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Poker Strategy: Final Table Takedown With Tournament Pro Asher Conniff

Conniff Takes Card Player Through His Thought Process On Two Key Hands From His WSOP Circuit Victory

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Asher Conniff became a household name in the poker world by accident. In 2015, he was playing online poker in New Jersey and mis-clicked into a satellite for the $15,000 World Poker Tour Championship. He won his seat into the event and went on to win it for $973,683.

Since his nearly seven-figure score, Conniff has been a fixture on the mid and high-stakes tournament Circuit, racking up $2.28 million in earnings over his career. His most recent score came a few weeks ago when the New Jersey native won his first World Series of Poker Circuit ring. He defeated 607 entries in the $1,700 no-limit hold’em main event at Bally’s Las Vegas to earn $193,147.

Conniff sat down with Card Player to take us through his thought process from two key hands at the final table.

Hand 1

Concepts: Using your perceived range to pick optimal hands to bluff with

The Action: Joshua Suyat completed the small blind and Asher Conniff checked his option in the big blind. The flop was 9Club Suit 5Heart Suit 2Club Suit and Suyat checked. Conniff bet 90,000 and Suyat called. The turn was the 5Spade Suit and Suyat checked again. Conniff bet 175,000 and Suyat called. The river was the JClub Suit and Suyat checked. Conniff bet 440,000 and Suyat called. He mucked to Conniff’s king-high.

Steve Schult: Why did you decide to check your option in the big blind? I would think king-high is a favorite against a small-blind limping range.

Asher Conniff: I think with these hands I have a little bit of a mixed strategy. I definitely have some raises and some checks. I have a hand that plays somewhat good at showdown blind versus blind. I can get to a lot of showdown with king-high or a pair and be good.

But on the other hand, it’s not always going to flop a ton of equity or build a ton of equity in spots where I want to bet multiple streets. I find that I’ll end up overbluffing often when I raise this, so I liked it as a check.

SS: His limp in the small blind seems strange to me. How prevalent of a strategy is this becoming in tournament poker?

AC: I think it’s becoming pretty prevalent. You definitely see a mix of things happening. Also, as is obvious, you’re playing out of position and he was not the shortest stack. There was someone else at the table who was shorter than him, so I think it’s just a great way to reduce variance and not play huge pots when the pay jump is $10,000 or $20,000 or something.

I think it’s a great way for him to keep the pot as small as he can and just play out of position for cheap, essentially.

SS: You don’t flop very well, but decide to stab at it after a check. Is this a spot where since there is a shorter stack than him, you’re just going to be auto-stabbing to put pressure on him?

AC: I wouldn’t say auto-stabbing, but it came 9-5-2 with two clubs and I have K-4 with the king of clubs. So, in theory, I could take a card. I have king-high and backdoor draws and whatever. But I think those are the exact reasons I want to bet here.

I have a ton of good turn cards in the deck. A three, a six, a king, a club are all cards that give me a lot more equity and make it easier to barrel. There are other cards that are perceived to be good for my hand can lead me to be able to barrel. And I’ll be able to get him to fold some better king-highs and some ace-highs if not on the flop, then by the river. It just seemed like a good flop for me to start betting and take it from there.

SS: When the five comes on the turn, you block a lot of the draws. Are you just representing trips when you bet the turn?

Conniff Winning 2015 WPT Championship (Photo Credit: WPT/Joe Giron)AC: It’s interesting. It’s somewhat of a range neutral card. I think that it hits both of our ranges some amount. I have more fives than he does because maybe he isn’t limping 5-2 offsuit, 10-5 offsuit, or J-5 offsuit. Something like that.

But he is definitely going to have a bunch of fives and when he does, he is going to check the flop and let me start bluffing. But when I bet the flop, I can have all of the fives and can have easily turned trips here. Again, the other thing is that I want to try and start getting better hands to fold. There are hands like mine like K-8, K-7, K-6, and things that have some equity.

I don’t know how often I’m going to get ace-high to fold, but I need to continue telling the story and by the river get him to fold some of his ace-highs. A river six, a river three, a river club, I also want to bet those cards so that even though they are bricks, they can perceive to be good for my hand and get him to fold better.

SS: That’s obviously what you try and do when you bet the river since you block some flush draws. What hands do you think he’ll fold and what part of his range did you expect to call.

AC: On the turn, when he called, I kind of was just going with my plan. If I improve to a king, or if cards that are perceived to be good for my range show up, I was going to bet. Otherwise, I was just going to check and expect to not win the hand.

With the river being the JClub Suit, I’m obviously barreling all of my flush draws on the flop and the turn. I’m not sure of my perception, but I am definitely checking back a lot of my suited hands preflop because I have good equity and can make hands and put him in tough spots. Where maybe I don’t want him to limp-fold the 8-5 offsuit. I wanted him to be in there.

I didn’t bet too big, but I wanted to size it up a little to disincentivize his ace-highs that have gotten to the river and maybe pocket threes or something. I went up to 440,000 on the river and one of the fascinating things about it is that he called after like five seconds. He called so fast that I almost just mucked my hand.

SS: What are your thoughts on his river play? Are there many hands that are worse than king-high that you go three streets with?

