Hand of the Week: Negreanu Slow Plays Into Second-Nuts Pickle

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Ah, the Main Event.

The annual climax of the World Series of Poker

Poker legend Daniel Negreanu has had several really deep runs in the Main Event over his long and storied poker career, including a heartwrenching 11th-place finish in 2015.

He's never gone all the way, though. And his time came to an end early this year as he surged to 100k in chips on Day 2C but busted in a flip when his nines couldn't beat AQ.

In honor of his "what-if" moments over the years we look back at a key hand from 2012 when he flopped a monster late on Day 2 but couldn't turn it into a deeper journey.

Flop to River

It’s Day 3 of the 2012 Main Event and there are about 1,000 players left. We haven’t yet reached the money.

At the feature table Negreanu is one of the big stacks with 321,700 chips corresponding to over 200 bb. The blinds are 800/1600/200 and Daniel finds    

He raises to 3,600 from early position. It’s folded all the way around  to Marco Ruggeri in the big blind, who calls. Ruggeri has 113,500 chips/70 bb. There's now 9,800 chips in the pot and effective stacks are at 110,000.

The flop falls       Ruggeri checks. Negreanu checks behind. Pot size and effective stacks remain unchanged.

The turn is the   Ruggeri now bets 4,200 and Negreanu calls. There are now 18,200 chips in the pot with effective stacks at 105,000.

The river is the   Ruggeri now bets 10,500. Negreanu raises to 31,500 and Ruggeri pushes his 105,000 all-in. Negreanu thinks about it for a minute and then calls.

Ruggeri shows     and wins the pot with the nuts. He doubles to 229,200 chips while Negreanu loses 35% of his stack and drops to 208,000. Watch how the hand unfolds here in the video:

Analysis

Was it possible for Negreanu to avoid disaster here? Let’s have a closer look.

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Pre-flop play is pretty standard. Negreanu finds the best starting hand in Texas Hold’em and raises to a little more than 2x.

Ruggeri calls with a hand that is playable from the big blind. Q-To is a bit of a prototype of the hand you can play without position.

It plays well against Daniel’s range and is just too strong to fold.

The Pros and Cons of Slow Play

The flop action is quite interesting. Ruggeri checks to the initial raiser and Negreanu elects to check behind.

It’s a move that’s completely understandable here. Negreanu has flopped the nuts on a rainbow board with almost no draws.

Ruggeri would fold to a bet most of the time so Negreanu goes for the slow play. But this brings a couple of disadvantages, too.

If you check a monster on any street, you’re losing out on the chance to get more chips in the pot. You’re limiting the money you can win, although the stacks are very deep.

Also, Negreanu’s check on the flop is a little suspicious. Usually he's c-bet here with almost every hand except maybe K-K, Q-Q and similar.

Yet, it’s probably the best move in this spot as Ruggeri would fold to a bet 90% of the time and Negreanu would win even less chips.

Ruggeri Falls for It … and Comes Out Ahead

When the turn gives Ruggeri a gutshot he decides to semi-bluff. That’s not a bad idea, as he’s still behind high pairs but might steal the pot from middle pairs like sevens or eights.

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Negreanu still has the nuts but he doesn’t want to show it just yet. If he raises here he would make bad hands fold and thus minimize his profit.

By just calling, however, he might induce another bluff on the river because his opponent might hit a pair and be willing to lose more than one bet.

The river is indeed one of the four outs for Ruggeri. His hand turned from a 1.6% underdog into the stone-cold nuts within two streets.

His bet of 10,500 is a rather low one. It seems he doesn’t put Negreanu on anything strong. The Canadian, on the other hand. has no reason to expect the worst.

He’s still holding the second nuts and there’s a range of hands that can bet now and even call a raise, like 7-7 or 4-4 or two-pair hands like A-J, A-7, A-4, K-J, or even K-7.

Raising to 31,000 also gives his opponent good odds of 2.8 to 1, which are almost irresistible to a strong hand.

The Nuts and Nuts Only?

Ruggeri wakes up in the perfect scenario as he really wants to get his whole stack in. When he goes all-in there's 229,200 chips in the pot and Negreanu has to pay 74k to call.

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Is it possible to fold here?

The pot odds are 3.1 to 1, but of course Negreanu has to ask himself what hands Ruggeri could possibly play like this.

Bluffs are extremely unlikely and even A-K is but a bluff catcher for the Italian now.

That leaves jacks, sevens and fours in his hands (you can exclude a set of kings because Ruggeri only called pre-flop).

Then there is that small possibility of an unknown player making erratic moves, which you always have to take into account. 

At the end of the day you can’t expect anybody to fold here, but there are spots where you must put your opponent on the nuts and the nuts only.

Conclusion

After a perfect flop Daniel runs into the mega-monster and pays off. Ruggeri couldn’t do anything wrong because his opponent’s hand was so strong and his own so well hidden.

At the end of that Main Event Negreanu and Ruggeri exited almost simultaneously in 160th and 157th place, winning about $52,000 each. Negreanu has to think what might have been had he held on to those chips.

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