Under the Gun: Big decision in a major online MTT

Our pro has to make a tough decision in a major online MTT – did he get it right?

I was playing a weekly $1,000 tournament online and had accumulated a big stack. The bubble had just burst, so there were 36 players left from the 300-odd entrants. Although money was now guaranteed, everyone had their eyes on the $75,000 first prize

We were down to the last few tables with the blinds at 300/600 and a running ante of 50. I was sitting comfortably with 29,500 chips, at a table sporting a mix of stacks similar to mine and some short-stacked players. I’d been reasonably active around the bubble but had tightened up after it burst for two reasons: a lack of leverage (I wasn’t the big stack on the table) and a lack of playable hands. Then the following hand unfolded.I was in middle position when the action was passed to me with Q-10 offsuit. I’d been quiet of late and wanted to steal valuable blinds and antes, so I decided to raise to 1,500. The cut-off passed, but a very strong tight-aggressive player, who had slightly more chips than me, smooth-called on the button. Both the blinds folded and we saw a flop of K♠-Q♠-10.

This was a great flop for me, giving me two-pair, but certainly not one without some danger. Combined with the somewhat out-of-character smooth-call I was slightly wary, but decided to make a continuation bet of 3,000 into the pot of 4,100. My opponent smooth-called again.

The turn brought a blank – the 2 – so I led out for 7,200 into the pot of 10,100, leaving myself 17,800 behind. At this time I was committing the cardinal sin of being unsure what I’d do if he pushed all-in, but I felt that it was the wrong move to check two-pair on such a draw-heavy flop. He went into the tank, eventually activating his time bank and, after a few seconds more, he pushed all-in. It was going to cost me my last 17,800 to win a pot of 42,300. The average chip stack at this point was around 25,000.

This was my cue to go into the tank and weigh up the entire situation. If this was a cash game, I would need to win the hand around 30 percent of the time to show a profit and it would have been an easier decision. But since this was a tournament, I’d need to win this hand slightly more than that, as doubling my stack would not give my chip stack twice as much value thanks to the increasing payout structure. On the other hand, we were already into the money and there were no more big payout leaps until the final table. In which case, there was no significant penalty for going out here compared with going out a few places further down the line. The fact that I felt my opponent would also appreciate the dilemma I was in only served to complicate my decision!

Hand ranges

At this point I had to make a simple assessment of my opponent’s hand ranges. I certainly thought he was capable of smooth calling preflop with a wide range, including very big pairs hoping to trap, medium pairs in the hope of flopping a set, speculative face card hands such as K-Q and, on the outskirts of his range, I thought he might call with suited connectors or a big Ace occasionally. When he called my continuation bet on the flop it seemed likely he had connected in some way with the board, but equally that I would have made the continuation bet a high percentage of the time, which he would realise, and so may have decided to call me on the flop with the aim of bluffing me out on the turn.

It’s also worth remembering that successful tournament players are known to slow-play less than cash game players as a rule. So when I bet 30 percent of my remaining stack on the turn and he shoved, I had to rate the possibility of a semi-bluff as being a very real play. The stack sizes were perfect for it, as I definitely had enough chips to walk away if I had a weak holding. I also had to consider my image at this point and, deciding that it was somewhat aggressive, I had to increase the possibility of a bluff on the turn. Having processed all this information I made the call and was delighted to see that he’d slow-played A-A.

Unfortunately, a Jack on the river was less of a delight as it made him the straight and sent me packing with under $2,000 – scant consolation for missing out on a shot at the juicy first prize. My opponent had made an interesting play though, by opting to smooth-call with the Aces for deception and the possibility of one of the blinds squeezing, and then waiting until the turn to try and trap hands that might have folded to a flop raise. As it was he only managed to trap himself, but even then his hand still had 12 outs on the river – and when they hit against you, that, for better or worse, is poker.

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