Folding is an art only great poker players master.
Weak players are usually not able to properly assess an opponent’s range and focus too much on their own hand.
2015 World Series of Poker Main Event runner-up Josh Beckley, an unheralded but very talented player on the rise, shows us how it’s done.
It's an incredible tournament situation. We’re at the final table of the main event. There are only four players left and everyone already has $2.6 million secured.
These are what the last payouts and pay jumps look like:
And these are the chip stacks plus the corresponding ICM values when this hand plays out:
The column on the right shows the mathematical value of each player’s chip stack. It’s how much they’re theoretically entitled to.
Once again we can see very well here how the value of chips declines the more you have. And with all this advance information, we can now turn to the hand.
Beckley Makes $2m WSOP Fold
The blinds are 400k/800k/100k.
Max Steinberg folds under the gun, chipleader Joe McKeehen raises to 1.6 million from the button, Neil Blumenfield folds the small blind and Beckley in the big blind finds
He re-raises to 4 million. McKeehen quickly eyes his opponent and then 4-bets to 10 million chips. Beckley takes roughly a minute and then 3-bet folds the fourth-best starting hand in No Limit Hold’em.
McKeehen had Beckley managed to get away from a situation that probably would have cost him his tournament life.
As we know now McKeehen went on to win the main event without ever getting in trouble. Beckley made it to the heads-up and won $4.47 million.
In this hand he made a decision of major consequences that deserves a closer look.
When Steinberg folds, McKeehen raises 2x, which is standard these days. Blumenfield folds and Beckley finds pocket jacks.
It goes without saying that Beckley now thinks he has the best hand and will probably still have it on the river.
His re-raise to 4 million is a little low, though, seeing as he doesn’t have position after the flop. But his intention is clearly to get the maximum out of his strong hand – there are only three hands considered better than this one.
What follows is a surprising move as McKeehen raises again, now to 10m chips. This gives Beckley good reason to really think about what’s going on.
A Re-Raise is the Answer, Isn't It?
Beckley now has 10% of his stack invested. If he folds now he can continue on in the tournament relatively unscathed.
On the other hand he’s holding pocket jacks -- a hand that could propel him way up the leaderboard.
If he wins an all-in against McKeehen he would become the new chipleader and suddenly be in position to put pressure on his opponents.
So a reraise is the answer, isn’t it?
It’s not that easy. First, keep in mind that Beckley would be committed to investing his whole stack because if he 5-bets to around 20 million, he’d risk half of his stack and could mathematically not fold anymore afterwards.
He’d risk 40 million chips to win 16 million.
Another Factor in Play
At this point we have to ask what McKeehen would take Beckley on with if Beckley shows he’s ready to go all-in by pot-committing himself or by just pushing.
Probably, McKeehen’s range is very small. It should be T-T or better including J-J (highly unlikely), Q-Q, K-K, A-A, and A-K.
Against this range Beckley’s hand doesn’t play very well. Considering the pot odds you can maybe justify an all-in but there is yet another factor to pay attention to.
The pay jumps (see above) are enormous and Beckley is looking at second place right there, which means $2m more than fourth place.
His fold follows financial considerations. Beckley prefers a solid fold to a risk. An all-in would have created a tough situation with a lot of variance.
And at the end of the day he would have been an 80:20 underdog to McKeehen’s actual hand.
Eventually his move pays off as he does indeed get second place in the tournament.
Instead of going to war with the chipleader Beckley makes the right decision in an extremely important situation.
He folds the fourth best starting hand pre-flop and dodges a tough spot that could have led to grave financial consequences.
The final results confirmed this move as Beckley finished as runner-up and won $2m more than he would have in 80% of cases if he’d gone for the all-in earlier.