The problem with playing big pairs in poker is they almost never improve on the board.
Their relative value also usually deteriorates with every street - especially when playing very deep-stacked.
This occasionally leads to really tough spots as Chance Kornuth found out in a dramatic hand against Matt Berkey on an episode of Poker Night in America.
Flop to River
There's a top-class line-up at the table – Jason Mercier, Chance Kornuth and Mustapha Kanit are battling it out with highly skilled (and affluent) amateurs Bill Perkins and Joey DiPascale.
Blinds are $100/$200 and DiPascale straddles to $400. From the cut-off Perkins (stack: $74,000) raises to $2,000 and Berkey ($270,000) calls in the small blind.
Kornuth ($95,000), our hero in this hand, finds in the big blind and reraises to $10,000.
Perklins lets his hand go but Berkey calls. There's $22,500 in the pot and the effective stacks are $85,000.
The flop is Berkey checks and Kornuth bets $12,000. Now Berkey raises to $35,000 and Kornuth calls.
There's now $92,575 in the pot with the effective stacks at $50,000. The turn is the
Berkey checks and Kornuth leads out again, now for $20,000. Berkey calls. The pot is now $132,575 and effective stacks are just $30,000.
The river is the # Now Berkey pushes Kornuth all-in and Kornuth goes into the tank. Eventually he calls it off and loses to Berkey’s
Berkey takes down the pot of $192,575. Watch the hand again at 1h 55 min below.
This is a dramatic hand with several noteworthy situations, so let's take a closer look.
Deep stacks make things interesting.
Before we turn towards the action, look at the stacks. At $100/$200 these are very large.
Perkins, for example, has $75,000 in front of him, corresponding to 375 big blinds. The stacks of the other two players are way bigger than his.
When the game is so deep, speculative hands like low pairs, suited connectors and even hands like A-2s become much more interesting – and valuable.
In this environment Kornuth wakes up with the second-best starting hand in Texas Hold’em.
If he was sitting in a different position he might have gone for a tricky call, but as he’s sitting in the big blind his 3-bet is certainly the correct move to make.
If he wins the $5,000 already in the pot he’d be just fine with it.
A Near-Perfect Flop
Kornuth re-raises to $10,000 which gets Perkins out of the way. But Berkey calls.
The range of such a tricky and stubborn player like Berkey is still rather wide at this point and it definitely has middle pairs and Broadway hands in it.
The flop is 8-4-4 with two suits and it doesn’t get much drier than that – which means that the hand leading pre-flop is almost always still ahead and will win most of the time.
For pocket kings, this is a near perfect flop! Berkey checks his flush draw and Kornuth follows up with a c-bet. He can now get money from hands like 9-9, T-T or A-Q.
His bet of $12,000 is a little more than half the pot because he doesn’t want to chase away weaker holdings.
But the flop looks pretty good to Berkey, too. He has two overcards and the nut flush draw, which will be the nuts most of the time (despite the paired board) because of Kornuth’s range.
It’s the perfect time for a semi-bluff. If Kornuth is playing A-K or A-Q he would probably have to fold them at this point.
Strong Check on the Turn
With the hand Kornuth has a fold is obviously not even an option. Amateurs would often push all-in now but professionals look at things differently.
Can he still fold?
By just calling Kornuth keeps all the bluffs in Berkey’s hand and might be able to extract even more money.
When a jack hits the turn Berkey plays it very strongly. If he hadn’t hit anything he might just have pushed Kornuth to the test but now his range is very strong and includes J-J to A-A.
But it also has weaker hands in it that might fold to another bet. In easier terms, Berkey would only make hands fold that are weaker than his, which means he would turn his hand into a bluff and professionals just don’t do that with good hands.
But the action isn’t over. Kornuth now makes a peculiarly small bet. Just $20,000 into a pot of $92,575 to make hands like tens and flush draws pay.
Surely, Berkey thought about a push here. But again only weaker hands than his would fold.
Can You Still Fold?
On the river there's $132,000 in the pot and effective stacks are just $30,000. The river brings a third diamond on the board.
Berkey doesn’t take long to go all-in and he’s representing nothing but a flush or a full house.
Kornuth now only has to pay $30,000 to win $162,000. The odds are incredible, but what can he possibly beat?
Yes, hands like A-J, K-J and even Q-Q are possible. But it’s doubtful whether Berkey wouldn’t rather go for a check-call line with these.
Also, with retrospect to the action, Berkey doesn’t have any busted draws in his hand. Basically, he doesn’t have any draws anymore.
High-level clash ends in a muck.
Kornuth did ponder a fold here despite the gigantic odds but then opted for the call anyway.
Had he found a fold it would have been the cherry on the cake of this great hand. But imagine Kornuth’s anger if Berkey really had had A-J or Q-Q.
Chance Kornuth and Matt Berkey meet here on eye level and that level is very high.
Berkey gets lucky to find the flush and wins. Period.