A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.
It takes a certain kind of wisdom to gain and maintain success at the poker table. Since poker isn’t a solved game, there’s always room to improve.
The most successful players understand and respect this fact, but to become a truly elite player you must always be open to learning through reflection, self-criticism, and advice from others.
Parker “Tonka” Talbot is one of those players. After shipping the Big $109 on PokerStars, Tonka reviewed every hand that he played on his road to victory (probably after popping a well-deserved bottle of vino).
In a nine-part video series made exclusively for Upswing Lab members, Tonka used his win as a means to learn and improve his game, and now viewers can do the same.
Today we’ll discuss three big takeaways from Tonka’s analysis. Implement them in your own game and perhaps you’ll be the one catching a five-figure score—let’s get to it!
1. Don’t be afraid to make an unconventional play, so long as it can be justified.
(Lesson from ‘Shipping the Big $109 – Part 4, available in the Upswing Lab.)
Just because something isn’t ‘normal’ doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. Breaking convention is exactly what brought about the strategic evolution we’ve seen in poker over the last decade or so. And in more recent years poker bots like Libratus and solvers such as PioSOLVER and PokerSnowie have further shaken up poker strategy with moves that conventionally-minded players initially regarded as crazy.
However crazy they may seem, these strategies have been proven to be effective. That’s why it’s important to avoid feeling dictated by convention when strategizing at the poker table. Be wary of thinking, “I shouldn’t lead here—I’ve got to check to the aggressor,” or “Nobody would ever bet 4x the pot in this spot,” etc.
No matter how unconventional a play might seem, if you can justify it with good reasons why it’s the most +EV line to take, then there’s no reason not to do it.
For example, below is an interesting spot from Tonka’s tournament review, where a back and forth between him and Ryan Fee led to support of a somewhat unconventional play:
PokerStars Big $109. Blinds 2,500 / 5,000 / 625. 8-Handed.
Hero (93,872) is dealt 8♥ 6♥ UTG+1.
UTG folds. Hero raises to 10,750. Three folds. BTN calls. SB folds. BB calls.
Flop (39,750): 4♦ 7♠ 8♠
BB checks. Hero…?
There’s not much to say about pre-flop, except that Tonka admitted in hindsight that his open with 86s from EP with <20bb is far too loose. But at least it results in this intriguing post-flop situation!
On the flop, Fee and Tonka agree that the most effective play is to shove for a 2x pot-sized bet. It might seem a bit crazy, but hear them out. They have some pretty compelling reasons.
First, when analyzing any spot, we should evaluate the EV of each of our options:
Let’s kick it off with checking, which does not seem like the most effective play. Our hand is vulnerable to being outdrawn, and at this stack-to-pot ratio the pot is equivalent to almost 50% of our stack – definitely some chips we want to collect.
This brings us on to betting, and we’ve got a couple of options for bet sizing. The first is to bet somewhere between 35 and 50% of the pot, with intentions of shoving on the turn. There is merit to this line: it allows us to get called by worse (which the BB caller can have), while folding out unpaired overcards and protecting our equity.
However, shoving all in actually makes the most sense. With our exact hand, our main goal is to deny as much equity as possible and give ourselves the best chance of scooping the pot. By shoving, we accomplish those aims.
Interestingly, shoving leads to having a depolarized overbetting range that consists of this hand along with a few high-equity bluffs, such as T♠ 9♠ and A♠ K♠, for balance. With our nutted combos – 56, 88, 77, 44 and 78 – we can use a smaller bet size, since equity denial isn’t near as important.
Of course, when we called we’ll usually be behind (against an overpair or stronger 8x combo) or flipping (versus a flush draw). But we will stack heaps of chips when we get folds. And the optimal way to get folds in this spot is by shoving for 2x pot!
2. Construct ranges with good equity distribution
(from Shipping the Big $109 – Part 5, available in the Upswing Lab.)
Ideally, we should aim to construct post-flop ranges that are diverse, allocating appropriate strong hands and bluffs in each of our betting, checking, calling and raising ranges. This allows us to make nutted hands across a variety of board textures and runouts.
