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Final Table Takedown: Jonathan Jaffe Wins High Roller In The Bahamas

by Craig Tapscott |  Published: May 03, 2023

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Jonathan Jaffe has been a professional poker player since 2006, originally starting as a feared heads-up sit-n-go specialist online before turning his attention to the live arena.

The Longmeadow, Massachusetts native has racked up over $7.4 million in live tournament cashes, with 12 major wins including the World Poker Tour Montreal main event and the $25,000 high roller at the Lucky Hearts Poker Open. In March, he scored a career-high payday of $766,890 for taking third place at the Triton Super High Roller Vietnam series.

In January, Jaffe took a trip to the Bahamas for the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. He had previously finished second in a $25,000 high roller at the venue, but on this trip Jaffe scored his first trophy. Despite a small elite field of crushers, he entered the $50,000 buy-in event and walked away with the win.

Card Player caught up with Jaffe to talk about a couple of key hands that he played on his way to the victory.

Event: PokerStars Caribbean Adventure
Buy-In: $50,000
Entrants: 8
Prize Pool: $389,664
First Place Prize: $194,814

Stacks: Jonathan Jaffe – 194,000 (194 BB) Orpen Kisacikoglu– 140,000 (140 BB)
Blinds: 500-1,000 with a 1,000 big blind ante
Players Remaining: 8

Craig Tapscott: That seems to be a lot of big blinds to start.

Jonathan Jaffe: It was. We were playing 150 big blinds deep at the beginning of the tournament, which began at the final table due to a very small showing.

Kisacikoglu limped in from the small blind. Jaffe checked his option holding KDiamond Suit 4Heart Suit in the big blind.

CT: You usually would have the best hand in this spot. Did you consider a raise, especially since you are in position?

JJ: My check was pretty standard. I could have raised but most of the time I’ll check here.

CT: An entire book could probably be written on just blind vs blind play. From your experience, what’s the best way to approach a blind vs blind battle?

JJ: Blind vs blind poker is pretty intricate. In order to play well blind vs blind I think it’s important to recognize that you’re going to have to go outside of your comfort zone.

Aside from people who play heads-up regularly, not a lot of players are used to the level of aggression you often need to dial up with some pretty grotesque-looking starting hands.

CT: How do you teach your students how to approach playing from the blinds? Is this a spot where solvers are helpful?

JJ: Blind vs blind play is about as complex as tournament poker gets. You’ve got two very weak ranges forced to fight hard for that ante. When you set the stack depth at 150 big blinds, you’re nearly doubling down on that complexity. 

Learning the shape of a spot with a solver is always going to be a great place to start. From there, deep-stack blind vs blind play in a tournament is one of the last remaining frontiers for a heavy dose of exploitative adjustments. The more mistakes a player naturally makes in a spot, the more room there is to pick up even more EV (expected value) by looking for exploits. 

CT: And there has to be a difference between playing in a small online event as opposed to a $50,000 buy-in high roller.

JJ: Of course. Searching for an optimal blind vs blind strategy is going to depend heavily on what the student’s player pool misunderstands about the spot, and what mistakes they make based on those misunderstandings.

Flop: 9Heart Suit 4Diamond Suit 2Heart Suit
Kisacikoglu checked.

CT: You flopped a piece. What’s the best play after he checks?

JJ: I don’t usually prefer betting one big blind or two, but I’m rarely going to check or find a larger bet with this hand.

Jaffe bet 2,000. Kisacikoglu raised to 9,000.

CT: The check-raise had to be unexpected, I’m sure.

JJ: Yes. But I would never think of folding this hand. I’d generally call the vast majority of my one-pair hands, but I felt I had a uniquely good choice to hit back with a reraise.

CT: What made you think that might be the more appropriate play in this spot? Did you have a solid read on him from past experience?

JJ: I didn’t have a read that my opponent was particularly weak or strong. I felt a raise accomplished a fair bit against his range; although I wasn’t going to know exactly what it was accomplishing at the time. It could be for value, protection, or laying the groundwork for a massive bluff on choice runouts.

Jaffe reraised to 23,000. Kisacikoglu called.

CT: Once he called what range of hands did you put him on now?

JJ: I put him on a lot of 9-x hands, pocket tens through aces with more emphasis on the tens, jacks, or queens, 6-5, 5-3, a bit of A-3/A-5, a variety of different flush draws, and a few combos of two-pair and sets. Based on the number of available combos, I thought he was extremely weighted towards Q-9 through A-9, 9-8, and tens thru queens. 

Turn: KHeart Suit
Kisacikoglu checked. Jaffe bet 32,000.

CT: That seems like a great turn for your hand.

