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Final Table Takedown: Justin Liberto Captures First Gold Bracelet with Calculated Risks and Tempered Aggression

by Craig Tapscott |  Published: Aug 19, 2015


Justin Liberto is a full time poker professional from Baltimore, MD. After graduating college from Virginia Tech, Liberto worked a sales job for a year before focusing fully on poker. In 2013, in Liberto’s first-ever WSOP event, he finished in fourth place in the inaugural Millionaire Maker collecting a cool $400,000. Since then Liberto has two Word Series of Poker Circuit rings, a World Poker Tour final table, and now his first WSOP gold bracelet. Liberto has accumulated more than $1.6 million in career tournament cashes.

Event: 2015 WSOP $3,000 No Limit Six-Max
Players: 1,043 • Entry: $3,000 • First Prize: $640,711 • Finish: 1st
Key Concepts: Coming into the table with a substantial chip lead; Leveling; Independent chip model; Hand ranges

Craig Tapscott: Did you do any specific preparation for this final table battle?

Justin Liberto: I had been working really hard on my game in the past few months and just wanted to continue to play my game and apply pressure with the chip lead, while attempting to put my opponents to difficult decisions with the large pay jumps.

CT: So what has transpired up to this point that would be pertinent?

JL: A few orbits into play at the final table of the $3,000 six-max I was involved in an interesting blind vs. blind battle with Seamus Cahill during this hand. It set the stage for our heads-up match soon to come. At the moment, I’m still holding onto a slight chip lead after making a call I regretted a few hands earlier to double up Kiryl Radzivonau. 
Cahill raises from the small blind to 125,000. Liberto calls holding 9Heart Suit 8Heart Suit.

CT: I would say a pretty standard call. Could a three-bet also have been appropriate in this spot?

JL: Yes. My only two options in this spot are to either call or three-bet, but with such massive pay jumps and what I believed at the time an edge post-flop, I decided calling and seeing a flop was the right option with 9Heart Suit 8Heart Suit.

Flop:  7Club Suit 6Spade Suit 3Heart Suit (pot: 275,000)

CT: Wow! Great flop.

JL: I know. As you can see, not only is this flop a great one for my perceived range, it also hits my actual two cards quite well.

Cahill bets 130,000.

CT: So you have a plethora of options with your hand. Does Independent Chip Model (ICM) come into play at all in this situation?

JL: Well, my options are now the same I had preflop, call or raise. The next pay jump was more than $50,000 and Cornel Cimpan was currently playing 15 big blinds. So I thought a raise here to apply ICM pressure was the right play in an attempt to make Cahill indifferent to calling with his ace-high or one pair-type hands.

CT: Did you have any history with Cahill?

JL: Cahill and I had played together earlier in the tournament, and if I raise this flop, I had to assume he was aware this pot could swell into a $3 million-plus pot. So I went ahead and…

Liberto raises to 285,000. Cahill calls.

Turn: 2Heart Suit (pot: 845,000)

Cahill checks.

CT: Another good card for you.

JL: Right. This card wasn’t one of my clean eight nut outs, but it was another interesting card for sure. This turn card is a terrific card for my actual hand, but unlike earlier in the hand, it’s not the greatest card for my perceived range.

CT: Please explain.

JL: In Cahill’s eyes this card changes nothing, making it very likely that a turn bet is being called. With that being said, the card just adds too much equity to my current hand, basically guaranteeing me 15 clean outs with that number as high as 21 if pairing my eight or nine gives me the best hand. So I decided to fire the second barrel this time with the intent to bomb the river on both my made hands and most bricks.

Liberto bets 435,000. Cahill calls.

River: 4Club Suit (pot: 1,715,000)

Cahill checks.

CT: Are you sticking with the plan to fire on the river?

JL: Well my once-pretty hand is left standing as the nut low. And after Cahill checked, I’m left deciding if it’s time to wave the white flag or go down fighting. Based on the way I played my hand, I still have quite a few fives in my range. I could play 5-4 this way, of course, and then both A-5 and 8-5, especially both those hands in hearts. Not only that, but I believe Cahill is aware that I won’t just be value betting straights here and that two pair hands such as 7-6, 7-4, and 6-4 can all still be in my range as well as the small chance of a flopped set. So I…

Liberto bets 925,000. Cahill calls and reveals QDiamond Suit 3Club Suit. Cahill wins the pot of 3,565,000.

