With over $1.8m in live tournament earnings and a Full Tilt Poker patch to boot, Irishman Dermot Blain knows a thing or two about playing live tournament poker.
So what better person to ask to dissect the hands that I played in the recent World Series of Poker (WSOP) Monster Stack event?
This is what Blain had to say about approaching the event from a beginner-intermediate's perspective, and his analysis of some of my more interesting hands.
Mindset is Everything in Poker
Dermot Blain: Mindset is everything when entering an event like this and it’s very important not to get carried away with the fact that you have more chips to start with.
Your approach should always be the same, and that’s to play good, tight-aggressive poker - especially in the opening few hours.
Pay close attention to see if anybody is playing ‘weak poker’ such as limping a lot and calling out of position, and look to use your stack to isolate these players and try to manufacture situations where you're playing pots in position against them.
The great thing about an event like this is that if things go wrong early on - like making some second-best hands - you still have plenty of chips to recover, so no need to panic!
Another tip for playing WSOP events is to always be aware of your table number and the breaking order of play. There is no point trying to build dynamics with players if you’re going to break within a few hours.
Small pairs, suited aces and suited connectors become more valuable when deeper stacked as you can often have ‘nut hands’ that play very well multi-way, and it can help you get an opponent’s entire stack.
Also important to remember: If you won every pot for the first two hours it still won’t have a huge bearing on the overall result of the tournament, so remain patient throughout even though you start 600BB deep.
Once you reach the money the average stack will be around 30bb so don’t forget that!
Poker Hand Analysis
I open A2hh EP for 75 and get 3 callers. The Flop is Q93hhs, I CB 150 and both blinds call. The turn is the Kc and it checks around. The river is the 7d; the small blind bets, big blind raises and I fold.
DB: I think the open is fine as long you're willing to fold to a re-raise. Flopping the nut flush can lead to some good semi-bluffing opportunities and over-flushing someone is great way to win a big pot.
In the first level I would rather open A2 suited than A10 off, since flopping trip deuces also has much more deception that flopping trip 10s.
As played - good job. I would have played it the same.
I open As9c in the HJ and CO flats. Flop 443hh and I check/fold to his bet.
DB: This is a close one against a tough opponent, while check/folding is good against a weak opponent. I prefer a small c-bet here though.
I think we will pick it up often enough and we don’t want our opponent flatting me a lot thinking I am going to play soft post flop.
UTG bets 75 and there are 3 callers. I complete in the BB with JTss. Flop J52ddd and the original raiser over bets the pot, there is one caller and I fold.
DB: Good disciplined fold. Early on I find people play pretty straightforward after a bet and a call. Your naked top pair on a flush board is doing very poorly so good fold.
CO opens to 150 and I make it 300 from the SB with pocket Queens. The flop is A93; I bet 350 he calls. Board runs out with a ten and a jack and we both check. He has A4hh and takes the pot.
DB: Your three-bet sizing should be bigger since you are out of position 500bb deep.
The small raise does nothing to define his range and you have a very big hand against his much wider range.
It’s a good situation to get some chips in the pot with a big hand. Be confident and trust yourself post-flop.
As played betting small on the flop is fine, or check-calling is another option to pick off some weak stabs, especially since your "goofy" pre-flop sizing might make him do some silly stuff!!
EP opens to 150. I flat AK IP and SB calls. Flop KT6r he checks, I bet 300 and just the SB calls. Turn 5s he check/calls a 600 bet. River 3c he check/calls a 1,100 bet and then mucks.
DB: I like it - well played. It shows the benefit of flatting a big hand pre-flop.
EP opens for 200 and I make it 400 late position with AA. Flop At8hh I CB 400 and he folds.
DB: Once again your three-bet sizing is too small - 550 would have been much better. A good rule of thumb is “big hand-big pot; small hand-small pot.” You have the best possible hand and you have position so let’s try and make a big pot!
Also, if you want to make some pre-flop steals with some marginal holdings you’re going to want to make it larger so let’s up the sizing with our entire range.
EP opens to 200, I 3B MP with QQ to 400 and he calls. Flop KJ3 and he check-calls a 300 CB. Turn ace, river 7 we both check and he mucks.
DB: Once again up that pre-flop sizing with your premium holdings. We got a nasty run out and were lucky to win. Let’s get some more chips in there with our big hands!
EP opens 150 I call KThh in the CO and button flats. Flop AQ6hh he bets 225 I call, button folds. Turn 7c he checks I bet 400 and he folds.
DB: Well played. We could raise the flop with our very nutty draw; however, he is never folding any ace he is opening with and he may barrel off when you hit your hand thinking he can get you off a weak ace or queen. Good work.
I open AQcc UTG+1 and get 3B from late position to 625 by a good player. I call and fold to a CB on J64r.
DB: Tough one. Off suit I would fold some of the time. Don't expect a good player to be light here, especially pre ante’s; however, given we are suited then calling is fine. We get a bad flop so check-fold unfortunately.
CO opens, OTB 3B 325 I call SB with Tens and co calls. Flop Q99. CO bets 225 both call. Turn 7 he bets 600 I fold.