AC: I think I could continue barreling my 3-4’s and some of my gutshot straight draws that didn’t get there. I don’t think I actually would barrel the guy that often. He’s actually a really solid player and played really solid throughout the tournament.

The only question I have about the hand on his end, and I’m not here giving myself a gold star like I played the hand incredible, but is what hand that he got to the river with that he called? He didn’t say like “Oh, I had queen-high or jack-high.” I don’t know what he had. Clearly, he had something where he thought I would just be betting all of my straight draws that missed and wanted to call. It was just confusing to me what hands he called turn with and then called river with that he couldn’t beat me with.

Other than that, his logic definitely has some good reasoning to it. He clearly thought my range of hands that would bet three times for value is so narrow compared to the hands that I’m bluffing with. He went with his read and he wasn’t wrong. I was bluffing. I just had king-high and he couldn’t beat that.

Hand 2

Concepts: Playing against polarized ranges

The Action: Asher Conniff raised to 275,000 on the button and Justin Young three-bet to 850,000 out of the small blind. Conniff called. The flop was AHeart Suit 10Spade Suit 7Heart Suit and Young bet 550,000. Conniff called. The turn was the 6Spade Suit and Young bet 1,600,000. Conniff called. The river was the 4Heart Suit and Young moved all in for 2,665,000. Conniff called.

SS: Given that you have position against him, how wide are you going to be defending the button against a three-bet?

AC: I definitely would defend any suited ace here, but also, there is just a difference playing three-handed in just a strength of hands and distribution of cards. I probably wouldn’t defend this hand too often full-ring. I would probably play it as a four-bet or a fold with a smaller percentage of peels. But the hand just seemed too strong to fold and decided to take a flop and go from there.

Looking back, that might have been flawed because obviously he’s tough. He’s willing to put you in some really tough spots. He’s really good at poker.

SS: On the flop, your call seems fairly standard given your exact hand, but which hands would you be raising this board with, if ever?

AC: I think generally I have very few raises on this texture, which is interesting because it’s a texture in general where you don’t want to slow-play all your hands. It’s just so wet that you want to push your equity when you do have good hands. But with how wide I perceived his range to be, just because it’s three-handed, not because he’s extra insane or anything, I wanted to keep all his bluffs in and I wanted to let him barrel.

Even if I had a hand like A-7 here, which is probably our strongest weak holding. In terms of our strongest holding that is most vulnerable, I would still just want to call, let him continue barreling, see a turn card and take it from there.

SS: On the turn, you face a much bigger sizing than on the flop. What do you make of his range against such a large bet size?

AC: I just thought that at this point, his value range is becoming fairly thin. He’s obviously good enough to continue value betting A-K and A-Q here, and in many cases he should, especially if he perceives me to have a weaker hand of value that could pay him.

First of all, I have a gutshot, which just makes the hand too good to fold at this point. But especially at this sizing, it made me think it was equally, if not more likely that he would have some flush draws. He could have QSpade Suit JSpade Suit or KHeart Suit QHeart Suit, or something of that nature. He’s just firing really large and the board smacks my flop call and having a hand on the turn range.

I never really have air here, but I guess I never have too many strong hands here either. I don’t have any sets, maybe sixes. I think we were at the stack depth where I get pocket sevens in preflop, and definitely pocket tens and aces. So, my hand is just too good to fold.

SS: The huge jump in sizing from 550,000 on the flop to 1.6 million. Is this something you see often? And what information can you take away from it?

AC: A lot of it is texture based. On different board textures, people have different sizings. But on these wet textures, people are definitely sizing up. It both polarizes their ranges and protecting their hands, or just abusing the other person’s range and trying to get them to fold. People are definitely sizing up on these. It wasn’t out of line or out of order. It wasn’t surprising, but I just had to take for what it was and go from there.

SS: At this point, he’s committed about 60 percent of his stack. Did you anticipate a shove on most rivers or did you think you could get to a cheap showdown?

AC: I was hoping to get to showdown with my particular hand. I thought he was shoving a lot of river cards, but with the specific river that came, his hand range became so polar between made hands and complete air, which led to my river call.

SS: Do you think he would shove A-K on the river? Or something weaker than a flush?

AC: I thought he was capable of having sets, some two pairs. I think it was definitely possible that he could have A-K or A-Q. The tough part of the hand is that he’s good enough to understand that if, let’s say I have a flush. Let’s say he has A-K and he is going to check-call my all in because I’ll have a flush, but he’s going to check-call to pick off my bluffs.

I don’t have many bluffs here after I call twice. So if he is going to check-call, he might as well just shove to get value from my worse hands if he is just going to lose to my better hands anyway. If he plans on check-calling A-K and I have two pair or a flush and he’s going to lose, that he would want to shove to get value from worse.

Because I’m going to check back A-9. So when he shoves and I call with A-9, that’s how he gets value from worse hands. And because the river completed the flush, it’s just so incredibly hard for me to have air. The only real bluffs I’m going to have here are the spade combos that I peeled the flop with.

He also had J-9 with the 9Heart Suit, which is good to block some flush draws that I could have. And he blocks some straights with the nine. He’s got a pretty good candidate to do that with. But his shove on the river is just so polar that I just went with my gut and it obviously worked out.