JL: I actually got snapped off fairly quickly, as Cahill read right into my soul and revealed the best hand. 

CT: Do you regret how you played this hand?

JL: After Cahill made this amazing call, it certainly left me somewhat shook up and made me readjust how I believed Cahill was viewing me. In order for Cahill to make this call against me, he had to eliminate the fact that I’d play A-7, overpairs, or two pair this way and basically only give me straights or air. And even with that rationale and his marginal hand, he still had to beat a large majority of my bluffing range that still had him slightly beat, mainly all my fours.

CT: How did you recover? And what is the game plan moving forward?

JL: About 15 minutes later we were given our first break, which was perfect timing for me, as my once 6 million chip lead stack now sat around 2.7 million and placed myself in third of five remaining players. From that point forward I took a new approach with ICM being the central focus, picking my spots vs. Cahill, the now-big stack, while applying maximum pressure vs. the smaller stacks until Cahill and I eventually met heads-up.
CT: Can you explain the kinds of situations you are talking about when it comes to paying close attention to ICM after you lost this hand? Be very specific so our readers can understand how this comes into play.

JL: One major adjustment I made to my game after falling back to the middle of the pack was tightening my range greatly in the blind vs. blind battles with Cahill. Cahill was to my direct right and, over the course of the next few hours, if it folded to him in the small blind, he would open most pots to three big blinds to my still-flexible 30-40-big blind stack. With this stack size, I feel very comfortable playing a wide range in this blind vs. blind scenario, however in an attempt to not tangle with Cahill and risk my tournament life, I allowed him to steal my big blind frequently. This strategy proved to be the right one for me, as the next three players were eliminated without me ever being at risk.

Key Concepts: Short-handed play; Game flow

Radzivonau raises to 160,000 from the button. Liberto calls from the big blind holding 6Heart Suit 4Club Suit.

Flop: QSpade Suit 5Diamond Suit 3Diamond Suit (pot: 390,000)

Liberto checks. Radzivonau bets 185,000.

CT: Can you raise in this spot?

JL: Personally, in this spot, I found my only option was to call. Well, if I had been playing tight earlier and didn’t feel as if Radzivonau was tired of my aggression, perhaps I could have raised here. But that wasn’t the case, so raising would have opened the door to Radzivonau shoving all in, forcing me to either fold a hand with solid equity or call off Radzivonau with six-high.

Liberto calls.

Turn: 2Diamond Suit (pot: 760,000)

JL: The 2Diamond Suit completes my straight, but also brings the third diamond. I elect to continue to play in flow and to allow Radzivonau to barrel both his bluffs and semibluffs. 

Liberto checks. Radzivonau bets 285,000.

JL: Radzivinou leaves himself 1,230,000 behind. Now a lot of people would be doing cartwheels when Radzivonau bets here, but I had more history in this tournament with Radzivonau than any other entrant. This sizing to me screamed value and also basically assured me that Radzivonau was shoving most rivers. If he would have bet slightly larger, say 350,000 -395,000, then I believe I would check-raise all in here, but with the smaller sizing, I decided to just call and reevaluate rivers and probably even fold all diamond rivers. 

Liberto calls.

River: 5Spade Suit (pot: 1,330,000)

CT: Is this a good or bad card in your mind?

JL: It doesn’t really change anything. Radzivonau started the hand with 23 big blinds. The hand range he could have is two pairs that now turned into full houses. Pocket threes and queens are two hands that now beat me. But based off of how I perceived Radzivonau, I think his turn bet sizing would have been slightly larger with both of those hands.

Liberto checks.

JL: I check with the full expectation of eventually calling off a Radzivonau shove. After little debate Radzivonau…

Radzivonau shoves all-in.

JL: I ponder my decision for about a minute. I still fully believed at this point that Radzivonau had a value hand on the turn and I believed that the ace of diamonds was very likely to be in his hand. With that being said, I still beat five hands that contain the ADiamond Suit that Radzivonau is playing this way and betting for value. I beat ADiamond Suit-4x, ADiamond Suit-Ax, ADiamond Suit-Qx, ADiamond Suit-5×. Not to mention I had a very underrepresented straight and we’re playing three-handed. So with all those factors figured in, I made the eventual call.

Liberto calls and Radzivonau reveals ADiamond Suit 4Heart Suit. Liberto wins the pot of 3,770,000.♠