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Final Table Takedown With Greg Raymer

2004 World Series Of Poker Main Event Champion Breaks Down Thought Process From A Few Hands At The Final Table Of Fifth Heartland Poker Tour Victory

by Steve Schult |  Published: Feb 26, 2020


Greg Raymer etched his name into the history books during the early years of the poker boom with a World Series of Poker main event victory in 2004. Raymer steamrolled that main event final table and defeated David Williams heads-up to win $5 million.

Since taking down poker’s most coveted title in 2004, Raymer has gone on to win another $3 million and netted more than $8 million over his nearly two-decade professional poker career. Recently, he’s experienced a ton of success at the mid-stakes level. In January, the former patent attorney won his fifth Heartland Poker Tour title when he took down the HPT East Chicago main event for $171,411.

Raymer sat down with Card Player to break down a couple of hands he played at the final table of his most recent HPT victory.

Hand 1

Concepts: Using your range advantage to apply pressure on certain board textures

The Action: Tim Barany raised to 100,000 from middle position and Greg Raymer calls out of the big blind. On the flop, Raymer checked and Barany bet 60,000. Raymer check-raised to 125,000 and Barany called. On the turn, Raymer bet 400,000 and Barany folded.

Steve Schult: You defend the big blind with Q-J offsuit. Where does this hand fall in your range of hands that you’re going to defend the big blind with? Is it one of the better hands you are going to flat here?

Greg Raymer: This is a good hand. You’ve got two high cards. They aren’t the highest, but you need to be defending your blinds fairly liberally in this kind of a spot. You’re getting a great price.

What I mostly don’t want to do is defend with more trap-type hands like K-5 and stuff like that. Any hand that is ace-high or a pair or connected is probably worth defending in that spot. I’d much rather have 7-5 than K-5 to be honest just because now I don’t make one pair and get trapped for a big loss when my kicker gets beat.

A factor at that point was that he had appeared quite loose. He had been raising a lot and was the most active player in the last 30-minute period. You start to wonder how wide the range is that he’s opening with. That’s always a tricky question. Is someone playing a lot of hands or are they just getting a lot of good hands?

SS: Was his aggression part of what led you to run this bluff? On the 7-7-5 board, you don’t have much equity against any part of his value range, so what made you run this bluff?

GR: There were two main components. One that we already mentioned. It seemed like his range might be fairly wide. In some ways, that is actually a negative because he is more likely to have the 7 or the 5, as opposed to someone who is a tight player. If someone is playing very tight, then your main concern is overpairs.

The other really important factor is that since I am going to be defending with all those connected hands, I am much more likely to have hit this board. This board favors my range over his dramatically. So unless he has a big pair, he is going to really be in a tough spot. If I play it like this and he decides to call me down with a hand like A-K or A-Q, then he is making a hero call and he is going to be risking all or most of his chips to do it.

SS: When you check-raise this flop, are you pretty much just representing a 7? What other hands can you have here?

GR: I could be doing it potentially with any pair, but I am mostly saying I have a 7 or a 5. Or, on the turn, I’m saying that the 8 on the turn gave me a straight. I could’ve played the 6-4 the same way I played the Q-J. I would’ve played any two pair or trips in a similar fashion.

With the weaker two pair hands like 4-4, I might just call down instead of raising. But primarily here, I can represent a hand that is going for value against all the high-card combos like A-K. I can represent a hand that is now either trips, full house, or a straight that is going for value against his entire range.

And most of the time, he’s just not going to have a hand that he wants to call with. If he calls this check-raise, he shouldn’t do that unless he’s willing to get everything in on the river.

SS: What do you think of his call on the flop?

GR: His call is fine depending on what his plan is. If he thinks that I would stab once as a bluff and if I fire again, I must have it, then he can make that call. Because he doesn’t have to invest more chips to get to showdown. It really depends on what his thinking was.

If his thought was “I’m not sure I believe you. I call,” then his problem is that if you’re facing a player that would bluff check-raise and would bluff again on the turn, then that means you can’t call that check-raise without the intention of calling down. Because otherwise, you’re throwing that money away.

SS: The 8 comes on the turn fills in some of your semi-bluffs, which certainly makes your turn barrel much more credible. Were there cards that could come on the turn that was going to force you to shut down the bluff?

GR: The bad cards would have been an ace, king, potentially a queen or a jack if I didn’t happen to have those. The 10 would’ve been the troubling card. I would have figured that it wasn’t very likely to have hit him and then I’d be barreling into a hand that isn’t going to fold now.

The one thing about that is that if you’re representing trips, then you kind of want an ace. If he has pocket aces then you’re screwed, but if he hits an ace and has A-K, then you’d want to keep betting with trips and get full value. So it depends a little bit on what you are actually representing and what the person thinks you are representing.

Certainly, if an A comes and I bet again, now he’s going to have a hard time calling even with A-K. It’s a crying call at best for him at that point. And I don’t necessarily expect him to fold, but even if he calls, he’s not going to be happy until he sees my hand.

Hand 2

Concepts: Using floats in position to pressure players who are representing a wide range of hands

The Action: Greg Raymer raised from the cutoff to 100,000 and Tim Barany three-bet to 275,000 from the big blind. Raymer called. On the flop, Barany bet 225,000 and Raymer called. On the turn, Barany bet 275,000 and Raymer moved all in. Barany folded.

SS: Do you ever four-bet preflop with this hand? And what was your perception of Tim’s aggression against a late position raise at the time?

