I don’t know about you, but I am a poker junkie. I religiously watch (even DVR) the WSOP coverage every year on ESPN and had a mini-orgasm this year when ESPN televised much of the Main Event live. People like my wife hate the live coverage because each hand is unedited and “takes forever” to get through – but I love that we don’t get to see the hole cards until after the hand is over so I feel like I can really take part in the action and try and put each player on a range and decide what I think the best move would be if I were in that person’s seat. And I will probably be watching every hand of this year’s Main Event Final Table since ESPN is showing that live as well. All of that was just to tell you (my fabulous readers) that I am an armchair quarterback to the extreme when it comes to televised poker. With a little bit of personal success combined with my huge ego, I believe that I know when players are making beautiful moves and when they are failing miserably… and I will often yell at the players through the tv as if they could actually hear to let them know just how I feel.
This post is about two hands from recent WSOP coverage on ESPN which got me yelling at the tv. Both hands had players flopping trips, and both hands had me yelling at the tv, but in one I was yelling because I thought the player screwed up and in the other because I thought he played it so well.
Hand 1 involved Bryan Devonshire (known as Devo to his many fans) and Ben Lamb (known as Benba and this year’s player of the year). I have played with both of these guys and know both of them are very good poker players, so my disparagement of how Devo played this hand is in no way to be taken as an affront to him – hell, even I have been known to make a mistake.
The blinds were 100k/200k with a 30k ante. Devo started the hand with just over 6 million or 30 BBs in chips and Benba had him well covered with over 16 million in chips. Devo raised from the CO with JTo to just over 2 BBs (probably 450k) and Benba, who likes to defend his big blind and can play tricky, called out of the BB with a hand I don’t really remember but also doesn’t matter – let’s say he had Ax. The flop comes out JJ5 with two spades. Benba checks, Devo makes a standard c-bet of just over 500k and Benba check/raises him to 1.4 million. So the pot at this point now has somewhere around 3.2 million and Devo has just over 5 million chips behind. Devo decided to just shove and Benba obviously had to fold.
Recreational players would likely see Devo stacking his chips and finally seeing someone get the better of Ben and cheer. But I was yelling at Devo and throwing my couch cushions at the tv. Instead of cheering Devo for the chips he was gaining I was berating him for the millions of chips he possibly let slip from his fingers. I think Devo’s best play by far in this spot was simply to call Benba’s raise and try and extract as many chips as he could. Here’s why:
Once Ben made his check/raise on the flop, his range of hands consists of 3 distinct possibilities. The first possibility is that he has a hand that crushes us such as JQ-JA, or 55. The second possibility is that he has a flush draw such as As9s which will beat us about 30% of the time if we go to the river. And the third possibility is that he has an absolute bluff (which is what he actually did have here). The problem with Devo’s shove is that it gets the hands that we absolutely crush and want to stay in the hand to fold, whereas the hands that dominate us will never fold and the hands that we really don’t want to allow to see the river with will likely call here as well just because they will have the correct pot odds to do so.
Since Devo had a hand which he simply would be unable to fold given his dwindling chipstack, I think his best play was just to call Ben’s raise on the flop. The beauty with calling there is that Devo has position. If Ben is bluffing, the only way he can win the hand on the turn or river is to bet at it which means that Devo picks up those extra chips. If Ben has a draw, then he wasn’t folding to Devo’s shove anyway, so paying him off isn’t a mortal sin. And if Ben has Devo crushed from the get-go then no matter what it was a cooler. By shoving the flop, Devo forced Ben to fold his bluffs, which in a late position vs. blind battle like this one was probably the biggest part of Ben’s range.
The next hand is how I think Devo should have played his hand. In this hand there are 22 players left and Phil Collins opens A3o from UTG+2 which folds around to Aleksandr Mozhnyakov in the BB with J9o. In this case the flop came 336 and Mozhnyakov lead out on both the Q turn and the 8 river (I don’t mind how he played this hand by the way). Collins on the other hand, just smooth-called both the flop and turn before raising the river and extracted the most money possible by doing so. I embedded Collin’s mastery below so you can see how I think Devo should have played his hand. His hand starts at just before the 40 minute mark.
I’ll keep watching as the November 9 plays down to a champion next week on ESPN. If I see any interesting hands, I’ll try to post about them in a future post.