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Final Table Takedown: WPT Winner Chris Leong Shares Two Interesting Spots Holding Ace-King at a Final Table

by Craig Tapscott |  Published: Mar 16, 2016

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Chris LeongChris Leong is a 27-year-old professional poker player from New York, NY. He graduated from CUNY Baruch College with a degree in corporate communications. He has been traveling the northeast poker circuit for many years and makes the yearly summer trip to Vegas for the WSOP, as well as a stop in Macau to play PokerStars Macau Poker Cup. Leong has won many events on the live circuit including two WSOPC rings and has amassed more than $1.1 million in lifetime career cashes.

Event: World Poker Tour 2016 Borgata Winter Poker Open
Players: 1171 • Entry: $3,500 • First Prize: $816,246 • Finish: 1st

Key Concepts: Stack size dynamics; Pot control

Craig Tapscott: Can you share with us any strategy you had once you sat down at this final table?

Chris Leong: I had been playing really solid prior to the final table. Coming into the tournament I made it a point to keep every hand I played as low variance as possible. For the most part, it meant me tightening up my game and being really cautious, which earned me a very solid image leading up to the final table. I knew nobody wanted to play pots with me and that it would be highly unlikely I’d be facing any light three or four-bets preflop. This allowed me to open up my game a little more during the final table.

He raises to 425,000 from UTG. Leong calls from the cutoff holding ADiamond Suit KHeart Suit.

CT: Ace-king is a big hand to flat with? What are you thinking in this spot?

CL: I flatted because ideally I thought I could induce shoves from Yevgeniy Timoshenko, who had 12.5 big blinds (BBs), or Joe McKeehen who had about 18 big blinds. If that didn’t happen I thought there was a chance Rafael Yaraliyev, who had half the chips in play, could squeeze or call with a hand that I have dominated. I also thought that with He’s stack size there was a reasonable chance he wouldn’t be able to continue with most of his opening range after facing a three-bet. And with a hand as strong as A-K, I didn’t mind keeping those hands in the pot, hopefully to induce bluffs or extract value from later on in the hand. My hand also looks really under repped by flatting here.

Flop: 9Heart Suit 7Heart Suit 3Spade Suit (pot: 1,275,000)

He bets 475,000. Leong calls.

CT: You totally whiffed this flop. What’s the plan?

CL: Yes. Although I missed the flop, I am still beating a fair amount of what I perceive He’s opening range to be, and have a lot of outs vs. others. And I also have the king of hearts. 

Turn: 5Heart Suit (pot: 2,225,000)

He checks. Leong checks.

CL: I check here because I wanted to pot control since I only have ace-high and I would love to take a free card drawing to the second nuts. I also expect him to be pot controlling here with a lot of strong non-flush hands that he didn’t intend on folding to a turn bet.

River: 7Spade Suit (pot: 2,225,000)

He bets 750,000. Leong folds. He wins the pot of 2,225,000.

CT: Easy fold, right?

CL: Yes. I fold here because his sizing seemed to strongly indicate he was going for value. He bets one-third pot, knowing that my range here consists of flushes and pairs that I probably wouldn’t fold to such a small bet. 

CT: Since you brought it up, let’s talk about bet sizing. Can you share some insider reads, tells, etc. that you use to determine whether you think a bet is for value or a bluff? And then go one step further and share situations when a good player makes a bet sizing that looks like a value bet, because that is what they want you to think, but they have nothing.

CL: Getting to the river of a decent sized pot and seeing your opponent bet one-third the size of the pot is more often than not a value bet. Conversely, this type of sizing is a good way to bluff without risking many chips. Say, for instance, you flat a middle position raise from the big blind, the flop falls 4-3-3 rainbow, and your opponent continuation bets and you call. The turn comes a 6, you both check. The river is a 2. This is a pretty decent time to bet one-third to one-half the pot as a value-bet bluff. Your opponent checked the turn, the river was highly unlikely to improve his hand, and it looks like the type of board that smashes the big blinds calling range. If you had the nuts here, based on the way the hand played, you probably wouldn’t put your opponent on a huge hand either. And, of course, you would want value from your hand so betting one-third to one-half pot here is very balanced as a value bet and as a bluff.

CT: And you shared during our discussion some thoughts about the stack sizes behind you after flatting with A-K from the cutoff. Can you share some basic pointers when it comes to awareness of stack sizes when determining how to play a hand in late position?

