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Hand Review: Jason Wheeler Picks Off Kalidou Sow's Bluff

Jason Wheeler (left) and Kalidou Sow (right)
  • Analyzing an attempted bluff three-handed at the PokerStars Championship Prague Main final table.

  • Hand analysis: Kalidou Sow is barreling and Jason Wheeler hanging in at the PSC Prague final table.

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

Some of the most interesting hands we as poker fans get to see come from the cards-up streams of final tables, since we know the holdings of all of the players involved. The PokerStars Championship Prague Main Event final table proved this point many times over, with a number of interesting and memorable hands playing out en route to Kalidou Sow's win.

There are a few hands I want to examine from that event, the first of which occurred during the three-handed battle between Sow and poker pros Michal Mrakes and Jason Wheeler.

By the time the following hand took place, Sow had vaulted into the lead via a monster cooler over Wheeler and had 16 million at 60,000/120,000/20,000, with Wheeler controlling about 6 million and Mrakes about 3 million. All three players were exhibiting some aggressive, non-standard play at the final table and had been willing to make moves.

The Action

The hand began with Wheeler raising to 275,000 on the button with {a-Hearts}{6-Spades}. Sow called from the small blind with {q-Hearts}{j-Spades} and Mrakes came along from the big with {k-Hearts}{q-Spades}.

The flop came {9-Hearts}{5-Clubs}{9-Clubs} and Sow led into his opponents for 225,000. Only Wheeler continued. Sow fired again for 475,000 on the {2-Hearts} turn and again Wheeler stuck around.

On the {8-Hearts} river, Sow checked and Wheeler checked back, firing some choice words at his opponent after taking the pot at showdown.

Concept and Analysis

Sow had been mixing it up between calling and three-betting when Wheeler raised from the button. This time Sow chose just to call with a solid hand, leading to the first interesting decision point in the hand when Mrakes decided to call as well.

Mrakes chose to take a flop three ways getting a great price despite being in a pretty good spot to squeeze all in. Perhaps he (correctly) figured he had someone dominated with his king-queen and might be more likely to double by taking a flop.

In any case, everyone bricks the flop, which is when things start to get fun. Sow decides to lead out with a very small bet of about a quarter of the pot with queen-high and no draw.

It's an odd choice because the bet is unlikely to win the pot given the fantastic odds he's giving his opponents to continue, and — more importantly — Sow doesn't have that many good cards to barrel on the turn. Only an offsuit ten is any real help to him, and there are obviously only three in the deck.

This play seems a little better if Sow had a club in his hand at least so he could continue to semi-bluff and have the possibility of backing into a decent hand.

As it is, the bet does force Mrakes to play pretty face-up as he can't get too cute with his short stack with Wheeler still to act. Mrakes folds and Wheeler is evidently a non-believer, calling with ace-high.

Sow tries again on the turn but again keeps it small, giving Wheeler almost 4-to-1 on his money. Wheeler peels once more on the relatively dead turn, bringing in the {8-Hearts} river that completes a backdoor flush as well as pairs and straights out of the gutshots on the flop.

Now Sow has to decide if he should keep barreling. Unfortunately, it's a little bit tough to keep blasting with this runout. What has he represented up to this point? Perhaps he could have trip nines or be betting something like ace-five. Other than that, the board was quite dead on the flop.

But what hands that include those lower and middle cards is Sow flatting from the small blind preflop? It's hard to think of many, especially with the amount of three-betting Sow was doing. And if Sow keeps betting, he's essentially saying he has at least trip nines. Wheeler isn't going to buy that {a-}{5-} or something like {8-Spades}{7-Spades} is betting for value.

The story just doesn't make enough sense, and perhaps realizing he has backed himself into a corner, Sow just gives up.

There's an interesting final decision from Wheeler's perspective, though, especially given that he has the {a-Hearts} on a board where hearts backdoored. He can turn his hand into a bluff and represent a flush to try to fold out some other ace-highs or hands with a five that Sow might have been betting.

But Wheeler decides to check behind and take the showdown, apparently figuring he has the best hand often enough against missed clubs and random bluffs.

I liked Sow's decision to give up on the bluff at the end because there's just not enough value hands he's representing, but it also shows why it's important to have a concrete bluffing plan from the start.

If you're going to run a multi-street bluff like this, it's necessary to think about what you're representing and how future cards are going to impact your story. Having favorable turn cards to barrel as a semi-bluff helps, as does telling a believable story from your first preflop decision onward.

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