Hand of the Week: Mortensen Rope-a-Dopes, Makes Monster Muck

Der Fold

Believe it or not there are just six weeks before the 2016 World Series of Poker begins in Las Vegas.

We're a bit further out from the start of the granddaddy of them all, the $10,000 Main Event, but with the whiff of 2016 WSOP in the air it's hard not to let memories of past events float to the surface.

This week we're revisiting an epic hand from Day 6 of the 2013 WSOP Main Event featuring past champion Carlos Mortensen.

In this hand he takes an excruciating amount of time but ultimately makes the right decision. In doing so, he also provided the goods for one of the best poker photos of all time.

Flop to River

There are 38 players left on Day 6 of the 2013 WSOP Main Event and all have locked up $185,000 already. The blinds are 30,000/60,000/10,000 and Carlos Mortensen (almost 3 million chips) finds     in early position.

He raises to 135,000 and gets two calls. In the cut-off, Dutch player Jörn Walthaus (c. 6.5 million chips) calls as well as American Matthew Reed in the small blind.

There's 550,000 in the pot and the flop falls      

Reed checks. Mortensen also checks and Walthaus bets out 215,000. That gets Reed out of the way but Mortensen calls. The pot has swollen to 985,000 chips and the players see the   on the turn. Mortensen checks again and Walthaus bets again, this time 510,000.

Mortensen makes the call. The pot has now breached the 2m-chip barrier and the river is the  

Another check from Mortensen is followed by a Walthaus bet of 975,000. What follows then is a six-minute time span in which Carlos Mortensen goes over the hand and all the details again and again. He's trying to find a reason to fold or to call and exploring why his kings don’t feel like a winner anymore. 

Eventually, Mortensen folds and is right as Walthaus held     for a full house. Watch the hand again here:

Analysis

It’s a crucial situation and Mortensen finds a correct fold that would’ve been impossible for most recreational players.

Mortensen with kings
Knows what he's doing

But Mortensen went for an unusual line in this hand much earlier, and we’ll try to find out why the 2001 champion played the way he did.

Pre-flop, everything that happens is standard. Mortensen has the second-best starting hand and raises 2.25 bb. 

From this position he would do this with his full raising range. It’s a bit of an invitation to the other players at the table. 

The perfect scenario would have been to get just one call or even a re-raise, so he could have maximized on his hand even pre-flop, but two calls are still not too bad for what Mortensen has in mind.

The flop is J-J-8 rainbow -- a dry flop with T-9 being the only reasonable draw. For Mortensen this means:

1. If he’s ahead, he’ll be ahead on the river, too, most of the time.

2. If someone calls his bets, he won’t do so with a draw.

Mortensen Rope-a-Dopes

In this classic way-ahead-or-way-behind situation, Mortensen decides to get to showdown passively.

He bases this on point #1 above where he’s ahead most of the time and lets his opponent bluff or bet with worse hands.

These opponents would, indeed, have trouble calling three streets -- even if they had strong pocket pairs like tens, nines or even queens.

However, it’s very possible that one of the two pre-flop callers has a jack as jack-hands are in both players’ ranges. Pocket eights are also a possibility.

Checking the flop gives Mortensen an additional advantage in this spot. If Walthaus bets – which indeed he does – Mortensen gets to see how Reed responds.

Walthaus mit Volltreffer
Makes Mortensen re-think.

A call from the small blind would indicate a pretty strong hand. Had it been checked around, Mortensen would definitely have bet the turn.

The River Issue

Reed folds to Walthaus’ flop bet but Mortensen obviously calls with his kings and repeats the call on the turn.

The 7 doesn’t change too much for Mortensen. The – unlikely – draw for T-9 has come in, and pocket sevens would make a full house.

But it’s more likely that Mortensen’s opponent has a jack or uses the heart for a semi-bluff.

Mortensen can’t really fold on the turn but after the 2 on the river he has to reconsider his original plan to call Walthaus down. There are several issues getting Mortensen into trouble now:

1. Would Walthaus really bluff-barrel three times? What hand could he have?

2. Walthaus could hold a jack.

3. Sevens or eights are inside Walthaus’ range.

4. There is now a possible flush. Walthaus could have bluffed the flop and semi-bluffed the turn.

Carlos Mortensen
Mind of a pro.

Numbers 2-4 are all not very likely if you look at them individually, but together they’re more likely than Issue #1.

And then there’s the problem that Mortensen would fall under 20 bb if he loses while he’d be left with more than 30bb if he folds.

Maybe this was the thought that finally convinced Mortensen to fold, contrary to his original plan.

As it turned out he was right; the intuition of a professional.

Conclusion

Already deep in the tournament, this decision paved the way for Mortensen’s very deep run in the 2013 Main Event.

Jörn Walthaus finished in 26th place while Mortensen went all the way to the last table and eventually bowed out in 10th to take home $573,000.

It's questionable whether Mortensen would have been able to get away from this hand without the 2 on the river, though.

You could say it was his lucky card.

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