Learning from TV: Part II

Today, we will pick up on another hand from the World Poker Tour’s Alpha8 event from London, which aired on FS1 in the United States. In the prior post, we discussed a hand where Tony G won a hand against German poker pro Max Altergott when both held weak starting hands.

This next hand takes place shortly after the first hand we analyzed. Tony G had been on a tear for a while, and it was clear that the other players were having trouble adjusting to his play. This often happens at the table. A winning player takes on a mystique of infallibility, and other players often end up making mistakes out of fear for the player on a lucky or winning streak. For instance, in the last hand we analyzed, despite the fact that Tony G was ahead (with a very weak hand), a second bluff on the turn by Altergott would have likely won the pot. With this in mind, the next hand once again features Tony G, this time matched against another German pro, Fabian Quoss.

The Hand

The table is still five handed and blinds remain at 1,000/2,000 with a 300 ante. The player UTG folds, and Tony G, with Jc Td, makes a small raise to 5,000 in the cutoff. German poker pro Fabian Quoss called with Kd Qs from the Button. Max Altergott, in the BB, calls with 3h 4h. The pot is 17,500 before the flop.

The action preflop is pretty standard. Tony G’s Jc Td is not particularly strong in a full table setting, but with only five players and momentum on his side, the bet makes sense. Some might argue for a limp here, but the raise is actually a better play, since, ideally, Tony G wants Quoss to fold, giving him position for the rest of the hand.

In turn, Quoss' call makes sense. He likely is hesitant to raise because he does not have enough information to really assess Tony G’s strength. Tony G could be raising here with any two cards, which means 45o as well as KK or A. K. By simply calling, Quoss controls the size of the pot. Quoss is also in position, so before his next action, he will have significantly more information from which to decipher whether he is ahead of Tony G.

Altergott’s call also makes sense. He is in the BB, and therefore only has to call 3,000 to see the flop. 3h 4h is the type of hand where you will know pretty quickly whether you can continue to play the hand post-flop; either you hit it or you don’t. So, investing 3,000 for a piece of the 14,500 pot is a fairly easy call. This is especially true because if he hits, it will not be obvious, providing him with greater implied odds.

The flop comes down: 9s 3d Qh.

Altergott has flopped bottom pair with a weak kicker and a backdoor flush draw. Quoss has flopped top pair with a strong kicker. Tony G has flopped an open-ended straight draw. A King or an Eight (8) will give him a straight.

Altergott checks with his weak hand. Tony G checks with his draw. Quoss bets 9,000, almost one half of the pot. Altergott folds. Tony G calls.

The play here seems pretty standard. Altergott checks the flop because he is out of position and a bet here is essentially a bluff. Since he is facing two players who have already demonstrated that they have somewhat decent holdings, a bluff out-of-position with little knowledge of how your opponents' hit the flop is a dangerous proposition. He is also right folds to the bet, since his bottom pair is almost surely behind, there is little chance of improvement, and he will have to play the rest of the pot out of position.

Tony G’s play is fairly standard also. One could argue for a semi-bluff bet, since he has the open-ended straight. The bet may win the pot outright. Alternatively, even if he is called, his bet can serve to deceive his opponents into thinking he already has a made hand and swell the pot in case he actually hits. This way, when the straight draw hits, no one will expect him to be on a draw. However, a simple check may earn him a free card and controls pot size. If he were to bet and faced a stiff re-raise, he may be forced to fold. By simply checking, he likely ensures that any bet will be callable, unless his opponent overbets the pot.

Quoss' bet is eminently reasonable. He likely wants some action, since everything so far suggests that his top pair is good. He wants a bet size that will induce a call, especially from a weaker Queen (QJ, QT, etc.) and potentially from middle pair (A9, T9, etc.). The bet arguably could be perceived by an opponent as a steal attempt, too, since it is being made from the button post-flop after everyone else checked, which could induce a call as an ill-advised float (i.e., a call with nothing, hoping to steal the pot in a later round).

Tony G’s call of Quoss' bet is also solid. Tony has to call 9,000 to win 26,500. As long as he wins the pot 1/3 of the time (33.3%), it’s a solid call. In reality, though, he is only going to win the pot 30% of the time, slightly less than the 33.3% needed for this to be proper pot odds. However, since his straight, if it hits, will not be obvious, he has a large amount of implied odds. In other words, if he hits his hand, he will likely be able to extract more money from Quoss, so he will earn more than the current pot if he hits.

The turn is an Ah, making the board: 9s 3d Qh Ah.

Both players check.

For Tony, this choice is obvious. He wants to see a free card. He also does not have enough information to be able to comfortably attempt to bluff the pot away from Quoss.

