He Said, She Said, Vol. 7: Stu Ungar's Famous 10-high Call
There are many Stu Ungar stories from his glory years, and some consider him the greatest tournament poker player that ever lived. However, what is perhaps Stu's most famous hand occurred in a heads-up tournament against reigning World Series Main Event champion Monsour Matloubi in 1990. Ungar challenged Matloubi to a heads-up $50,000 freezeout in an effort to prove he could have won the tournament after having bombed out by overdosing on cocaine during the night before the third day of the tournament. The hand went down as follows:
Stacks: Ungar: ~60,000; Matloubi: ~40,000
Hands: Matloubi holds 5-4 offsuit in the BB; Ungar has 10-9 offsuit in the small blind (the button).
Preflop: Ungar raises to 1,600 in the small blind, Matloubi calls.
Tony: Ungar opens on the button for a 4x raise with 10-9 offsuit, which is completely standard. Matloubi makes what is a really bad call out of the BB with 5-4 offsuit. The players are only 100 big blinds deep and he's facing one of the best NL hold'em players in the world. I can't stress enough how bad this preflop call is by Matloubi.
Celina: Ungar is sitting on 150 BBs and Matloubi on 100 bbs, so both players are very deep-stacked with a lot of heads-up play left. Ungar makes a standard raise of 4x with 10-9 offsuit. Normally, the standard raise to make in position heads up is 2.5-3 depending on blind level, stack sizes and player. Due to the blinds level, relative to the stack sizes, a 4x raise is acceptable here. Matloubi makes a questionable call with a hand such as 5-4 off, which is a hand that will play very bad against a good heads-up opponent while out of position.
Flop (pot 3,200): 3-3-7 rainbow
Action: Matloubi checks, Ungar bets 6,000, Matloubi calls.
Tony: For some reason, Ungar bets out almost double the pot. This just doesn't make any sense. If he wants to create fold equity he can simply fire a normal bet of about 2,200 and get the same amount of folds as the 6,000 bet would produce. Because his bet is so big, Matloubi is getting terrible odds on his draw, making his flop call arguably worse than his preflop call, unless he has some sort of read in that he thinks Ungar will only overbet the pot with air. Considering Ungar was known for his all-ins and overbets, this seems unlikely and leads me to believe Matloubi is simply playing bad.
Celina: The flop's texture does eliminates any open-ended straight draws or flush draws. Matloubi has flopped a gutshot draw, and decides to check-call an overbet by Ungar. Ungar may be making a large bet to gain information here. While a bet of half to two-thirds the pot is standard and sufficient, many players opt for an overpot bet, to get one of two reactions from the opponent, a check-raise or fold. Matloubi calls the large bet, maybe hoping to bluff on a later street or spike a six, knowing that Ungar's over-bet means, most likely, that he doesn't have a three or seven. Ungar realizes at this point that Matloubi probably doesn't have a seven either, because with a seven, which is a powerful holding heads-up, Matloubi would definitely be raising.
Turn (pot 15,200): K, board still rainbow
Action: Matloubi checks, Ungar checks.
Tony: On the king turn I actually wouldn't mind seeing a second bet from Ungar since it's an excellent scare card. Instead he opts to check, which I guess is fine but I really think this is the kind of scare card aggressive players need to bet, since it will get them paid when they do hit with a king on the turn. Matloubi checks behind, which is fine for him, since Ungar has absolutely no reason to think Matloubi has a single hand in his range that contains a king.
Celina: Both player checks the turn, the turn card being a K doesn't really change the situation. Matloubi's check here may be an intention to check raise or just take a free card. Ungar may see Matloubi's call on the flop as a possible three here now trapping for another bet.
River (Pot 15,200): Q
Action: Matloubi moves all in for about 32,000 and Ungar calls within a few seconds, declaring, "You've either got 4-5 or 5-6, I call." Ungar then flips up his 10-high to drag the $80,000 pot.
Tony: The river brings a queen, another sort of scare card, and Matloubi moves all in. I cannot express how bad this shove is. There is no way a thinking player ever takes this line with anything that makes sense here, except maybe, precisely A-A. Nobody limp-calls preflop, flat-calls the flop, checks behind on the turn, then shoves for two times the pot on the river with a real hand. If Matloubi has a hand he wants to get value from he'll bet something like $10,000. Because of Matloubi's terrible line in this hand Ungar is able to put the pieces together and make a truly sick calldown. More amazingly, this hand leaves me wondering… how well Ungar played or how awful Matloubi did.
Celina: Matloubi moves all in for double the pot. It is an interesting move that will get many non-thinking players to fold. Matloubi's thinking process tells him that Ungar is weak, and a strong bet will most likely get him to fold, and if he bet 9-11K instead, Ungar is capable of going all in as a bluff and Matloubi won't be able to call with 5-high. Ungar must have wondered why Matloubi would be shoving with a three or any pair, where Matloubi could most likely value-bet and get the call with a raise. Ungar has gathered enough information to put Matloubi on a hand that called an overbet on the flop, checked the turn and over-shoved the river, thus making a call with 10-high against Matloubi's possible 4-5 or 5-6 a viable play. Matloubi's play here is effective and will work possibly 90% of the time or more, except that this time he came across a worthy opponent. Stu Ungar is still known to be one of the greatest poker players of our time and will be long remembered.