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Poker Strategy With WSOP Circuit Winner Kevin Calenzo

Calenzo Wins WSOP Circuit Event For $197,451

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Kevin CalenzoKevin Calenzo scored the largest payday of his career in late January when he took down the World Series of Poker Circuit main event at Caesars Palace for $197,451. The 28-year-old pro from New Hartford, New York now has over $740,000 in career earnings and has results dating all the way back to 2003.

Here, Calenzo breaks down a key hand that took place early during heads-up play and nearly cost him the tournament. Fortunately, he was able to avoid losing all of his stack to keep himself in a position to fight back for the title.

Event – Blinds/Antes WSOP-C Caesars 60,000-120,000 with a 15,000 ante
Players Kevin Calenzo Ian Mack
Hand 10Spade Suit 6Heart Suit KHeart Suit 10Club Suit
Chip Count 7,820,000 6,130,000

The Hand

Kevin Calenzo raised to 310,000 on the button and Ian Mack made the call. The flop came down KClub Suit 10Heart Suit 6Diamond Suit and Mack checked. Calenzo bet 435,000 and Mack called.

The turn was the 8Heart Suit and Mack checked again. Calenzo fired in a bet of 675,000 and Mack check-raised to 1,675,000. Calenzo called and the river was the 2Spade Suit.

Mack bet 1,600,000 and Calenzo decided to just call, showing down 10Spade Suit 6Heart Suit for two pair. Mack showed KHeart Suit 10Club Suit for a better two pair and he raked in the pot, giving him more than a 5-2 chip lead.

The Analysis

Julio Rodriguez: Can you talk about your preflop raise sizing?

Kevin Calenzo: Usually I like to min-raise on the button when I’m heads up, but this time around I decided that I wanted to take advantage of the situation a little more and inflate the pot when I was in position. He liked to defend his big blind, but he was also a little passive when he didn’t connect with the flop.

It wasn’t that Ian was playing bad by any means, it was just that I knew that I had a lot more experience than him, so it made sense to raise a bit more preflop, so that when I continuation bet on most flops, I’ll be winning bigger pots without too much of a confrontation. Those pots add up.

JR: If you think he’s going to fold most of the time to your continuation bet, why do it?

KC: I know I said that he’s unlikely to call most c-bets, but you have to look at this flop a little more closely and realize not only his potential hand ranges, but also the fact that we are both really deep and can afford to splash around a bit. Because there are a lot of hands within his range that have somehow connected with this flop, I don’t want to give any free cards. There are a lot of top pair, second pair holdings that could improve to beat me. There are a ton of gutshots that I needed to protect against and even a hand like Q-J might be in there.

Also, even though I have two pair and we’re heads-up, my hand is still pretty vulnerable. By the time I reach the river, there could be a four-card straight on board, or my two pair might get counterfeited, so I think a bet was in order to not only protect my hand, but also inflate the pot a bit should my hand hold until the river. There’s also the possibility that he was slow playing something big preflop like aces or A-K, that he might overplay on the flop to give me a chance to win the tournament right away. So betting made the most sense.

JR: After he makes the call, what are you thinking about?

KC: The best thing about that flop bet is that it kind of narrowed down his range. After he called, I was able to pretty much rule out all gutshots, except for maybe gutshots that also had overcards like A-J or A-Q. I just didn’t think he was the type of guy who could float me. Most kings were possible, and medium second pair hands like J-10 or 10-9 were also in his range, so barring something like a set of sixes or a better two pair, which were unlikely given my hand, I thought I was still pretty far ahead.

JR: On the turn, are you betting for value, or betting to induce a raise?

KC: I was initially betting for value, trying to get paid by a pair of kings, so the raise kind of threw me off a little bit. That being said, I didn’t automatically assume I was beat either. The fact is that the way I played my hand, I could easily be two-barreling air or some kind of draw, so if he had a hand like K-Q, A-K or aces, he’d likely think it was good and go for the check-raise. Then again, there is also the possibility that he did flop better than me or possibly turned a hand like 10-8 for a better two pair.

Either way, I’m kind of happy that he raised the turn, because it forces him to bet into me on the river. My hand essentially turns into a bluff catcher, even though he may be holding a hand with some showdown value. I’m not losing value by just calling when I’m ahead and I’m not losing more of my stack when I’m behind. Furthermore, I can get away from my hand on the river if a king or an eight hit, which counterfeits my hand.

If I had decided to shove that turn, I’m not ever getting called by a worse hand other than maybe aces or 8-6. I think a shove gets A-K and K-Q to fold, which are exactly the type of hands I want betting into me on the river.

JR: Given his small river bet, is there any way you are getting away from your hand?

KC: On the river, he underbet the pot by a lot, so I’m never folding. The only question was whether or not I could shove for value. I decided against it, realizing that although I might be missing some value, I wanted to leave myself with a decent enough stack to come back from if I was behind. Had I shoved, I would’ve been left with under 2 million and been virtually eliminated. Instead, I had enough room to play and chip back up.

JR: What do you think of his overall line with his hand?

KC: Had he played his hand any differently on the flop, I think he would’ve easily doubled through me. That being said, he had the same opportunity on the river. It would’ve been really tough to fold if he had moved all in. He has to realize that I either have the hand that I have, or I’ve missed a draw. So he might as well put it all in, since I’m either calling or I’m not. I guess he was trying to get a hero call out of me, but he has to realize by then that I’m holding a hand with strong showdown value. Again, I want to point out that even though he was an amateur, he played very well. I just think that he could have ended it right there, but instead he gave me just enough room to make a comeback.