Inside the WSOP Main Event | Upswing Poker Level-Up #17
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This article is based on an episode of the Level-Up Podcast, hosted by poker pro and coach Gary “GazzyB” Blackwood and Upswing VP Mike Brady. You can watch or listen to the entire episode via the links above or read on if you prefer a written version.
Mike: Hello again, poker players! Let’s level up your game. My name is Mike Brady and as usual I’m joined by Scottish poker pro Gary Blackwood.
Gary: What’s up guys and girls? Welcome back to the podcast, it’s been a minute. We’ve been at the World Series of Poker, grinding away all summer. I am just back. On that note we’re going to keep it in line with the World Series of Poker. Mike and I are going to discuss some hands from our respective Main Events.
Mike: We’re kicking off season 3 with something a little different. Gary and I both played the Main Event a couple of weeks ago and in this episode we’ll be sharing and discussing the most interesting hands we played.
So, let’s jump right into it. It was a fairly quick Main Event for me this year, but I did manage to play one noteworthy hand on Day 1. Gary had a much longer run, so we’ll have more of his hands to discuss. But let’s get right into mine.
Day 1: Mike’s Risks It All On Day 1
My opponent in this hand is a former cop from the Bronx. He has been insanely irritated all day. He’s been getting phone calls from a family member or something, and he was quite rude about them calling him during the tournament. He was also really upset about how card dead he was. There was even one instance where he folded under the gun, face up in disgust.
We’re on level three or four, big blind is 500. I raise off of a 35K stack (about 70 big blinds) with offsuit. Bronx cop calls on the BTN, he started the hand with about 30,000 (60 big blinds). Both blinds call.
The flop comes rainbow. Both blinds check. I decide to check my hand, could go either way there. The Bronx cop puts in a small bet, 2,000 into a 6,500 pot. It folds to me, I just call. Pretty clear play on the flop, right Gary?
Gary: I don’t mind a raise there. Given that he is pretty card dead, he might be the kind of guy that’s going to get bored and peel A7-offsuit, so you might have him dominated. Our hand is not as strong as it might initially seem, especially OOP. Lots of straight-completing turn cards. And we want to keep our opponent’s range nice and wide, so I don’t mind a call here.
Mike: I didn’t really consider a raise too much in the moment. I figured he’s betting small, I kind of have him ranged on a weak ace, or maybe a jack. He was still betting into three players, so I’m not going to go too crazy check-raising against him. I also have kind of a read that he’s going to make some tight folds potentially, which will come up in a moment.
Speaking of straight-completing turns, the turn is a 9 (the board is now A-J-8-9). I check, he checks back pretty quickly. And this is the kind of guy where I’m going to take timing tells into account. The fact that he checked back so quickly locks in my read that he has a hand like , , maybe a weak ace.
River is a king, so the final board is . Pot is about 9,000, so I decide to go for a block bet, trying to target those weak Ax-type hands, or a jack. I go about 2,000, and he does something that’s really hard to describe. If you’re listening or reading the written version of this podcast, you’re not going to get the full effect here. But if you’re watching on YouTube you will.
He’s staring me down after I block bet the river. He has six chips in his hand, it’s six 1,000 chips. And while he’s playing with these six chips, he pushes them forward about 1-1/2 inches, separates them into two stacks of three, and then continues to stare me down.
It wasn’t clear if this was even a raise, because it was so inched forward. But because he’s staring me down, he clearly meant to raise, so I wasn’t going to ask the dealer if that’s a raise.
So he does raise to 6,000. My read is pretty locked in at this point, and I think he has two pair of some kind. Most likely something like KJ. So I think there’s only one move that I can really make Gary. What do you think I’m going to do?
Gary: One of my favorite things all summer was analyzing the behavior of non-pro players. In my experience, when amateur players are staring at you, that’s generally quite weak, he’s not going to be super nutted. If he does have a hand like two pair, he’s going to feel compelled to raise vs. the small bet. But our hand is a very nice candidate, because we’re not blocking any of the hands that we’re trying to make fold.
One question Mike – do you think this is the kind of player that would flat AK preflop? If so, he can have AK, and he’s less likely to fold that than KJ.
