#250: “Se7en”

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Last week in London, I played the Unibet Poker Ambassador SNG. It was a fantastic event and I was fortunate to get 3rd behind online nosebleed legend Viktor ‘isildur1′ Blom and eventual winner Charlotte Van Brabander. I normally like to minimise the amount of nerdy hand analysis in my blogs (leaving room for more stories about the times when I was a gobshite) but since all the action was live-streamed on Twitch, I thought it would be interesting to run through what I thought were the seven most noteworthy hands… (If you’d like to watch the hands play out as they happened, just click the headings.)

K9hh rivered flush vs Viktor’s 10 high flush
“Picking up diamonds on a deserted island, saving them in case we get rescued.”

This hand started with me opening a bottom of the range K9hh to 250 in early mid-position, Ian flatted right behind me with AQo and Viktor defended T3hh. The flop came 8h6x2h, Viktor donk-lead for 500, I called and Ian folded. A couple of years ago I would probably have raised my hand in this spot but these days, I know only too well from exhaustive GTO work that flatting is correct.

The turn was 7x and Viktor bet 1600 into 1800. With an open-ended straight and flush draw, I was getting an immediate price into pot, let alone the implied odds. Raising was an option but I preferred calling again. The river came 5h, completing the flush and giving me the second nuts. Viktor bet 1800, a small bet into a pot of 5000.

My range from Viktor’s POV likely contained a lot of overpairs so the small sizing makes sense for a value bet looking to get a cry-call on what is now a super co-ordinated board. It’s also a good sizing because it looks like a blocker bet and might induce a bluff-raise. Given his line, I put Viktor on two pair, a straight or a flush. Versus that range and aware that Viktor would not put me on a flush very often, I thought that there was a good chance that my raise would look fishy. I made it 5500 and Viktor snapped. A bit of a cold deck for Viktor but a nice start for me.

KK over-flat vs Viktor’s open and Dara’s flat
“The voices made me do it. My dog made me do it. Jodie Foster told me to do it.”

Actually, Ian Simpson made me do it…. At BB200, Viktor opened to 500 with A9o in early position, right behind him Dara flatted and it got round to me in the Cut-Off. I took a look at the Djangoes (KK) and immediately sized up my options. In this spot, I like to randomise my play between mostly 3bets to 1700 and occasional flats. In the moment, I chose the latter for one main reason – behind me are Charlotte, Espen and especially Ian, all of whom love a 3bet.

The downside of this line is that it could very well bring in a couple of callers, making Kings harder to navigate post-flop. The upside is that should a squeeze come, my hand is seriously under-repped and my back-raise induce would look super-fishy and might get me in for stacks as a huge favourite. Playing 3-ways in position is also a reasonable outcome with an under-repped hand and good visibility versus Viktor and Dara who I presume won’t make any errors post-flop.

As played, there were no more callers and the action was checked to me on QJ4r. I bet 700 into a pot of 2025, Viktor folded and Dara called. I put Dara on a narrow enough check-call continuing range of AQ, AJ, KQs, AK, QQ, JJ. The turn came a blank and Dara checked. I could check in this spot but, on balance, I prefer to bet again. I did, firing out 1500 but I felt like I had to be very disciplined and fold to check-raises. Why? Because from Dara’s range, I figure he will check raise QQ, JJ and maybe an occasional AK (and I block AK) as a bluff. I also figure he will call with AQ and KQ whilst folding AJ and most of his AKs. Should he call, his KQs will fold river but I block them so my hope is that his most likely holding of AQ will, for the right price (2300ish), make a cry-call on most rivers.

In reality, he tank-stared me down on the turn. He spoke in his blog about having ‘a read’ on me and I don’t doubt that he does (nobody knows my game better than Dara and over 6 years of friendship, he probably has some good ‘live tells’ too) but in this spot, when I know that I’m folding to a raise, I don’t mind seeming happy and engaging with Dara. I didn’t think he would take that long with AQ so a tank-stare made me think he is contemplating the call with KQ or a raise with a range of mostly value. For whatever value I might lose if he finds the tight fold with KQ (which I’m blocking), I felt like seeming chirpy might dissuade his occasional AK bluff.

In the end, the latter is what happened. Dara picked up that I was happy which helped him make a good GTO fold with AK. While the bluff would have worked in this instance, I’m pretty sure that it would show a loss in the longterm.

AKdd vs Espen’s 56cc 3bet from BB
“If John Doe’s head splits open and a UFO should fly out, I want you to have expected it.”