GR: There hadn’t been a whole lot of three-betting all day. Some, but it’s not like it had been happening every other hand as you might see at other events. So, it’s not so much that I didn’t give him credit for something, but then again, he’s played a lot of hands and I hadn’t seen very many of them. I didn’t think his range needed to be that strong, so I didn’t want to give up this A-10. On average, I’m not in bad shape against his range.

SS: Walk me through your thought process about your float on the flop and your jam on the turn when you made top pair.

GR: To be honest, the fact that I hit the turn is kind of a coincidence. I had already planned on jamming the turn even when I missed. If I had hit the A on the turn, I would not have played it that way at all. Now, I have a hand with a lot of value.

When the 10 hits, in some ways that helps a lot and in some ways it doesn’t help at all. If he has a big pair, it just means that I’m not drawing dead to the river after all the chips go in. But the main reason I decided to continue my float and bluff even after hitting top pair is that I didn’t want to let a K, Q, or J roll off that could maybe beat me.

Then I would feel that I have to call now, even if the river is one of those cards because after checking through the turn, I may have induced some bluffs here. And at that point, I don’t necessarily think his range is all that strong. I think he was playing well. He was just playing more loose and aggressive than other people at the table. That’s generally a positive.

SS: Did you expect to get better hands to fold on the turn or was this just out of protection against overcards and draws?

GR: I did not expect any worse hands to call unless he had a pocket pair like 9-9 or something. I didn’t really expect to get a call at all. I also had a reasonable feel of how confident he felt in these hands. So I felt like he was quite likely to fold here.

I’m more of a math player. The math of the game comes much easier to me. I can either figure it out or grasp the concepts when someone else explains it. But the psychology of the game. Reading people and putting them on hands is not my natural strength. That’s what I’ve spent most of my time working on all these years.

SS: How much did stack sizes come into play here? You started the hand with 3.6 million and Tim started the hand with 1.7 million. If the stack sizes were flipped, would you still be making this play?

GR: Yes and no. In terms of the fact that I would go broke potentially if that play didn’t work, I don’t put too much weight on that. I look at how I perceive my equity in the hand, and of course, that includes the potential of going broke if I’m not the bigger stack.

But if I thought ‘Hey, an all in bluff is the right play and the highest EV decision,” then I’m going to make the play regardless. I do know that a lot of players place a huge emphasis on who has the bigger stack. Simple things like just me raising their blind. They might defend lighter when they have more chips than me and much tighter when I have more chips than them.

We are still at a point there where all in is not looking that likely, but a lot of people put a lot of weight on that. So when I have more chips than the other guy unless I know better, then I assume that might be a pretty big deal to him and I’ll take some more aggressive lines.

Hand 3

Concepts: Deciphering equity in multi-way all in pots

The Action: Greg Raymer raised to 160,000 from under the gun and Tim Barany moved all in from the small blind. Evan Bethyo called from the big blind and Raymer folded.

SS: You raise from under the gun and Tim shoves about 13 big blinds from the small blind. In general, does this shove have much fold equity against an under the gun raise?

GR: Sure. Evan hadn’t been playing super loose, so even though he is the chip leader, there are plenty of hands that I can raise with and fold. I can still raise 8-7 suited and stuff like that where I’m not going to call off another 950,000 against him. Of all the hands that I can raise with from under the gun, I might be folding 30% of them to his shove.

In this case, though, I wasn’t going to fold this hand. When he shoved, if everyone else had folded, I would have just called. I’m confident that this would’ve been a good call against his range. I had also been thinking, even though he hadn’t been playing overly loose and aggressive, this is a great spot for Evan to put maximum pressure on me. I had already decided that if Evan went all in, I wasn’t folding to him either.

I had already decided that I wasn’t folding to Tim’s shove and I wasn’t folding to a shove from Evan, but the combination of both, and a little bit of live tells on Evan, I figured I had to be up against an overpair.

SS: So was it Evan’s just call that made you want to fold the hand?

GR: That was part of it. The way he just called really oozed strength. Everything about his body language and his timing. It seemed more that he was pretending to be like “Oh, I don’t know if I want to call here.” And that made me think he was really strong here.

Of course, that could be a hand like A-K and maybe A-Q. But now I have to beat two guys. What if Evan does have A-Q and Tim has K-J? Now, 8-8 is not in good shape. I’m not winning my fair share of this race when they have four different overcards. Part of Tim’s range was going to be overpairs, and I could beat Evan, lose to Tim and not really win much.

When you give both of them any reasonable range, 8-8 isn’t doing that good. It’s not doing horrible, but it’s not doing good. Even in an online game without any tells, this would still be a fold.

SS: I wanted to wrap all this up with somewhat of a generalized question. You’ve had a ton of success at the mid-stakes as a whole and the HPT specifically. Is there any specific tendency that you exploit in the field that allows you to have so much success?

GR: Everyone at this final table played at least pretty good, if not really good. And yet the only person that had a resume worth noting was Dave Gutfreund. Everyone else had a weak list of results. There were no six-figure scores for any of them and nothing that made you think that the person was a really accomplished player.

But even if they didn’t all play perfect, none of them did anything stupid. None of them made any egregious or obvious mistakes, so I suspect my edge is that I’m making some of these decisions just a little bit better than most of them. That I’m not as worried about a few things like I mentioned before about stack sizes. Maybe I’m just more situationally aware because of my experience.