The Poker Gods giveth, they taketh away. Things have been going brilliantly in the PokerStars Scoop low buyin ($109) Main Event up until now. The combination of being extremely aggressive AND making a lot of big hands has allowed me to build a large chip stack, now comfortably in the money and standing in the top 5% or so of chips. I’m now starting to look at the prize jumps and I also noticed that all the pros had been knocked out which was nice to see. People like Jonny Lodden and Liv Boree had big stacks at one point but were now gone with the rest of Team Pokerstars pro. Buoyed by that information and the fact I had chips to play with, I was still looking to steal and chip up us much as possible. But the average stack size relative to the blinds has been going down and a lot of players have 10-30 big blinds. I can expect most or all of them will know how to play them, given we are deep in a major event, re-shoving frequently against an aggressive player.
Hand 1: Great spot to squeeze?
Here I had already managed to chip up to 1.4 million courtesy of some steals and a nice big blind pot where I made trip 10s and got a value bet paid by top pair on the river. A guy with a little over 50bb opens in mid-position and I’m in the hijack with 88 right next to him. I don’t want to 3bet this as I think I would have to call a shove in that case, and risking losing either a flip or being crushed by an overpair seems far too spewy. So a call in position seems reasonable. Plus! There are two players to our left with <25BB with their fingers no doubt itching to click the allin button with half a hand. I’ll probably get 88 in against any stack re-stealing with <25BB unless the player is clearly a nit. Those guys can do my job for me by getting rid of the 50BB stack behind me without my having to risk more than calling chips. If I get no more action or another call, set-mining or calling a single bet on a favourable flop (e.g. dry one over, holding a pair plus straight draw of some kind like 67T flop) in position seems best and folding on bad flops.
As played, I call and the player in the BB sticks his last 16BB in the middle. Then the 50BB stack to my right folded and I had an easy call, thinking he is doing that with lots of over cards maybe some suited ace rags and pairs worse than an 8. Still I was pleasantly surprised to see T7s. He obviously thought it was far too good a squeeze spot to forego. It wasn’t. Maybe the guy was just fed up playing a short stack and being card dead or maybe he just played it badly. Looking at it from the BBs perspective, Ok maybe the 50BB stack was opening a lot although I can’t remember noticing that. Also he will be calling tight in case the big stack back-raises. Still when he calls T7 is maximum 30%ish equity probably a hell of a lot less. When he folds and it is left to me, I have to call just over 170k to win 280k and I can afford to gamble. I’m likely to fold suited connectors and maybe baby ace suites (both of which frankly I would be more likely to 3bet than flat in position) and go with virtually everything else maybe even KT, QT because of the great price. I reckon this shove is getting through both of us no more than a 3rd of the time and is never ever ahead when called. He will often have one dead card when dominated or up against 77-99 and worse still will need to hit minimum two cards against TT-AA. He had 16BB still had some fold equity and better stacks to pick on, a double up would already be close to average stack. Big blunder. We were already in at least the 10th hour of play around 4.30/5am GMT and tiredness was a factor no doubt with many participants me included. Of course the T7s should have waited, but as played it was something of a sweat, with the T7 having a pair, flush draw and gutter by the turn. Luckily the river bricked and another one hit the virtual-rails.
Hand 2: Dominated and owned
Finally a reverse. The first significant one I had had for a long time. I’ve got AT in early middle position. Not a nice hand to get there. I suspect it’s a fold with around 30BB and an aggressive table with frequent re-stealing. I can’t say I had a specific read that play was tightening up, but I’ve got a big Ace, big stack and can probably fold to a 3bet or re-steal for more than 20BB depending on the player. Blocking hands with and Ace in or TT does increase the probability of getting through without being shoved on or 3bet and if called I can still win the pot post flop with the best hand or by bluffing favourable boards.
