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Hand 2 Hand Combat -- Nath Pizzolatto

Nath Pizzolatto Mind-Melds With an Opponent on Tilt for Maximum Value

by Craig Tapscott |  Published: Nov 30, 2008


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Event 2008 World Series of Poker $1,500

no-limit hold'em, event No. 52
Players 2,693
First Prize $625,443
Blinds 1,000-2,000
Antes 300
Stacks Nath Pizzolatto – 78,000; Villain – 70,000

Nath PizzolattoPizzolatto raises to 4,800 from under the gun plus two while holding the 9 9. Villain calls from the big blind.

Craig Tapscott: That seems like a small raise. Please talk about your bet-sizing here.

Nath Pizzolatto: I prefer to keep my raises small. I don't like to inflate a pot preflop. I believe I can extract more money post-flop in a variety of situations by entering more pots, but keeping them small until I have a strong hand. In addition, making small raises saves me money when I'm at a disadvantage; if I get reraised, I lose less, and if I have to play a pot out of position, I can better control its size by keeping it smaller from the start.

CT: You've had a lot of success online. Was this bet-sizing influenced by your Internet experience, as a raise of two and a half times the big blind seems to be the norm there as compared to live play?

NP: Definitely. The major reason for this is that stacks tend to be so much shallower online than live, so the difference between a raise of two and a half times and one of three to four times the big blind is a significant percentage of your stack. When you're just trying to steal the blinds, you want to risk as little as possible to do so.

CT: Can this small raise get you into trouble, as a lot of speculative hands may come along for the ride?

NP: It's true that this method gets me into more gray areas and more difficult situations. There are two schools of thought on this. One is that by putting myself in difficult situations, I'm giving myself opportunities to make more mistakes and blow off my stack. That's true, and I've done so plenty of times. However, I believe that my willingness to tackle difficult situations has given me the experience needed to sharpen my skills in these spots, and in turn, I am able to find more profitable opportunities by entering these spots. Tournaments are a race against the clock; the more places you can find to pick up chips, the better.

CT: And you have a pair, so why not?

NP: Yes. As far as this hand goes, the open is perfectly standard; my hand is a strong opener from any position.

CT: Do you have any history with this Villain?

NP: Now, Villain is the X factor of this hand, and here's why. The last time he was on the button, he played a big pot with Matt Matros. He raised and Matt moved all in from the big blind for a pretty big reraise – about one-third of Villain's total stack. Villain thought for a while and called with A-10, which was good against Matt's K-4. But Matt flopped a 4 and doubled up, and Villain's body language (and verbal language) showed that he was obviously unhappy about it. I was keenly aware of this, and based on my observation of him so far, I thought he was likely to tilt in an overaggressive manner. I believed that he might make a big move to try to win it back. (He could easily talk himself into thinking I'm pushing him around, because I have him covered.) If this is true, he might make a big mistake, so I've been hoping for an opportunity to play a pot with him.

Flop: 8 3 2 (pot: 13,300)

Villain checks. Pizzolatto bets 7,200. Villain calls.

NP: My flop bet is a standard continuation-bet/value-bet here; an overpair here is a strong hand, and I'm hoping for a call from worse. I doubt he has better; most of the better hands would have reraised preflop, and all of them would raise this flop. I would like to mention that I'd bet more in a cash game, but in a tournament, you can use smaller bet sizes to achieve your goals. In addition, the smaller bet size makes it more likely that worse hands will call at least once.

CT: Was it a snap-call?

NP: Villain took a while to call, and he clearly mulled his options for a while, and didn't seem too happy about this situation. I took this to mean he had a medium-strength hand, most likely an 8, or a pair 4-4 to 7-7 – something very unlikely to improve that he wasn't certain was the best at the moment. I doubt he'd come into this pot with a 3 or a deuce, steaming or not. With a straight or flush draw, I wouldn't expect him to take so long to call.

Turn: 3 (pot: 27,700)

Villain checks. Pizzolatto bets 13,200.

NP: First, the 3 is a great card for me, and only strengthens my lead.

CT: How do you decide what line to take here to drag Villain along?

NP: Well, this street in particular interests me because I can take a variety of lines against different players. With some players, I would want to check behind for pot control, since they aren't coming along with weak hands. Others, I would bet a larger amount, since they're prone to calling bets without much regard for sizing. With my read on Villain, my goal here is to give him a chance to make a mistake. I choose a bet of just under half of the pot, because I think it makes it easier for him to call with a worse hand, and maybe it looks weak enough that he could try to force me out of the pot. And he …

Villain moves all in for 44,500 more.

CT: You seemed very attuned to this player's mood. Did you pick up any tells?

NP: He shoved quickly and with a forceful gesture, which briefly took me aback, but I anticipated this possibility. If I was right, he may have decided I was trying to bully him, or that I was making weak bets and could be forced off the hand. His body language still indicated that he wasn't particularly strong. My immediate instinct was that I had the best hand, but I thought it through anyway; there is no reason to rush an important decision. I counted my stack just to see what I would have left if I was wrong, and I double-checked my logic to make sure that I was thinking through the hand correctly and hadn't overlooked anything. After about three minutes of this, I called.

Pizzolatto calls. Villain flips over the 7 7.

River: 6 (pot: 143,100)

Pizzolatto wins the pot of 143,100.

CT: There was a lot of metagame in play here.

NP: Very much so. But I got a big break, in that I got dealt a hand in a perfect spot and a perfect setup versus this particular opponent. And I was able to take advantage of it only because I recognized how the previous hands would affect his play and his mindset, and that he could be goaded into making a mistake. I like this hand because I think I drew correct inferences about my opponent's play at that particular moment, and was able to adjust my betting line and bet sizes in order to obtain the best result possible from him.

In 2006, Nath "Cap'nJackpot" Pizzolatto went head-to-head with Bill Chen in the World Series of Poker $2,500 six-max no-limit hold'em event, eventually taking second for $238,280. This was his biggest score in a tournament career that has spanned three years and multiple continents, with consistent success at all levels in both the live and online poker worlds. He currently lives in Houston, where he makes his living playing online tournaments and cash games, and coaching tournament strategy.

Hand 2 Hand Combat with Nath Pizzolatto