Mike: It’s hard to say, sample was just really too small. I think he’s going to find a 3-bet with AK. Even if he doesn’t, I have an ace and there’s an ace on the board. So I think AK is a relatively small part of his range, even if he does flat it preflop.
So the clear play here — I jam all in for about 5x the size of his raise. He has to call about 25,000 more.
He quickly folds, and asks me what I think he had there. I looked him straight in the eye and said king-jack. He said it was something like that.
Then, for the rest of the day, he was talking about how good his reads have been all day. He can’t believe he’s losing in this game, despite his incredible reads. And you know what hand he kept citing? His fold with two pair against me, because I just had to have him beat there right? But I did not.
Despite this successful bluff, I wasn’t able to find the day 2 bag. But Gary’s run was much more eventful, so let’s get into your hands.
Gary: One last thing on your hand; people might think that you have top pair, it’s too strong to bluff there, to 3-bet shove. But if we really think about it, I don’t think you’d block bet a hand like KQ or A4 on the river for example. So I really think we’re limited to our bet/3-bet hands, and I think AQ is one of the best ones. We don’t block any of the two pairs we’re trying to make fold, we have a nice QT blocker. So I think that’s a solid bluff. I’m very impressed with your hand combo-choosing skills there.
Day 1: Gary’s River Decision
Gary: Onto some of the hands that I played. I busted early in Day 4. Lots of fun hands here.
On the very first level of the tournament, I open UTG1 for 500 with , UTG2 calls, HJ calls, and a non-pro player from the UK squeezes to 2,500.
We’re 300 big blind deep here Mike. What are we doing here? Are we 4-betting? Calling? Folding?
Mike: I think I’m just calling. I wouldn’t be surprised if a 4-bet gets in there a little bit. Do we really want to play a 4-bet pot OOP in this spot against a guy you don’t know much about? This could be a very strong squeeze for all we know. Do we want to 4-bet OOP 300 big blinds deep in the WSOP Main when calling is a solid option? I would say maybe not.
Gary: I call, and HJ calls. The flop is 8-5-5 with two diamonds. I check, HJ checks, and my opponent bets. He bets about 4,000 into an 8,000 pot. Are we raising immediately with the flush draw out there?
Mike: I think I do find the raise here. I think he’s always going to call this check-raise with kings, queens, jacks. Then he’s almost always going to call the turn if it’s safe. So while, by check-raising, you are going to bust Level 1 of the Main Event sometimes, I think there’s so much value to be had that I’d be putting in the check-raise. That said, of course check-calling has a lot of merit too. It really does suck to check-raise and have the turn come a diamond, especially the or , where his overpairs connect a little bit and make a boat as well.
Gary: I think you’re being very, very nice to me here. I think this is a very clear check-raise. As you alluded, nobody wants to bust on Day 1 of the Main Event. But I do think I should check-raise, to something like 11,000.
The turn comes the . I check, my opponent checks back. The river is another , so we make a weird full house, bottom boat here on 8-5-5-T-T.
What your play on the river here?
Mike: This is an interesting spot. I don’t go for check-raise here. I don’t think our check induces too many bets on the river here, from both bluffs and value. So it comes down to how much do we want to bet.
It’s a weird one, everything got there from the flop. You don’t really have many intuitive bluffs. I guess you could have 76 suited or an hand.
In this spot I think I’m going for kind of a middling size, just to get that crying call from overpairs. Maybe go 2/3-pot?
Gary: My thought process is that it’s very unlikely that my opponent bluffs. If he’s not going to bluff the turn, it’s very unlikely that he’s going to bluff on the river for example.
I feel like my opponent’s range is inelastic here. Anything that will call 1/3-pot will call 70%-pot. I’m targeting the overpairs, maybe the pocket nines.
So I went with the 70% size, and he folded relatively quickly. So it does look like he had a hand like AK, KQ, something like that.
Day 2: Gary Drills The Nuts
Gary: So I ended up bagging 186K in Day 1. Really a very smooth day. No all-ins, no crazy hands, just chipped up very nicely versus amateurs all day.
A very interesting hand to start us off here on Day 2. I’m in the HJ, I have red JT offsuit. We’re in Level 6 (400/800). I have a very deep stack, my opponent in this hand does not. He’s one of the shorter stacks at the table.
