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Poker Workshop: When (If Ever) is an Aggressive Turn Shove Worth It?
Adam ‘Roothlus’ Levy is one of the most respected online and live tournament players in the world.
He has earned over $2.3m in live tournaments, including World Poker Tour (WPT) and World Series of Poker (WSOP) final-table appearances, and over $4.5m playing online poker.
Sam Razavi is currently taking the Asia Pacific Tour (APT) by storm. He is the only player to win three successive APT Player of the Year (POY) titles, and only last month won four side events at APT Cebu.
Razavi is also a United Kingdom & Ireland Poker Tour (UKIPT) winner and WSOP final tablist.
Both Adam and Sam kindly agreed to dissect an interesting hand from the WSOP. It’s worth noting that I chose this hand because I deliberately played it differently after receiving advice from Jason Wheeler through one of these poker workshops.
World Series of Poker: Monster Stack Day 1
Level 10 Blinds 400/800 A100
Pre-Hand Information: Our villain is a fit-looking man in his late 40s/early 50s. He is the spitting image of Jason Statham. He once finished runner-up in a Heartland Poker Tour (HPT) Main Event and was playing tight aggressive.
I hadn’t seen him show down any hands but I did see him 4-bet the chip leader from the button and then fold to a five-bet the previous orbit to this one.
Hero - 50,000
Jason Statham - 40,000
I open to 1,800 from middle position holding Q♣ T♠. Jason Statham calls from the button and the blinds both fold.
Flop: K♣ J♦ 5♥
I bet 2,000; Statham calls.
I bet 3,750. Statham raises to 9,000. I move all-in and he snap folds.
Sam Razavi: “I think this is a great hand to showcase because it is demonstrative of how to take profitable advantage of an aggressive or over-active player.
“Before we discuss the play-out of the hand you mention that he is playing tight-aggressive, but we haven't seen a hand go to showdown yet so we have no information on the actual strength of the hands he is playing. I would raise my hand and say he is actually playing SELECTIVELY aggressive; choosing what he feels are good spots to make a play for the pot.
"That's a big factor, because if we are assuming he is playing strong hands fast, and not weak hands aggressively, then it makes our play much tougher to pull off. We also assume he is not a fish. So he's a clever, thinking player picking what he feels are profitable spots to make a move.”
“My first note would be, results aside, with this active three/four-bettor sitting in prime position on the button - opening this hand is like sending a gazelle to play amongst a pack of lions.
"Unless you have a specific plan mapped out you must be fully aware that there is a good chance you are going to face a 3-bet and an even greater chance that, at best, you will be playing out of position against this hyper aggro player down the streets.
"Q-10 off is a semi-loose open from MP as it is. I particularly try to avoid trouble hands where we can flop top pair and be dominated in tournaments where the structures allow for tighter play.
"There are plenty of opportunities to pick up chips with much stronger hands; this is a prime example of the kind of hand that, played too often, we can lose a chunk and hamper our chances at a deep run.
"I would probably just fold pre-flop unless I'm running the table over and rarely, if ever, being 3-bet.”
Lee Davy: My thought process is not this complex when I play poker. I generally go by flow and how I am feeling in the moment. The table was very talkative, including Jason Statham, but now Sam mentions it he had three-bet me a couple of times before and I folded.
I didn’t take this into consideration when I made my loose open. I was winning pots at the time and just kept on playing, which eventually leads to trouble.
Sam Razavi: “We find ourself on a pretty tasty rainbow board drawing to eight outs for the stone-cold nuts. A c-bet is of course in order. Given the information we have on the player and the relatively small c-bet size (assuming this is 9-handed we bet 2,000 into a 5,700 pot, so nearly 1/3rd pot bet), it would be silly to try assigning a solid range to his hand at this point.
"He has plenty of air and semi-air that he will be floating with, he could have any range of small pairs, A-10, QJ, J-10, K-10, K-9, backdoor nut-flush draws and so on. In position this type of player could very well be holding two red Jokers at this point.
“I think the key was in the bet sizing. Both on the flop and when the second king falls on the turn the bet is always slightly lacking half-pot, which can tend to translate as half-committed.
"I think what is going through our opponent's mind is that you are either nutted or virtually nutted (AK, KJ, JJ), and trying to really extract as much value as possible.
"Or your bet tells a different story: hands that could or could not be good (e.g. 8's - 10's, a weak J) or hands that you feel you don't want to give up the lead on but you still have outs and could still be good (prime example AQ, A-10 or indeed any combo of ace high that is still ahead of draws).
“Our opponent either hopes for, or suspects, the latter and puts in a good-sized raise. It shows some strength (or a lot of heart!), discourages draws and sets up a nice chunky river bet that will be almost impossible to call without at least a very strong king.
“I’m not sure about the bet-shove on the turn but I certainly admire it. I remember first seeing a very similar televised hand like this play out long before I played tournament poker seriously. It was between Jason Mercier and (I think) another older gentleman, and it was perhaps an old EPT.
"Long and short on a non-paired turn of XXJQ the two got into a raising war before Mercier finally shoved K-10 and made AK fold. I stole the same move for the Estrellas Ibiza event a few years later where the board was pretty much the same and we got into a raise war on the turn.
