In the ongoing Strategy Snapshot series, PL.com looks at a key hand from a major poker event and breaks it down from a strategy standpoint.
Poker Game: High Stakes Poker, Season 4, Episode 16
Situation: $300/$600 with a mandatory $1,200 straddle
Patrik Antonius opens for $4,000 with Q♥ J♠; Doyle Brunson calls with Q♦ 9♦ from the button and the rest of the players get out. Sam Farha whines as he does so, saying, "I've never done this in my whole life."
Yep; we believe you, Sammy. Folding to a standard raise from the straddle is just not like you.
Two players go to the flop, which comes 8♦ K♥ J♦.
This is an interesting flop. Antonius has flopped middle pair with a decent kicker and Brunson has a flush and gut-shot straight draw.
Antonius bets $7,000 into the $10,900 pot. Brunson, who has played few hands so far this season, decides to raise it up to $22,000.
This kind of play is probably Doyle Brunson's biggest legacy to the world of poker strategy. In his book Super/System, Brunson devotes a large number of pages to the importance of being aggressive with draws, and how he managed to kill most games back in the day by doing so.
Now, Brunson has a strong draw and position - two factors that make it an almost automatic raise for him.
But Brunson is up against Patrik Antonius, who learned to play poker when Brunson's playing style had become the norm. On the Internet, at least in the high-stakes games, all players would have raised in Brunson's position. So Antonius can put Doyle on a large number of hands, many of them draws.
Following this train of thought, Antonius decides to call and the pot is now $54,900.
The turn is a blank, 4♣, and Antonius is first to speak.
When you have the best hand, you always want to bet so your opponent has an opportunity to make a bad call. We know both players' hands and understand that the perfect play would be to make an almost pot-sized bet. Antonius is obviously not aware of this.
On the other hand, when you hold a semi-weak hand like second pair, you want to keep the pot small. Your hand might be good, but you don't want to commit a lot of chips with it. The larger the pot gets, the more likely it is that you're beaten.
Antonius decides to check. Better safe than sorry. From his point of view, Brunson could have almost anything since he has only showed aggression so far. The question is what Antonius is going to do if Brunson bets out.
As we said, Antonius knows Brunson is fond of draws, but another bet would indicate real strength. If it comes, Antonius might have to fold.
Unfortunately, we'll never know what would have happened. Brunson checks behind.
The river comes 8♥, and Antonius is now quite convinced he has the best hand since Brunson decided the turn was going to be free of charge. And what do you do when you think you hold the best hand? Check, of course.
Although Antonius probably is ahead, he can only beat a bluff. If he bets, and Brunson calls, he is most certainly beaten. But if he checks, and Brunson bets, he can call and win the pot. And also, if Antonius bets, and Brunson has read him correctly and raises, Antonius will be forced to fold what might be the best hand.
At this point Brunson knows Antonius probably will call any standard bet, and he immediately says "Queen high." Maybe hoping, but not believing, that Antonius has given up the pot with a small, busted flush draw.
Antonius calmly takes a sip of water and rakes in $54,900.
Although this is a quite small pot by High Stakes standards, it doesn't make it less interesting. It is a clash between the man who invented power poker and one of his disciples. Both Antonius and Brunson know a bet doesn't have to mean a strong hand. It could just as easily be a bluff or a semi-bluff.
In this hand, a bet would give the other player the opportunity to show real strength: make a large raise and take down the pot. That might be one reason why both players play this hand quite timidly.
Neither wants to give his opponent the chance to make a move, which is what both Brunson and Antonius do best. Two of the poker world's most aggressive players check it down, just to avoid more aggression from the opponent.