He’s what I like to call a true recreational player. A lot of non-pros these days have a very good idea of what they’re doing. But this guy is a pure non-pro, and I mean that in the nicest way possible.
So I open the red JT offsuit in the HJ, and he calls in the BB. The flop comes Q-9-2 with two spades. He snap leads 6K into 4,800. All the while looking me dead in the eye.
It’s important to note his stack size here. He started the hand with about 26K, so after leading the flop he only has about 20K behind.
So Mike, what’s your play here?
Mike: So two hands earlier we were talking about how that recreational player staring you down is often a sign of weakness. I will say, putting myself in the perspective of this opponent, this is Day 2 of the Main Event. It’s a big spot, he came into the day with not that many chips. And early on, he’s now in a situation that’s going to very likely put his tournament life at risk.
So his staring you down in this spot, it might not be a sign of weakness. This could be him saying this is it, this is going to be my all-in spot in the Main. Let’s see what this Scottish pro is going to do right now. Let’s see if he’s going to put me to the test.
I definitely think this could be a hand like a Q that’s always calling off vs. a shove. I don’t think I’m folding here, especially with that read. I think we’ll often stack him if we hit.
Gary: I think maybe just fold. If he has a flush draw we only have six clean outs. It’s a big bet, and we’re not going to win that much more money if we get there.
On the other hand we are in position. If he’s taking a stab with a random hand like KT, and then the turn comes a 4 and he checks, I can just put him all in. So there’s pros and cons.
So we do make the call. The turn is a glorious red K. He instantly bets 14K into 16K, with about 6K behind. How long do you take before you put this sweet old man all in for his last 6K?
Mike: Probably 10 seconds or so.
Gary: I thought he’s never folding in a million years, so I took about five seconds. And he snap folded! We had a fun moment about 30 minutes later when he told me he had two pair. There’s no way he actually had two pair.
Day 2: To Bluff or Not To Bluff
Gary: Spoiler alert, I don’t think I played this next hand as well as I could.
I open to 3K from UTG1 on Level 9 (BB is 1500 so this is a min-raise). I have , with 200K chips to start the hand. I’m at a relatively soft table, not very much 3-betting going on at all.
UTG2, a very tight player, puts in the 3-bet, making it 8500 to go. He has about 120K at this point. The CO, an American pro, cold calls off of about a 90K stack. Pretty clear call here getting that price?
Mike: From what I’ve seen with preflop ranges in general, whenever you have these mixed-frequency opens, like low pocket pairs or suited connectors, they don’t always raise first in, but when they do they always peel against a 3-bet.
Gary: Flop comes down Q-9-4 with two spades. We have so we have the flush draw and a backdoor straight draw. I think UTG2 is going to play very face-up in this spot. He looks devastated as he checks. I’m very clearly putting him on AK here.
The CO, who cold-called the 3-bet, bets 9K here, so a little under 1/3-pot. It folds back to me. I think we can really define the CO’s range to JJ, TT. I don’t think raising here is going to be great, because there’s a flush draw out there. I’d much rather raise with a hand like , hoping that he has .
I go ahead and make the call here, and UTG2 folds.
The turn is an offsuit K, I check and my opponent checks back. The river is an offsuit 5, and I decided not to go for the bluff. I know this is very weak and very passive. In hindsight this is just not good enough, this a very clear bluff jam spot. The guy clearly has JJ, TT, or maybe AQ. He’s just not calling a 2x pot jam with third pair here on Day 2 of the Main Event.
Mike: Exactly. If this was a different tournament I might think if you find this jam he may logically figure out that he has a good candidate to call, and make the call. But this is the Main Event. Most of the time people don’t stick to their guns in spots like that.
If I was value betting here, I would not shove, because I don’t think he’s going to call. So I do think you missed out on this 48K pot.
Day 3: Flopping Trips and Getting Check-Raised
Gary: Moving onto Day 3 now. I think I bagged around 230K at the end of Day 2. Day 3 begins with the big blind at 3000. This hand is a very fun one on Level 12 of the Main Event.
