Klein vs. Esfandiari: Fighting Back Against Aggression from the Button
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.
Just like last week, we’re off the beaten tournament path and looking at a cash game hand played in the Super High Roller Series at the ARIA Resort & Casino. The epic event was one of the most talked about all summer, with thousands tuning in to a live stream and many eagerly awaiting the televised version to come this fall, which will feature revealed hole cards.
For this hand, we don’t need a hole card camera as there was a showdown between Bill Klein (pictured above) and Antonio “The Magician” Esfandiari. Like last week, this hand occurred during Day 3 of the cash game, which had a format of $300/$600 blinds and a mandatory $1,200 straddle.
Esfandiari was playing very deep against a table of mostly amateurs, knowing that his skill advantage would be most beneficial when he had position. As such, he was playing extremely aggressively from that spot, knowing if he built big pots early, his good decisions after the flop would net him more money.
Everyone folded to Klein, who opened for $6,000 in the cutoff. The Magician made his standard positional three-bet to $15,000. The blinds and straddler mucked, and Klein came back with a $29,000 four-bet. Esfandiari was more than willing to see a flop in position for that small price, since he covered Klein’s roughly $500,000 stack.
The dealer spread a flop, and Klein checked. Esfandiari bet about half-pot, another $29,000. Klein called and checked after the turn brought the . Esfandiari bet $51,000, and Klein again called. The river brought the , and the amateur checked once more. Esfandiari responded by firing a third bullet of $118,000. Klein thought briefly and called.
Esfandiari turned over the for king-high. Meanwhile Klein revealed and took down a pot of over $450,000 with nines and eights.
Concept and Analysis
Klein opens with a standard raise in the cutoff holding a decent hand, and Esfandiari three-bets hoping to isolate him. It works, as the players behind all fold, but Klein makes a small four-bet that Esfandiari is glad to call knowing he has position, a decent hand, and a skill advantage.
When the flop comes scary but with some help, Klein shifts into check-call mode. He knows Esfandiari is playing a wide range and will mix it up on such a board whether he hit it or not. If Klein bets, he risks being put in a tough spot by a raise.
Of course, check-calling on a board like this is a tough spot as well, as Esfandiari is going to do the same thing if he has it. That’s why a strong opponent with the button is such a nightmare to face.
Everyone knows it’s great to have the button. You get position on all postflop streets — what could be better? In deep-stacked cash poker, the button has even greater importance. The deeper you are, the more important position becomes. Esfandiari knows this, and he abused the button liberally this session.
Well, Klein knew Esfandiari was abusing the button. Letting an opponent do this is allowing them to print money against you. Sure, maybe the poker gods will gift you a dream spot like a flop that gives you a set and your aggressive nemesis top pair. But if you sit around waiting for something like that, you’re going to lose a lot of money in the interim.
It’s a bit of a guessing game, but if you want to fight back, you’re going to have to take some thin spots, go to war with less-than-premium holdings, and possibly make a big call as Klein did.