DB: Strange hand! Four-betting pre is an option; however, it does ramp up the variance. I guess we have to call the flop, although I wouldn’t be happy about this spot. I don't think he is ever leading with worse than tens here. We have no option but to check/fold the turn.
Open EP AKss and am once again 3B by that good player to 525 and I call. Flop Q9cc5h. Both check. Turn Td I lead 625 and he raises to 1,550 and I fold.
DB: Again another tough spot. We have a super strong holding so we could 4-bet to shove over his 5-bet (tough to know exactly without more info).
Could be awful/standard against varying opponents. As played I don't like turn lead, given that he checks back the flop he probably has something so I don't think he is ever folding the turn (I think he bets his air on the flop).
I think the better option is to check-call the turn. We have gutshot to the nuts and two overcards and sometimes we have the best hand.
By checking, we also protect ourselves from being bluff raised and blown off our equity.
I defend QJo to CO open and check it down on 9658A he has king high (should have bet turn and river?)
DB: Yes I like betting the turn as we have nut gutshot and two overs. The board is now better for our range than his. Also we are near the bottom of our range, so betting can never be bad, and there are so many ace-high and king-high hands in his range.
I wouldn't bet the river since a lot of the ace-type hands in his range get there and he might get suspicious on this river!
EP open and late position caller. I call in the SB with TT and BB raises to 900 and only I call. Flop J65cc check/900/call. Turn Kc c/c. River low brick he bets 1.1k and I fold (Note: I told myself pre flop I was set mining only, and then convinced myself to call the flop saying he had a lot of AQ/AK combos in his range).
DB: Ha-ha ... I have been in this situation many times and it’s tough to fold the flop. If you think his range is that tight pre-flop then as painful as it is check-fold on the flop seems our best play.
SB limps and I check in BB with QJo. I bet AJT flop and he folds.
DB: I like checking the flop since if we are ahead we have him nearly drawing dead. Also if he limped a weak ace he isn’t folding. By checking we also encourage some turn bluffs from him, which we are crushing.
I limp SB with A3hh and BB checks. Flop 834cc check/200/call. Turn 2s check/600/call. River Jd check/800/call and he has a set of deuces. (Note: This hand kind of ran away with me. The action was very quick and I didn’t think through his range. Instead I convinced myself he had a missed his flush draws because he bet so quickly.)
DB: I think I am raising pre unless our opponent is very tough. As played it’s a little ambitious to call down here unless he is a maniac.
The 2 completes a lot of semi bluffs and as a general rule people tend to play pretty honest in un-raised pots. Check call the flop, but I think we fold the turn and definitely fold the river.
If he's willing to fire three bullets in this spot good luck to him.
Open QQ UTG 400 and OTB and BB calls. Flop JJ9 I bet 600 OTB calls. Turn 9 c/c. River 7 I bet 700 he calls with tens.
DB: Well played. I like the turn pot control and a good river value bet.
Guy opens 500 in the HJ, I 3B OTB A3o to 1,650 and he calls. Flop QT8 and we both check. Turn 9, he bets and I fold (I was playing pretty tight, had a blocker, the button and thought it was a good spot)
DB: Well played. We have to mix in some steals, especially in times when we are card dead. Our image is good, we have a blocker and we have position.
Just use a slightly smaller sizing. I think 1300 to 1450 is enough and is giving us a better price on our bluff. Nasty flop and you had to give up on the turn.
EP open 575 one caller in the HJ and I 3B 1750 aces in the CO and everyone folds
DB: Standard … but scale down our sizing. We have AA we want some action! 1350 is more than enough
You flopped a big hand and so raising the flop to get it in can never be bad.
My exit hand. An older guy opens to 650 from MP. I look down and see K9cc OTB. Normally this is a fold, but the old guy was a weak-passive player who was being pushed around and I thought it was a good spot so I called.
The flop was T93cc. He bets 1,500. I knew if I raised I was going to be playing for stacks if he was going to call. I considered just flatting and re-evaluating. I guess I was just getting impatient and could sniff a double up.
I raise to 4,000 (leaving 7,500 behind). He has me covered by around 3,000. He tanks for ages and then calls.
Turn: Qd. He checks and I move all-in. He tanks forever before finally calling with Jacks. When I moved all-in I must admit I didn’t really consider his range.
I was already committed from the flop raise. When he tanked for ages I thought he had Jacks. River 3d and my tournament ends.
DB: I think you played it fine. You flopped a big hand and so raising the flop to get it in can never be bad.
But… I think pre-flop is close to a fold. I think this type of villain is opening a pretty tight range and often dominates our hand.
The fact that he is getting pushed around makes me think he could be more stubborn which ultimately means we probably will have to make the best hand.
As played it’s really close on the flop. I think we are pretty much a coin flip against his range. Questions I would ask myself in this situation:
- 1. Will he double me up with a hand like JJ if I improve?
- 2. Can I steal it if some scare cards come?
- 3. If I raise the flop what will he do with tens or jacks? (I don't think he is ever folding anything better than jacks.)
An option I like is calling the flop and raising a ton of turns (we rep sets really well). As played, once he calls it’s ugly!
It really comes down to whether you think he is capable of folding tens or jacks. If you think he is then shoving is great; if not then check and try to improve.