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Pot-Limit Omaha Strategy: Phil Galfond Breaks Down Hand From His Match With Chance Kornuth

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At the end of 2019, I issued a challenge to the poker world, taking on all comers for a series of high-stakes heads up pot-limit Omaha matches. So far, I’ve faced off and defeated the likes of Bill Perkins, Dan “Jungleman” Cates, Chance Kornuth, Brandon Adams, as well as high-stakes PLO players ‘Venividi1993’ and ‘ActionFreak.’

In this column, I’d like to break down a tricky situation that came up in my match with Chance, where he put me to the test on the river. 

The Challenge

Stakes: $100-$200 
Duration: 35,000 Hands
Side Bet: Phil’s $1 million to Chance’s $250,000 
Standings (At the time): Phil +$259,000
Hands Played (At the time): 20,000

Preflop: Chance raises to $600, and Phil calls with AClub Suit 8Heart Suit 3Heart Suit 9Spade Suit. The pot is now $1,200. 

Phil: Chance makes a standard open. In heads-up PLO, the button is typically opening 90% to 95% of their range. With my holding there is no other option but to call. 

Flop: The flop comes ASpade Suit 9Club Suit 9Diamond Suit and both players check. 
Turn: The turn is the 10Spade Suit. Phil checks again, and Chance bets half the pot with $600. Phil calls and the pot is now $2,400.

Phil: After seeing the 10Spade Suit on the turn, I’m finally presented with a decision. I decided to check my hand for a couple of reasons. Since I block the ace, it’s going to be tough to get called down twice. Secondly, I like checking when I unblock all the draws because Chance will do a fair bit of betting with those draws, and he may continue bluffing on the river. 

It’s important to also think about how this spot would play out if I had gone for a bet instead of checking. Let’s say I bet the turn and the river is an offsuit four. If I go for a bet, he has a lot of missed draws or hands like K-J-10-X, that he’s just going to fold. If I check, the main problem is that I look like I either have air or a check-raise, which means if he has any type of showdown value, he’s just going to check. So, in those cases, you aren’t going to induce a lot of bets because most of his potential bluffs will have some sort of showdown value. 

Now, let’s discuss what I should do after facing a half-pot ($600) bet. I don’t like check-raising this turn card because, first of all, I’m blocking the hands that I want to call me, A-X-X-X and 9-X-X-X, and I actually run into 10-10-X-X sometimes. 

I’m looking to get a lot of money into this pot, but because of the makeup of his range, if I start check-raising now, I just end up getting him to fold a lot of stuff. If I slow play, he can actually make some hands on the river and then call a check-raise. So, I do go for a check-call here, which I think is the best play. 

River: The river is the QDiamond Suit. Phil checks, and Chance bets the pot for $2,400. Phil check-raises to $7,400, and Chance surprises him by three-betting all-in for $24,600.

Phil: The QDiamond Suit is a perfect example of a river card that allows Chance to continue betting, which is what he elects to do. So far, our strategy of check-calling the turn in order to check-raise the river is going according to plan.

I think I should have just chosen to use a pot-sized raise, but at the time, I raised to $7,400, or roughly three times the size of Chance’s bet. Then, Chance ends up putting me in a very tough situation by three-betting all-in. 

Yes, I have AClub Suit 8Heart Suit 3Heart Suit 9Spade Suit for a full house, which is a huge hand, but when I check-raise this river, I’m saying that I have a full house. I would just check-call a pot-sized bet with a straight (K-J-X-X). So, when he jams, he’s saying that he can beat a full house, meaning he’s representing quads or a better full house.

This is an interesting hand-reading exercise because there is so much nuance. On this river, I lose to 10-10-X-X, Q-Q-X-X, and A-A-X-X. 

A-A-X-X can play the hand this way, but he’s mostly going to be betting the flop with that. Also, I block an ace, which further limits the number of combos that beat me.
Q-Q-X-X is always going to three-bet the river if he’s gotten here this way, but what Q-Q-X-X hands are going to bet the turn? Maybe Q-Q-9-X and A-Q-Q-X, but he’s not going to bet the turn with something like Q-Q-J-X or Q-Q 5Spade Suit 4Spade Suit. Those hands are just going to check. So, he actually doesn’t get to the river with much Q-Q. And the Q-Q-X-X that he does show up with, I actually block with my ace and my nine, making them less likely. 

So, then there’s 10-10-X-X, and the really interesting thing about 10-10-X-X is that when I check-call turn and check-raise river, I actually look a lot like Q-Q-X-X. Given that, there’s a pretty good chance that if he’s sitting there with 10-10-X-X, he doesn’t feel good about re-potting it.

He can expect me to have some slow-plays on the turn, but for the most part, if I have a hand like 10-9-X-X, I’m usually betting the turn. If I have a hand like Q-9-X-X, I’m usually betting the turn because those hands aren’t great traps. There are better hands to bet the turn and river with. So, in actuality, a lot of my boats are either A-9-X-X or Q-Q-X-X and I think it looks most like I have Q-Q-X-X. So again, I’m not so sure he’s going to three-bet a hand like 10-10-X-X in this spot, as nitty as that may seem on the surface.

Summarizing these points, I don’t think he takes this line with 10-10-X-X, he doesn’t have many combos of Q-Q-X-X due to the turn play, and he has very few A-A-X-X combos. Considering all of that, I end up putting in the call, and Chance showed up with KSpade Suit QSpade Suit JClub Suit 4Club Suit

I give him a lot of credit for finding this bluff. Most players wouldn’t be capable of it. 

This is one of those spots where you just rarely expect to see the three-bet because, not only are there not many value hands that make sense, but there are also very few good bluffing candidates. Having a hand you can value bet while also blocking the queen made his hand a great choice for the bet, three-bet bluff line. ♠

Phil Galfond is a prolific high-stakes poker player and is regarded by his peers as one of the best PLO players in the world today. Although he has focused mainly on cash games, Galfond has also won three World Series of Poker bracelets.

The Run It Once poker training site owner is now offering readers 25% off their first Elite membership if you use the code ‘CARDPLAYER’ at checkout. Or you can check out Phil’s game-changing ‘This Is PLO’ course. Find him on Twitter @PhilGalfond.