WSOP Strategy: At Table 147 With Henry Tran, Mustapha Kanit and Steve Bierman

Henry Tran (left), Mustapha Kanit (center), Steve Bierman (right)

There were 2,572 players starting Day 3 of the WSOP Main Event, and nine of them took their seats at Amazon Orange 147. For much of the day, they — like everyone else — would compete to the utmost of their abilities to survive the bursting of the money bubble due to come at night's end.

One of the table's most active participants, Ngni "Henry" Tran, started the day with 384,000 chips and a reputation. Tran, who has almost $2 million in live cashes, has long been known as a both a wild player and a tanker. Some may remember Tran making a big bluff with 32 from the ESPN coverage of Day 3 of the 2012 WSOP Main Event (you can see that here). And this PokerNews hand report from a 2015 tournament including another clip from 2012 demonstrates Tran's penchant for taking his time at the table.

Early on this year's Day 3, though, Tran stayed snug and silent. During Level 11 (1,000/2,000/300), he raised from early position with JxJx and Steve Bierman called from the big blind with 100,000 effective.

Bierman, a businessman from New Orleans playing in his third Main Event, had been similarly snug during the early going on Thursday. After Bierman checked the AQ4 flop, Tran had to decide whether his jacks were good. Given Tran's loose image, it's possible to bet jacks (or similar hands like eights, nines, or tens) for thin value against stubborn pairs or Broadway hands.

Tran did bet about 3,000 and Bierman called. The turn was the A and Bierman bet about 8,000.

Bierman's decision to lead the turn doesn't seem to accomplish much. Since Tran raised preflop and Bierman declined to reraise from the big blind, Tran's range should be stronger on this board. As a result, Tran can have more monsters — e.g., AxAx, AxKx, AxQx, QxQx — and Bierman runs the risk of betting into a strong range.

On the other hand, Bierman's bet could work if he suspects that Tran is c-betting wide. By seizing initiative from the preflop raiser, Bierman might fold out better hands or prevent Tran's air from bluffing, which would be nice results for Bierman's actual holding — K10.

Bierman's plan worked. Tran folded his two jacks face-up, prompting Bierman to reflect on his tight image.

"Look how I'm dressed," Bierman told PokerNews after the hand. "I'm an old man. I always have an ace in that spot!"

Well, not always

Soon Mustapha Kanit, whose constant friendliness belies his formidable status as a top tournament pro with over $9 million in live cashes, joined Amazon Orange 147.

Kanit got off to a rough start. According to his tablemates, in one early hand he played Kanit faced a big check-raise on the river and folded a set of kings face-up when flushes were possible). In the next few orbits, he raised a few times from late position and folded to Tran's three-bets. Suddenly Kanit was short-stacked.

With the blinds at 1,500/3,000, Dennis Zollo had about 80,000 when he raised to 8,000, and action folded to Kanit with AxQx-offsuit on the button. With only 26,100 left, Kanit didn't have much fold equity. His decision came down to a one crucial question: How well does AxQx-offsuit perform enough against Zinno's under-the-gun opening range?

For Kanit, the answer was "well enough." He quickly shoved all in and the small blind, Robert Bogo, glanced to his left and tanked. Although he easily covered Zinno and Kanit with 400,000 chips, Tran was left to act in the big blind and he had 500,000. Think about this spot from Bogo's perspective. What's the worst hand with which you'd continue?

As it happened, Bogo held 9x9x and chose to call Kanit's shove. It's worth considering the merits of a small reraise — perhaps to 60,000 — that might have been enough to pressure Tran and Zinno into folding. By just calling, though, Bogo ran the risk of enticing his opponents to call as well — or, worse, reraise with hands like AJ or QJ.

Fortunately for Bogo, Tran folded and Zinno, who said that he had KxJx-suited, folded, too. The board ran out clean for Bogo and Kanit was eliminated.

With Kanit gone, Tran took out a pack of Nutter Butters and started to raise aggressively. He won two hands in a row, then raised again to 8,000 from middle position. The cutoff called, the button and the small blind folded, and the action was on Bierman with KxQx-offsuit and 63,000 chips in the big blind.

While it might be tempting to see a flop, Bierman should probably shove in this spot. He's facing a loose opener and a flat-call — creating some dead money in the middle — and he has a snug image. Sure enough, "Old Man" Bierman did shove, and he won the pot preflop.

WSOP Strategy: At Table 147 With Henry Tran, Mustapha Kanit and Steve Bierman 101
Steve Bierman squeezes with king-queen versus Henry Tran

After the dinner break, Bierman faced another preflop decision when action folded to him with 22 in early position and 43,000 chips. He shoved again. Unfortunately for Bierman, he got called by three players and was eliminated by an opponent's two kings. "I had a great run," he said.

With Kanit and Bierman out, confrontation broke out between Tran, Rachid Ben Cherif, and start-of-day-3 chip leader Artan Dedusha. If you're curious, read the hand report titled "Henry Tran Loses a Pot, Sparks a Feud" for details.

Before all-out war could ensue, though, Table 147 broke with an hour and 36 minutes left in th day's fifth level (Level 15). Of the original nine players who had started the day there, only Bogo and Tran survived.

"It was a good table," said Tran, who would advance to Day 4 with 530,000 chips. "But it's still early. I'm not thinking about anything yet."

  • Consider how you'd handle the table dynamic and play these hands during Day 3 of the WSOP Main Event.

  • Henry Tran, Mustapha Kanit, and Steve Bierman put each other to the test on Day 3 of the WSOP Main.

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