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Final Table Takedown With Kyle Kitagawa

Northern California Pro Breaks Down Hands From His Victory At WPTDeepStacks Thunder Valley

by Steve Schult |  Published: Mar 11, 2020


Kyle Kitagawa is a pro’s pro. He plays cash games in Northern California to grind out a living and takes shots at tournaments up and down the west coast for the bigger scores.

After a couple years of close calls on the tournament circuit, Kitagawa made a breakthrough with his first six-figure score at the WPTDeepStacks $1,500 main event at Thunder Valley Casino. Kitagawa defeated 356 entries and earned $106,520 for his efforts.

Card Player sat down with Kitagawa to get insight into his thought process from two hands he played at the final table.

Hand 1

Concepts: Using hands that unblock missed draws to bluff with

The Action: Zihan Men raised to 150,000 on the button and Kyle Kitagawa three-bet to 315,000 out of the big blind. Men called. On the flop, Kitagawa bet 280,000 and Men called. Kitagawa bet 400,000 on the turn and was called by Men. On the river, Kitagawa bet 785,000 and Men folded.

Steve Schult: What did you make of Zihan’s 3x preflop raise? I thought the standard nowadays was between slightly more than a minraise. Did you take anything away from it?

Kyle Kitagawa: I want to say that overall, when it was three-handed and heads-up, everybody was raising to the same amount and it was pretty consistent. I don’t recall it being larger than normal.

SS: That was just the standard raise size for the table?

KK: Yeah. And we were all relatively deep still, so I didn’t think too much of it. He was opening his button with a pretty wide range, which is standard for this stage of the tournament.

SS: What made you decide to three-bet his button raise?

KK: He had been three-betting pretty wide on the button, as he should. And when I looked down at the ace, my initial plan was to take initiative and just take it down without seeing a flop. That was my first plan. But I didn’t three-bet that big though, so it’s possible that in-game, I thought my ace was good and I just getting more value.

SS: In hindsight, would you have three-bet to a larger sizing if for no other reason besides your positional disadvantage?

KK: Yeah. Possibly. Then again, I do recall at some point, before this hand, thinking that I did want to play a big pot with this guy. Not because he was terrible or anything. He was actually pretty decent, but I did see him get into a few spots against other players where the pot got really big, but it felt that he probably could’ve avoided those situations.

I also thought that he was folding a lot more than he should on later streets. I didn’t know his cards at the time we were playing obviously, but I said to myself “If he calls a three-bet, I can probably just outplay him post-flop.”

SS: This seems like the plan from the get-go was to just run him over? Is that why you decided to bet the flop after missing everything completely?

KK: Of course, it depends on the board texture, right? But I think the majority of the time when I am going to three-bet out of position, unless it’s a really wet board that I completely miss, the majority of the time I’m going to make a c-bet (continuation bet). And the flop was pretty dry.

Overall, it was a pretty dry flop. I’m probably going to c-bet that a lot of the time. And because he knows that it’s a dry flop that I’m going to c-bet at a high frequency, he’s probably going to float me a lot too. So that increases the chances that I’m going to have to barrel the turn, unless it’s a really bad card.

I sized my flop bet on the smaller end because I didn’t have anything on the board. I wanted to give myself an easy out in case he raised me. The board way too dry just to check.

SS: He calls and you end up betting the turn again. Were you going to shut down on certain turn cards?

KK: I think a queen, king, or ace, that aren’t hearts, I’m probably going to fire another shell on the turn. After he calls the flop, he could have a jack, he could have a flush draw. There are a lot of flush draws he could have. There are a lot of pocket pairs, and hands like middle and bottom pair. A hand like 5-4. I felt like there were a lot of hands he could call me with.

But when the turn is a queen, it felt like a pretty safe card for me to barrel again. I think that card hits my three-betting preflop range a lot. I think if I check on that card, it kind of caps my range. It tells him that at best I have a jack and I’m worried about the queen or something.

SS: If you did decide to check, are you just giving up? Or just trying to get to showdown?

KK: If I checked and he bet the turn, it would be a pretty easy give-up. But if he checks back on the turn, it becomes dependent on the river. I might just check the river because I think my ace-high could be good a lot of the time if he has a draw or something like that.

SS: The river pairs the jack. Generally, the board pairing river slows people down from continuing their bluffs because the board texture doesn’t change a ton. What made you fire that last shell?

KK: Because I have the ace already, I am blocking a lot of combos like A-J and A-Q. After the turn, when he calls, I rule out a lot of Q-X hands. The board is getting pretty wet with a bunch of straight draws and flush draws. A queen should bet not only to protect his hand, but for value.

So, I’m ruling out completely hands like A-Q and K-Q. I’m throwing those out the window.

SS: You think he would raise you on the turn with a queen?

KK: Yeah. I think if he had a queen, he would’ve raised in most scenarios because I think he can still get value if I had a jack or a draw. Plus, if he raised with a Q here, it would be consistent with how he was raising in previous pots I saw him play. So, I’m ruling out a lot of Q-X hands at that point.

So now when he calls the turn, I remember specifically thinking ‘Okay. He has 9-9 or 10-10.’ I remember narrowing it down to those two hands, a combo draw, or a weak J-X hand.

He could have A-10 of hearts, K-10 of hearts, 10-8 of hearts. I have the 3h, so the only straight and flush combos that he could have on the flop is 5h4h. There are also a lot of pair and flush combos that he could have too like what he had. Basically, anything with a six and two hearts he can have in his range.

We had been playing not just that day, but the day before together and I had been three-betting him quite a few times and I felt like he was finally getting sticky with me. Because he had folded quite a few times to my three-bets prior to this.