JJ: Definitely. I now felt very good about my hand. Thinking back on it, I think the 62.7 percent bet sizing I landed on was too ambitious.

CT: What sizing do you wish you had pushed out?

JJ: I think 33 percent pot would have looked a lot better.

CT: Why?

JJ: I think at the time I was likely overly optimistic in assigning his range to trailing hands he likely couldn’t fold to my 66 percent pot bet.

CT: Such as?

JJ: They were hands such as 9-x with a heart, flopped two-pair, and tens, jacks, or queens with a heart. Betting 66 percent and likely pushing him off of his low-equity hands like a black 10-10 and 6-5 with no heart is somewhat costly, in my review. I’m no doubt building a larger pot than I wanted to if he had a flush or a set.

And I have to add, there was probably a good argument for checking as well.

CT: Bet sizing is always something that beginning players struggle with. What’s the best way to calculate the proper bet sizing in most situations?

JJ: I would recommend checking out solvers. I also believe that players should study aggregate reports for certain spots. That way they can learn what sizes are most common in each spot and simplify their strategies on the flop to one or two bet sizes. Once again, that depends on the spot.

Kisacikoglu called.
River: AHeart Suit
Kisacikoglu tanked and then checked.

CT: That feels like a scary river to value bet.

JJ: Yes. I think I had a pretty good candidate to check back as my hand felt too weak to value bet and too strong to bluff. I’m pretty indifferent about my reraise on the flop, but I think I made a pretty large mistake by betting so large on the turn.

Jaffe checked. Kisacikoglu flipped over KClub Suit KSpade Suit and won the pot of 113,000.

CT: There’s no way you expected him to turn over pocket kings. If no heart had shown up, you would have been in trouble.

JJ: That’s for sure. The rivered fourth heart saved me from stacking myself with a bad value shove on a lot of bricked rivers.

CT: You’ve traveled so much for events around the world. What are your usual rituals when you go to a series like the PCA to stay sane?

JJ: I’m always looking to get some sun and play a sport if I can get some friends together. This is always my priority before the tournament starts. Poker has us sitting all day, and I’ve never felt particularly well suited for that.

And the PCA is a lot easier than other stops to get people together for something fun in the early mornings. During this trip, I played pickleball a couple of mornings and spike ball most days before play started. The waterpark was also fun to relax at before sitting down at the table all day.

Stacks: Jonathan Jaffe – 800,000 (66 BB) Orpen Kisacikoglu – 400,000 (33 BB)
Blinds: 6,000-12,000 with a 12,000 big blind ante
Players Remaining: 2

CT: What’s the best way to prepare for heads-up play with a big blind ante?

JJ: Heads up with a big blind ante is a unique format that still really needs to be studied to get an idea of the shape of things.

CT: Did you go in with any particular strategy plan that you may have formulated from your experience playing with a particular opponent?

JJ: I had some lightly held preconceived notions about how Orpen might play. But more than anything I was just going to watch and be ready to re-evaluate based on what he showed me.

Kisacikoglu limped from the button. Jaffe checked in the big blind holding 10Heart Suit 6Club Suit.
Flop: 4Heart Suit 3Diamond Suit 2Spade Suit
Jaffe checked. Kisacikoglu checked.
Turn: 7Club Suit

CT: This looks like a good card for a big blind hand.

JJ: Yes. On the 7-x turn my hand looks like one of the better candidates to fire some money into the pot. I have a hand that can’t win without betting, but I could find myself betting for value on a 5, 6, or a 10 river.

I think he’s mostly capped at a one-pair hand. So even unimproved I can try and put him in some difficult spots on most rivers. This time I opted for a 69.4 percent pot bet.
Jaffe bet 25,000. Kisacikoglu called.

CT: What are his possible holdings after he calls?

JJ: At this point, it’s a lot of different hands. He may be a bit reduced on the rarely turned two-pairs, as they might have raised.

River: 10Diamond Suit

CT: You were hoping to see a ten.

JJ: While a five river would have given me essentially the nuts, I was even more excited to see the river be a 10. This is a card I don’t have very often in my range after leading the turn, and the vast majority of my bluffs were going to be 5-x or 6-x and brick out on this river.

CT: What was the proper bet sizing to get the most value?

JJ: Given the number of bluffs still in my range at this point, I was able to choose a large sizing for value. And in this case, I chose a bit larger than 1.5x pot. 

Jaffe bet 140,000. Kisacikoglu tanked and eventually called, mucking his hand. Jaffe won the pot of 366,000.

Jonathan Jaffe is also a highly sought after poker coach for both cash games and tournaments. Those looking for instruction can reach him for private lessons at JaffePokerCoaching@gmail.com.