MP opens, I call in the CO with . I’m mainly 3-betting this hand, because you fold out hands like QJ offsuit, KQ offsuit, AT offsuit. But calling sometimes is fine. The BB has to come in with hands that you dominate. In this hand the BB comes along as well.
We go three ways to the flop, and it’s Q-Q-2 rainbow. I’ve flopped three of a kind. MP c-bets into two people here for 5500, into a 20,000 pot.
I don’t think my hand wants to raise very often here at all. If we do raise, we can use hands like AQ and 22 here. QT is sometimes dominated preflop so I decide to just call.
The the BB check-raises to 20k. MP calls, and I call. Very standard so far Mike?
Mike: I think I play it the same. With the T kicker I don’t think I’m doing much raising. Once the BB raises, I’m honestly not that happy about the hand. I’m not folding, but I already think there’s a solid chance that we’re beat.
Gary: When the BB raised, I was kind of loving life, because they have hands like Q6, Q7, Q8, and Q9 of the suited variety. But then when it goes raise-call I’m not loving it. MP has AQ, KQ-type hands.
We can still be beating a random bluff or a dominated Qx hand from the BB, and a hand like AA or KK from MP. So we can certainly still be ahead.
The turn is an offsuit 4. Full rainbow board now (Q-Q-2-4) and it checks to me. What’s your play Mike?
Mike: I think there are two options here: check back, or bet very small. Trying to eke out some value versus hands like AA or KK, or a worse Q. Then again if I do that, I’m probably checking the river if I’m called on the turn. If it checks around on the turn, then checks to me on the river, I can put in a bigger bet, because I’m more confident.
Gary: Yeah I think there’s merit to both. When it checks to me, I feel like we have the best hand, not always but not never. But given the action on the flop, is AA or KK putting any more money in the pot? Probably not. And I have no bluffs in this spot, my betting range is Qx and above. So I think checking is the best option.
The river is an offsuit 6, so it runs out Q-Q-2-4-6. The BB bets 50K into 90K, off of about a 100K stack. MP calls. What are you doing Mike?
Mike: This is just brutal. It’s one of those spots where I would think I can’t believe I’m this spot in the Main. I think we can find a fold. We’re getting a pretty good price where we basically need to be good here 20% of the time. I don’t think we are though. I think the BB is going to have a better Q sometimes, and occasionally a full house.
It’s hard to imagine how you could be good. BB would have to have something like Q7, and be finding a weird bet. And then MP would have to be calling with like AA. Both of those are dubious propositions, and then needing both of them to be true makes it a fold. As it played out we might have gotten lucky here, we might have lost the minimum.
Gary: So I took about 90 seconds, sort of milked it for all the attention I could get. Flashed my cards to the BB as I folded. I was in precisely last place. MP has 22, and the BB had QJ offsuit.
Day 3: Getting Close To The Money
Gary: This leads us to our final hand of Day 3, on Level 14. About 1,800 players left at this point, 1,500 get paid. So everyone is mindful of the money.
The big blind is 5K at this point. The BTN (a solid American reg) opens to 12K off of a 115K stack, I call in the BB with J8 offsuit. The flop comes J-8-7 rainbow, I check, and the BTN bets 15K into 32K. I’m a little surprised to see a c-bet this big at this shallow stack depth. I have about 250K at this point. What’s your play?
Mike: So you have lime 50 bigs, and as far as the bubble dynamic here, you could run a bluff, be unsuccessful, and still have quite a good stack that has a good chance of making the money.
With his sizing, I think I lean toward just calling. I think he’s going to do some betting on a blank turn with this bigger size on the flop.
Gary: I think I agree with that, and I decided to just call. The turn is a J (J-8-7-J board), so we turn the nuts at this point in the hand. I check and he decides to check back.
The river is a 5 (J-8-7-J-5 board). There’s 62K in the pot, and he has 95K at this point. If we jam, he’s more likely to fold hands like 99, AA, A8. So I decided I would shove all of my bluffs at this point to fold out those overpairs.
For value, I chose a very exploitative 73K into a pot of 62K. So if he calls, he still has some big blinds to work with.
Mike: I can’t fault you for it, but with that said, against a regular, in a clear ICM spot with the bubble, I think it’s too obvious potentially, and I would be nervous about making this exploitative split, and going bigger with the bluffs and smaller with the value.
