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Jonathan Little Uses Solver to Examine Classic Isildur Bluff-Catching Hand

Viktor "Isildur1" Blom

It is a rare treat to see Viktor “Isildur1” Blom play in a live poker tournament, but that is exactly what we got in the €5,000 buy-in partypoker LIVE MILLIONS Germany back in February 2018. Not only that but he was heads-up for the title and over $1,000,000 was at stake.

That is when Pavel Plesuv, who would go on to become a MSPT champion, pulled off a crazy bluff on the river, one that instantly became one of the most talked about in poker history. Could Blom make the insane call to win the tournament? Using PIOsolver, I break it down street-by-street from Isildur’s perspective and we see how close his strategy is to being GTO.

The hand began with the blinds at 7M/14M when Isildur (522M) looked down at the {k-Hearts}{6-Diamonds} on the button and raised to 35M. Plesuv (470M) called with the {q-Diamonds}{7-Diamonds} and the flop came down {k-Diamonds}{9-Hearts}{q-Hearts}, which was coordinated and likely hit a big range of hands.

Plesuv checked middle pair with a backdoor flush draw and Isildur continued for 45M into the pot of 70M. What does the solver say? The GTO strategy is to bet with your best hands and some draws, so in this spot, your best hands are good kings and good queens. A lot of the weaker kings and queens should check the vast majority of the time.

"The solver does prefer a larger bet size on this flop because of how coordinated it is."

So, when Blom is betting, he wants to make sure he’s relatively polarized here. The solver does prefer a larger bet size on this flop because of how coordinated it is. I will say, Isildur is known to get in there and battle hard, and when you’re known as such a player, it allows you to value better a little more frequently and thinner.

Plesuv had an easy call with middle pair and a backdoor flush draw, so he put in the chips to see the {a-Diamonds} turn. Plesuv, who picked up a diamond flush draw, checked immediately, as he would do almost every time in this scenario, and Isildur had to decide what to do. It’s important to note that Plesuv’s range does not contain as many ace-highs as Isildur as his range is capped at this point.

If Plesuv had a lot of marginal kings or worse, which is about where his range is capped, it allows Isildur to bet more easily. The solver here doesn’t mind king-six checking, but once again it preferred a larger bet size if Isildur opted to bet, which he did.

It’s viable to bet here to gain some protection from hands that will have reasonable equity, and Isildur bet 105M, about two-thirds the size of the pot.

Plesuv could shove here if he believed that Isildur would bet-fold an ace or a king at some frequency. With a shove, Plesuv would also protect himself from being bluffed on the river if he was planning to check-fold if he did not improve. A lot of Isildur’s range continues betting on the turn and would struggle if it was faced with a check-shove.

The default strategy is definitely to call though, and that is what Plesuv did. The {5-Hearts} river would normally go check-check, but Plesuv bluffed at it by moving all in for 299M. Isildur then had to decide whether to call with a bad bluff catcher or fold.

Pavel Plesuv
Pavel Plesuv jammed the river.

This is a situation where I have to assume Isildur thought Plesuv is extremely polarized between nutted hands and complete bluffs. Would Plesuv check-call flop and turn out of position with a flush draw? Why would he not have either raised the flop or ripped it in on the turn? If he did have a flush draw in his range, which there isn’t a ton, would he really lead with the nuts? That would make your checking range garbage. Isildur could exploit that strategy by always betting the river when checked to.

Here, having the {k-Hearts} is extremely relevant in Isildur’s decision-making process. The card blocks many of Plesuv’s logical flushes. Having blockers to hands that your opponent is trying to represent means you should start to find more hero calls against them. On the flip side, having a diamond like the {6-Diamonds} is not great because it blocks some of the busted diamond flush draws that Plesuv could reasonably bluff with.

The solver will find calls with most of the kings – the {k-Hearts}{6-Diamonds} is a call 81% of the time according to the solver – and Isildur made the right play by making the hero call to win the tournament for €850,000.

For a more thorough breakdown of this hand, check out my thoughts in the following video used with permission from partypoker:

Jonathan Little is a professional poker player and author with over $7,000,000 in live tournament earnings. He writes a weekly educational blog and hosts a podcast at JonathanLittlePoker.com. Sign up to learn poker from Jonathan for free at PokerCoaching.com. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanLittle.

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