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Hold’em with Holloway, Vol. 47: What Untraditional Moves in Poker Might Mean

Jake Cody

If you’re like me, you enjoy watching poker on TV. As such, I’ve been glued to new episodes of the 2015 World Series of Poker Main Event airing on ESPN. In one of last week’s two new episodes, which featured action from Day 4 of the tournament, an interesting hand between New York’s Jay Sharon and Team PokerStars Pro Jake Cody was shown.

The hand was fairly straightforward until the river, which is when Sharon made a curious move, and Cody either failed to pick up on it, or misinterpreted its meaning. Whatever the case, I thought it was demonstrative of a simple truth — more often than not, unconventional plays indicate a strong hand.

Before getting into that further, let me highlight the hand in question. The broadcast picked things up on a {j-Hearts}{a-Diamonds}{8-Spades} flop with 63,000 in the pot. Sharon, who held {10-Hearts}{9-Hearts}, checked his open-ended straight draw, then called when Cody bet 37,000 holding top two with {a-Spades}{j-Diamonds}. The {7-Clubs} turn gave Sharon the said straight, but he coyly checked to Cody, who bet 82,000.

Sharon opted just to call and watched the {2-Hearts} complete the board on the river. At this point Sharon did something suspicious. He lifted his hand in a manner indicating that he was about to check, but before going back down to complete the motion he instead reached for chips.

“That was the check-swing of checks!” Norman Chad exclaimed.

It could have been an angle, but my interpretation was that it was more of a “I’m going to trap, but wait, I have the nuts and should bet” sort of thing. He simply changed his mind mid-motion.

“He knows often you have to do your own betting on the river,” Lon McEachern explained before Sharon bet 250,000 into the pot of 301,000.

Much to my surprise, Cody decided to min-raise to 500,000. Sharon double-checked his hand, shifted in his chair, and then removed his hood from over his mouth and announced that he was all in for 950,000 total, about three-quarters of Cody’s remaining chips.

“It’d be a pretty outrageous bluff,” a surprised Cody said before folding his hand.

He knows often you have to do your own betting on the river.

Let’s discuss this hand in a bit more detail. First, action on the flop is standard. Sharon check-calling with an open-ended straight draw and a backdoor flush draw is appropriate. I might even check-raise in the hope of taking down the pot on the flop (obviously that wouldn’t have worked for him in this hand as Cody had flopped top two), but I have absolutely no problem with the check-call.

Hold’em with Holloway, Vol. 47: What Untraditional Moves in Poker Might Mean 101

I love Sharon’s check after making the straight on the turn. If Cody had a legitimate hand, which he did, he was sure to bet, which he also did. Traditionally, Sharon had two options: either to check-raise or just to flat with the intent of checking for a third time on the river. Of course he had other options, but in my opinion any other course of action would have been silly (though admittedly the way Sharon played it did earn him a great deal of chips).

Had I been in Sharon’s shoes, I likely would have check-raised to build the pot with the intent of betting again on the river. Knowing Cody’s hand and being results-oriented, Sharon most likely would have gotten paid off had he done so.

Instead, Sharon just called. Had I done that, I would have checked the river in the hopes of Cody firing a third time. If he did, I would have then check-raised all in, hopefully giving Cody the sense that I was trying to steal the pot. Whether or not Cody would have called, we will never know.

As it was, Sharon flatted the turn and just before following through with a river check, changed his mind and bet 250,000. To me this screamed strength — that he was originally going to check, but chickened out when he realized his opponent may check behind. There are few things more unsatisfying than not getting paid when you hold the nuts.

This should have been a red flag for Cody. I wouldn’t have blamed him if he called the 250,000 (he had a strong enough hand to warrant it), but to min-raise was rather perplexing. My best guess is that Cody read Sharon’s bet as a defensive maneuver with either a weak ace or inferior two pair. I might have thought that too had Sharon just led out without the apprehensive checking motion. To me, it was a major tell that at the very least would have inspired me to proceed with caution.

When Sharon then double-checked his cards and shoved all in, his body language indicated he was very strong (pay close attention when you see this hand on ESPN). Cody was wise at that point to release his hand, though not before losing 51% of his stack.

Remember, any given hand of poker should tell a story, from how the action unfolds to betting amounts. Ideally the story should make sense and lead you to a logical conclusion on just where you stand. However, from time to time something out of the ordinary will happen, as we saw in this hand. When that is the case, be sure to revaluate and proceed with caution. I’m not suggesting you should never raise like Cody did — I’m just saying take notice of any anomalies and act accordingly.

For the record, Sharon went on to finish 116th in the Main Event for $46,890, while Cody did slightly better finishing three spots better in 113th for the same payday.

Did you watch this hand on ESPN’s WSOP broadcast? How did you interpret Sharon’s fake check? Let me know on Twitter @ChadAHolloway.

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  • In this week's Hold'em with Holloway, @ChadAHolloway examines a curious hand from ESPN's coverage of the 2015 WSOP.

  • When something out of the ordinary happens in a hand of poker, be sure to revaluate and proceed with caution.

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