CL: The scariest thing about flatting A-K and the main reason why most people don’t do it is knowing that opponents behind you can over flat. But this isn’t exactly something you worry about when your opponents behind you have 20 BBs or less. Most players these days go into push-fold mode with a 20 BBs stack or less, so in this scenario it’s really not something that worries me. Also, it’s very important to know the stack sizes at your table. Had I not been aware of the stack sizes behind me, I may have just three-bet and got it all-in with He and lost half my stack.

Key Concepts: Inducing; Getting maximum value

CT: When heads-up play began, did you have an idea of how you wanted to approach this battle with Yaraliyev?

CL: Yes, initially. We were really deep and I was hoping to keep the pressure on him and play some big pots. My strategy quickly changed as I realized he didn’t have a very concrete strategy of his own and seemed more willing to put chips into the pot than I was.

Leong raises to 450,000 from the button holding ADiamond Suit KSpade Suit. Yaraliyev raises to 1,200,000. Leong raises to 3,700,000. Yaraliyev calls.

CT: Give us some insight into your four-bet?

CL: I decide to four-bet A-K here because we’re really deep. And Yaraliyev’s three-bet range up until that point had been mostly premium hands. I sized it slightly on the bigger end, because I hadn’t seen him really five-bet, neither had I seen him three-bet and fold, so I was expecting him to flat. 

CT: And when he did flat can you nail him down to an approximate hand range?

CL: He hadn’t really faced a four-bet at all thus far at the final table, so I certainly hadn’t seen him fold to any four-bets. After tanking for a long time before calling, I figured he was peeling with most if not all of his three-bet range. Although he didn’t three-bet light too many times at the final table, he did three-bet with many playable hands that would likely need to see a flop with, hands like suited connectors, suited aces, Broadway hands, and so on.

Flop: ASpade Suit 8Heart Suit 2Club Suit (pot: 7,450,000)

CT: Perfect flop.

CL: Yes, but…

Yaraliyev leads out with 3,700,000. Leong flats.

CT: You didn’t want to raise him here?

CL: I flat here because I don’t think he does this with many if any value hands. So, at this point, I am mostly just trying to keeps his bluffs in. 

Turn: 4Diamond Suit (pot: 14,850,000)

Yaraliyev checks. Leong checks.

CT: So you still don’t think it is time to go for some value? Or are you just being sneaky with a very aggressive player?

CL: Once again, I’m just trying to keep his bluffs in. People will sometimes put their opponent on a pocket pair here if it’s checked back in this spot, so hopefully this check will induce a bet from him on the river. 

River: 9Club Suit (pot: 14,850,000)

Yaraliyev bets 2,800,000. Leong calls. Yaraliyev shows KDiamond Suit JSpade Suit. Leong wins the pot of 20,450,000.

CT: So why just call here? You didn’t think you could squeeze a little value out of him in case he had a weak ace or the like?

CL: I just called because I don’t expect him to have an ace and he’s highly unlikely to be calling a raise with a worse hand. 

CT: You’ve been a journeyman for so long on the live poker circuit, winning a lot of smaller events. How does it feel to break through and take down a WPT main event title?

CL: It’s really an incredible feeling. Despite the smaller successes I’ve had in poker, for a long time it just felt like that big score just wasn’t going to happen. I’ve certainly played my fair share of main events over the years and had never even mustered up a minimum cash. Fortunately, I have such a great support system. And my best friend and longtime backer, Sam Taylor, always told me my first main event cash was going to be a win. I never believed him until it actually happened.

CT: Congratulations. And how have you worked on your game over the years in terms of improving and growing?

CL: When I first started, I had nobody to help me, so I began by reading books and watching poker on TV. When I decided to go full time, I was fortunate enough run into Alex Rocha, who I had played with a couple times in some bar leagues. He ended up moving in with me and introducing me to everyone he knew. We talked through a lot of hand histories and he taught me a lot about the game. Thanks to him, I became friends with a lot of other great poker players who I would also talk a lot of poker with, people like Ash Conniff, Mikey “Casino” Azzaro, Alex Jim, and so many others. And it also didn’t hurt that I had my friend and backer, Sam Taylor, supporting me all the way. And despite us learning how to play at the same time, it definitely helped to be able to bounce ideas off someone with equal poker experience as I had. Poker is a game that’s constantly changing, there’s only so far you can go with books, training videos, and so on. In my opinion, nothing beats bouncing ideas and hand histories off a really good poker player, and fortunately I have an abundance of those in my circle. ♠