Poker is a game of expectations – the expectation of how much profitable a certain tournament will be and the expectation of our opponents range of hands in a given situation. A good player has his stock lines but it order not to be too predictable, it’s important to randomise your play, particularly against other regulars.

With AKdd, I made it 900 to go from the CO at BB400 and the action folded to Espen in the SB. He 3bet to 3100 with 56cc and I had two excellent avenues down which to proceed. I would mostly 4bet induce in this spot but, in game, I elected to flat with an under-repped premium hand in position, a line that had the added value of letting me to stare into Espen’s beautiful eyes across multiple streets without appearing too creepy.

The flop came Qh8s3s and Espen checked, which I inferred meant he had some showdown value. In reality, the 56cc fell into his small check-fold range. I’m not a big fan of Espen’s 3bet 70bbs deep. Espen is an accomplished cash game player and it feels like a good cash game line 200-300bbs deep but I just think it’s too loose in a shallower SNG format (unless he has very specific reads on my tendencies). Having taken the spot, I also don’t like his decision to check-fold. He has a couple of back doors (a 4 or 7 on turn are excellent cards and he could feasibly barrel turns on a 2, 9, 5 or 6 too) and no showdown so I think he has to target getting me off AJ, ATs, KJs, KTs, 77 on this street and 99, TT, AK, TJs, T9s, maybe even JJ over multiple streets.

I checked behind and we see a 10 on the turn. As played, I agree with Espen’s decision to check. This board now hits my range hard and it’s hard for him to exert enough pressure over two streets. In game, I figured he would take this line with hands like KQ, JJ, A9 and TJ so saw no point whatsoever in me betting.

The river came a Jack and he bet 4225 into a pot of 7025, I raised to 12k and he laughed. Of course he had way more AKs in his range so, from his POV, this raise would be a kamikaze bluff. He surrendered his 6 high quickly and told me how he would have ‘expected’ AK to 4bet pre. Haha, deception!!!

AQo vs Dara’s Button open and Dan’s 3bet
“Even the most promising clues usually only lead to others. So many corpses roll away un-revenged.”

This is probably the most interesting hand I played in the entire SNG and I didn’t commit a single chip voluntarily. In fact, that’s the controversial part! My stack, position and holding all conspired to give me a multitude of options, all with potential pitfalls.

Dara min-raised his button to 1200 with K9o and Dan 3bet 78s to 3700 from the SB. Action on me in the BB and I looked down at AQo. I asked the lads for a count – Dara said he has 23k (38bbs) and Dan said he has 28k (47bbs). I covered both so there are two hugely important questions moving forward. Firstly, how GTO vs exploitative/exploitably are my opponents playing? How much expectation should I be willing to give up in a potentially murky pot versus the players I believe are the two best in this format?

To answer the first question, I thought that Dara would be playing GTO into Dan’s SB and my BB but I really didn’t know how Dan would approach that spot. My hunch was that he would be divergent but not as much as his actual holding suggested (This is not a criticism BTW). To answer the second question, I would be prepared to surrender a marginally profitable situation versus these guys because I think that there are better situations to commit chips. With those factors in mind, I think I have five options.

1. Shove all-in
2. 4bet click
3. 4bet a normal sizing (2.2x the 3bet)
4. Call
5. Fold

I quickly rejected shoving on the basis that it was too much. If my opponents were both playing GTO, I was fairly certain that this would be a catastrophe. In fact, Dara ran the spot afterwards and confirmed this.

4bet clicking to about 6500 seemed like a reasonable option but it begged the question – Am I inducing or folding? I think I was probably folding to Dara shove even though he had less because I think his range would have to be stronger with Dan behind. I think I was probably inducing Dan, despite the fact that he had more, aware that he would be aware of what a pure cold-4 spot this was and AQ was therefore too strong to fold to his potentially light shove. I also felt that Dan would be compelled to call wide for this cheap price and we would go to the flop with a tricky 1.5-1 SPR (Stack Pot Ratio). I remember my internal monologue at the time and it went something like ‘Uuuugh, messy!’

4betting to about 8300 would certainly prevent flats and leverage both stacks but now, if Dara shoved, my pot odds would be insanely good (roughly 30%) and I might be compelled to call off as a very likely dog. I also thought that this larger bet would be interpreted by Dan as legitimate strength, hence I had to fold if he shoved. Also messy!

On reflection and with the luxury of a long-form analysis, my best option was flatting (kudos to Daiva on commentary who espoused this line in real time). I strongly considered the flat and would 100% have taken that line with AQs.