For Quoss, the check is likely due to a fear of the Ace and/or Tony G. If Tony G was floating him with an Ace, Tony has taken the lead… and if that scenario has occurred, Tony G would likely check (as he did), expecting Quoss to do the betting for him. Even so, Quoss' check is pretty ugly. By checking, Quoss is showing weakness and is giving up control of the hand. Control is key. The person betting is more likely to win, if for no other reason than that the bettor can win in two ways: a fold by your opponent or a call by your opponent with a weaker hand at showdown. Quoss essentially falls into the same trap as Altergott in the prior hand we discussed. He may be consciously or subconsciously fearful of Tony G’s rush, so he gave up control of a hand right when he likely could have taken it down. With a pot of over 35,000, a bet of 20,000 or higher would have likely won him the pot. Plus, if Tony G does have an Ace or a superior hand, Quoss can fold to the re-raise or the river bet and limit his losses.

The river is a Ks, making the board:

9s 3d Qh Ah Ks.

Tony G has hit his straight, which also happens to be the nuts. No hand can beat him.

The pot is 35,500, so his goal is to extract as much money from Quoss as possible. Since he leads off the action, he opts to bet 25,000. Quoss hesitates. He grabs some chips and begins to shuffle them. He lets out a little laugh. Then the real magic happens.

From across the table, Tony G offers with a smile, «If you fold, I’ll show you one [of my cards].» Tony’s demeanor is friendly, putting Quoss somewhat at ease.

Quoss fires back, «I'm sure that’s true.»

Tony replies, «And you can choose it.» He then spreads out his cards, like a game show host presenting Box #1 and Box #2.

Quoss responds, «I'm pretty sure you have it this time. I have a pretty strong hand though.»

Tony G continues, «I don’t know. I’m not sure. Could be. Obviously, I have a strong hand or I wouldn’t have bet, you know.» The entire time he remains smiling and friendly in appearance. He concludes, «Two strong hands fighting.»

Quoss tilts his head back and forth. He lets out a breath with puffy cheeks. He looks like he is talking himself into calling. On the opposite end of the table, Tony G goes very quiet and looks almost sad, looking down instead of at Quoss. He is trying to look scared, as though he does not want a call.

Quoss finally takes the bait. He shakes his head, while he tosses in the chip for a call. Tony G flips over the nuts and Quoss can only nod, mouth agape.

To me, it is this interchange that makes the hand so interesting. First, going back to the turn, if Quoss bets there and is called by Tony G, Quoss can fold the river fairly easily. But instead, Quoss has dug his own grave. By going passive on the turn, Tony G’s bet on the river looks like a steal — Tony G might be betting as a bluff solely because Quoss checked the turn.

Even so, it appeared that Quoss was preparing himself to fold on the river to the bet… until Tony G started talking. Very early on, I learned that if a player looks like he is going to fold and you want him to call, you should start talking. If they are going to fold anyway, you have nothing to lose; on the other hand, if you can bait them into a call by saying the right thing, you have everything to gain.

So Tony G starts talking, trying to get Quoss to call. He tries to look friendly and happy, which likely confuses Quoss. It would appear that Tony G is strong, since he is so confident, but why would Tony G be so outwardly confident unless he was internally scared. With a lot of players, strong means weak and weak means strong, so if Quoss was about to fold, Tony’s sudden overly theatrical confidence may appear like someone who is trying to induce a fold. Tony switching to the downward, fearful look at the end seals the deal. To Quoss, he sees someone acting overly confident, and then in a quiet moment, revealing his true fear. To Tony, he is acting overly confident to confuse Quoss and then switches to looking despondent in order to finish the story he is trying to sell Quoss. Quoss buys the story and pays the price. Nice hand, Tony.

What Have We Learned?

Once again, we should take a moment to reflect on the lessons to be learned from this hand:

1. Hidden straight draws usually involve high implied odds. If your flush draw hits, its usually fairly obvious. Flushes and flush draws are easy to spot, so once the third flush card hits, your opponent will have an easier time folding to more action. On the other hand, on a board with QKA or 9QK, it’s a lot harder to appreciate the risk that your opponent holds JT for the straight. Tony was able to play with confidence on the flop because if his straight came, it would not be obvious. In the end, the straight did come, but Quoss could not see (or accept) the fact that his opponent had the exact two cards he needed for the straight. If the river completed a flush draw that came on the flop, though, Quoss could have folded more easily. So, remember to take advantage of the implied odds associated with unobvious straight draws.

2. The bettor is always favored. It is better to be a leader than a follower. Preflop, Tony G took the lead with the bet, but Quoss' passiveness can be excused there, as he was in good position and he need not pump the pot with little information. His bet on the flop placed him in control. His check on the turn, however, essentially abdicated control of the hand. If Quoss remained aggressive by betting the turn, he likely could have won the hand. Even if he did not win, he would have seen Tony G call bets on the flop and turn and would be especially wary if Tony G suddenly bets out on the river; on the flipside, if Tony G checks the river, Quoss can simply check, avoiding further risk. By giving up control on the turn with the check, Quoss lost control of the hand and paid the price.

3. When your opponent is ready to fold and you want a call, start talking. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. On the flipside, if you are on a tough decision and your opponent is talking, be fearful. He is likely talking because he is comfortable with his hand, meaning that his hand is strong.

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