In poker, it’s not always about the cards.
That’s a statement I have told my students time and time again. You really can win pots with nothing. A whole bunch of nothing, in fact.
As an illustration of this very truth, let’s look at an interesting hand played by Tony Ruberto (pictured) and Griffin Benger on Day 5 of the 2014 World Series of Poker Main Event in which both players had a whole bunch of nothing and still built a 2 million-plus chip pot, with one earning a handsome prize as a result.
How did it happen? Read on to find out.
At the time the blinds were 12,000/24,000 with a 4,000 ante. Ruberto started the hand with 2.98 million in chips (124 big blinds) while Griffin Benger was even deeper with 4.16 million (173 big blinds).
It was folded to Ruberto on the button who opened for 55,000 with . Benger then looked him up out of the big blind by calling with . You could make an argument for Benger folding, but given his stack and the positional raise from Ruberto, Benger’s call was not out of line.
The flop came and Benger led out for 78,000 with his open-ended straight draw. A check-raise might have been a preferred play as it would have put the out-of-position Benger in control of the hand more than the lead out did. With Ruberto being an aggressive player he was likely to make a continuation bet, and so the check-raise would have connoted more strength from Benger. It also would have given Benger more information regarding the strength of Ruberto’s hand.
Benger led out, however, and Ruberto called, suggesting he might be drawing himself while also having a pair, or overcards (as he has), or a big hand that he was slow playing. If Benger had check-raised, Ruberto would usually only have continued here with a legitimate hand.
The turn is where things started to get really interesting with the falling. Benger led out for 192,000 into the slightly over 300,000-chip pot with a open-ended straight draw as well as a draw to a flush. His bet-sizing was a little high, as if he were trying to price out a draw. Whatever he was trying to achieve (likely a fold), he could probably have accomplished it for a smaller bet.
Meanwhile Ruberto had picked up a better flush draw (the second nuts) and therefore decided to test Benger with a raise to 475,000. I like this bet here as it gave Ruberto two ways to win the pot.
Benger didn’t play along, however, and came back with a reraise to 900,000. One possible problem with this reraise was it might not be big enough, as the pot was 1.69 million and it was 425,000 more for Ruberto to call. That gave Ruberto 4-to-1 on his money and with the flush draw as well as the ace and the queen, he was certainly getting the right price to stick around. Ruberto was also deep enough that calling 425,000 more wasn’t going to cripple him.
But what alternatives were there for Benger in this spot?
- He could fold. Nothing wrong with that. It’s okay to fold sometimes even if you think your opponent is making a play at you.
- He could make a larger raise, perhaps to around 1.25 million which would give Ruberto much worse odds (approximately 2.6-to-1 on his money). That would also build the pot up to an amount that would allow him to make a river shove to follow through on his bluff (or as a value shove if he hit his straight).
- He could just call and see what the river brings. This would be the worst of the three options as it would concede control of the hand back to Benger.
Ruberto’s call was interesting, but as pointed out earlier he was definitely getting the right price to see the river and with the advantage of position the call was justifiable.
The river was the , pairing the board while missing both players. This is where I think Benger might have made his biggest mistake in the hand by checking, thereby allowing Ruberto to take down the pot with his ace-high after he also checked.
If you’re going to three-bet the turn and put in nearly a quarter of your stack and are just called, you have to be willing to follow through. That is to say, if you were going to concede the hand, do it on the turn. The only way Benger could win the pot there would be with a bet, and with over 2 million in the pot, he needed to do just that. What amount could he have bet? Ruberto had just under 2 million left in his stack, so a good bet would have been one that wasn’t for all of Ruberto’s stack but large enough to make it seem like it was — i.e., any bet north of 1 million. It’s possible that Ruberto would hero-call with ace-high for half his stack or more, but unlikely.
Of course, it’s easy to analyze a hand like this in hindsight knowing what each of the players hands were. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t learn something from such a hand. Every time you are involved in a hand you need to think through what you will do if your opponent reacts a certain way. If you aren’t willing to follow through on an action you are taking, then avoid making that play.
Such are considerations that always need to be made, but especially when going to battle with a whole bunch of nothing.