I would be tempted to just shove. Because against a regular, they’re not going to put so much value into the six big blinds that they’re going to save.
Gary: I think that’s very fair. A reg might pick up on you trying to use this exploitative size. What do you think about taking a little bit off of the exploitative size, leaving him with 7-8 big blinds as opposed to 3-4?
Mike: For me, the inflection point here is pot. I think potting it is quite good. It leaves him with a few big blinds, and it’s also a size he can’t read into.
Gary: I think that’s completely reasonable. I think maybe pot is the way to go.
So I bet 73K into 62K, and he made a very painful call. And unfortunately for him exits the tournament about 30 minutes later.
Day 4: Reluctant Fold on the River
Gary: Into Day 4; the money bubble burst early in the day. I’m at a relatively soft table, and in this hand we’re about 35 big blinds effective (the big blind is 8K).
The HJ (an unknown American who seems like a pro) opens to 18K, I flat in the SB with . I think we either shove or call here; I don’t think 3-betting non all-in makes too much sense. The BB calls as well.
The flop comes down 8-7-5 with two diamonds. Do you think we get to lead here Mike?
Mike: In theory I think we probably do. With that said, I haven’t studied the lead too much. So I wouldn’t be super confident to do it unless I had an exploitative reason on top of it. So I’m checking, but I’d be surprised if we looked up this spot and there are no leads from the SB in this spot.
Gary: So I didn’t lead, because our calling range in the SB is really condensed into hands that connect well with this board. Hands like 77, 88, 99. But the BB is in there. He has all the flopped straights, all the two pairs. He has much more of a nut advantage, which sort of deterred me from leading.
So I check, and the BB decides to lead. He bets 20K into 62K. HJ folds, and I decide to just call. I’m more inclined to check-raise with a combo draw like , or a hand like or . But I decided to just call. It really sucks if we end up getting it in here with a hand like for example.
So I check-call, and the turn is the (board is 8-7-5-J with two diamonds and two spades). I check again, and my opponent bets for 65K. I have 245K behind at this point. Do you think we ever get to check-jam this spot?
Mike: I don’t think so. I feel like we have one of those hands that when we jam, our J is not going to be good when we get called. So we just call, and play as if we only have a J with no flush draw. Just call, take a river and see what happens.
I’m not excited about the spot though, not a lot of great rivers for us. And I don’t know if we’re ever going to be able to check and call a river bet on almost any card.
Gary: I thought about this for quite a while. If it was just the diamond flush draw, I’d be much more inclined to just call. But I was very tempted to check-jam the turn, because I love to deny equity from those random spades. A hand like or , I really don’t mind denying equity. But I wasn’t 100% sure, and didn’t want to absolutely punt it.
So I just call. The river is an offsuit 6 (board is 8-7-5-J-6, no flushes come in). I check, and my opponent puts me in for my last 183K. I don’t think we can ever call off here, I think we have a lot of better hands to call. Like 99, and a lot of other 9x in our range.
Mike: For sure, I don’t think we can call that off.
Gary: So me and my opponent in this hand have a mutual friend, and he later told me what he had in this hand. Any guesses?
Mike: I’m going to guess , screw it.
Gary: He had J9 offsuit, and he rivered me and made the straight.
Upswing Poker’s How to Win the WSOP Main Event Module
Mike: There’s a module in the Upswing Lab that I highly recommend checking out if you want to prepare for a big tournament. It’s called, appropriately, How to Win the WSOP Main Event.
It’s a two-part module made by the 2020 WSOP Online Main Event winner Stoyan Madanzhiev. He made this module special for us; it’s the only footage of his Main Event win. He basically analyzes every hand he played from about 250 players remaining through the last hand of the final table, where he wins heads-up for $4 million.
It’s a phenomenal module, super entertaining, and Stoyan has a lot of really useful insights. You’re going to learn a lot by watching it, you’re going to pick up a lot of really valuable nuggets throughout the content, but it’s also really fun to watch.
Be sure to use the coupon code LEVELUP to get $50 off the Upswing Lab training course.
We’ll see you in the next pod!