"I shoved the K-10 and he folded, showing the AK. I felt quite proud of it but later thought back and wondered, did I really have to take such a (potentially) big risk for a relatively small return, in the big picture?
“What makes your shove all the more risky yet all the more brilliant is that the board is totally rainbow and the king is paired on the turn. Don't be under the illusion that a weak king will fold here. This player hasn't spent all day building up this manic image to fold trips against a shove that makes just as little sense as his turn raise does.
"He knows exactly what his perceived image is and he knows there are players at the table actively looking to take advantage of that.
“You have to remember, let's imagine he is sitting with a hand, regardless of what it is. He has to wonder what are you shoving an (effective approximate) 50bbs more on the turn with? The only draws left are the Q-10 and the two gut shots (9-10/A-10), there is no flush draw.
"Are you leveling with 55 or JJ, trying to get called by a king? Probably not, because you expect him to bet trips 100% of the time on the river, so you are going to get that value on the river anyway by flatting while leaving his bluffs in too.
“The thing is you've come to the decision to shove because you know it is highly likely he's up to mischief. When you zone in on that and are confident of your read of the situation, you need to take a step back and think: how do I make the most of this leveling war?
"Just as when we are holding the nuts we want to get maximum value from our hands; so when we see a situation like this we, too, need to think what is the best way to get more of our opponent's chips in the middle?
“Could we opt to check the turn? We've seen our opponent happy to push the bar, not giving in easily when faced with a single raise, and too stubborn to give up on a hand. What if he bets 3.5k on the turn and we make it 8-9k?
"It gives him room to do what you did should he, by freak chance, be holding the exact same hand. So it could backfire in a bad way. But it also gives him a bit of rope to click it back to 15-16k, which is more likely; or if we're lucky, a little more.
"Now when we shove, how strong does our hand look? Not only do we earn more dead money into the middle but now if there was ever a time he might consider laying down a weak king (on the off chance that he holds it) this would be a legitimate time to start thinking about it.
“Of course, taking this second route is risky. It relies on your read being spot on and the betting action going the way you want. Perhaps he elects to float your check-raise on the turn instead of re-raising you. Maybe this makes you give up the river. Maybe not?
"But if you were going to fire 50bbs into the abyss anyway at least go out in style and empty the clip on the river! I highly doubt, however, that this opponent will simply float with total air on the turn, but if it does get to the river, maybe you hit, then there comes another whole train of thought in how you are going to get paid.
"That's a story for another day though.”
Adam Levy: “It's hard for me to find much wrong with the hand as I think you played the hand pretty well. I would size bigger on the flop, and slightly bigger on the turn, as you guys are fairly deep. I also get the feeling this guy likes to float a fair amount.
"This is a tricky turn as it usually shuts down most hands that aren't a king and it's a guessing game: Does he have the King? Does he think I have it?
“So when you bet again, that's what he's thinking. I like your bet on the turn as Q10, AQ, A10 and 10-9 are the perfect hands to bluff here with and it helps keeps your opponents from taking advantage of you in these spots.
"As for his raise, I honestly can't remember the last time a thinking player raised this turn and had a hand. Why would you ever raise this turn for value? You want to keep their bluffs in for a possible third bullet and you also don't want to scare away other one pair hands, possibly weaker trips.
"The problem is, as you previously stated, he 3-bets AK pre, Jacks probably too, maybe has 55, KQ or KJ. That's basically what you are repping, the nuts, and it's hard to have the nuts in No Limit Hold'em.
"This is definitely a play that I don't make often but given the circumstances this guy seems like someone who wants to be aggressive and tangle so I dig it.”
Lee Davy: Both players are telling me that it’s a high-risk play and, whilst they admire it, is it really sensible? I believe, when I play online, I get eliminated from so many tournaments playing like this. Each time I am eliminated I say, “Why did I do that?”
This is a pattern that happens to me when I am deeper stacked. I seem to play patiently at -20bb but become too active and aggressive 40bb+. Sam is also correct when he states that my turn shove doesn’t really make sense. Jason Statham later told me that he didn’t think I had it.
This means he most likely had a drawing hand. This is what I thought he had - that or air - but it was high variance at a point when I could have played a lot more patiently.
Sam Razavi: “I like the move but I will rarely take that line in those specific circumstances. I think it is more effectively applied in higher pressure situations, like on the bubble, or on the final table where pay jumps are very significant. And most importantly where stack sizes are not so similar, and of course where you still have fold equity.
"If you shove and get called you want to be left with a playable stack and not on fumes. Of course, whether bubble or not, if you run into the nuts it's irrelevant. But the point I'm making is with all those factors taken into account, the risk becomes worth the reward.
“In your situation you are sitting comfortably with 60bbs in a tournament with a great structure where there are many, many spots of value still left. And many other easier and far less risky ways to pick up chips.
"In summary, I love the play and the heart; it is exactly this kind of commitment that separates the min-cashers from the champions. But it could so easily have been the wrong play at the wrong time.
“One last note: you have to remember you are dealing with Jason Statham here. You've got more than your chips to worry about. If he folds and gives you a silent stare, I'd advise you double lock your doors that night.
"If he retaliates with a humorous quip along the lines of 'Next time I call you it won't be for a f*****g dinner date,' you can probably get away with a cheeky high five and get on with your life as normal.”