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Hand 2 Hand Combat: Brian Hastings Battles Heads Up Versus the Enigma Known Only as ‘Isildur1’

by Craig Tapscott |  Published: Feb 01, 2011

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Game Full Tilt Poker heads-up pot-limit Omaha cash game
Blinds $25-$50
Antes $10
Stacks Brian Hastings – $14,448 Isildur1 – $93,579.50

“Isildur1” raises to $170 from the button. Brian Hastings reraises to $530 with the A♥ Q♠ J♦ 7♦.
Craig Tapscott: When you choose to face off with such a smart and aggressive opponent like Isildur1, what kind of game plan do you come into the session with?
Brian Hastings: I come into a match like this expecting it to be fast and loose. I expect big pots and lots of tough decisions to be made by both players. I think that if I get off to a good start and win a few big pots early, I can build on the momentum and increase my edge. If I get off to a rocky start, I will likely just quit and come back later; although, if I’m really feeling confident, I still may continue to play.
CT: What are some of the keys to adjusting to Isildur1’s game and finding ways to throw him off balance?
BH: Well, quite frankly, it’s not very easy. He does a great job of balancing his ranges and bluffing with good frequencies, and that is very tough to combat. My best bet is to try to pick up reads in specific spots where his balance isn’t quite as good as it normally is, and try to exploit that, as well as try to get him to steam.
CT: What are all of the factors that go through your head when deciding to call or three-bet preflop from out of position?
BH: The match was being played very aggressively, and I think that this is a spot where both calling and reraising are viable options. The main arguments for reraising are that I am well ahead of his opening range and will get called by some extremely weak hands that flop poorly, and possibly will get him to fold right away (although I expect this to occur very infrequently, given our deep stacks).
CT: And for calling?
BH: The main arguments for calling are that I’m out of position and deep. Also, I will be building a larger pot while being at a positional disadvantage for the entire hand if I choose to reraise; calling will keep the pot smaller. And while my hand is good, it isn’t great, and I am unlikely to deceive anyone, given the high-card nature of my hand. The diversity of my three-betting range helps a bit in this respect, but I still have plenty of other high-card hands that I would rather three-bet. On balance, I think calling is the superior play, but mixing in a raise 20 percent to 30 percent of the time is fine.
Flop: J♥ 10♣ 6♥ (pot: $1,080)
BH: That’s a decent flop for my hand, and one that I think he will expect hits my range quite hard. I have top pair, a gutshot to the nuts, and the A♥ blocker if another heart hits. As a result, I think I will seldom, if ever, get raised light, so I think a bet is clearly the play here.
Hastings bets $850. Isildur1 calls.
CT: Does Isildur1’s call narrow his range at all for you?
BH: When he calls, it’s tough to narrow his range much, as I think he can have any two pair, a set, a pair and a draw (strong or weak), or maybe even less.
Turn: 7♥ (pot: $2,780)
CT: How does this card change things for your plan to continue with aggression?
BH: Well, it’s an interesting card. I make two pair, and the flush card hits, as well. Inasmuch as I have the nut blocker and my two pair figures to be behind rather often (and can be bluffed when it’s ahead), I think the best play is to bet again and plan on betting many rivers.
Hastings bets $2,000. Isildur1 calls.
CT: Now what? Can you narrow his range?
BH: When he calls my bet, I think flushes (both strong and weak), 9-8-X-X, J-10-X-X, and sets make up his entire range.
River: 10♥ (pot: $6,780)
BH: This is the most interesting decision of the hand, in my opinion.
CT: Can you fire a third barrel on this river card?
BH: While on the turn I planned on firing many rivers, this is a particularly tricky one. My hand has no chance of winning at showdown, so the only way that I can win the pot is by bluffing.
Hastings bets $6,000.
CT: I’m really curious how your maniacal brain works, Brian. Please share.
BH: Determining the best decision to make depends on how often I think he will fold to a bet. Given my bet size ($6,000), as well as the assumption that checking has zero EV [expected value] and a bluff has a success rate of x, we need 6,780x + (-6000)(1-x) to be greater than 0 for betting $6,000 to be better than checking.
CT: So, why that bet-sizing?
BH: I chose $6,000 because I think that is an amount that I would credibly bet with a full house or the nut flush. And I did not want to give off any information that may increase his calling frequency. If my range was balanced with those hands at various bet sizes, they would be viable options, too. Anyway, given a $6,000 bet, I need my bluff to work about 47 percent of the time for my bet to have positive EV.
CT: And Isildur1’s hand?
BH: I know that he’s never folding a full house. And flushes and straights both equate to bluff-catchers here, since I think betting with anything less than a king-high flush for value here would be too loose. Also, I don’t expect him to think I would bet worse than that for value.
CT: Any other thoughts as to your decision to bet on this river card?
BH: One factor that swayed my decision to bet is that I have a jack and a 7 in my hand, making it significantly less likely that he has a full house. There are only two jacks, two tens, and two sevens left in the deck. There are still three sixes, but 10-6 is unlikely, given the action. So, for him to have a full house, he must have the case two jacks or two sevens, J-10 (four combos), 10-7 (four combos, but unlikely, given the action), or 6-6 (six combos). There are many more combos of flushes and straights possible. Also, he may raise sets or top two pair on the flop. He’s certainly more likely to raise the flop with those hands than with a mediocre draw, which now makes up the rest of his range. Given these assumptions, I will estimate that he has a full house 10 percent of the time here, and is never folding it. So, now I need him to fold more than 47 ÷ 90 = 52 percent of the time when he has a flush or straight for my bluff to have positive EV, and thus be better than giving up. I think this is likely the case, although he certainly isn’t shy about making hero calls in the right spots.
Isildur1 raises all in. Hastings folds. Isildur1 wins the pot of $12,780.
BH: This time, he raised the river, leading me to believe that he did indeed have the full house. Regardless of the result, none of my assumptions were proven wrong, and I think I am happy with my bluff. However, if I started bluffing too often in this spot and he noticed it, he could exploit me rather easily by calling frequently with bluff-catchers. I think this hand helps to demonstrate why having balanced ranges is important to succeeding against tough players. ♠

Brian Hastings is an instructor at Cardrunners.com. He is also a recent graduate of Cornell University with a bachelor’s degree in economics. You can find him playing primarily high-stakes pot-limit Omaha and mixed games on Full Tilt Poker.