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The Oracle's Corner

Where Pros Analyze the Good, the Bad, and the Just Plain Ugly

by The Oracle's Corner |  Published: Jun 11, 2008


This hand took place in the 2007 Five-Diamond World Poker Classic main event. Most players know Hevad Khan, after he finished in sixth place in the 2007 World Series of Poker main event, taking home almost a cool million. He also is a strong online player who was once suspended from PokerStars for playing too many tables at the same time. PokerStars management apparently thought that no one could play 40 tables simultaneously. He was reinstated when they realized that he was actually doing it. Mikael Thuritz, from Stockholm, Sweden, is a well-known live and online player, as well, whom Khan described as having "sick good" abilities.

Facts of the Hand

Hevad Khan's Read

I open from the hijack seat (one seat in front of the cutoff) for two-and-a-half times the big blind; the small blind had busted out, so there is only the big blind (Thuritz). The action is folded to him, and he calls. Thuritz is a tight-aggressive, winning online player in high-stakes cash games, and has been doing well in live tournaments recently. The flop gives me top pair with second kicker, and I check behind him for pot-control purposes, because I think he won't call me with worse than K-10 in this spot. The 4 on the turn brings a flush draw to the mix, and I call his 8,000 bet. The river gives me top two pair and I am initially happy that he leads out for 24,000. I think I am ahead and raise about half the pot, 30,000. When he reraises me, I know I must be beat, but it is still hard to lay down top two pair here, but eventually, I do.

Michael Binger's Analysis

Preflop, the play is more or less standard. On the flop, Hevad should sometimes bet and sometimes check. Either play is fine. I disagree with Hevad when he says that Thuritz will not call with a worse hand on the flop. A continuation-bet of two-thirds of the pot by Hevad will get called (or raised) by many hands that he has beat, including Q-10, J-10, 10-9, 9-8, and perhaps some other hands like second or third pair. Many players are suspicious of late-position raisers and will call if they hit a piece of the flop. Checking the flop hides the strength of his hand and also enables him to keep the pot small. Given that line, calling Thuritz's 8,000 bet on the turn is the best play. Certainly, folding is bad, and raising puts him in a tough spot by building too big a pot for one pair, especially when many ugly cards can come on the river. On the river, I like Mikael's large bet, and I like Hevad's raise. He will successfully get value out of worse two-pair hands. When Mikael reraises almost all in, he can have only either a monster or a pure bluff. There is no way he is value-raising a hand worse than K-10 in that spot. A good player with a smaller two pair would either fold or call Hevad's raise of 30,000 more, and not risk his tournament life by overplaying his hand. However, a player with "sick" abilities, as Hevad describes Mikael as having, is capable of bluffing in that spot, knowing that Hevad can call only with a monster. So, Hevad has to basically decide if Mikael is on a stone-cold bluff, or has the nuts or close to it. Since Hevad has to call 50,000 to win 187,400, he needs to be about 21 percent sure that Mikael is bluffing in order to justify calling. Since your last tournament chips are more valuable in real-money terms than adding additional chips, Hevad needs to be more than 21 percent sure, perhaps 25 percent to 30 percent. Hevad made the correct read on Mikael, and made an awesome laydown.

Roy Winston's Analysis

In this hand, Hevad's preflop play is nothing out of the ordinary, raising with a hand from late position to perhaps pick up the blinds and antes uncontested. I would more often than not bet the flop; it's not that I think checking is wrong, but he has top pair and a good kicker, so why not take it out for a drive and see what happens? My thought in a situation such as this is that the bet is asking a question: I was the preflop raiser, and now I want to know where I stand; can I take this pot down right here, do I have the best hand? By not acting on the flop, Hevad allows Thuritz to take control of the hand when the blank falls on the turn. Thuritz is an aggressive player, and the range of hands with which he might open on the turn after Hevad's check on the flop is virtually unlimited. Hevad is forced to call the turn bet, and in fact would most times be ahead, based on the action so far. The river is trouble; the range of hands that beats him at this point is only a set or a straight, and it is hard to put Thuritz on one of those. I loved Hevad's raise, and although he lost a fair amount of chips in the hand, he was able to lay it down in a spot where a lot of players would go broke. It is certainly possible to put Thuritz on a worse two pair, which he could have flopped. My only Monday-morning quarterbacking of the hand is Hevad's check on the flop, which, had he bet, might have alerted him to the strength of Thuritz's hand, and enabled him to get away from it before he made the two pair on the river. I suppose it's also possible that a flop bet escalates the pot to a point where Hevad can't get away from it. I like controlling the pot size so that it doesn't become so large that he is almost forced to call based on the size. A superior player's ability to control pot size in a situation such as this is nothing short of impressive.

Hevad Khan's Rebuttal

I had been playing fairly tight since the beginning of the day. I decided to change the pace of things with my new, tight image, and opened up the pot from the hijack seat with K-10 offsuit. When Mikael called my bet, he did it rather quickly, so I did not think he held a big pocket pair, or A-K, A-Q, or A-J, as a player such as he would surely reraise with those hands preflop. The flop came down 10-8-7 rainbow, and when he checked, I decided that he was good enough not to just keep calling my bets if he wasn't too strong; he would either check-raise or fold. My hand was strong and vulnerable, so I checked behind in order to keep the pot smaller. Turning the 4, and a flush draw, Mikael fired 8,000 into a 13,400 pot. I called after a little bit of hesitation. The river brought the K, and he fired 24,000 into a 30,000 pot. After deliberation, I decided that since he couldn't hold high pairs and A-K, A-Q, or A-J, his range was composed primarily of two-pair-type hands (10-7 suited, 10-8 suited, 8-7 suited), middle pairs for sets (9-9, 8-8, 7-7, 10-10 possibly, as well), and pair-with-draw hands for bluffs and very thin value-bets, along with J-9 offsuit or J-9 suited for the nut straight. I decided it would be too tight to just flat-call here, since my hand was disguised, so I raised 30,000. He thought for 10 seconds before reraising 50,000 more. I responded by tank-folding, since my raise pretty much was either a bluff or a value-raise with a strong hand. For him to reraise me after I put in a perceived bluff/value-raise, he had to be very strong or he pulled off an insanely sick bluff. The extra 50,000 had way too much value to be called off here with a prayer that my hand was good, so I folded. Looking back on it, I don't think raising this river as a thin value-bet was a good idea without enough of a read.

Pro Conclusions

Michael and I concur that it's hard to say much about this hand other than, wow, very impressive. I really loved his laydown on the river. Both players played their hands well and demonstrated why they are world-class.

Roy Winston, M.D., and Michael Binger, Ph.D., have more than two decades of higher education between them. The two, with nearly $8 million in combined tournament winnings, continue to impress with consistent results on the tournament circuit and in high-stakes cash games.