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Final Table Takedown: With Ryan Laplante

High-Stakes Tournament Pro Discusses How To Create A Solid Thought Process In PLO By Dissecting A Hand From The Final Table Of His Poker Masters Title

by Steve Schult |  Published: Jan 15, 2020


Ryan Laplante has quietly become one of the best poker players on the planet. Without much fanfare, the Minnesota-native cashed for more than $5 million between live and online poker tournaments dating back to 2009. His early success came in no-limit hold’em, but he has become proficient in many other games over the last several years, and has developed into an elite pot-limit Omaha player.
He won a World Series of Poker bracelet in the 2016 $565 pot-limit Omaha (PLO) for $190,328 and took down the $10,000 pot-limit Omaha (PLO) at Poker Masters last November for $186,000.
Aside from dominating his opposition on the felt, Laplante has successfully dove into the coaching realm as well. He has coached dozens of students to successful poker careers before recently launching his own training website aptly named Learn Pro Poker. Laplante’s new training course gives a structured breakdown of game theory optimal strategy and when to deviate from those strategies to exploit players at the table.
Laplante sat down with Card Player to break down a hand he played at the final table of the Poker Masters $10,000 pot-limit Omaha (PLO) event to give readers some insight into the game.

Concepts: Creating a solid thought process and deconstructing opponents’ river ranges
The Action: John Riordan raised to 100,000 on the button and Ryan Laplante defended his big blind. On the flop, Laplante led out for 125,000 and Riordan called. They both checked the turn and Laplante checked the river. Riordan bet 300,0000 and Laplante called.
Steve Schult: Is Riordan’s hand even playable or is that hand too wide to be raising even on the button?
Ryan Laplante: With the nut suit, from late position it is reasonable, especially with an ante. Without the nut suit, it’s trash. 7-5-3-X with two to a suit is infinitely worse than A-7-5-3 with the nut suit. Without the nut suit, it’s just not playable.
And without an ante, this hand would be a fold. The ante makes a huge difference, especially the fact that it is a full big blind ante, makes a huge difference in terms of playability. That goes for all hands from every position. It’s true in hold’em as well.
Hold’em, game theory optimal (GTO) strategy at an eight-handed table from UTG+1 off 100 big blinds is like 6.5 or 7 percent of hands or something like that in a tournament. Just having the ante, your raising range from under the gun 1 is like 14 percent. So it more than doubles the raising range in hold’em. It holds pretty true in PLO as well.
SS: Your hand looks very good to me. Do you ever three-bet this hand?
RL: Let’s say we were playing a cash game. With J-10-10-9 double suited against a late position open, I would three-bet.
SS: At the time this hand went down, Chance Kornuth and Thai Ha were very short. Do you ever three-bet this just to apply Independent Chip Model (ICM) pressure to Riordan?
RL: I didn’t know how loose he was at the time. If I knew he was opening this, I would have three-bet him. Because with the amount of ICM pressure he is under, he is not supposed to be opening this hand.
I assumed he was opening tight just based off of ICM, otherwise I’d be three-betting him very, very light. ICM in PLO tournaments is ridiculously worse than in hold’em.
SS: When you say “worse,” what do you mean exactly?
RL: This summer, I played the $25K PLO and I was on the bubble of it and I understood that I could fold my way into the money 100 percent of the time, especially since there wasn’t an ante. Even if there was an ante, I’d probably have to play like this anyway, but I folded everything.
I actually had the chip leader on my table open and I folded suited aces in the big blind to a 2.5x raise. The reason why is because equities in PLO run very close together. Let’s say I defended those aces. There isn’t really a flop I’m happy with that’s not like top set and the nut flush draw. Everything less than that is whatever.
And even if I do hit top set, I don’t want to put more chips in, really, unless the board pairs or I hit quads. Otherwise, let’s just say I have bare top set and my opponent flops a straight and flush draw, I’m still only 65 percent or something like that. Obviously, that’s great in a cash game. It’s wonderful. But when the difference between two people or one person busting when the person has one-tenth or less of your stack, it’s such a monster equity shift, it’s just not worth it to see the flop at all.
SS: I didn’t realize how tight this game forced you to play.
RL: The discussion among most people who understand PLO and tournaments to the highest degree is that it really is an awful theoretical game for tournaments because of how awful the ICM pressure gets. The reason I still really love playing it and playing tournaments in it is because people play it very, very poorly.
If everyone played PLO tournaments very well, it would be very boring. It would be very slow. It would be a miserable grind because of how tight you’re supposed to play. With an ante, it plays a lot less tight, but it still plays pretty tight. Six-max with an ante for PLO tournaments, that’s just great. In fact, any game short-handed with an ante is wonderful. Infinitely better than normal without [an ante] or with. It makes the game so much better from a theoretical and fun standpoint.
SS: You lead into the raiser on the flop. Why?
RL: The reason I led is because of what his range should look like. He should have a lot of high Broadway type stuff and high overpairs and stuff. Let’s say he has aces. Unless he has aces with a straight draw and flush draw or whatever, then he would have to call. So by me leading, I’m denying him a reasonable amount of equity and also giving myself a reasonable price to get to the turn.
Essentially, I’m leading because this board texture hits my range ridiculously better than his.
SS: He calls with bottom pair and a gutshot. Is this too light of a call in your opinion?
RL: Yes.
