The Tsunami

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Know Stack Depths When Playing Live

This past Saturday, my original intention was to play STT satellites at WSOP all day. Upon arriving at the Rio, I discovered that STT satellites wouldn’t be starting until 5:00PM. And given the general chaos and disorder that I associate with WSOP, I assumed that STTs wouldn’t start until much later. As a result, I drove over to the Venetian, played cash for a few hours, and joined Team Moshman members for dinner and action against the heads-up limit bot situated just outside the Venetian poker room. Afterwards, I somehow had bad luck finding a soft game, but a bunch of Team Moshman members wanted to head back to the Rio – so I joined them.

Upon arriving at the Rio, it turned out that Hellmuth and Juanda were playing heads-up for a no-limit 2-7 Triple Draw bracelet. There was open seating in the final table viewing area, so we sat and watched. At one point, I commented on Hellmuth’s opening raise size from the button in comparison to Juanda’s (at 20k-40k blinds, Juanda was opening to 90k whereas Hellmuth as opening to 100K and eventually 105K). Collin Moshman let out a semi-big laugh (he quickly stifled it, but I’m hoping it finds its way on the ESPN broadcast).

Though the heads-up action was interesting, I wasn’t exactly making any money by watching it. I decided to head over to the single table satellite area. A $1030 was about to go off, but that was a bit too expensive for my taste. A $175 was also getting started. Since that was more within my budget, I opted to enter.

Eventually, I got down to 4-handed action – when the big hand of interest from this tournament occurred. I had about T3800 on the button. CO had about T1200, and I thought that the blinds each had around T2500 (12.5bb). Blinds were T100-T200 without an ante. This satellite was winner-take-all, with the winner receiving $1500 in lammars and $120 in cash. However, most of these tournaments end up chopping heads-up – and I think it can be presumed that most players know this. As a result, a shift away from cEV poker is potentially appropriate.

Even though deals should theoretically be chip-proportional, it seems that plenty of players will take bad deals in the name of risk aversion. The degree to which one should shift away from cEV poker is really tough to determine as a result of this dynamic. However, shoving a little wider than cEV ranges and calling a little tighter than cEV ranges is probably appropriate - especially because this would be a great exploitative adjustment when playing pure cEV against most players in these satellites. Most players in these satellites call shoves way too tightly and shove a bit too tightly. Not only that, but you’ll occasionally see some grossly bad shortstacked play – like players open-limping 2.5bb stacks from early position and folding to a raise.

In the hand in question, I had K9o. CO folded, and it was my action. I opted to shove what I thought was 12.5bb effective (if playing equilibrium cEV, KTo is the worst offsuit king one should shove here). SB instacalls with AKo, and it turns out that SB actually had something around T2800 (14bb). Shoving 12.5bb effective is already debatable. Generally, I’d be better off opening my jamming range to 2.25bb with the intention of calling a shove with some subset. One exception to this exists – an exception that I believed to apply here: if the blinds will call shoves extremely tightly but 3-bet shove with a range that’s approximately correct in the raise -> 3-bet shove pseudo equilibrium, then shoving is possibly better than raising to 2.25x even though the raise -> 3-bet pseudo equilibrium performs better than the jam/fold equilibrium. However, when the blinds are 14bb and 10.5bb effective instead of 12.5bb and 12.5bb, I think the strategy involving opening to 2.25bb performs slightly better.

While not a big mistake, this was a mistake nonetheless – not because I happened to run into AKo, but because I didn’t choose the best strategy profile. And besides being yet another fun opportunity to discuss shortstacked NLHE, this is a good opportunity to discuss an issue that comes up in live tournament play (and even in live cash game play). If you’re not absolutely clear about what your opponents’ stacks are, it’s okay to ask them – even if it comes off as being annoying. If possible, get your information before the next hand starts – that way, you don’t give your opponents the opportunity to infer anything about your hand. But whatever you do, just make sure that you’re making your decisions based on the best information possible.

May Your EV Always be Positive!

Tony Guerrera

P.S. At some point during the tournament, I got a text from Collin stating that Hellmuth had increased his opening raise size from the button to 110K. Juanda successfully overcame Phil’s initial 3:1 chip lead to win the bracelet.

P.P.S. I’m playing in Event #32: $1500 No-Limit Hold’em, which begins on Saturday. I’m starting out at White Pavillion Table 94 Seat 3. It’s on one of the corners of the tournament rail – near the high stakes cash games. I won’t be in much of a mood to talk, but feel free to come by, rail, and give me a nutty KillerEV shout out. Better yet, go around the Rio asking everyone you see, “are you Tony Guerrera?”


Feel free to repost this as long as you include the following author box (including hyperlinks):

Tony Guerrera is an established poker author, an instructor at PocketFives Training, a member of Team Moshman, and host of the popular poker strategy podcast, Killer Poker Analysis. Tony blogs about decision optimization on and off the felt at


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