Big Pots Late: Don’t Be Afraid to Make a Big Fold

Big Pots Late: Don’t Be Afraid to Make a Big Fold

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

Last week, we looked at a hand that I played a bit part in during the recent $1,675 buy-in World Series of Poker Circuit Horseshoe Hammond Main Event. I managed to escape without too much damage in that one, but this week’s hand turned out a little differently for me.

At this point, we were deep into the tournament with only about 60 runners remaining out of 1,376. We had reached Level 22 where the blinds were 6,000/12,000 with a 2,000 ante. My table had started out great but was now a pretty even mix of less experienced players and solid grinders, including Krzysztof Stybaniewicz who had been playing super solid all day.

We were just back from dinner and I had just under 40 big blinds when the following hand went down.

The Action

I opened for 27,000 in middle position with {2-Hearts}{2-Diamonds}, and action folded to Stybaniewicz who defended his big blind. The flop came {8-Hearts}{q-Hearts}{k-Clubs}, and Stybaniewicz checked. I bet 33,000, and he called. The dealer burned and turned the {2-Spades}. Stybaniewicz again checked and called after I bet 71,000.

On the {10-Spades} river, my opponent checked a final time. I bet 128,000. Stybaniewicz thought briefly and then announced he was all in, putting me at risk for my last 200,000 or so.

After a couple of minutes of thought, I called, and Stybaniewicz showed down {a-Hearts}{j-Hearts} for the nut straight.

Concept and Analysis

Stybaniewicz had not been defending his blind a huge amount, so when he called preflop, I suspected he most likely had a decent hand even though we were deep and he was getting a good price to call. On the flop, I make a continuation bet in hopes of taking down the pot against {a-}{x-} hands and other small pairs, but Stybaniewicz sticks around.

At that point, I figure I’m most likely done with the hand until the {2-Spades} arrives on the turn to give me a set. I make another standard-sized bet that’s again called. Then the ten falls on the river which even though it completes a couple of straights, appears to be a relatively innocuous card.

When Stybaniewicz check-shoved the river, I felt a little sick. I thought he might have three-bet preflop with {a-Hearts}{j-Hearts} as I had been opening plenty of pots throughout the day, so the hand that made the most sense was {j-Hearts}{9-Hearts}. But could I really fold knowing I put my opponent on just one or two hands?

The biggest key in hindsight that should have pushed me to a fold was that Stybaniewicz had been out of line exactly zero times all day. We had mostly stayed out of each other’s way in order to target the rest of the players at the table, and this was the first big pot we had played against each other in more than six hours at the felt.

In the moment, it can be tough to let a very strong hand go, but sometimes you just have to make a big fold for your tournament life, especially if everything you’ve seen from your opponent indicates he has it. That’s the philosophy that has won Phil Hellmuth a lot of tournaments. Unfortunately I was unable to pull the trigger and find a way to let my hand go, although I definitely came close.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about this hand in the aftermath of being eliminated in 59th place, and it’s going to stick with me for a while longer. When you don’t get to play many tournaments, misplaying a hand deep can be a regretful experience. Have the courage to make a big fold on the river if the situation warrants it.

Stybaniewicz’s success in the two hands I’ve written about these past two weeks propelled him to a final table run, where he took down the whole thing for $356,043 and a gold ring.

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  • Sometimes in tournaments the question with a strong hand isn't how much to bet or raise, but how to find a fold.

  • Mo Nuwwarah analyzes a tough decision he had after an opponent's shove at the WSOP-C Horseshoe Hammond Main Event.

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