Hand of the Week: Small-Ball Poker at Its Best on Big Stage

jack salter IMG4966
Knows when to fold 'em.

Poker prodigy Fedor Holz won the $111,111 Big One for One Drop at the WSOP this summer in dramatic fashion.

But there was a lot more to the tournament than just Holz putting on a show.

The entire tournament was ripe with exciting, top-class hands from beginning to end.

In this week's hand we'll look a little closer at one of those hands that might have flown under the radar.

Flop to River

We pick up the action on the first hand of the final table. All the remaining players have $384,000 secured. 

At this point the big pay jumps begin with every spot worth at least $100,000 more while the winner will take home nearly $5m.

It’s very important to note the payout structure because it does have an effect on how play proceeds.

The blinds are at 100k/200k/30k so the base pot is 570,000. The short stack is Niall Farrell with 4 million, or 20 big blinds. Action folds to Jack Salter (11.6 million, 58 bb) in the cut-off, who finds    

He raises to 570,000 and Koray Aldemir (7.3 million, 37 bb) calls on the button. So does chip leader Dan Smith (22.4 million, 112bb) in the big blind.

That gives us 2.08 million in the pot and the flop falls      

The flop is checked all the way around. The turn comes  

Again, no bets from any players so they go to the river  

Smith leads for 600,000. Salter gets rid of his top set pretty quickly. Aldemir raises to 1.4m, Smith re-raises to 2.2m, Aldemir 4-bets to 3m and Smith goes all-in.

Aldemir calls and the chips go back to both players when Smith shows    

Aldemir has    

Hand Analysis

There are poker peculiarities in each of the betting rounds and they’re well worth looking at in detail.

Dan Smith
Dan Smith

Jack Salter sits in late position and gets the second-best starting hand in Texas Hold’em.

He puts in a raise to almost 3x to play against only one opponent but it doesn’t work out.

The first interesting move is that Aldemir just calls with A Q. This hand is ahead of Salter’s range most of the time but he decides to utilize pot control.

Aldemir keeps all the worse hands in Salter’s range in the pot – which might have folded to a re-raise – and he doesn’t have to play for his whole stack.

A re-raise pre-flop and a bet on the flop would have brought Aldemir close to an all-in push already.

Smith in the big blind simply gets 4.6 to 1 pot odds. Pretty irresistible, as he also holds a suited ace with A 5.

A Wet Flop

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The flop is Q J T, which hits the ranges of all three players. Several pair or two pair hands, straights and draws are all very realistic here.

Smith checks to the raiser but interestingly Salter checks behind. With an over pair and an open-ended straight draw, the British player could make another bet but he decides to disguise his hand and control the pot.

Also, Salter knows he could already be beat – by hands like Q-J or Q-T – and he won’t be able to get value on three streets from a hand worse than his.

On top of that, he has showdown value and there aren’t many bad turn cards for him. Things look similar for Aldemir. He has the shortest of the three stacks and he has a hand with showdown value.

If he’s ahead now he’ll still be ahead on the river most of the time and there are no worse hands than his that can pay three bets.

Disaster Strikes Salter on Turn

The king on the turn is not what Salter wanted to see, even though it gives him top set. He’s now beat by any nine and any ace, and both his opponents have these cards in their ranges.

pocket kings
Kings no good.

When Smith checks to hide his straight Salter can only check behind and hope for the board to pair on the river.

That would give him a monster hand and it could enable him to get added value from a straight.

Aldemir also decides to check, although he holds the nut straight.

Had he known what his opponents held, he would have surely bet. But as he doesn’t, he doesn’t think he can get two streets of value and he’s hoping to induce a bluff on the river.

The Show on the River

After the river bricks Smith leads with a small bet of 600,000. Salter makes a disciplined fold. He knows he can only beat a bluff and he has Aldemir still waiting behind him.

Aldemir and Smith then engage in a raising war that ends with an all-in. If you think this was just unnecessary playing around, you’re wrong.

A nine could still pay the first raise and both players still give each other the chance to pull off a bluff. Only when Smith is all-in does it become evident that this will be a split pot.


What we’ve just seen is small-ball poker at its best and three players who all have their eyes on the money jumps and share the fear of variance.

Salter keeps the pot small and hits a set on the turn, which he’d have preferred not to, but he manages to get out without taking too much damage.

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