Hand Review: Julien Martini's Masterful PSPC Bluff
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.
After a few weeks of trying to divine the secrets of a poker-playing not-so-super computer, we get back to some regular old hand reviews in this space. With this week's news that the PokerStars Players No-Limit Hold'em Championship, a.k.a. the "PSPC," is coming back for round two, I thought it would be an ideal time to look back on my favorite hand from the final table of the first PSPC in the Bahamas back in January.
This gem took place just 19 hands into the final table at a point when six players were still left vying for the $5.1 million first prize. The next payout was just over $1 million for sixth, and one player had an extremely short stack of around three big blinds. That meant chip leader Julien Martini found himself in an ideal spot to pressure his remaining opponents.
The blinds were 150,000/300,000 with a 300,000 big blind ante. First to act, Martini raised to 600,000 from under the gun with . Marc Rivera, roughly tied for second in chips, called with in the small blind.
On the flop, Rivera checked and called a 600,000 bet from Martini. The turn was the and Rivera again check-called, this time for 2,325,000.
On the river, Rivera checked a final time. Martini set him in for 5,275,000 and Rivera used two time extensions before giving it up.
Concept and Analysis
A hand can hardly be described as textbook when it starts off with an UTG raise by a player holding , and that's part of what makes this hand so great. This is a spot where Martini clearly figured he could profitably raise any two cards, and I definitely agree with that assessment.
The micro-stack of Marc Perrault and an impending pay jump of $300,000 had everyone else at the table frozen in their tracks. Nobody wanted to be the guy who missed a $300K ladder when a player was all but guaranteed to be all in with almost any two cards in short order. Given that and his hefty chip lead — Martini had about double the stack of the nearest two players — the timing was ripe for Martini to start ripping away blinds and antes at will.
Rivera, for his part, opted to just call with queens. I understand where he's coming from here, but I think you just have to three-bet this hand.
I've been accused of disregarding ICM too much before, and this could certainly be an example of that, but I think with around 30 big blinds and a hand as premium as queens against a range of any two, it's just going to be a disaster to let hard-to-play boards come down for cheap when out of position. Aces or kings would be a little easier to play postflop, but Rivera will frequently be left guessing on ace-high and king-high boards and a player fully capable of executing a big bluff, as we saw.
In any case, as played, I like how both players approached the flop. Rivera is likely to be way ahead or way behind here, and letting Martini continue to barrel his bluffs makes sense.
On the turn, check-calling is probably still best for Rivera. There's definitely merit to shoving to protect his equity in a pot that's gotten quite large relative to his stack. However, the ICM sword hanging over his head makes it so it would be a disaster to shove and run into trips or better.
As for Martini's spot, barreling makes all of the sense in the world. He picked up a gutshot and has little overall equity against Rivera's range, which should probably be mostly pocket pairs that leave him with seven outs at best.
On the river, things get really fun. Rivera has little choice to but to check his queens up and pray for a free showdown. However, Martini was doing him no such favors, and it's not hard to see why.
With the board reading , consider what hands Rivera have that can ever call a shove here. A boat and quads, for sure, but what sixes and sevens is he flatting in the small blind? Most likely none, and does he even have any flushes? Maybe , , and if he peels those on the flop, but it's pretty thin there.
Meanwhile, Martini is raising any two, so he could have easily smashed this board. Basically every nutted hand is in his range, giving him a massive range advantage over Rivera on this river. Furthermore, he has both a club and a five in his hand, making it even more enticing to shove as a bluff since there are less combos of nut hands for Rivera, although those were unlikely in the first place.
It all adds up to just about the dreamiest spot possible to pull the trigger on a three-barrel bluff, and this is why Martini could get away with playing hands like this in the first place. He knew his opponents were going to be petrified to play a big pot given the ICM considerations in the spot, and he was exactly right.
To his credit, Rivera thought long and hard before folding. I think as under-repped as his hand is, calling here is going to be pretty thin. If you absolutely do not care about money jumps, it's a great spot to pick Martini's bluffs off. But if you care at all about that $300,000 — and not many players could likely say they wouldn't — I think it's probably fine to grit your teeth and fold knowing you're getting run over here sometimes.
Big credit to Martini for taking full advantage of the spot he was in, and he rode his massive stack to a second-place finish for almost $3 million.