Hand of the Week: Keranen Wields Big Stack with Menace

Kyle Keranen
Keranen: Been down this road before.

With just two weeks to go before we crown a new poker world champion everyone's been glued to ESPN on Sundays to see how the November Nine made their way to the final table.

We're no different and for our hand of the week we diving deep into that tournament again.

Last week, we showed you how the (arguably) most annoying player in the tournament exited the main event.

That hand made Vegas pro Kyle Keranen the new chipleader, so we’re going to look at another hand he played.

From Flop to River

It's Day 6 of the 2014 WSOP Main Event and there are 55 players left. Keranen is leading the field at this point with about 10 million chips.

His opponent in this hand is Chris Johnson, who holds a slightly above average stack of four million.

Everybody is already secured a prize of $124,000 and the next payout level will be $28,000 more.

Keranen is on the button and gets dealt:


The blinds are 30k/60k. Keranen raises to 125,000. Johnson is in the small blind and finds


He re-raises to 325,000. Keranen calls and the pot is now 790,000 chips. They go to a flop of


Johnson c-bets 350,000 and Keranen raises to 800,000. Johnson calls and the pot has grown to 2.39 million chips. The turn is the


Johnson checks, Keranen bets another 1.05 million and Johnson pretty quickly folds with a sigh.

He asks Keranen to show his hand, to which he replies that he unfortunately can’t. Keranen now has 11 million and Johnson is left with 2.8 million.


It's a crucial phase of the Main Event and Keranen gets his opponent fold aces. Let’s look closer at how he did it.

The situation is already becomes interesting pre-flop when Keranen just flat-calls Johnson’s 3-bet. Being on the button and in the small blind both players have rather wide ranges.

Chris Johnson
Chris Johnson on Day 6 of Main Event.

However, in this particular situation, Johnson is probably not re-raising the chipleader very light while Keranen can call with a lot more hands. With his big stack he can open many hands from the button and even call a re-raise with them.

Thus, by just calling, he's representing a far weaker hand than he actually holds. For Johnson the K Q T flop is very unpleasant.

All the possible Broadway hands are in Keranen’s range, of course, and they all hit the flop. Some have even overtaken him. Johnson was obviously hoping for a flop like 7-7-4 or Q-6-2 where he would have been ahead almost every time.

When Johnson c-bets the flop Keranen sees his chance to turn his hand into a bluff. Of course he knows that this flop might well have hit Johnson, too.

Johnson’s re-raising range has a lot of pocket pairs and Broadway cards in it so Keranen can be pretty sure he is behind now.

However, he now has an open-ended straight draw so he decides go for a semi-bluff. His flop raise to 800,000 gives Johnson irresistible odds of 4.3 to 1.

Kyle Keranen
Keranen displays big value of big stack.

One Move, Two Goals

Keranen accomplishes two different goals with this move:

  • 1) He wants Johnson to call so he can take even more chips from him
  • 2) He's demonstrating strength by literally inviting his opponent to call

Johnson indeed calls and then checks a total blank on the turn to Keranen, who fires again. The turn bet of 1.05 million puts Johnson to the ultimate test.

It says: “If you call this, you will have to play for all your chips on the river.”

This puts Johnson into a dilemma. If Keranen doesn’t bluff there are quite a few hands that beat him, like K-T, K-Q or Q-T plus sets and straights. Now his aces have become nothing more than bluff catchers.

Although Johnson’s decision to fold in this situation is actually wrong, when you look at the cards – especially as Johnson holds two of Keranen’s outs – at the end of the day given the tournament situation and the value of staying alive in it Johnson’s decision is probably correct.


In this hand Keranen demonstrates beautifully how valuable a big stack can be. He is threatening to take any of his opponents out of the tournament at any given time.

Johnson reluctantly gets away from his aces when he sees he can only beat a bluff. Eventually Johnson made it to the last four tables and busted in 31st place for $230,000.

Keranen went a little deeper and finished in 24th place. If you want to watch the hand, check the video below from 11:30.

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