this many outs is a good play, though checking back to avoid having to fold to a potential all-in is reasonable as well.
Upswing coach Gary Blackwood ran this hand for me in a solver, and it prefers to bet around half the time with Ten-Eight offsuit here, which indicates the two options are quite close in value. One notable observation is that having a club pushes the solver more towards betting.
Antonius chooses to just call with his bottom pair and a flush draw. Calling strikes me as the standard play here, but a (perhaps unintuitive) small check-raise would be an alternative option with similar expected value.
Check-raising has the benefit of denying equity when Mustafov folds a hand that totally missed like Q♦ 5♦. Plus, he’ll actually get value from a few hands (like Ace-high). The solver does prefer just calling with the J♥ 2♥, specifically, because it would be quite a shame to raise and face a shove with the backdoor flush draw. The solver does like raising the other J2s combos some of the time, though.
The turn comes Q♥, making the board (7♥ 6♣ 2♣) Q♥. The pot is 9bb.
Antonius (J♥ 2♥) checks. Mustafov (T♥ 8♣) bets 3.5bb. Antonius calls.
Antonius makes another procedural check to the aggressor.
Mustafov has a great hand to continue betting on the turn. The vast majority of his range should be double barreling — the solver has a 95% bet frequency (pictured below) — and T8o bets every single time.
Mustafov can bet so frequently, here, because of his range and nut advantage. In simple terms, he is much more likely to have a strong hand than Patrik at this point.
With a newfound flush draw to go with his pair, Patrik once again makes the best decision by calling. He should check-raise all-in with some draws in this spot, but that’s a more appropriate play with a hand that doesn’t have showdown value (like 9♥ 8♥). His specific hand should just be called, and indeed the solver chooses that action every time with J♥ 2♥.
The rivers comes A♦, making the board (7♥ 6♣ 2♣ Q♥) A♦. The pot is 16bb.
Antonius (J♥ 2♥) checks. Mustafov (T♥ 8♣) bets all-in for 8.75bb effective. Antonius calls.
Results: Antonius wins 33.5bb with a pair of twos.
All draws miss on the A♦ river, but it’s obviously not a total brick because now some A-x hands have made top pair.
Once checked to, Mustafov has a nice hand with which to go all-in. He has no showdown value and a fairly strong range with lots of value hands — the solver actually likes going for value with any strong 7-x or better (J7s, 88, QJ, etc). He needs to balance those value hands with a good number of bluffs, including every combo of T8o.
Here’s a visual representation of how the solver plays Mustafov’s range on the river — the thinnest value bets are in blue boxes, which is something I’ll reference in a moment:
Patrik’s hand might look like a clear fold, but it’s actually closer than it looks. First of all, he’s getting a great price (nearly 2 to 1), which means he only needs to win a bit more than 33% of the time for this call to break even.
The solver likes calling J♥ 2♥, specifically, a small fraction of the time because the EV of calling is close to the EV of folding, but the other J2s combos fold every time.
Now, I want to take us away from solver land for a moment and think of this spot from an exploitative standpoint.
Let’s consider those thin value hands (blue boxes) with which the solver shoves on the river in Mustafov’s spot.
Is he really shoving with 97/T7/J7, trying to get called by a weaker pair? I have serious doubts about those.
What about the stronger 7-x hands, like Q7 and K7? Those ones seem a bit more likely, but I’m still not sure.
Do you think he’d shove with the flopped overpairs (88-JJ) that are now third pair? This is where it starts to get more realistic, in my opinion, but it’s still not a no-brainer shove for value. I could certainly see some players checking with these hands.
Finally, what about the Q-x hands that turned top pair, now second pair? Patrik should almost never have an Ace, here, given the preflop action, so I do think Q-x has a fairly easy shove. But, again, I could see some players opting to go for the check.
If you remove these hands from Mustafov’s shoving range while keeping in all of the same bluffs, Patrik’s hand becomes more of a call. So that low frequency call with J♥ 2♥ becomes a mid or even high frequency call, depending on exactly how many value hands you don’t give Mustafov credit for.
I think that’s a strong argument that, for exploitative reasons, Patrik’s hand is a better call than it may look at first.
Plus, this is Patrik Antonius we’re talking about. The guy is an absolute savage who stares into his opponents’ souls. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had some sort of read that pushed him to put in the chips.
What Do You Think of Antonius’ Call? What About Mustafov’s Bluff?
Let me know in the comments below.
If you want more hand analysis, this time from Super High Roller Nick Petrangelo, check out his amazing break down of a sick hand played by Doug Polk.
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