Did World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen Make a Good Hero-Call on HCL?

Magnus Carlsen

Reigning world chess champion Magnus Carlsen is proving to be a force to be reckoned with on the poker table. Carlsen was one of several notable non-poker pros who played on Hustler Casino Live this week during the Creator Poker Night, including Tik Tok star Bryce Hall and fellow chess pro Alexandra Botez, who herself has become a dedicated part-time poker player.

At one point during the six-hour live stream, Carlsen made an epic hero-call with bottom pair against content creator Nick Austin that left many asking whether the chess prodigy may have a real future on the felt.

This was not Carlsen's first time at the poker table. The Norwegian played the prestigious World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event in 2022 and finished 25th in the 2022 Norwegian Championships Dublin Main Event for $5,680.

The hero call worked out well for Carlsen in this instance, but was it the right move? We'll break down the viral hand in this PokerNews strategy article.

Can't Bluff a "Super Genius"

Playing $10/$25, the hand kicked off with Mariano opening to $50 from early position holding A7 and Carlsen three-betting to $300 from the hijack with 43. Hall flat-called on the button with K5 and Austin then four-bet to $1,200 in the small blind with AJ. Mariano got out of the way and Carlsen called with the effective stack of $10,800, while Hall also folded.

The flop landed 84K to miss Austin and he continued for $700 with his ace-high. Carlsen liked his bottom pair and called.

The 9 on the turn didn't change anything and Austin fired another barrel worth $1,600. The chess champ still liked his bottom pair and called rather quickly.

Austin sat with his arms cross as the 10 on the river completed the board and he contemplated what to do with his unimproved ace-high.

"Magnus with a pair of fours, can beat nothing," noted HCL commentator David Tuchman. "If Nick bets again here, can Magnus find a call?"

Magnus Carlsen
Magnus Carlsen

Eventually, Austin fired a bet of $3,200 to put Carlsen in a tough spot. Despite it being a tough spot, Carlsen seemed to know exactly where he was at.

"You're going three streets, eh? Actually, somehow, I don't believe you at all," he said. "You could have ace-king obviously, there aren't a lot of hands you would go three streets ... I just don't believe you at all."

Carlsen called and Austin told him he was good before showing his ace-high. The Tik Toker looked quite defeated after the hand and afterward took to Twitter to assess his triple-barrel bluff.

"Can't bluff a super genius i guess," he wrote.

Was It the Right Play?

Carlsen's heroic call with bottom pair paid off for him, but let's analyze the hand to see how he got there in the first place.

Starting with preflop play, Carlsen made a very light three-bet with three-four suited after the open from Mariano. While larger suited connectors like eight-nine and nine-ten can make decent three-betting hands, four-three is not good enough to qualify, especially against an experienced player like Mariano and plenty of players left to act behind.

Carlsen did decide to three-bet and he should probably have used a smaller size than the 6x raise he chose here. As Chris Moorman noted in a 2021 PokerNews strategy column about three-betting in position, players should typically three-bet about 3.25x the raise size when deep-stacked. That said, this is a loose cash game and Carlsen can likely get away with the larger size.

When Austin cold four-bet to $1,200 in the small blind, Carlsen should have just laid it down, though he was getting good pot odds to call as he only had to put $900 more into a pot that would be $2,775.

Carlsen was once again getting great odds to call on the flop with his bottom pair when Austin bet $700, and he did so. The same is true when Austin bet $1,600 on the turn. Even with the good pot odds, Carlsen could have let his bottom pair go on the turn unless he had a strong read that his opponent was bluffing.

Nick Austin
Nick Austin

A bluff is exactly what Carlsen put his opponent on when he tanked on the river and eventually called the bet of $3,200. And as Tuchman noted, Austin had been bluffed in an earlier hand that may have been influencing his play in the hand.

The chess genius accurately said aloud that Austin wouldn't have a lot of hands that would triple barrel on a board that largely hit Carlsen's range, and he correctly called with his pair of fours.

"Negreanu-Style" Breakdown

There were plenty on social media who had opinions about the hand. Some players questioned the earlier streets but thought that Carlsen made a great call once he got to the river.

"Magnus is correct about the river (analysis)," noted @Salle7De, who thought that Carlsen needed to fold preflop but that the turn was "close."

"Great call by Magnus," tweeted Eric Shunn (@Eric__Shunn). "Also gotta give credit to Nick for barreling 3 streets with Ace high. That’s tough to do, especially in a setting such as this."

Others were more critical of Carlsen's reasoning. "He's not wrong about what he says about his calling range hitting that board, but his actual hand didn't," tweeted @HawksNStuff. "Problem is, Nick's 4 bet range is a lot of pairs and hands that hit that board too."

PokerStars Pro Sam Grafton praised Carlsen for his "enjoyable, Negreanu style, range breakdown," while content creator Marle Spragg called it a "great hand of cards."

  • Check out this PokerNews strategy piece breaking down Magnus Carlsen's crazy hero-call on HCL.

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