Getting back to the hand that has led to so much discussion I have to emphasise that one of the key issues here and what makes this hand so unique is the SUPER deep stacks that we all had. During the first round on the main event of the WSOP you have 400 big blinds in your stack and I had 500 big blinds in my stack when this hand came up. In fact I'm not sure there is a tournament anywhere that gives you 500 big blinds start. It was simple the nature of rebuy tournaments and that fact that this was as $530 with rebuys tournament that led to such insane stacks.
In a SNG if you get KK vs AA you're dead 19 times out of 20. There just isn't enough room to manuver. In fact if just about any normal tournament the decisions would be so much easier. You'd just go all in with your pocket kings on the flop and if it didn't work out, no big deal. In fact if there was a standard raise, a call and then you reraised and got called by everyone, you be talking about a major pot that you could never get away from.
London Dave, you did a solid analysis of the hand. In a normal situation or a smaller buy in tournament if someone acted the way Gavin did it would usually be AK, AQ or a medium pair.
But I really did put him on AA. It could have been a case of "let me put this guy on the only hand I can't beat," or maybe it was the timing of his call, but that was my read and I felt pretty strongly about it.
Maybe it was a hand that happened to me recently that made me feel that way. Here is how that hand went down (this is actually how a good friend of mine who was writing for a certain poker magazine and ran out of material wrote it up after we spent some time talking about it - he wrote it as if it happened to him even though it happened to me!)
I was playing recently in a $320 nightly tournament on Pokerstars. Out of a starting field of 450 players we were down to 60, and the top 45 would be in the money. I had an average stack of about 18,000. Normally I’d feel pretty secure that I would at least make the money, but my table draw was really unfortunate, as I was 7th in chips at my table. With so many players that could bust me, I knew I had to tread carefully, but at the same time I felt I needed to continue playing with first place as my main goal.
With blinds of 300-600, the UTG player made it 1,500. It was folded to me in the cutoff with J-J. I wanted to find out right away just how strong he was, so I made it 4,800 to go. After some hesitation, the button, who had me covered, called. The blinds and the UTG player folded, so I was going to the flop heads-up and out of position.
Before going any further, I’ll tell you that my immediate instinct was that I was up against pocket aces. This was not a case of me seeing monsters under the bed; it was simply his most likely hand. If this was some $11 tournament with 3,000 players, it might have been different. But with a buy-in of $320 on a weeknight, this tournament usually attracted a very tough field of 400-500 players. There was very little dead money, and very few players who would cold-call a re-raise preflop this late in the tournament without a huge hand. I wasn’t completely sure how to proceed, but checking and folding definitely crossed my mind.
In general, I usually have a pretty good idea ahead of time of how I’m going to proceed based on the texture of the flop. For example, if the flop had a jack, I would probably make a small lead bet. If it came with an ace, I would probably check-fold. But when the flop came A-J-3 rainbow, bringing both the ace and the jack, it was one of those rare times that I felt truly unprepared. The flop was there, and I really wasn’t sure what to do.
After some thought I realized that, if he had pocket aces, my goal was simply to avoid going broke. If he had anything other than aces, I probably wasn’t making any decent money on the hand anyway, so there was no reason to get overly aggressive. I decided to check. After two seconds, my opponent checked behind me.
Oh well, that didn’t accomplish much. Upon further thought, I realized that he probably would check there regardless of his hand. Whether he had A-A, K-K, or A-K, checking that flop made sense for him. Whether or not it was possible, I found myself wishing I could have gotten some more information.
The turn paired the three. I decided to lead out for 1,800, a laughable underbet. He flat-called. Again, I realized that this gave me no real information. With A-A he’s calling so he can string me along, and with K-K or A-K he’s calling the small bet into the large pot just in case he has me beat. I still had no information, but as strange as it may sound, I was thankful that I only had one-third of my stack in the pot, as I still thought A-A was his most likely holding.
The river was a blank. I considered leading small again, but then decided against it. It wasn’t too important to get paid off by a lesser hand. Of greater significance was the possibility that I would get raised and have to consider making a sick laydown. Plus, I figured that if I checked and he had A-A, he would probably bet small just to make sure he got paid off, and I’d be able to survive.
With that in mind, I checked. He immediately went all-in. Huh?
So much for all my careful thinking. I was expecting him to either check behind me with a worse hand, or to bet small with A-A, and instead he went all-in? I’ll admit it threw me off. Why would he bet so much if he had A-A? Could he really expect me to call? From the way I played it, he had to figure my most likely hands were K-K or Q-Q, so why bet so much?
I almost found myself wanting to flip a coin to decide what to do. In the end, whether or not it was the best thing to base my decision on, I decided that it was a forgivable mistake to call with jacks full and lose. I called all-in, he showed his pocket aces, and I was eliminated just short of the money.
At first I was a little miffed at myself. I put him on pocket aces the whole way, then convinced myself that he might have something else, and that change of heart cost me the tournament. On the other hand, everyone I’ve talked to says that it was just a bad-luck flop, and I was destined to go broke in that hand.
Either way, I still thought it was worthwhile to go through the hand and think about what I could have done differently. But in the end, I think that - if I try too hard to get away from hands like the second-nut full house - I’ll be doing myself more harm than good.
Meanwhile, this hand obviously worked out perfectly for my opponent, but that doesn’t mean I like the way he played it. I thought his pre-flop call of my reraise was pretty transparent. Whether he calls or raises, I’m giving him credit for a pair higher than jacks, so all he’s doing by flat-calling is giving me a free chance to outflop him. I think his better play is to re-raise preflop, and hope that I have something I can’t get away from. Of course, once it came set-over-set he seemed like a genius, but I still think the flat-call was a fancy play at a time when the straightforward play made more sense.
I also have mixed feelings about his river bet. Again it worked out perfectly, but I think that’s because I had the only hand with which I would call his all-in. If I had Q-Q or K-K he’s simply blowing me out of the pot, instead of betting small and giving me a chance to pay him off for 2,000 or 3,000 in a 14,000-chip pot. I’m sure he wanted me to misread his bet, to assume that his all-in meant that he was weaker than he really was, but that still wouldn’t have mattered. The only other hand I would even consider calling him with was A-K, and even then I think I would have leaned towards laying it down.
This is one where it would have made more sense to dump my hand. My read here of AA was MUCH stronger. I'm not sure my friend captured all of my feelings exactly right, but it was still a nice article and another case of putting someone of AA with great certainty before the flop.