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Final Table Takedown: Justin Saliba Wins Second WSOP Bracelet

by Craig Tapscott |  Published: Dec 14, 2022

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Event: 2022 WSOP Online Event
Buy-In: $10,000
Entrants: 52
Prize Pool: $499,276
First Place Prize: $154,752

Justin Saliba has been on an absolute tear since winning his first bracelet back in the 2021 World Series of Poker Online series. The former University of Dayton soccer standout took down the $5,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em event for not only his first piece of gold, but also the $253,800 prize.

In the time since, he’s made final tables at the Stairway To Millions, Lucky Hearts Poker Open, PokerGO Cup, Texas Poker Championship, and Aria High Rollers. This summer at the WSOP, he cashed 11 times, including a fourth-place finish in the $3,000 no-limit event for $194,525.

The 27-year-old added to his collection in a big way in October, winning the $10,000 buy-in WSOP Online no-limit hold’em event for his second bracelet and the $154,752 first-place prize. Card Player caught up with the PokerCoaching.com instructor to break down a couple interesting hands from his latest victory.

Craig Tapscott: You’ve really put up some results this past year or so. To what do you attribute the biggest growth in your game?

Justin Saliba: I would say experience and consistency. When I first started taking shots and moving up in stakes in 2020, I felt strong theoretically, but I think I lacked experience and clarity around my strategies. Through all of the highs and the lows in the past few years though, I’m happy that my process has stayed consistent and I’ve always tried to improve every day. I think I needed the experience to really start playing at a high level. 

CT: Set this first final table hand up.

Stacks: Justin Saliba – 178,000 (30 BB) Brian Hastings – 284,000 (47 BB)
Blinds: 3,000-6,000 with a 600 ante
Players Remaining: 7

JS: I’m currently fourth of seven left with a 30-big blind stack. This is a spot where I’m not all that incentivized to try and play tons of hands against people. I want to play a tight and very aggressive preflop strategy in general and stay out of trouble, letting other players collide and trying to ladder up the pay jumps as a middling stack.

CT: Unless you get dealt a great hand, of course.

JS: Of course. With that said, I did get dealt a premium hand. I was very happy to play this one.

Action: Saliba raised to 14,000 from UTG holding QDiamond Suit QHeart Suit, Hastings called on the button.

CT: Brian could be calling pretty wide in that position with a larger stack, correct?

JS: Yes, I definitely thought he could be wide as the covering stack there, but also I thought he would have some stronger hands in his calling range. I think he understands that my range is quite tight there, so although he can peel a wide range, I think he also has some very strong hands that don’t want to three-bet and call off to a jam.

Flop: 10Club Suit 7Heart Suit 6Spade Suit

CT: Was this flop an automatic continuation bet for your perceived range?

JS: In the early stages of a tournament, developing some amount of continuation bets at this stack depth seems very reasonable. But with the ICM (Independent Chip Model) considerations, it makes my overall strategy want to be much more passive. Playing out-of-position versus a player that’s covering me at the final table is not a situation you would often want to pile money into the pot. I decided that I was going to just start by checking flops like this with my entire range and go from there.
 
Saliba checked, and Hastings bet 12,000.

CT: What now? Your hand was pretty disguised to say the least.

JS: I know. This is where my first interesting decision came in. I quickly needed to try and figure out if I should check-raise or just call here. On one hand, I don’t love playing a huge pot, so calling and keeping the pot small seems viable. On the other hand, we’re only playing a 4:1 stack-to-pot ratio, and pocket queens are strong here. If I raise, I get to limit my positional disadvantage and also get protection from tons of hands. I think both a small raise or a call are reasonable, and in this spot I decided to raise.

Saliba raised to 44,600, and Hastings called.

Turn: 7Diamond Suit

JS: I have to admit that this spot, much like the flop, is tricky to navigate. The pot is now 130,000, and I only have 120,000 behind. I think many people at this point just want to end the hand and pray they have the best hand here, so they jam. But I think the only two viable options are to bet with a small size or check.

I thought a check seemed great to me here. After Brian called the flop check-raise, his range is quite constricted around good hands now. The 7Diamond Suit does bring new nutted hands that Brian could have here that I can’t really have, the 8-7 suited, 9-7 suited, and A-7 suited all being somewhat viable.

Saliba checked, and Hastings checked behind.

River: 9Spade Suit

CT: Can you value bet thin in this spot? Or do you have to slow down?

JS: After this runout, I have a very marginal hand. I’m looking to show it down here, so I start with a check again on the river.

Saliba checked, and Hastings shoved all-in.

