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Battling Jake Schindler At A High Roller Final Table

by Steve Zolotow |  Published: Oct 06, 2021


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Jake SchindlerPoker has become a very popular spectator sport, and PokerGO provides content of a consistently high quality. Anyone who is serious about playing or who enjoys watching poker would do well to subscribe. (Use the code ‘CardPlayer’ for $20 off an annual subscription.)

The hand I am about to discuss can be found on PokerGO, as part of their coverage of the U.S. Poker Open back in June. We were at the six-handed final table, so there were significant pay jumps each time a player was knocked out.

Jake Schindler is one of the world’s top pros with cashes totaling over $25 million. He was Card Player’s Player of the Year in 2018, and has the record for most final tables in a single year with 31. He has great technical skills. He’s used to these final table situations and is unlikely to fall apart or do anything stupid.

I am egotistical enough to think that I’m not completely overmatched, since I have spent the last year studying and my skills at tournament no-limit hold’em have definitely improved. I also have 60 or so years of live playing experience, which has given me a reasonably good table feel-ability to sense when my opponent is strong or weak. Unfortunately, table feel is probably worth a lot more against weaker players. These top players don’t give much away.

The blinds were 30,000-60,000, with a 60,000 big blind ante. Jake, who was in the hijack and second to act, was the short stack with around 11 big blinds (bbs). I was in the big blind and had him comfortably covered with about 25 bbs.

It is normal for such a short stack to play a push or fold strategy. Either he goes all-in or folds. He may also choose to min-raise with a small, polarized range, such as A-A or K-4 suited. If there is action behind, he will happily get all-in with the former and fold the latter. (In an earlier hand, for example, he min-raised with A-2 suited.)

Modern tournament players, however, have discovered a way to increase their equity in push-fold situations when there are multiple players behind them. They make a large raise that puts them nearly all-in, but save one or two small chips.

Why? This clever play caters to the situation where two or more players behind them pick up monsters and jam the pot. They now have the option of folding their worst hands and hoping for a pay jump if someone else gets knocked out on the hand. In fact, they may even survive a hand or two more, until it’s their turn to post a blind, and every hand is another chance for someone to bust out and move up the ladder.

Jake surprised me by raising to five bbs, which was about half his stack. Everyone folded to me, and last to act in the big blind, I find myself looking at A-J offsuit. WTF? If this hand occurred at an early stage of the tournament, and an unknown opponent shoved, I’d have an easy call. My hand would do nicely against his short stack shoving range.

The fact that this was a final table complicated things. There were ICM (Independent Chip Model) considerations. Advancing one spot was worth cash. Knocking someone out was also worth cash.

If that didn’t complicate my decision enough, this was no ordinary opponent. It was Jake Schindler, who is experienced and resourceful and now raising what seems like a weird amount. Maybe he is thinking, there’s a tight old guy in the blinds and I can steal more easily with a big bet. If that’s the case, he has garbage and I have to call. Could he be trying to survive with a playable stack if two players behind shove? On the other hand, maybe he has a hand he feels is too good to shove, and he wants to get some value before forcing me out with a flop bet.

The 30-second time clock is ticking! Great players know that if you don’t give your opponent tough decisions, he won’t make mistakes. This seems to be to be a tough decision.

I may have been wrong, but my instincts told me to fold. Is this the old guy playing too tight syndrome? In a non-televised tournament, I’d never know for sure. I could ask, and probably believe my opponent’s response, assuming he gave one.

A little later I find out he had A-Q offsuit. In this particular situation, my fold was successful, but when I later analyzed the situation, with help from Matt Affleck and others, the consensus was that folding was the wrong play.

Look out for my next column, where I discuss yet another encounter with Jake. ♠

Steve ZolotowSteve ‘Zee’ Zolotow aka The Bald Eagle or Zebra is a very successful gamesplayer. He has been a full-time gambler for over 40 years. With two WSOP bracelets, over 60 cashes, and a few million in tournament cashes, he is easing into retirement. He currently devotes most of his Vegas gaming time to poker, and can be found in cash games at Aria and Bellagio and at tournaments during the WSOP. When escaping from poker, he spends the spring and the fall in New York City where he hangs out at his bars: Doc Holliday’s, The Library, and DBA.