If there’s one online poker tournament that everyone wants to final table, it’s the PokerStars Sunday Million.
Tournament crusher and Upswing coach Mo (MuckCallOK on PokerStars) recently did just that, taking home $145,084 after making a deal with two players left. In this article, Mo reveals the strategy behind the first hand he played in the tournament — a big pot that set up his deep run!
General Advice for the Sunday Million
Before diving into the hand, Mo first explains how he approaches large field tournaments like the Sunday Million.
A lot of players will be recreational and a lot of players will be taking shots. Therefore we can expect [to see] a couple of very exploitative plays and interesting lines that I took.
Mo’s referencing the fact that the weaker your competition is, the more you can get away with making exploitative plays that aim to take advantage of your opponent (rather than trying to play close to “GTO“).
If you played a super balanced, GTO-style strategy in a local $50 tournament, for example, you would be missing loads of value. Contrarily if you hopped in the WSOP $100k high-roller without solid “GTO” fundamentals, you’d be setting yourself up for failure.
The Sunday Million has a $109 buy-in and regularly attracts more than 10,000 players. There are probably at least a couple thousand pros, but there are also thousands of recreational players.
This makes the Sunday Million a particularly great tournament to pepper exploitative moves into a theoretically sound strategy to maximize your chance at a big score. Check out a list of such exploitative moves here.
Now that you understand the winning approach to the Sunday Million, let’s get to the hand.
The blinds are 150/300 blinds with 40 chip antes at an 8-handed table.
Mo is dealt Q♠ Q♦ UTG+1 and raises to 750. Hijack (HJ) calls, Cutoff (CO) calls, and the Big Blind (BB) calls. The HJ has 45k chips, the CO 36k, the BB 47k, and Mo covers them.
The only thing to discuss here is the sizing Mo chose.
These days the most common preflop raise sizes in tournaments are 2-2.3x. These small sizes give the raiser good pot odds on their raise, allowing them to profitably play more hands, and provides them with more postflop playability despite the short average stack sizes that are common in tournaments.
At the beginning of tournaments, however, stacks are deeper. As stacks get deeper, it’s better to raise to a larger size. Seeing as how everyone in this hand is at least 120 big blinds deep, Mo opts for the 2.5x raise size.
For more on the topic of raise sizes in tournaments, read this article.
The pot is 3,470 and the flop is J♣ 3♦ 5♠.
The BB checks, Mo checks his overpair, the HJ checks, and the CO bets 1,735. The action folds back to Mo, who raises to 5,621. Only the CO calls.
C-betting would be most players’ standard play here with an overpair, but Mo opts for a check-raise. Here’s what he has to say about it:
This is generally a hand that I would c-bet most [of the time] because it’s an overpair and it doesn’t block a jack, which are the strongest hands that are most likely call downs like AJ or KJ. So this makes a really good c-bet.
However I felt that c/r is also really good because there’s no two-pair combinations [in the other players’ ranges] and I deny a lot of equity especially playing against 3 players. OOP my c-bet frequency should be fairly low even on this dry board. So, I would most often c-bet this hand, but in this case I decided to go for a check.
When the IP player bets 1/2 pot it indicates probably a pair, most likely a jack, though he could have pocket fives or threes. Maybe even pocket jacks sometimes, but that’s unlikely because he would most likely 3-bet those pre.
Check-raising generates a lot more value off a jack [than check-calling]. I expect a lot of recreationals are unlikely to fold a jack [by the river] even against a check-raise in a 4-way pot.
This is a situation where both betting or checking with the intention of check-raising are good plays.
He does recognize that his opponent could have flopped a set of 3s or 5s, but it is much more likely that he has a jack. There are only three combinations each of pocket 3s and 5s, where as there are twelve combinations of AJo, three of KJs, one of QJs, three of JTs, and three of J9s.
This flop decision also introduces the idea of using a mixed strategy. If you’ve spent any time looking at solvers or studying advanced players, you know that taking the same action 100% of the time with a specific hand oftentimes isn’t optimal.
In this situation he admittedly would c-bet his queens more often than checking them. However, checking them some of the time makes his strategy more robust and harder to play against.
This is partly because if he c-bets his overpairs 100% of the time, then when he checks he defines his range as not an overpair. He would probably check pocket jacks here a lot because they block so much of his opponents likely calling range, but if that is his only strong check, his checking range is still very weak.
The pot is 14,712 and the turn is the 8♠ making the board J♣ 3♦ 5♠ 8♠. Mo bets 8,239 and his opponent calls.
The 8 is an okay card. He’s not gonna have a lot of J8 combos, he’s not gonna have 58 or something, so the only hand that improves is pocket eights. Therefore we’re just gonna bet again.
The turn bet is standard but his thought process illustrates an important concept: to always be thinking of your opponents range and how different cards impact it.
For example, either a 9 or 8 on the turn seem pretty similar, but the 8 is significantly better for Mo. This is because it’s less likely that his opponent calls preflop with J8s than J9s, simply because the latter is a stronger and more playable hand. The same could be said if the turn was a 6 instead of an 8, because his opponent could play 65s this way, but would almost never play 85s this way.
Neither of these hypothetical turn cards would be enough to deter Mo from betting the turn in this specific situation, but it’s still important to keep these factors in mind. The best poker players take all of the little details into consideration when considering how to play their hand.
The pot is 31,190 and the river is the 4♥ making the final board J♣ 3♦ 5♠ 8♠ 4♥. Mo goes all-in, effectively betting 22,128, and his opponent calls. His opponent shows pocket sevens and Mo scoops the pot!
The river action is again standard for Mo, but it’s always good to get a peek into the head of a crusher. Here’s his analysis of it:
The river is a 4. It completes 6-7 which somewhat makes sense for both of us, but I don’t think it changes the board structure too much. I don’t expect him to call 4-5 on the turn, so I don’t think he has a lot of 2-pair combinations here. I think his most likely hands are still Jx and then some of the sets like 88, 55, or 33, but generally I think we are still ahead of his range.
Given the [stack-to-pot ratio] that I set up nicely here for a river shove to get called by AJ or KJ, I went for the shove and got called, surprisingly not by a jack but by pocket sevens. So he definitely didn’t believe me and was very eager to stack off with a very weak hand even though it was a 4-way pot. Probably a little too loose on his side.
Mo was smirking a bit during that last sentence because he was being generous with his critique. He really meant it was definitely way too loose by his opponent.
Even though the river play was standard on Mo’s part, it’s similar to the turn in that it shows the level of his thought process. An amateur player may just think “another undercard to the queen, I’m going for it” or worse yet “I don’t think he’ll call with worse at this point, so I’ll check.”
Comparatively, Mo considers how the card effects both his range and his opponents range, what hands it improves, how likely those hands are, and any other relevant details (like the pot being multiway on the flop).
This was just the first hand of Mo’s deep run which ends with him taking 2nd for $145k (after making a deal heads-up).
Even though the flop was the only street with a particularly interesting decision made by Mo, the other streets illustrate the level of his thinking that makes him such a tournament boss.
For further reading, check out “7 Poker Tournament Tips for Running Deep More Often“.
Are you serious about improving your tournament game? Gain access to Mo’s Sunday Million review, plus advanced strategy lessons, preflop charts, and a helpful community, when you become an Upswing Lab member. Learn more now!
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