I got called by a player in late position with around 45BB and the big blind who has great odds to call but little less than 20BB, not a lot of room to manoeuvre. Not a great situation. Chances are the BB may just shove most flops he connects with in some way and the 45BB stack clearly has a reasonable value hand to flat call an open from a big stack covering him. Still unlikely to be very big as he would very likely 3bet-call any of these ranging from AQ/AKish, 99/TT+. Something like that. The flop is 755 2spades. I didn’t like it. I don’t think anyone is folding a pair here, and a lot of Ace highs may float, especially those with a spade. I wasn’t holding a spade to make things a little worse. So I think I have to check-fold. The big blinds checks to the raiser and I check behind and gladly the late position caller checks his option too. The turn is an off-suit 4 and the big-blind checks again and it’s my turn. Two choices:
- Check again hoping to either make showdown or hit one of my cards and fold to any action saving my chips for a ‘better spot’
- Bet in the face of clear weakness from the two villains hoping to take it down without showdown, even when my hand is best here (sometimes it is I think) it will either be outdrawn or bluffed out by the river
I’m not sure what is best honestly, either to play cautiously preserving my big stack in a marginal spot or to use it and take an opportunity to chip up putting pressure on my opponents who are unlikely to be very strong here. In the end I opted for the latter. My general thoughts are that it makes more sense to be aggressive given the choice and getting caught with a bluff isn’t always such a bad thing, garnering loose plays and calls later if and when I do pick up a hand. And of course, I have the stack to do it. The small blind is now very unlikely to have a hand after turning down the opportunity to bet after being shown weakness on the flop by the two bigger stacks. He could be trying a 2nd time for a check-raise but this is rare. The late position guy turned down the chance to stab in position on the flop which takes out most pairs and flush draws and probably quite a few overs with a spade. He can’t be strong either. Still he might have a marginal hand he wants to get to showdown for a small pot. With that in mind, I decided I needed to bet twice to have the best chance of winning the pot, either 2 or none. I was going to bet any T, blank and decide with the Ace (which may have made a good bluff catcher). Late position calls and the big blind folds. Not ideal as I am out of position on the river, but not unexpected either. Still I wasn’t happy to see this as his range is now some small pairs that he decided to pot control (unlikely though as I would expect a bet most times from these on the flop) and Ace highs mostly which I am behind and floats not believing me looking to bet the river when checked to. Only the Ace-highs would usually play this way, the better ones. Some players might fold Ace high here, but my range looks very bluffy having failed to continue the flop, something I would surely do with most value hands.
Having made a big bet on the turn, I decide I have to follow through in the river when another blank hits. The 8 completes 6-9 and 3-6 which is in no-one’s range. I put in a chunky 2/3 pot bet hoping to get Ace-high or maybe 22/33ish to release and seeing it would represent around 30% of his remaining stack. But the late position player didn’t take more than 10seconds to call with AJo with the Ace of Spades. I think he surmised correctly that my range is mostly full of bluffs with the occasional slow played value and so made an easy call. Very well played hand in position by the villain getting maximum value for his marginal hand and reading me perfectly.
This was a bit of a blow, and I felt rather ‘owned’ in that hand. I was cursing myself for underestimating the opposition deep in such a prestigious event. My play was transparent and easy to pick off for a decent player. In retrospect the check-give-up route may have been best, preserving my stack. On the other hand it would have been interesting to see how to play it with AQ or AK in the same spot. The turn would then be a value bet and the river check-call probably. The villain likely knew this too reducing my value range even further.
As a post-note to this hand, an orbit or two later I saw this villain involved again as the defender on a paired board. This time the aggressor did put out a cbet, which he promptly raised and then called the 4 bet shove. I can’t remember the exact board but it was something like 477r and he had 55. The other guy hand Kings! That was the end of him, and left me ruing my play with the benefit of even more hind-sight!
Hand 3: Rockets misfire
Only a few hands later I was under the gun, still licking my wounds from the previous hand and pledging myself to tighten up, when I see the lovely Pocket Rockets in the hole. The 3rd time in the tournament! Previously they had been up against KK and J8o holding easily both times allin pre flop to eliminate the villain. Pretty lucky. It’s great timing too as I haven’t had the opportunity to repair my image from the AT hand by tightening up. So I open for min. To my surprise I see a 3bet from a 22BB stack in the SB (not a shove!) and an overcall from an 11BB stack in the BB. What the hell is this, I thought. They must both either be huge or seriously weak players. Any play here either than fold looks incredibly strong, so it’s an easy shove and hope to hold. Both players snap-call.
I can’t believe my luck as I’m against KK and AKs. AKs is drawing dead to a flush or straight and KK has one out to scoop! I even have both of his suits covered! I have 80% allin against two players for a million chip pot. Winning it would have put me in the top 3 stacks with a little more than 5 levels left to play on Day One and less than 300 players still in. The flop was perfect, but the turn brought the 2nd heart and a gutter to the wheel giving AKs a flush draw and 3 chop outs. The river was the dagger heart more than tripling up the short stack and leaving me with the smaller side pot. I actually won around 80k chips in that pot, but it felt like a brutal blow. Typical poker luck, being dealt in on the right side of a cooler and getting sucked out on.
Hand 4: The nut flush draw
I started to play very badly for a period after slipping into loose-passive-fish mode. I made a few poor call downs and floats having to fold later and managed to chip right down to back under a million. My stack was still a little above average in the middle of the pack, but with only 31BB, now level 33 the situation was looking a lot less certain with just over 2 levels to play.
