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Risking it All: Analyzing a Daring All-In Bluff from Martin McCormick

Martin McCormick

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  • The anatomy of a three-barrel bluff: A daring hand played by Martin McCormick in the PCA Main Event.

  • Analyzing a wild one from the 2016 PCA Main Event between Martin McCormick and Toby Lewis.

Covering live poker tournaments for a living affords me the opportunity to see countless thousands of hands played out, many of which offer interesting and potentially valuable insights into how players — both amateurs and professionals — play the game. In this ongoing series, I’ll highlight hands I’ve seen at the tournaments I’ve covered and see if we can glean anything useful from them.

The Scene

We’ll stick with the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure for another week and look at a hand featuring one of the most colorful characters seen in recent memory on the poker scene, one Martin McCormick. A Scottish player with nary a live cash on record, McCormick cursed, bluffed, and blustered his way to a deep run in this year’s PCA, gaining something of a following on the live stream.

The team at PokerStars highlighted this hand on the site, asking if it was “the greatest poker hand of 2016.” I’ll let you make that judgment on your own. Just note that it comes with just 23 players remaining in the $5,300 Main Event during Level 23 where the blinds were 10,000/20,000 with a 3,000 ante.

The Action

It began with McCormick opening for a raise to 52,000 from under the gun. Toby Lewis called on the button, and everyone else got out of the way. Lewis was playing a bit over 700,000, while McCormick had around 630,000.

“Do you have it?” McCormick asked, not specifying exactly what it was.

After the {k-Spades}{4-Spades}{q-Spades} flop, McCormick eyeballed Lewis’ stack twice and then bet 60,000.

“I don’t have a spade, just so you know,” McCormick said.

Lewis called, and the turn was the {10-Hearts}.

“I can beat anything apart from a flush,” McCormick continued. “You’re too comfortable, though. I don’t know whether I should bet or check.”

McCormick then slammed in 70,000 after standing up and hemming and hawing for a bit. Lewis called fairly fast, and the river {q-Diamonds} paired the board.

McCormick quieted down and counted his stack. He frowned, looked at Lewis, and said he was all in. The two exchanged more banter, and McCormick declared he would show his hand, claiming he had only shown one bluff the whole tournament.

After over four minutes in the tank, Lewis folded. McCormick flashed {a-Hearts}{3-Hearts} and claimed the pot.

Concept and Analysis

McCormick begins the hand with a fairly loose open from early position, and Lewis is likely very happy to be able to flat-call and get heads-up with position on the brash amateur.

Risking it All: Analyzing a Daring All-In Bluff from Martin McCormick 101
Toby Lewis

On a very coordinated flop like {k-Spades}{4-Spades}{q-Spades}, Lewis likely figures that even without a strong hand, he may be able to take the pot away from McCormick on a later street. With position, the vastly more experienced player can use his hand-reading skills here to figure out what McCormick has and play accordingly. Therefore, his call on the flop doesn’t mean a whole lot.

The {10-Hearts} turn is pretty much a blank, and after some posturing, McCormick bets again, fairly small this time. He also declares he can beat anything other than a flush, which may be something that helps him down the line when the boards pairs on the river. Lewis calls again and sees the {q-Diamonds} arrive to complete the board.

McCormick’s pot-sized shove on the river could represent a number of hands. From Lewis’ perspective, his opponent could easily have filled up or be holding an ace-high flush. Hands like {k-}{k-}, {q-}{q-}, {k-}{q-}, or {a-Spades}{j-Spades} all make sense — McCormick would have raised all those hands preflop and likely fired every street.

Furthermore, if McCormick were telling the truth on the turn, a boat or quads would fit his story. An amateur player making a multi-street bluff for his tournament life like this on a dangerous board seems unlikely. The simple, easy-to-believe explanation is that McCormick really does have it.

A pro player like Lewis, knowing he has an edge over the long haul, is going to be reluctant to call off a huge chunk of his stack in a borderline spot if he figures he can get the chips back later with less variance. And Lewis isn’t going to have super-strong hands too often on this board considering he flat-called on the button, as many of the strongest hands here are ones he’d often reraise.

All of those factors helped McCormick pull off this sick bluff. Unfortunately for him, he would bust out in 11th and Lewis would outlast him, getting fourth for $267,340.

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