It’s also worth noting that if he does hold a flush combo, it makes it much less likely that I am on a flush draw. So it makes my range look much stronger to him, Because if he has one of those draws, I can’t have one of those draws.

SS: I saw that after you made the river bet, you still had 20 big blinds behind. Were stack sizes a function of this play? Would you be making this play if you were shorter and had to just shove the river?

KK: If I was shallower, I would probably have to rip it. There are quite a few things going on in my head on this river. The flop and turn bets were both in the 30-40 percent range, which kind of looks value-ish to me. And I kind of wanted to keep that consistent.

I’ve got his range narrowed down to a pocket pair, J-X, and any of those combo draws I mentioned. And if I think he would raise me on the turn with a queen, then the only pair and flush combos he can have is with the 6. Those are all going to be hero calls pretty much if I bet this river.

The only hands I’m really worried about here are J-X hands, unless he got really sticky with one of those pocket pairs or 6-X of hearts. So I wanted to make this bet look like it was for value.

If he has a jack, he is calling me no matter what, right? So I wanted to minimize my losses if he calls and I still have enough to make a comeback if he calls and I lose. And I think it was enough to get most of those middle pairs and 6-X combos to fold.

Plus, my perceived range is also pretty narrowed down to Q-Q, Q-J, 6-6 or a ballsy stone-cold bluff. I think hands like A-Q, I would check-call the river, and hands like A-J or K-J, I would check-call the turn. So the fact that I never slowed down represents a very strong range. What would I bet if I had a full house? Probably the amount that I bet.

Hand 2

Concepts: Playing pot control with hands that are at the top of your bluff catching range

The Action: Kyle Kitagawa raised to 215,000 on the button and Thu Tran three-bet to 600,000 out of the big blind. Kitagawa called. Tran bet 300,000 on the flop and Kitagawa called. Both players checked the turn and Tran checked the river as well. Kitagawa bet 800,000 and Tran called.

SS: A-J is extremely strong heads-up. Do you ever four-bet this hand?

KK: I was thinking about it. I could’ve easily four-bet shoved it, but I felt that calling was the better play because it would still leave me with plenty of chips and I was already in position post-flop. So, I elected to just call.

His hand was not a part of what a standard three-betting range would be, so I’m not sure if that was just a factor of him feeling like he had momentum now that he had regained the chip lead. Maybe he was just trying to lean on my stack. Like you said, A-J is extremely strong heads-up, but with my stack size, it gets a little tricky playing A-J.

SS: He bets very small on the flop with top pair. When he chooses this size, what are you thinking his range is?

KK: He did three-bet, but the thing is that again, that flop is very dry. He could have a hand like A-Q, K-Q, Q-J, he might have some pocket pairs that are actually worried about the queen.

One thing is that I had a much better than normal read on this guy. I don’t want to get too much into tells, but I actually had a tell that I felt pretty confident in with him. Also, with his betting sizes throughout the entire final table, I had noticed that he was either betting small when he was weak or he was betting small when he had it. I can’t remember exactly which one it was because it was almost two months ago.

But regardless, when he bets so small like that and I have a backdoor straight draw and an ace could still be good, I am going to generally call.

SS: If he had bet bigger on the flop, let’s say a half-pot size instead of a quarter-pot size, do you still float him with this hand?

KK: I think on this board, I’m generally going to have to call and float him most of the time.

SS: Why did you decide to check back on the turn when you make top pair?

KK: When he checks, there are a couple things going on in my mind. First off is the worst-case scenario and he has some monster like A-Q and he is checking to trap me. And technically, in a lot of ways, his check is to trap me because he knows that I’m going to use the ace as a bluff card a lot of the time.

Second is that if he is checking the turn for weakness, then if I bet it, he’s going to fold and I’m losing value. Again, that flop is really dry. He happened to have a queen this time, but a good chunk of the time he won’t have anything. I felt that checking back would actually increase the likelihood that I get value on the river.

I can either turn my hand into a bluff catcher if he bets the river of if he checks the river, then I can just bet and hope that he has a hand that can call. I also don’t think there are a whole lot of hands that are calling the turn. If I knew he had a queen, I would’ve bet it.

SS: How did you land on the sizing? What are you trying to get value from?

KK: Trying to get value from a queen or value from a ten. At that point, I kind of just have to bet and hope that he has something to call. I can’t just check a hand that big twice in position. If he ends up doing a weird check-raise, that would definitely ring some bells in my head, and I would definitely have to reevaluate.

SS: If he did pull off a river check-raise, does having the Jh in your hand help you call?

KK: Definitely. I block flushes, I block K-J. I guess he could have Q-10. I guess that would be the only hand that I would be immediately worried about it. I think I felt pretty comfortable on the river though, with my live read on him, that my ace was good.

SS: You don’t have to go too deep into specifics. But I know that this is kind of a heated debate in poker right now. Whether or not you should just be a robot playing game theory optimal strategy or whether or not you should take live reads and exploitative strategy into account, but how much do you specifically weight live tells?

KK: It depends on how consistent and accurate I believe the tell is. Not everyone has a tell, so sometimes you straight up don’t have the option to go with your live read. But there are some cases, and I would actually say that it is somewhat rare, especially in the late stages of a tournament, where you have a read on a player that is so precise. I think I was just super fortunate that I ended up heads-up with this guy.

I think he’s a solid player, but I just felt that I had a really good read on him. It mattered a lot to me in that specific situation.

Images provided by WPT, WSOP, and Seminole Hard Rock