JS: Unfortunately, he quickly put me all-in. The seven improved some of his weaker bet/calls on the turn and the nine improved many more, mainly the 10-8 suited, pocket eights, pocket nines hands that I think are very prevalent here. After a bit of a tank, I decided to fold, and although it was an unfortunate hand, I only went from fourth to fifth place, and still had 20 big blinds to be dangerous with. 

Saliba folded. Hastings won the pot of 130,400.

CT: What did we learn from this hand?

JS: I liked this hand because it’s a spot where I was happy with the way I navigated it. Flopping an over-pair and going for a check-raise on the flop, then finding a river fold, all off of 30 big blinds isn’t all that common. I’m happy I didn’t get married to my hand, and was able to take every decision for what it was without following a strict plan from the flop action taken. 

CT: Did Brian ever reveal to you what he shoved with there?

JS: No, we never chatted after about it. Maybe at some point.

Stacks: Justin Saliba – 281,000 (17.5 BB) Matt Wantman – 497,000 (31 BB)
Blinds: 8,000–16,000 with a 1,600 ante
Players Remaining: 3

CT: What were the pay jumps? And what was your plan of attack sitting on the short stack?

JS: The pay jumps were third: $72,000, second: $108,000, first: $155,000. With the stacks at 32, 31, and 17.5 big blinds, there was a lot of ICM pressure on all three of us. In a dynamic like this, as the short stack, I needed to play a very tight, aggressive strategy in general. I was looking to re-jam versus opens a lot and accumulate chips in spots where they won’t want to risk their advantage and have the roles switched where they move into last place.

Action: Wantman completed the small blind. Saliba looked down at AHeart Suit 6Spade Suit in the big blind.

CT: Would this always be a no brainer to raise in this spot?

JS: Well, I had a very interesting preflop decision at this stack depth. I think a lot of players would just take an easy option and go all-in here. But three-handed online strategy plays a bit different than three-handed live games where there is a big blind ante. So, I decided to…

Saliba checked.

CT: Why check?

JS: With only 0.3 of a big blind ante in the pot, I felt less incentivized to steal the pot right away. I like to play a bit more passively. A couple other benefits to checking here are that I avoid getting all-in with some of his traps like 10-10 or A-K suited or A-Q suited, that may limp and try to induce me to jam all-in. Checking here also allowed me to play a deeper stack-to-pot ratio (SPR) in position post-flop, which is a great spot to be in. So, although I think a ton of my off-suit A-x hands will be all-in preflop, I think I have the perfect hand to check and see a flop.

Flop: KHeart Suit 10Heart Suit 8Spade Suit

Wantman checked. Saliba bet 16,000.

JS: I decided to bet one big blind (16,000) on the flop. Checking here is totally reasonable, but I like to bet for value/protection sometimes. Having the AHeart Suit 6Spade Suit combo exactly is blocking a lot of continues, and folding him off any equity here is pretty beneficial. It also gives me some board coverage across different runouts that I typically would struggle on anyway, due to my preflop strategy losing a ton of A-x.

Wantman called.

Turn: 7Heart Suit

Wantman checked.

CT: That was a great turn for you.

JS: Definitely. At this point I had a ton of equity versus his possible holdings, but I really didn’t want to have to bet and face an all-in, especially because I perceived the 7Heart Suit turn to interact pretty well with his check/call range.

Saliba checked.

River: 8Heart Suit

Wantman bet 21,000.

JS: At this point, I was very fortunate to get there and make a premium hand in a situation where it’s very difficult for me to have a premium hand. If I ‘always’ jammed A-x preflop, and ‘always’ checked back the flop, what hands do I have that can raise here? I certainly have some combos of boats, but I think my raises here are mostly going to come from the QHeart Suit going for thin value.

Since it’s difficult for me to have a nutted hand here, and much easier for Wantman to have a nutted hand, I wanted to only use a medium raise size. Something where I can match the general strength of the range I’m representing, and also give him some room to three-bet bluff the river.

Wantman is a great player. And if he has an inclination that your line doesn’t make logical sense, he’ll look to pull the trigger and put you in miserable spots. So, I decided to…

Saliba raised to 85,000. Wantman tanked and called with 9Club Suit 8Club Suit. Saliba won the pot of 238,800.

CT: That was very well played.

JS: Thank you. Overall, I’m certainly very happy to have run hot in that spot, but it’s a spot where I think the value of playing complex strategies in ‘simple’ spots really paid off. I went from 281,000 to 403,000 and continued to run hot and take down the tournament. 

You can learn from Justin Saliba directly at PokerCoaching.com/CardPlayer. Be sure to check out his courses on six-max online cash games or high-stakes GTO tournament strategies. ♠