Antes are 3750 and blinds 15000/30000 putting in a little shy of 80k into the pot pre flop. It was folded to me UT+2 and I have A6s. These are usually good hands to bluff raise in early position, especially when you are betting 60000 to win 80000 and nearly 10% to my stack pre flop uncontested. Much lower than 30BB, certainly by 25BB these hands have to be folded though in this position as there is simply not enough latitude post flop to play them and you always have to fold to any 3bet or shove. So I opened for min thinking that if this doesn’t work, I will have to start locking it up looking only for big hands or favourable re-steal opportunities.
Unfortunately a bigger stack calls in the cut-off but everyone else folds. On the plus side, the fact that the caller is deeper stacked and in position does mean that he has a wider range of hands, some of which are going to fold to a cbet. He can also have me dominated of course, but is unlikely to have a monster again given the incentive to 3bet pre flop and take down a decent sized pot uncontested or win a big allin. When stacks are shallow and blinds/antes high people rarely slow play.
The flop is a good one, KK5 two clubs, giving me an over and the nut flush draw. I can represent the king here easily having opened early, or a big pair which may not ever be folding anyway given the stack-to-pot ratio. So I bet a good-sized half pot, hoping to move him off all air, better aces and small pairs by the river, or alternatively to hit my hand. The ‘worst case scenario’ is I bet and get called, then the turn is an ace. I have to check-call and possibly fold the river unimproved. Instead he raises for a bit more than double my bet. This is a strange play, although possible if he has a King as sometimes he may wish to protect/induce flush draws. But mostly, I think a King or even better, a hidden full house would call. The stack-pot ratio is such that he can bet 2/3 pot on the turn and shove river for about the same to put me Allin with my made hands anyway. That leaves bluffs and low/pairs/ace highs not wanting to face a turn bet hoping to either take it down now or get a cheap showdown.
In the face of this, I knew there was only one play, but still did not feel good about putting my tournament life at risk for the very first time after 33 levels of play. I moved the bet-slider across to maximum and after around 30secs thought clicked all-in and prayed. The villain deliberated for around a minute before giving me the good news and folding his hand. He probably just had a bluff, seeing this as a good opportunity to steal some cheap chips, given I have to fold most hands even when it does look like an obvious bluff. I just don’t have enough behind to mess around. He may have even folded a pair or Ace-high which would have been very good for me. Either way this was a very significant pot to take without going to showdown having only a draw on the flop out of position.
Hand 5: The Poker Gods giveth…
The previous hand put me back in the top half and with a little over 40BB, but after that play had become very tense with a couple of bigger stacks on the table, lots of re-steal stacks. I did still manage to add 200k to my stack with a couple of steals, but nonetheless found myself with only an average stack of around 29BB in about 98th of 200 or so left, level 36 a little more than one to go. It was 5.45am in the morning GMT, my son was due to wake up in 45minutes at the end of play. I had long given up on going to bed and was getting ready to prepare his breakfast and see him out of the door before hitting the sack and looking forward to day 2.
I looked at my hole cards and saw AKo and thought ‘shit’ (think Martin Sheen and Saigon!). I’m going to have to stick these in any single raised pot scenario, and in most re-raised pots and probably hope to hold. The game flow was such that I felt some players may well have folded AQ to a 25BB shove and most AJ. That leaves AK in no way a favourite over a lot of calling ranges. But it’s too good to fold and a great chance to take a lot of chips pre or get lucky in a flip. Above all, I just had bad vibes.
Possibly because I was tired, the following action pre flop really had me completely confused. A villain whom I had seen play one of his 22 hands so far on that table, and that a call not a raise, opened in late mid-position for min. I’m already worried about my AKo thinking this guy is never calling with less than AKo himself. Still I decided I’m going to have to shove and hope. At the worst AK significantly blocks a lot of his monsters, increasing fold equity (he has 6 instead of 12 AA/KK combos). Then the Cutoff puts in a small 3bet. The cutoff only has 21 BB. This looks really strong. Plus the cut-off has likely seen how tight the late-mid position player has been playing.
This really blew my mind and I spent a long time trying to decide how to play this AK. I strongly considered folding on the basis that this is a marginal spot and preserving tournament life more important. But this is AK and the villain who had 3bet had a high 3bet percentage, especially in late position. I’ve also got him covered meaning that I can afford to lose a flip with him and survive with around 8BB. Nasty but with shallow stacks 8BB still had a fighting chance of more than doubling quickly and getting back in it. A lot better than going out right here. The tight guy on the other hand will only call me with a monster if I shove. He is very likely mucking AQ and worse 99 down and hating TT/JJ/AKo all of which he might hero-fold too. 3bet – Cold 4bet – 5bet Allin looks incredibly strong. I came to the conclusion my best play was to min-raise with the intention of folding to a shove from the mid-position player and calling a shove from the original 3-bettor on the ground that against him, I’m simply pot commited being laid almost 2-1 on the call. I’m probably behind but much more often flipping. Ocassionaly, he might shove AQ seeing the smaller raise as weakness. Maybe. A key factor here also making the the 3-bettor’s range wider is that he has position on the mid-position player, gets to see his move first whereas the mid-position player would have to commit his chips with two players still in the pot, either of which could have a monster. I decided that if the tight mid-position guy shoves, he has the same tight calling allin range meaning I am usually crushed or flipping and there the pot odds are significantly worse and my tournament life is on the line. At least this was my thinking. With such shallow stacks, I just couldn’t see anyone taking any other line besides shove/fold in this scenario, so felt my plan was pretty water-tight.
