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by Bart Hanson |  Published: Aug 17, 2016


July 19 – Discussion of the Main Event at the 2016 WSOP

Most of the time when I write this Crush Live Poker column, I speak about strategy in cash games. However, in this issue, since I just got back from the World Series of Poker, I want to discuss the main event and a few different tournament hands.

The main event is a very special tournament, as the moving average beyond Day 2 is usually at least 80 big blinds and the levels are two hours long. One of the more common mistakes that I see new players make in the tournament is to panic after they lose a few hands. This year, players started with 50,000 chips. I overheard players after Day 1 complaining that they only had a starting stack going into Day 2 and that they were “going to have to get lucky” in order to advance. This could not have been further from the truth. What they did not realize was that the blinds in the first level of Day 2 were 300-600 and a 50,000-chip stack was over 80 big blinds—a deeper stack than all other tournaments at the WSOP (plus the two-hour levels).

One of the things that I tell my Crush Live Poker students playing the main event for the first time is that in the main event there is a lot of luck in table draw. I have had some very good tables in past years with bad players and I have had some very bad tables in past years with tough players. I truly believe that the main event is all about managing these different situations and paying attention to your position. The tournament moves so slowly, you can really play tight and hunker down when playing against good competition. And you must identify when you are at a table where it is easy to accumulate chips and pounce.

Unfortunately for me, this summer, my table draw was pretty bad on Day 1. It was not the worst that I have ever had, but it was very difficult to accumulate chips. It seemed like every player was at least competent at the table and there were not any easy pots. This was very frustrating, as I saw around me what I thought to be a lot of soft tables filled with bad players. I also heard several stories on Twitter about players who were bought in by their boyfriends/girlfriends as a present, and were just dumping chips, or guys that had never played poker before in their lives. In the past at tough tables I actually made it through Day 1 with a decent amount of chips. But this year this just was not the case. Day 1 went really badly and I had to go into Day 2 with 27,000 chips.

However, I had played this event at least eight times before and knew that I was not desperate. In fact, with the blinds starting at 300-600, I had over 40 big blinds. I did my research the evening before and was excited to find that my table was filled with almost entirely unknowns. These were guys that did not have more than, say, $30,000 in live tournament winnings according to their online profiles, so I was very optimistic starting the day. However, I ran into two hands that caused me a few problems.

The first came from a middle position raiser who only had about 17,000 chips. He was a middle-aged guy, and, with his stack, I did not expect him to be opening that light. He raised to 1,500 and it folded to me in the big blind. I looked down at ASpade Suit 8Spade Suit and I called. The flop came out 9Spade Suit 9Heart Suit 8Heart Suit and I checked. This situation really put me into a quandary. As a cash game player, I am not used to raising to “protect my hand.” However, in this case I felt extremely handcuffed when the preflop raiser bet only 1,500 on the flop. You see, at this point if I was to call, the pot would be over 7,000 and my opponent would not have much money left. I was also extremely vulnerable to almost half of the deck in the form of overcards and, if I had really thought about the situation, I think a check-raise to 4,500 was in order, and then a fold if he reraised. Instead, I just called. The turn was the 7Spade Suit, I checked again, and this time my opponent moved all in. This bet really put pressure on me and, even though I could have had the best hand, I just felt that my equity versus a range of overpairs or big semibluffs was just not great, so I folded. It seems like I actually saved chips by not check-raising the flop, but in retrospect I really do think that that is the right play no matter how foreign the idea is to me in a cash game.

By losing this pot, I dripped down to about 19,000 and then got involved in this next ridiculous spot. The hand itself is not all that complex because of the short effective stacks, but I want you all to pretend that we were deep, and had over 75,000 effective to start the hand. In this spot the villain, a younger-looking guy, limped in middle position with about a 15,000-chip stack. It folded around to me in the small blind and, with the 100 antes and the dead money in the pot, I was getting about 8:1 to complete the small blind. I looked down at J-4 offsuit, and came close to not completing, but thought the jack had enough high-card value, so I called. The big blind checked and we saw a flop of KHeart Suit JDiamond Suit 7Club Suit. I checked, the big blind checked, and the limper also checked. The turn was the JHeart Suit, putting a backdoor-flush draw on board and giving me trips. I bet 1,100, the big blind folded and the middle position player called. At this point, I thought he could have hand a number of hands like a flush draw, maybe a king or, to a lesser extent, a jack. The only card I really did not want to see on the river was a heart. At the end, the 4Diamond Suit rolled off, giving me a full house. This time I bet 2,200 and very quickly, my opponent moved all in. Obviously I snap called, as I had jacks full of fours and said “I hope you have 7s full” but instead heard that he had “jacks full” and my opponent tabled K-J.

The reason why I think that this hand is so interesting, however, is I am not sure what I would have done if we did have 75,000 to start the hand. In a cash game, this river is the definition of a three-bet on the river, most likely to a large size and then a fold to an all-in. However, in a tournament, I think there are a lot of inexperienced players who might think 7-7 would be the stone cold nuts and reraise back all-in. It seems crazy, but I would not want to fold to one of these guys. But, if I was wrong, I would be out of the tournament. So, in this case I think a call is more prudent even though I absolutely never expect my opponent to ever raise with a hand for value on the river and then fold to a reraise. And I am talking about with 7-7 or even a hand like A-J that he thought was slowplaying. I think if I did three-bet the river in a tournament, I would have to fold to a shove, but it would be a disaster if I was forced to fold the best hand. It’s a very interesting dilemma and demonstrates how survival in a tournament is sometimes more important than extracting maximum value. ♠

Follow Bart for daily strategy tips on Twitter @CrushLivePoker and @BartHanson. Check out his poker training site exclusively made for live cash game play at where he produces weekly podcasts and live training videos.