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Hand 2 Hand Combat -- Steve Barshak

Steve Barshak Plays the Player From Start to Finish

by Craig Tapscott |  Published: Jun 25, 2010


Event: PokerStars Sunday no-limit hold’em tournament
Players in the Event: 1,013
Buy-in: $500
First Prize: $88,536

Hand No. 1

Players at the Table: 7
Stacks: Steve “Illini213” Barshak – 289,343; “FatsoFat6969” – 880,252
Blinds: 5,000-10,000
Antes: 1,000

Craig Tapscott: I know that you’re a very read-oriented, feel type of player. What’s your take on this final table at this point?

Steve BarshakSteve Barshak: I am currently sixth or seventh in chips at the final table. It is very important in hands like this to understand the dynamics of the table: “FatsoFat6969” and “Skammes” have been controlling the action, and “andreyluis” has been card-racking. My opponent in this hand, FatsoFat6969, has played on the tighter side. I believe that he three-bet me once and I folded, but that was when there were two tables left. I have not been involved in many pots with him recently, and my stack has taken a bit of a hit. I still have a pretty aggressive image.

CT: Do you have any additional reads on FatsoFat6969?

SB: He is a top MTT [multitable tournament] player, and even though he is known for being on the tighter side, he is definitely capable of three-betting light here against my stack of 30 big blinds. This is especially true because I’m on the button; also, this is a huge tournament and he may think I’m shoving with a smaller range than I would in a normal buy-in event.

Illini213 raises to 20,785 with the 8Club Suit 8Diamond Suit from the button. FatsoFat6969 reraises to 52,799 from the big blind. Illini213 moves all in. FatsoFat6969 folds. Illini213 wins the pot of 117,598.

CT: That looks like a bit of a standard hand, button versus big blind. Can you elaborate, so that we can understand the dynamics of this play with a medium pocket pair?

SB: Sure. The reason I think this is an interesting hand is that this is the spot where a lot of medium- and low-stakes players get caught up in the moment. They convince themselves to call or fold, even though they probably are aware that it’s not the right move, but it’s the safe move in such a massive tourney. However, if you are intimidated by the big money at the end of an event, you shouldn’t be playing in it. Just go with your read and what got you there in the first place.

CT: Most players are hesitant to shove in this spot.

SB: All of the information that I just shared makes this a pretty easy shove. When it’s down to one or two tables, I’m always playing to win, and good players need chips to be able to use everything in their arsenals.

CT: Can you provide a few more preflop pointers of what situations to look for and take advantage of this deep in a tournament?

SB: You have to be able to look into the dynamics of the table and really try to understand how the other person is going to play the hand, and also how he perceives you. That’s quite important. Opponents are going to play much more aggressively against you if they do not perceive you to be a good player, and may try numerous other techniques if they recognize that you are a capable player.

CT: Explain how stack-size dynamics come into play in your decisions at a final table such as this one.

SB: Stack sizes can really tell the story at a table, as you can understand more about a player’s moves by looking at his stack. Here’s an example: If a medium-stakes guy three-bets you (it’s not a shove) when he started the hand with 20 big blinds, it’s very likely that he has a strong hand, because most medium-stakes players are not capable of being extremely deceptive here with a weaker holding. And they don’t have any fold equity, so they’re obviously calling a four-bet shove. Dynamics like this are always evolving in online poker, but if you can understand how certain types of players perceive their and your stack sizes, or whether or not they even think about it at all, it can help you get much better reads on their hands.

Hand 2 Hand Combat

Hand No. 2

Players at the Table: 2
Stacks: Steve “Illini213” Barshak – 7,025,681; “FreeLancerZZ” – 3,104,319
Blinds: 40,000-80,000
Antes: 8,000

CT: OK. This is the last hand of the tournament. Set it up.

SB: This was a very interesting spot, because any player who understands the way I play knows that I hit the straight on the river. However, “FreeLancerZZ” was quite a weak player; his winnings showed that he was a break-even player, and this tourney was probably very important to him. He was not playing at my level, and that was quite obvious throughout the final table, as I had been bullying him. I also had been bullying him in the last 20 minutes of heads-up play, as we were even in chips about 30 minutes back.

FreeLancerZZ raises to 160,000 from the button. Illini213 calls with the ADiamond Suit 5Heart Suit.

CT: Could you have three-bet him, since it seems that his min-raise [minimum-raise] is weak?

SB: In this spot, I opt to just call preflop, as this hand has value and I don’t want him four-betting me. But it isn’t a bad spot to three-bet, since he probably is not capable of four-betting light and it would tell me if my A-5 is beat. However, I am very confident in playing a small-ball style with him and beating him on flops, as he becomes very passive then.

Flop: 8Diamond Suit 3Club Suit 2Spade Suit (pot: 336,000)
Illini213 checks. FreeLancerZZ checks.
Turn: QDiamond Suit (pot: 336,000)
Illini213 checks. FreeLancerZZ bets 168,565. Illini213 calls.

CT: Why the call? Do you really think ace high can possibly be good?

SB: Well, the QDiamond Suit doesn’t change much, so I check, planning to call a bet unless it’s oversized. He obliges me, and makes a bet of about 50 percent of the pot. I’m willing to see a river, to see if I can take down the pot there, or if it’s not a very good card, I’ll probably let him have it.

River: 4Club Suit (pot: 673,130)

SB: The river is the money card for me, and I decide that I want to end the match. He bet the turn, so a player like him is likely to have hit the queen. He is also the type of player who may get caught up in a hand against a very aggressive player like me and make a bad call.

Illini213 moves all in.

SB: I opt to overbet-shove him all in; he time-banks for a while, and …

FreeLancerZZ calls all in and reveals the AHeart Suit QHeart Suit. Illini213 wins the pot of 6,208,638 with the straight. Spade Suit

Steve Barshak has cashed for more than $750,000 in online tournaments. In April, he took down a Full Tilt Poker $150 rebuy event for $73,610, and also a $100 rebuy event for $30,094. He will graduate from the University of Illinois in June of this year.