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Final-Table Takedown: Matthew Waxman Bullies Opponents

Into Making Costly Mistakes

by Craig Tapscott |  Published: Feb 01, 2011


Matthew Waxman started playing poker in high school, while supposedly studying during senior study hall. The summer before he entered college at Florida State, he befriended U.S. Poker Championship titleholder Alex Jacob. He took the next step in his poker schooling by picking Jacob’s brain to find holes in his game. In 2009, Waxman had a banner year, winning two Full Tilt Online Poker Series events. He took down an FTOPS XII event, for $101,975, and then won the FTOPS XIII main event, for $453,663. That year, he also finished sixth in a World Series of Poker $5,000 no-limit hold’em six-max event, for $138,394. In 2010, he had some major live-tournament cashes, finishing sixth in the Borgata Spring Poker Open, and 33rd in the WSOP Europe main event.

Event 2010 WSOP Circuit Regional Championship – Harrah’s Atlantic City
Players in the Event 352
Buy-in $1,500
First Prize $117,797
Finish First

Hand No. 1
Key Concepts: Inducing a bluff; weighing your opponent’s bluffing range and calling range
Matthew Waxman raises to 105,000 from the small blind with the A♣ 5♦. Mark Sykes calls from the big blind.
Craig Tapscott: What’s your read on Sykes?
Matthew Waxman: I noticed that he was one of the more active three-bettors when his stack was deep enough, but that wasn’t saying much, because this entire tournament field, in general, was rather passive preflop.
CT: What was your plan if Sykes were to three-bet?
MW: I decided before I raised that I was going to evaluate his bet-sizing, timing, and posturing if he three-bet me, and most likely four-bet shove.
Sykes calls.
Flop: A♠ 10♣ 5♥ (pot: 225,000)
CT: You nailed the flop. How can you extract the most value from it?
MW: With my aggressive image, I really wanted to give him a chance to bluff at it. I also thought that there was a good chance I could get three small streets of value from him if he had a 10. Since I had continuation-bet almost every previous pot that I’d raised preflop, I knew that checking would look fishy and that he might pick up on it. I decided to bet small, because the board was very dry and mainly because I wanted to induce him to make a play at the pot.
Waxman bets 85,000. Sykes calls.
Turn: 8♣ (pot: 395,000)
MW: Now, I’m 99 percent sure that I have the best hand. I know that if I check here, he’s betting his whole range (which is mostly bluffs), except for a pair of tens and maybe a K-Q or K-J. I don’t think that he can stand a check-raise, though, so I decide that the best way to maximize my value is by making another small bet.
Waxman bets 145,000. Sykes raises to 410,000.
CT: He did exactly what you were hoping he would do. What are your options?
MW: I’m obviously never folding. I can call and shove the river, call and check the river, three-bet shove, or min-raise [minimum-raise] to induce a “sicko bluff.”
CT: And …
MW: After weighing the possibilities, I decided that it was between three-bet shoving, and calling and checking the river, as this would give him the chance to bluff his whole stack off. But it’s hard to shove.
CT: Why?
MW: Because I think that the only hand in his range he can call my shove with is 10-8; nothing else makes sense. But at the same time, I think that if I call and check the river, he’s shutting down on the river anyway. And just in case he made the mistake of raising as a semibluff, I don’t want to give him a freeroll to complete a possible straight or flush draw.
Waxman moves all in. Sykes folds. Waxman wins the pot of 950,000.

Hand No. 2
Key Concepts: Adjusting to your opponent; bluff-catching with jack high; gathering intelligence
Jesus Cabrera raises to 100,000. Matthew Waxman calls from the big blind with the J♣ 10♣.
CT: Did you think about three-betting?
MW: Most of the time, Cabrera is folding to a three-bet, even though we are more than deep enough for me to make that play. I decided that the best strategy against him was never to inflate pots when out of position, because he was so content with defending his big blind and playing big pots from out of position himself.
Flop: K♠ 7♣ 5♦ (pot: 210,000)
Waxman leads out for 110,000.
CT: Can you explain your thinking about leading out with jack high here?
MW: I didn’t want to just check-fold my hand. I knew that I could make him fold tons of hands that had me beat but still weren’t that strong. Against a more aggressive player, I can check-raise this flop or even float from out of position, but since Cabrera was often checking back flops and calling down turns and rivers, I could counteract his strategy best by donking [betting] into him on a lot of flops and putting him to the test. He also is raising with a king if he has it, most of the time.
Cabrera calls.
Turn: 3♠ (pot: 430,000)
CT: When he called the flop, what range of hands did you put him on?
MW: I think that his most likely holdings are straight draws (gutshot and open-end), a pair of fives or sevens, or a small pocket pair. If he has 6-4, he made the nuts on the turn and would surely bet if I checked to him. I decided to give up on the hand if he bet.
Waxman checks.
MW: When I checked, I assumed that he would protect all of his showdown hands (pairs) and try to get value out of a straight, if he had made it, with a real big bet. In other words, I expected him to bet, but …
Cabrera checks.
River: 7♦ (pot: 430,000)
CT: His check took you by surprise. Did that further define his range for you?
MW: I felt strongly that he was drawing to a straight by the turn, and jack high beats all straight combinations. I knew that there was no chance of him getting light value out of any pair, but not a king, mainly because he would’ve raised the flop or bet the turn with a king, especially with three to a straight out there on the turn. And he would have gladly checked back a 3 or a 5, hoping to win the pot, so I turned my jack high into a bluff-catcher and checked, knowing the only hands in his range that he can bet are a 7 and missed straights.
Waxman checks. Cabrera bets 200,000.
CT: Can you call here?
MW: I needed to be correct only around one out of three times. More importantly, I thought seeing his hand alone was worth 200,000, because we were still pretty deep and I could definitely use the information effectively from that point on.
Waxman calls. Cabrera flips over the 8♥ 6♠. Waxman wins the pot of 830,000.
CT: Can you give me a little more detail of how you broke down his play clearly enough for you to call?
MW: I realize that this analysis sounds a little bit ludicrous — that I can be so certain of his range being just a missed straight or a 7. But my experience with him was that he was not floating me on flops or going for thin value on rivers. That makes a call correct, as opposed to a raise, when I think he’s weak.
CT: Why?
MW: A raise is much more costly in the event that he does in fact have trip sevens, and if he is bluffing, I don’t get to see his hand. Also, when he calls with a 7, I show him that I have absolutely nothing and am capable of making a play in that spot, which may make him more inclined to call me with much worse hands in the future. That added dynamic will make it much harder for me to keep winning many uncontested pots. Another factor that contributed to my call was his half-pot bet-sizing. Every player is different, but I thought that if Cabrera had a 7, he would have gone for more. ♠