Hand Review: An Endgame Hero Call in a WPT Main Event
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.
While following the updates from the final table of the World Poker Tour Rock 'N' Roll Poker Open last month, a hand from very late in the event, one that played a big role in deciding the winner, caught my eye as worthy of a closer look.
Just three players remained from the 988-entry field, with Milen Stefanov holding the chip lead with around 24 million at 200,000/400,000/400,000. David Novosel (pictured above) was next with about 9.3 million and Fabian Gumz third with just over 6 million.
Novosel opened for 850,000 on the button and Stefanov defended the big blind.
On the flop, Stefanov checked and then called Novosel's bet of 700,000. When the arrived on the turn, Stefanov bet out for 1,250,000 and Novosel called. Then on the river, Stefanov bet enough to put Novosel all in for his remaining 6.5 million.
Novosel used two time extensions before calling his chips off with , but he was busted when Stefanov showed .
Concept and Analysis
A fun hand begins with pretty standard preflop action. Following Novosel's open, Stefanov has a good hand but stack depths are not good for three-betting with unless he wants to shove, which would probably also be fine if he just wants to pressure the second stack.
In any case, Stefanov calls and flops top two and he opts to slow play it with a check-call. I like this decision as well. While many cards can roll off that beat him by giving his opponent a straight, the two players are pretty shallow, so there's not as much risk if that happens. He can comfortably get stacks in almost always.
The really interesting stuff begins on the turn, when Stefanov hits tens full and Novosel picks up a flush draw. Rather than continue checking, Stefanov decides to lead for a small sizing of 1,250,000 into 3.7 million. I'm a fan of this play as well, for a few reasons.
First and most obviously, it allows Stefanov to try to get more money in the pot with a strong hand. If his opponent doesn't have anything, he's likely to shut down anyway on this card, but he may be cautious and check back a hand as strong as a jack or an overpair.
Second, Stefanov can balance this by betting a good chunk of his straight draws, especially the weaker ones that don't have a much showdown value and don't play well as check-calls on the turn. Given that, I actually like a little bigger bet, something like 1.7 million, that might convince an opponent to get rid of ace-high or a gutshot the times Stefanov has a bluff.
On the river, Stefanov shoves for just over the size of the pot. Novosel decides to make a hero call for his stack, and he's in a pretty tough spot if he thinks Stefanov would bluff the turn. Overall, the range Stefanov has for value is obviously thin, probably trips or better. There could be many hands he'd opt to bluff with if he's leading straight draws.
One problem I see with going for the hero call is that Novosel has two spades in his hand. Some of Stefanov's floats that he might lead with could be backdoor spades. Another is that Novosel still has a second-place stack, albeit narrowly, if he folds.
On the other hand, it's definitely a spot where the chip leader should be pressuring him, so I can absolutely see why he decided to call. It's a spot where I lean a little more toward a fold, but can see a good case for calling against strong opponents.
I think players too reflexively check the turn a lot of times when they are in Stefanov's shoes here. I like the way he played this hand postflop, and it helped propel him to victory and a $545,070 first prize.