Thanks to the long-form analysis (credit to Dara here for doing it for me), I discovered that my wimpy decision to fold in this spot was actually the second best GTO option, better than any sized raise, all of which showed a loss. I knew that it was the coward’s way at the time but I surmised that, specifically versus Dara and Dan, discretion was the better part of valour.

It is worth noting though that Dara’s analysis illustrated that the more Dan diverged from GTO, the more profitable all my aggressive options became and in a range that included his actual holding (78s), shoving actually became the best option. I did not know Dan’s game plan at the time so, given the knowledge and clues at my disposal, I will forgive myself for being a dirty nit.

6s turned set vs David Vanderheyden’s A9
“I won’t deny my own desire to see each sin turned against the sinner.”

David Vanderheyden got just a little bit greedy in this hand and got punished…

He opened to 1300 with A9s in MP, playing 17500 (29bbs) and I flat SB with 66. Ian calls 57o in the BB and we go to an A23r flop. It checks around and we see a 6 on the turn bringing two clubs. Given David’s check back on the flop, he can have pocket Aces but it’s more likely that he has showdown; JJ-KK and one pair Ax hands probably capped at AJ makes the most sense. I presumed that I would get one street versus all of this range and two streets versus some of it. The question is what is the best route to two streets. Betting or checking?

In game, I felt like David would bet two streets for value thinner than he would call off to two barrels. I checked and he bet 2600 into 4575. I could have raised here but I stuck with my plan of calling, trying to represent weak Ax hands. The river came the 10d and I checked. He bet 3800 and I quickly shoved (effectively 13k), hoping he had two pair or might even be a non-believer with just Ax. My goal was to get two streets so a call here would be a bonus. As David tanked, it became clear that he taken himself to Valuetown, the sin turned against the sinner. Ultimately though, he made the correct fold with A9 (it’s hard to think of a single bluff combo I can have in this spot).

AQs vs Dara’s pocket 3s all-in shove
“What sick ridiculous puppets we are and what gross little stage we dance on.”

Contrary to what many might believe, I take no pleasure in felting my friends. That said, all’s fair in love and poker. Dara shoved 22k At BB 1600 from the HJ and I looked down at AQs on the button, playing 33k. After a moment of deliberation, I shoved. Dara had pocket 3s and I binked an Ace on the river to eliminate him. There are situations in poker, particularly short-stacked ones when two players are so nailed into their ranges that they are puppets, their movements guided by the hand of a greater force, that of some poker daemon.

After Dara had departed, my table-mates joked about how long it took me to call. The general consensus was that it was a clear call. I was pretty sure that it was a call and I probably would have gone with AQo too but it occurred to me in that moment, that with 7 left and 3 paid, how ICM unaware my opponents might be. I got the impression that most of the table would have snapped Dara off with AJ or less, way lighter than I knew they should. When Dara and I ran the hand later that night, AQs did show a tidy profit (£40 approximately) but believe it or not, AQo would actually have been a fold (-£1).

Aces in SB vs Viktor’s button with off 12bbs
“It’s dismissive to call him a lunatic. Don’t make that mistake.”

In a short-stacked 3handed contest for the purists, the chip lead passed back and forth between Viktor, Charlotte and I on numerous occasions. Viktor’s reputation as a loose, ultra-aggressive player precedes him but it would be wrong to label him ‘maniac’. Don’t make that mistake. Like all good poker players, he switches gears and adapts to changing scenarios and the dynamics at the table.

With the chip-lead and the button, Viktor min-opened to 12k and I looked down at Aces in the SB. My stack was 71k (12bbs) and, believing it to be too transparent to flat, I elected to shove. In retrospect, I regret not flatting because Charlotte made a huge fold with AJ in the BB but in that spot, Viktor was the more likely villain and I thought a small blind flat for 17% of my stack would have got the alarm bells sounding in his head. Viktor folded QJo.


In the end, sensing that the audience on Twitch were getting tired of me third-wheeling, I decided to fall on my sword and give them the heads-up contest they craved. (I know, I know, what a selfless ambassador!) I shoved my A9 into Charlotte’s AK and moments later she dispatched Viktor, her A2 holding versus his QT.

Overall, it was a fantastic occasion and a sincere thank you to Unibet for hosting. It’s great to pit your wits against superior poker minds and I know Ian Simpson was grateful for the opportunity. The next stop on the Unibet live circuit is the UK Tour Brighton (17th-19th March) with the Unibet Open Copenhagen (25th-28th May) just a couple of months away. They both promise to be cracking festivals. Let he who is without sin try to survive!