Hold’em with Holloway, Vol. 42: Analyzing the Play of Neymar Jr. at EPT Barcelona

Neymar Jr.

On Tuesday, the European Poker Tour Barcelona kicked off its €25,000 High Roller Event, which attracted 118 unique players who accounted for 34 reentries to create a prize pool of €3,724,000. That will be distributed to the top 23 players, with the winner taking home €865,900.

One player taking part in the tournament was global superstar athlete Neymar Jr., who plays football for FC Barcelona and became a Team PokerStars Pro back in May. The Brazilian was playing in his first-ever live major poker tournament, so needless to say his presence drew a ton of attention, not only from the poker world, but also from mainstream media.

The striker’s football skills are undeniable, but does he have what it takes to compete on the poker felt? While Neymar ultimately busted shy of the dinner break, he showed some legitimate poker skills; in fact, at one point he even led the tournament.

I decided to dive a little deeper into a few of the hands Neymar played, and offer my take on each. Have a look:

Hand #1: Neymar Gives O’Dwyer Rope to Hang Himself

In Level 3 (600/1,200/200) on a flop of {a-Spades}{4-Clubs}{k-Spades}, Neymar bet 3,000 and Steve O’Dwyer, who was fresh off winning the Neymar Jr. Charity Event in Barcelona, called in position. After the dealer burned and turned the {10-Diamonds}, Neymar again bet 3,000, and O’Dwyer popped it to 14,000. Neymar made the call and the {4-Diamonds} completed the board on the river. Neymar checked to the former EPT Grand Final winner, who fired out 40,000. Neymar made the call and O’Dwyer tabled {q-Clubs}{10-Clubs} for a pair of tens. Neymar then rolled over {a-Hearts}{k-Hearts} for top two pair and the win.

My Take: While the preflop action remains a mystery, I would guess Neymar’s bet of 3,000 on the flop was roughly half the pot. O’Dwyer, a professional who was no doubt well aware of Neymar’s inexperience, opted to make the call in position with a gutshot straight draw.

Neymar then bet another 3,000 on the {10-Diamonds} turn. I liked the fact that he bet, but I don’t like the amount. By betting so small he’s pricing in all draws, such as straight and flush draws, and runs the risk of his opponent calling with something like {a-}{q-} or {a-}{j-} and backing into a straight. I’d have preferred to see him protect his hand with a bet right around three-quarters of the pot.

That said, the meek bet seemed to work in his favor as O’Dwyer sensed weakness and raised to 14,000, which Neymar called. Neymar could have easily raised in that spot, but I actually liked that he just called as long as he checked the river and gave O’Dwyer some rope to hang himself, which is exactly what he did.

Fortunately for Neymar, the {4-Diamonds} river wasn’t that threatening, and O’Dwyer took the bait by betting big. Neymar just called, which I liked as there really wasn’t a point to raising. In this hand, O’Dwyer would more than likely only call a check-raise with a superior hand such as a straight, full house, or trip fours.

Hand #2: Neymar Flat-Calls With Aces; Eliminates Kitai

In Level 6 (1,200/2,400/300), David Peters raised to 5,200 from middle position and Neymar just called from the hijack. Dani Stern came along from the cutoff, and then Davidi Kitai three-bet all in for 45,000. Peters folded, Neymar four-bet to 75,000 total, and Stern got out of the way. Neymar tabled pocket aces, which were well out in front of Kitai’s sixes. The board ran out clean and Neymar sent one of poker’s most accomplished players to the rail.

Hold’em with Holloway, Vol. 42: Analyzing the Play of Neymar Jr. at EPT Barcelona 101
Neymar in action.

My Take: The question is whether or not Neymar had a plan just calling with aces? If he just called because he was either scared or intimidated by a table full or pros, then I don’t like it. However, if he was aware of the table dynamics and felt someone was prone to raise behind him, then I love his flat-call. Given the gamesman that he is, I lean toward the latter.

Sure enough, Neymar’s call inspired Stern to call as well, then Kitai to shove. The original raiser folded, and Neymar isolated with a four-bet to 75,000. Neymar could have flatted again in the hopes of Stern entering the pot, but chances of that happening were slim. I certainly don’t fault him for getting heads up with his aces.

Had Neymar three-bet straight out of the gate, chances are Stern would have folded and Kitai would have released his small pocket pair (he certainly wouldn’t have four-bet jammed). By flatting, Neymar got the most out his aces. Quite impressive given his inexperience in live tournaments.

Hand #3: Stern Cripples Neymar

In Level 9 (2,500/5,000/500), Neymar limped from the cutoff and Stern raised from the button. Both blinds folded, Neymar called, and the flop came down {a-Diamonds}{4-Clubs}{5-Hearts}. Neymar check-called a bet from Stern, and then checked once again on the {7-Clubs} turn. Stern fired out 35,000, Neymar check-raised to 70,000, and Stern tanked for a bit before making the call.

When the {4-Diamonds} completed the board on the river, Neymar fired out 80,000 and Stern responded by moving all in for 179,000. Neymar took about five seconds before making the call with {a-Hearts}{9-Diamonds}, and ended up sending most of his chips over to Stern, who held a full house with {7-Diamonds}{7-Hearts}.

My Take: First off, I’m not a fan of Neymar’s preflop limp. If action folds to you in the cutoff and you want to enter with a hand like ace-nine, do so with a raise. Had he done so, there’s a good chance Stern would have just called from the button and Neymar would’ve won the pot on the flop with a standard continuation bet.

Instead, Neymar limped and Stern seized control of the pot. Neymar no doubt limped hoping to see a cheap flop, so he only compounded his mistakes when he called the raise. I like Neymar’s check after he paired his ace on the flop, but he absolutely needed to raise after Stern put out a continuation bet. Stern was going to c-bet all his hands, so it was imperative Neymar find out where he stood. A check-raise would have done that as chances were Stern would only continue with holdings that had Neymar beat.

Neymar no doubt limped hoping to see a cheap flop, so he only compounded his mistakes when he called the raise.

Unfortunately, Neymar just called — gaining absolutely no information — and Stern got there on the turn. To make matters worse, that’s when Neymar opted to check-raise. Stern had an easy call, which should have set off alarm bells for Neymar. It didn’t, though, as he fired again on the river, and then to make matters worse called Stern’s shove. It’d be interesting to know what Neymar was thinking in that spot. This was a prime example of how mistakes quickly become compounded, and it all began with his preflop limp.


Aside from the hand against Stern, Neymar played great in his EPT debut; in fact, he was even chip leader early in the tournament. Unfortunately, the cards turned against him in Level 10, which is when two big hands led to his demise.

The first saw Neymar run top two into a set, and the next found him on the bad end of two flopped flushes. Needless to say, Neymar didn’t play either badly, and he actually minimized his losses on the first — he was just the victim of a couple of coolers. That’s poker.

I think Frank Op de Woerd said it best in the PokerNews Live Blog:

“And just like that the dream was over, no fairy tale story for Neymar Jr. here in his first ever live poker tournament. But what a ride it was!”

How do you feel Neymar played? Let me know in the comments section below or by hitting me up on Twitter @ChadAHolloway.

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  • In a new Hold'em With Holloway, @ChadAHolloway analyzes the play of @neymarjr in the #EPTBarcelona €25K High Roller.

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