There is perhaps nothing more satisfying in poker than watching your opponent fall into the trap that you carefully set.
The feeling is so great that many players often slow-play strong hands in situations where they should be fast-playing. But this is not one of those hands.
In the 2019 Battle of Malta Main Event, Steven Van Zadelhoff and Cole Higgins survived past 4653 players. They made it down to the final four where they battled in a crucial hand.
Watch the video here or keep reading for a description and analysis of the hand.
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: Battle of Malta Final Table
Format: No Limit Hold’em
Stage: 4 players left from starting field of 4657 players.
Blinds: 300K/600K – 600K bb ante
Colum Higgins – 44.1bb
Steven Van Zadelhoff – 46.7bb
Gilda – 60bb
Lislii – 48.3bb
1st – €300K
2nd – €164K
3rd – €102K
4th – €75K
Higgins raises from the Cutoff to 2.5bb with A♦️ Q♣️. Van Zadelhoff calls in the Small Blind with K♣️ T♣️. The Big Blind folds.
With Ace-Queen offsuit, Higgins has a clear raise from the Cutoff and his sizing of 2.5bb is standard.
Van Zadelhoff has a choice between calling and 3-betting with King-Ten suited. There are merits to both, and his decision to call is certainly a fine choice.
Note: Want to know how to play every hand in every common preflop situation? Get instant access to extensive preflop charts and lessons (for cash games, heads-up, and tournaments) when you join the Upswing Lab training course. Lock your seat now!
The Pot: 7bb
The Flop: Q♦️ T♦️ T♠️
The Action: Van Zadelhoff checks. Higgins bets 2.2bb. Van Zadelhoff raises to 8bb. Higgins calls.
Van Zadelhoff checks to Higgins as he should be doing with all of his hands.
Faced with the check, Higgins has an interesting decision whether to bet his top pair or not. Instinctively, it seems as though he should bet with top pair top kicker. However, when run through the solver factoring in ICM, Ace-Queen offsuit is considered a pure check.
It is easy to see why checking is appealing.
- It prevents getting check-raised and put in a gross spot
- Ace-Queen offsuit doesn’t need much protection because it is way ahead of lower pairs and way behind trips. Only draws have solid equity against us for hands that we are already beating.
While there is an upside to betting and charging those draws, that is mitigated by the fact that we need a substantial premium if we are to get our stack in here, given the pay jumps. Therefore, the ICM encourages passivity on this street to lessen the likelihood of getting put all-in by the river.
When the action comes back to Van Zadelhoff, he should mix calls and raises. Dara makes the point that in mixed frequency situations when playing online versus an unknown opponent, you can easily use a random number generator. But in live poker, you can also allow your opponent’s perceived tendencies and table dynamics to become the deciding factor.
Van Zadelhoff’s aggressive image could definitely tip the scales to raise on its own, but he also makes the point that Higgins appeared happy with his hand and he unblocks Pocket Aces and Ace-Queen.
Having bet the flop, Higgins has to call the check-raise. He is ahead of draws plus he has backdoor straight and flush draws. With a now bloated pot, however, he must tread very carefully on the turn.
The Pot: 23bb
The Turn: (Q♦️ T♦️ T♠️) 6♠️
The Action: Van Zadelhoff bets all-in 31.5bb. Higgins tank-calls.
On the turn 6♠️, the best hand on the flop is almost certainly still best. But it is not a complete blank because it brings a second flush draw, which could certainly have brought a lot more equity to a combo draw.
Van Zadelhoff has the betting lead and his decision to overbet shove for 1.36x pot is an interesting choice. A solver mixes jamming along with some checks and some smaller bets. He could have massaged the pot with a 45% bet of around 10bb that would have set up a half pot river shove.
However, in-game, Van Zadelhoff opted to go for it all with a hand that, again, unblocks Aces and Ace-Queen, two very possible cry-calls. By getting it all in now, he plays it like he also would a big draw and he makes certain a scare-card on the river doesn’t come to kill additional action.
After a 3 minute tank, Higgins eventually makes the call. The ICM makes this decision tough, and it’s certainly plausible that Van Zadelhoff takes this line with draws like K♦️ 9♦️, J♦️ 9♦️, 9♦️ 8♦️, K♠️ J♠️, J♠️ 9♠️, or 9♠️ 8♠️. However, despite that, the decision to call the jam is a blunder.
The A♦️ in Higgins’ hand is definitely a card he wants to be in Van Zadelhoff’s range because it makes it more likely that Van Zadelhoff has a flush draw. Without ICM, this card is the crucial factor as the solver calls with all the Ace-Queen combos that don’t have it and folds all the ones that do. With ICM, it becomes an even clearer fold.
The River comes the 2♣️ making the final board Q♦️ T♦️ T♠️ 6♠️ 2♣️. Higgins is eliminated in 4th place for €75,000. Van Zadelhoff almost doubles and is in pole position with 3 left.
There is a time for trapping and a time for fast-playing. Normally, it hinges on 3 questions that you can ask yourself.
- Factoring in combinatorics, the line that was taken, and any physical information you can garner, how likely is it that your opponent has a hand that might call?
- Is there already an aggressive dynamic at the table?
- Does your hand have the right properties apart from its raw value to maximize the likelihood that your villain has a hand that can continue?
In this instance, the answer was yes to all three so Steven Van Zadelhoff fast-playing his monster seemed prudent.
What do you think of Van Zadelhoff’s flop-raise? What did you think of Higgins’ turn call?
Let me know in the comments.
If you want more tournament hand analysis, check out The Final Hand of the 2021 WSOP Main Event (Analysis).
Note: Ready to join 6,000+ players currently upgrading their No Limit Hold’em skills? Crush your competition with the expert strategies you will learn inside the Upswing Lab training course. Learn more now!