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.
This week, we head to the holy land of the poker world, the "Mothership" main stage of the World Series of Poker, the place every player hopes to sit some day. It's Event #50: $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em Shootout, and just five players remain with $264,046 up top.
European Poker Tour Malta champion Niall Farrell has been active, but he trails Safiya Umerova who has the chip lead with a monster stack of over 3.2 million at 20,000/40,000/5,000. Farrell is her nearest competitor at about 1.8 million.
Three folds lead to a blind-versus-blind pot, and Farrell completed with . Umerova looked down at in the big blind and made it 100,000 to go. Farrell called, and the two saw a flop.
Farrell checked, then called a bet of 110,000 from Umerova. He again checked the turn, and this time Umerova checked it back. The river was the and Farrell checked a final time, and Umerova fired a bet of 150,000. After thinking a while, Farrell slid in a raise to 525,000.
Umerova tanked over a minute and then called the raise, mucking when Farrell showed his set.
Concept and Analysis
Many players would raise with pocket fives blind-versus-blind, as they rate to be the best hand by a mile against a random hand, but Farrell simply completes with his small pair.
It's the ideal play in this spot because Farrell is playing against the only player at the table who can bust him, so keeping the pot smaller is good in that sense. It's also good for Farrell to keep it small so that the pot-to-stack ratio remains as big as possible, because sets are such valuable hands when deep-stacked.
Umerova's small raise with is a bit curious, because while she has position, Farrell is the most experienced and likely most skilled player at the final table. A small raise is just inviting him to come along, so unless she thinks he's limping some of his really bad hands, it doesn't accomplish much.
Farrell sees an ideal flop, but decides to check-call. He can't be sure his opponent has anything, and it's good to check-call extremely strong hands sometimes so you're balanced when check-calling medium-strength hands like middle pair.
When Umerova checks the turn back, Farrell probably figures she has what she has — some sort of medium-strength one-pair hand. If she had air, she would most likely barrel the since it's a good card for her to represent as having helped her hand.
Despite that, Farrell decides to check on the brick river and risk getting no value from his hand. Umerova falls into the trap and bets 150,000. Farrell then picks a nice sizing for his river raise, making it 525,000. It's big enough to look a little bluffy, but not so big that it won't get called by one pair.
One of the main reasons to check the river with a strong hand when out of position is to induce bluffs from opponents who are capable of doing so.
But another spot where checking strong hands when first to act on the river can be profitable is when up against players capable of value betting light, as shown in this hand. This line wouldn't work on someone who would check back , so it has to be against certain opponents. Farrell sensed Umerova would bet a medium-strength hand for value here, so he went for a check-raise and it worked to perfection.
With this pot Farrell squared up the counts with Umerova, but ultimately he would fall to her heads-up.
There's a fun postscript to this hand and event — Farrell and Umerova teamed up yesterday to enter Event #61: $1,000 Tag Team No-Limit Hold'em:
If you can't beat them... pic.twitter.com/rB2WPa7Zjj— Niall Farrell (@Firaldo87poker) July 6, 2016