SS: When he calls, what kind of range can you put him on?
RL: When he called, I assumed he had mostly overpairs or like A-K-J-10 or something like that.
SS: The turn gives you the nuts and you both check. I was under the assumption that there wasn’t much trapping in this game. Did you think the queen smashes his range and would elicit a bet from him? Were you going to check-raise?
RL: I assumed that the queen hit his range to such an extremely ridiculous degree that he would be strongly incentivized to bet it when I check. There is a thought process as well that people don’t check as a trap very often. Which means that he should be a lot more willing to bet it in general.
But in PLO, there is a lot of turn leveraging, especially in tournament PLO. So, going for a turn check-raise is a lot more common in PLO than going for a flop check-raise.
Given his exact hand, I’d expect him to bet the turn a very high percentage of the time. He doesn’t really have a reason not to. It’s not like he’s going to be getting blown off equity. He just has a weak hand. It’s a perfect hand to just turn into a bluff compared to what other hands he could have to check back. There are lots of hands he could use as a check back that are way better than A-7-5-3.
If I was him, I wouldn’t open the hand because of ICM, I’d fold flop and then I would definitely turn this into a bluff on the turn.
SS: Why are turn check-raises so much more common in PLO?
RL: Because of how equities run together on the flop. On the flop, people don’t have nearly as much fold equity. So, as a general rule of thumb, people try to go for more turn check-raises. They tend to be a lot bigger.
It’s like in limit hold’em, when the flop bet is 40 and the turn bet is 80. People are more likely to check-raise the 80 on the turn than the 40 on the flop.
SS: I didn’t expect you to make so many comparisons to limit hold’em when explaining PLO. The games seem vastly different to me.
RL: It’s weird, but a good friend of mine explained it to me like that and I was like “Oh wow, that makes a lot of sense.” You really are playing limit hold’em with four cards. The thing is that there are a lot of similarities between most games. Most games have a lot of theoretical similarities in terms of why and how ranges work.
Then main things that matter in pretty much all forms of poker are range advantage and position. And when you understand general ranges and understand how decisions will work in whatever game type you are playing in, you will have a much better approach to most of your decision making than if you don’t understand those concepts.
And every better understanding of those concepts in each progressive game, then you generally see the similarities between the games better and better. You’ll get better at each of the games a lot faster. It’s why it’s pretty rare to find someone that is decent at like three games and they only play those three. Usually if someone is good at three games, they are usually someone that plays 10
That’s what I did. I started playing hold’em, PLO and pot-limit Omaha eight-or-better. And as I got a lot better at each of those, then I started seeing similarities in the other games. And I slowly started playing more and more games.
The reason that PLO and limit hold’em have lots of similarities is because most flop games have very similar approaches to the way you build ranges. And in those two games, because betting is limited, either by a limit or the amount in the pot, you are forced to play in a manner that is more pure linear.
Let’s say in PLO, the equities didn’t run so close together. Then it could play a lot more like no-limit hold’em where there is more polarization and things like that. In PLO, the only spot in which you really get to polarize your range is on river decisions.
SS: The river pairs the board and you check. How often does he have a full house when he checks back the turn?
RL: He doesn’t have a ton, but the issue is that he shouldn’t really have a lot of bluffs either. So, when I check and he bets fairly large, he is essentially representing full houses and bluffs, but what bluffs does he realistically have?
Most of his bluffs should bet the turn. There aren’t many hands that he could get to the river with that would want to bluff. He’s not supposed to have this type of hand on the river at all. But his hands that have pocket 10s and pocket jacks, those should be betting the turn for the most part. He’s not going to be trying to rep a straight or something like that.
There just aren’t many hands that he wants to bluff with here. And because there aren’t many hands that he wants to bluff here with, it makes it a very difficult spot for me even though I am pretty high up in my range.
I have a hand that is just an unhappy call. If I were much weaker than this, where let’s say I didn’t have a straight with a pair, or have like trips, he is probably going to win the pot there. Even if I have a hand like Q-9-J-J where I’m blocking straights and blocking top full house and second nut full house, there still just isn’t that much stuff that I beat. It’s not like he’s going to value bet a worse hand, really.
The worst hands that would value bet would be the nut straight, which he would’ve bet the turn with, so I don’t tie ever and I don’t beat value hands.
SS: You can still beat trips. Why wouldn’t he value bet that?
RL: He’s not going to value bet trips here because when I get to the river, I can certainly have 6-7, J-10, a bunch of full houses. I have every full house that’s not like Q-Q. And even then, I guess I could have that sometimes.
I do technically have a hand that is a strong theoretical call, and I did call. But it’s not a happy call because it’s so hard for most people to have any type of bluff here. It’s just not a natural spot for most people to find bluffs.
I’m sure if I was in his spot and had like A-K-9-10, I would bluff that hand, but there are just so few combos of stuff like that that is going to want to bluff.
I actually really like his river bluff. I think pre is too loose, I think flop is way too loose. Just as a general rule of thumb, I think he should bluff turn, but I really like his river bluff. ♠