Tonka and Ryan touch on this idea during a blind-versus-blind, limped pot scenario:
PokerStars Big $109. Blinds 5,000 / 10,000 / 1,250. 5-Handed.
Hero (442,725) is dealt 6♠ 4♠ in the SB.
3 folds. Hero calls. BB checks.
Flop (26,250): 5♣ 3♥ 6♦
When we flop a vulnerable top pair with an open-ended straight-draw in a blind vs. blind pot, there is an inclination to bet. This is reasonable. However, there are a couple of reasons why it’s preferable to put this specific hand in our checking range.
First, our hand is not strong enough to be bet for value over multiple streets. If we’re looking to get value with a 6, it’s better to do so with a stronger kicker. Since we will have both A6 and K6 in our SB limping range, betting with hands that dominate our opponent’s top pair combos makes much more sense.
Second, we need not worry about equity denial like we would with other combos (77-99), because we have several out to improve to the nuts. So, we can place middling pocket pairs in our betting range (along with some sets) and check with our pair + straight-draw combos. With well-balanced ranges in mind, we can bet with some unpaired, straight-draw combos as our bluffs. This way we can make straights on certain turns whether we have bet or checked.
3. How to maximize EV with small pocket pairs
(from Shipping the Big $109 – Part 7, available in the Upswing Lab.)
When it comes to playing small pocket pairs, conventional wisdom says we should try to see a flop cheaply, hope to flop a set, and then go from there.
This approach is often too passive, however, and can lead us to missing value that is there to be taken. This is especially true in the final stages of a tournament, when we can leverage ICM pressure to our advantage. Sometimes taking more aggressive lines with these hands pre-flop will maximize the amount of chips we can win.
Let’s look at a hand from Tonka’s final table of the Big $109 where this applies:
PokerStars Big $109. Blinds 9,000 / 18,000 / 2,250. 5-Handed.
Hero (1,003,152) is dealt 3♣ 3♠ UTG.
Hero raises to 42,660. CO (561,832) raises to 108,000. 3 folds. Hero…?
There are a couple of extra details to note here: Tonka is the chip leader, and the CO 3-bettor is tagged as an aggressive player who is in fourth chip position out of five. With this information, there’s a reasonable case to be made for using our 33 as a 4-bet bluff, by jamming versus the CO player sitting on a ~30bb stack.
This isn’t a play we should make 100% of the time when facing this action with our hand. However, at some frequency (10–25% of the time, say) is definitely acceptable.
Tournament specific dynamics support this idea. Since we are the chip leader, we are going to be opening a much wider range than our opponents. ICM pressure does not impact us the same way as these shorter stacks, because we are not at immediate risk of busting. By contrast, the CO player is in fourth, and exiting before the shortest stack at the table while missing out on a pay jump is not desirable. That said, given our wide opening range, a savvy and aggressive regular can 3-bet aggressively to punish us without risking their tournament life.
Given this dynamic, 4-bet jamming as a bluff with a hand like 33 becomes much more effective. Calling the 3-bet ourselves with a hand like this is out of the question – we will not realize our equity well post-flop, and we are not deep enough to mine for sets. Folding is okay, but we’ll be opening ourselves up to being exploited if we fold too often against opponents who 3-bet us aggressively.
By 4-betting, we can deny a ton of equity by folding out many of our opponent’s unpaired, 3-bet bluffs. Against AK/AQ we are a slight favorite, and by jamming we ensure that we realize all of our equity. We’re only crushed by overpairs. If we happen to run into TT-AA, then that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.
Want More from Tonka?
If you find hand reviews helpful, there are literally hundreds of hours of analysis in the Upswing Lab.
Whether you’re interested in tournaments, cash games, 6-max, full-ring, micros, high-stakes, online or live action, there’s a ton of content being added regularly by specialists in each game type.
That’s all for today! If you’ve got any questions, comments or requests for articles, pop ‘em in the comment section below. And good luck in your next tourney!
Read more from Upswing Poker: