The second batch of WSOP Main Event episodes aired on ESPN this week, covering the final two Day 1 heats.
The latest feature tables see Daniel Negreanu, sick, sniffling and playing quite bad even by Daniel Negreanu standards, and the 2008 POY Erick Lindgren.
To say Lindgren was playing small ball would be an understatement. He was playing tiny ball, seemingly unwilling to risk any chips at all.
As Mike Matusow pointed out in episode one, the Main Event is a marathon, not a sprint, so playing small ball and avoiding big pots early is certainly a sound strategy.
When the tournament takes more than a week, you can't make Day 7 if you're knocked out in a big pot on Day 1.
The second episode opens with one of Erick's small ball hands.
Players: Erick Lindgren; Brad Myers
With the blinds at 50/100, Lindgren raises to 200 from early position with everyone near the starting stacks of 30,000.
Brad Myers, an amateur whose girlfriend won the Main Event seat, calls. Ryan Mackinnon also calls from late position.
The flop comes 5♣ 7♥ T♥ and Lindgren checks. Myers fires 600 and Mackinnon folds. Lindgren calls and the turn comes 4♦.
Lindgren checks, Myers fires 1,200 and again Lindgren calls. The river comes the 8♠ and Lindgren check-calls a 2,500 bet from Myers.
Myers shows the 5♥ 6♥ and Lindgren mucks the A♠ A♦. Thanks to a straight on the river, Myers' 5♥ 6♥ is good for the 9,350 pot.
Lindgren plays this hand in a completely atypical manner for one reason alone: it's a tournament. And it's not just a tournament - it's the tournament.
The Main Event is more than a week of straight poker and there's no way you can make it to the final table if you bust on the first day. So Lindgren plays small ball.
He opens the pot from early position to 200, keeping the pot small right from the start.
He knows he's probably going to have to play this pot out of position, and even though aces are the best starting hand in poker, anything can happen on the flop. When you're 300bb deep, one pair is never good in a big pot.
Myers makes the call in middle position with his 5♥ 6♥. He has suited connectors and they are super-deep very early in the tournament. If he flops a big hand, he may be able to double up.
Whereas Lindgren's AA is hampered by the deep stacks, Myers' 5♥ 6♥ is helped.
Mackinnon also calls from late position with K♣ J♠. When the flop comes 5♣ 7♥ T♥, Lindgren checks.
He has an overpair, but he likely feels that this board hits one or both of the callers behind him hard. He also knows that early in tournaments players are looking to call with suited connectors to hit and double up.
There isn't a single suited connector that doesn't connect with this board in some way. Add in the small pocket pairs and there's a high likelyhood that one or both of his opponents hit this board.
He doesn't want to risk being raised and forced to make a tough decision whether to three-bet or fold, so he just checks with the intention of calling a bet.
Myers flops a pair and a flush draw and is actually slightly ahead of Lindgren. He bets $600, Mackinnon folds with nothing and Lindgren makes the call.
As it actually turns out, Lindgren is absolutely correct. One of his opponents did nail the flop and if he had bet, Myers would probably have raised with his pair plus flush draw. Lindgren dodges this potentially sticky situation and sees the turn cheap.
The turn is the 4♦.
Lindgren, sticking with his plan, still wants to keep the pot small and checks. The 4♦ is not a great card for him because almost all of those suited connectors improved in one way or another.
Myers improves to a pair, flush draw and open-ended straight draw, and fires again for 1,200.
Lindgren calls again because he has a huge overpair to the board and though his opponent's range is pretty strong, Myers could still be value-betting worse hands - or even barreling with just a naked flush draw.
The river is the 8♠. Lindgren once again checks and crying-calls the 2,500 bet from Myers.
Myers makes an easy value-bet with a straight and Lindgren makes the call hoping to see a busted flush draw. And though he did see some busted hearts, they also ended up making a straight, which was good enough to crack aces and take a 9,350 pot.
This snapshot is almost the exact opposite of last week's, where Lex Veldhuis was acting like the Main Event was a 4-hour race to accumulate chips. Lindgren plays it close to the vest and tries to preserve chips to get to the later days.
In this hand it works out well for him. He could have lost a big pot by betting the flop and being forced to play back against a raise.
Something tells me Myers isn't folding a pair and a draw, and once he hits more outs on the turn, it's even more unlikely.
An odd check/call, check/call strategy ends up paying dividends for E-dog in the form of saved chips.