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Poker Strategy -- Matt Hawrilenko Cash Game Hand Analysis

'Hoss_TBF' Talks About a Limit Hold'em Hand


Matt HawrilenkoMatt “Hoss_TBF” Hawrilenko is known as one of the most skilled limit hold’em players in the world. Despite rarely traveling to tournaments other than the World Series of Poker, he’s accrued more than $1.6 million in tournament winnings and won his first bracelet this summer in the $5,000 short-handed no-limit hold’em event. Hawrilenko spends most of his time playing high-stakes cash games online, and he caught up with Card Player to breaks down a limit hold’em hand he recently played.

The Game:

Stakes: $500-$1,000
Game: Limit hold’em
Table: Mixed Game Heads up

The Lineup:

Seat 1: Matt Hawrilenko ($25,224.50)— Big blind $500
Seat 2: Villain ($15,749) — Small blind $250

Review of the Hand

Preflop Action: Villain raises to $1,000, and Matt Hawrilenko calls with 7Club Suit 4Diamond Suit. The pot is now $2,000.

Matt Hawrilenko: The first thing to note is this is a mixed-game table, which means my opponent might not be as familiar with heads-up limit hold’em as a specialist, so I’m on the lookout for situations where I think he’s vulnerable to have imbalances in his distribution. This particular circumstance is a common one, actually, for both the small blind and the big blind, which is why I think the hand is particularly interesting.

Flop Action: The flop is 6Spade Suit 5Diamond Suit 5Club Suit. Hawrilenko checks and Villain bets $500. Hawrilenko raises to $1,000, and Villain calls $500. The pot is now $4,000.

MH: A flop like this presents players in my spot with the opportunity to make a lot of mistakes, because when they’ve just called preflop and a pair flops, they are less likely to have a pair, so the value-check-raises should get a bit thinner, and the hand gets more interesting to play. This is because most big blinds would have three-bet preflop with any pocket pair and lots of ace-highs, so when a pair flops, there are fewer hands they can have that have made a pair, whereas, on a 6-5-5 flop, there are a lot of straight draws, backdoor-straight and flush draws with overcard combinations, etc., so if you’re not careful, your distribution could start to weight too heavily toward draws. Anyhow, in this particular hand, I flopped the open-ender and elected to check-raise my draw; pretty standard.

Turn Action: The turn is the 2Spade Suit. The board now reads 6Spade Suit 5Diamond Suit 5Club Suit 2Spade Suit. Hawrilenko bets $1,000, and Villain calls. The pot is now $6,000.

MH: The turn brings a second spade, and a third card to a straight, which means a lot of opponents will be calling frequently with an overcard plus gutshot type hands (hands like J-4, Q-4).

River Action: The river is the JDiamond Suit. The board now reads 6Spade Suit 5Diamond Suit 5Club Suit 2Spade Suit JDiamond Suit. Hawrilenko bets $1,000, and Villain raises to $2,000. Hawrilenko reraises to $3,000, and Villain folds. Hawrilenko wins the pot of $9,999.50 (after rake).

MH: On the river, I’m at the very bottom of my distribution, so I bluff — pretty standard again — and my opponent raises. For most opponents, the worst hand they’ll raise for value in this spot is jacks, so the options are:

1) He could be value-raising a jack, probably either J-4 or Q-J plus.

2) He could be slow-playing a 5.

3) He could have a busted straight draw, busted flush draw, overcards that he convinced himself to call with on the turn, so he could bluff the river.

In scenario 1, if I three-bet bluff, I should get called, but there are actually some players who are big into hand-reading and couldn’t imagine me three-betting anything but a 5 here and could lay this type of hand down. In general, this is unlikely enough that I wont even bother assessing a probability and adding it to my value calculations. Really, the cackle of fiendish glee I get in the rare instances that an opponent folds and shows, or posts it later to a strategy forum is more than enough for me. Scenario 2 is unlikely. People with trips tend (rightly) to want to give you the opportunity to blow up with hands like 8-7 on the turn and go four bets, so they’ll usually raise the turn with trips. They also want to make sure they don’t give you the opportunity to give up on any semi-bluffs on the river having not paid the maximum.

Given this, my opponents distribution is polarized between scenarios 1 and 3 and with the pot size, game theoretically, about 90 percent of his raises should be for value and 10 percent should be bluffs. This means that if I’m playing near-optimally, and his ratio is off, he’s giving up money to me in the long run. That said, in this particular situation, I’m often going to veer away from optimal play to try to exploit him. Even giving him a modestly more value-rich raising distribution than I’d suspect he actually has, he probably only holds 50 or 60 value-raising combinations, and in this spot, I think he’s bluffing with way more than five or six combinations of busted draws. To exploit him, the non-value hands that I should be reraising are those that stand to gain the most EV [expected value] by bluffing, the hands at the bottom of my distribution, which are 7-3, 7-4, and 8-4.

There’s also a metagame consideration here. Since it’s a mixed-game table and my opponent may still be a little uncomfortable with heads up limit hold’em, if I end up getting caught with a three-bet bluff on the river, it could have some good effects. My opponent might start to value-raise turns and rivers much more lightly than he should on differently textured boards, much like the no-limit player who sees you three-bet light and misuse that information by overplaying his hand against your five-bet. The fact is, just as five-betting an under-the-gun raiser in no-limit is a totally different situation than three-betting the button, a three-bet bluff on a specific river texture in limit hold’em is an entirely different animal than a three- or four-bet on the turn, but people still often let information from one situation get them in a heap of trouble in other situations.