I see a quick fold from the tight guy and just in that instant when a wave of relief was flowing over me, to my horror the late position player flat calls and we see a flop. What the f**ck is he doing, I thought. There is over 1million in the pot and he has just over 600k behind. Nearly half of his stack is in the middle. Surely he expects me to shove almost any flop. I was struggling to put him on a range, and the best I could come up with was:
- Slowplayed monster AA/KK
- QQ/JJ looking to dodge the A/K on the flop in position
- Other stuff God knows what
But with such shortstacks and my having shown a lot of strength even despite a no-doubt aggro image, I would expect him to just shove the above, not wanting to miss an opportunity to commit me for the rest pre rather than giving me the small chance of outdrawing on the flop. Nonetheless, it is possible he might play these hands this way, which has some merit, but a little deeper I would think. I just couldn’t see any other reasonable holdings that would just call my 4-bet.
The flop comes K37 all spades, and I shove very quickly, now completely confused and no idea what my opponent has if not the above. But I’m not folding this flop and if his hand contains QQ with or without a spade or some other one spade hand he will probably have to call well behind. In fact with these pot odds he is going to have to call off a lot of worse hands.
I was shocked, then dismayed to see a snap-call and the villain turn over T-9s. Yes a suited connector. Maybe it’s his favourite hand or something, but the chance of two suited cards hitting their flush on the flop is about 120-1. Of the other 119 times a flop is dealt occasionally there might be a straight or two pair, but otherwise it cannot hit a big hand, but might often catch enough to get it in behind or fold some equity. This was devastating. How could that bastard make such a bad play, surely he is a decent player being so deep in this tourney? Frankly, I still don’t like it, although it’s hard to put emotions to one side there. But from his perspective, it may be possible that he saw the timing and sizing of my bet (at least two minutes thought) as a tell. If I had Aces or Kings why wouldn’t I shove and what would there be to think about? Ok people definitely do ‘fake tank’ often with a monster, but more often timing tells are what they are – someone not sure on the best play needing to consider their move carefully. When I min 4-bet instead of shove, this may well have re-enforced this potential ‘read’ as someone who is scared to lose their tournament life but has a strong enough hand to raise. Although he could not have been certain of this at all and had to have all monsters still in my range, he did have position. Despite shallow stacks, his call looks incredibly strong and if I have AK and miss the flop he may be able to get me off it. If he hits and there is no A/K on the flop he has to call off, or shove, being ahead at least some if not around half or more of the time (given the ‘read’). On top of everything he is getting excellent immediate pot odds of around 5.5-1.
In the event, he got the very best possible scenario. Not only did he hit his flush but I made top-pair, top-kicker at the same time. This will happen around 1/300 times. I should hardly complain given the run I had been on up to this point, but this was a crushing blow. I felt I had lost 80% of my stack to a horrible play which got incredibly lucky. Of course that may not actually be the truth, he may well have made a highly sophisticated, high variance play based on a good ‘read’, but it didn’t feel that way. A quick glance at the final tables shows me the lucky recipient of this big pot was Swedish and finished in 31st for 3.5k. If I had won that pot, it would have been over 2million with a big stack and looking forward to day 2 and even a possible final table. But it wasn’t to be.
Hand 6: Canine and Out
Deflated I watched the blinds and antes go through me, managed a steal and then I found K9 off in an unopened pot on the hijack. With 8 big blinds and high antes, I think this is an easy shove allin with two quite big cards. If I fold my position will be worse with each subsequent hand until the blinds go through me again when I will have 5BB left and almost no fold equity, plus the blinds were due to go up again soon for the last level of the day, leaving me utterly crippled. I’ll usually have at least one, often two live cards when called and occasionally flipping against 88 or less. So I shoved hoping for folds and a 40% stack increase.
Unfortunately a player on the button with just a little more than me at 9BB quickly called. The blinds folded and he turned over AJ. I was pleased to have two live cards, but this was short-lived when all 5 streets bricked for both of us giving the button player the pot with Ace high and sending me out in 196th for a little short of 1k. A fantastic result given I satellited in for not much more than $15 investment, but bitterly disappointing after such a good run!