Big, Big Folds
For those of you watching ESPN's WSOP Main Event coverage as it runs on Tuesday evenings, did you see the hand they showed the last part of this Tuesday night when one player 6-bet small preflop with pocket Jacks? My eye was literally twitching when I watched someone make as bad of a play as that, and then my entire side started aching as I watched the other player move all in with pocket Queens, and then I passed out when the guy with the Jacks instacalled. I mean, it's one thing to call an allin reraise preflop when you're fairly short and there's not sufficient chip utility out there to play a 3- or 4-bet pot before or after the flop. But in this hand, the guy had 6-bet with pocket Jacks from something like 2.1 million to something like 3.5 million, opting specifically not to move allin (a horrible play with Jacks, btw, in particular if you're just going to instacall if your opponent pushes in his entire stack). Despite the idiocy and horribad fishiness of this hand on both sides, the bottom line is that, in my experience, if someone 6-bet raises you preflop, and they're doing it not even moving all-in but instead a smaller amount that seems more callable, and you have Queens, you are probably about 25% to win the hand if you call, plain and simple. In that scenario, you'll be up against pocket Aces probably about 85% of the time, pocket Kings 14% of the time, and an incredibly fishily-played AKs or some other garbage the other 1%. That the other player would be so unmitigatingly terrible at no-limit holdem as to get it allin in that spot with a hand as bad as pocket Jacks, is such an outlier that it doesn't even show up in the percentages. I think that might literally be the only time in the history of poker that somebody in a big, big spot (1300 players left in the Main Event, not down to two tables in the Mookie) 6-bet raised small preflop, and only had pocket Jacks. I said it above and I'll say it again: when you get 6-bet small preflop in no-limit in a big spot, it's pocket Aces pretty much every single time. That is equally true about a four-bet, for that matter, but for six bets it's a complete joke.
How either of those monkeys got themselves through 5000 other players in this event is beyond me, because if one thing shows what an inexperienced, amateurish nlh player someone is, it's not folding a hand like pocket Jacks or pocket Queens for all your chips when you are obviously, obviously beaten preflop. Play enough nlh and you'll run Kings into Aces, let alone Queens or Jacks into Kings or Aces, more times than you ever thought possible. Seriously -- KK vs AA sounds to many players like the rarest of long shots, but when you actually sit down and play a million hands of holdem, you just can't believe how many times setups like that can and do occur. And in this case, that small 6-bet raise should have been the absolute last possible straw to tell the pocket Jacks and the pocket Queens guy that they are hopelessly behind and they should GTFO of the hand right then and there. Queens vs Jacks for a small 6-bet and a call preflop. God, you could hardly dream up a worse-played hand between two absolutely hopeless poker clowns.
This all reminds me of a hand described on Goodnight Moon's blog a few weeks back involving Toph Moore, the 21st place finisher in this year's WSOP Main Event. As Moon describes the hand:
"At 80-160k blinds, Anton Makiievskiy, a strong young Ukrainian player, raised early and Toph called in position with the AJ of hearts. Toph had Anton outchipped roughly 12m to 10m. The flop came out KJJ rainbow. Anton fired a standardish continuation bet of 450k on the flop and Toph raised to 1.1 million. Anton then made it 2 million to go, and Toph clicked it back to 2.9 or 3 million. This all took a while going back and forth with both players carefully considering, but then Anton quickly moved all-in for about 9.2 million, and Toph quickly called. Anton had KJ and the board ran out blanks."
The majority of the commenters about this hand on Moon's blog generally seemed to think that it is simply results-based thinking to be focusing on this hand, that it was an all-time great cooler and there is no way anyone should ever even consider getting away from AJ on the KJJ board in this spot, which occurred late on Day 7 of the Main Event, well into the money positions already. Like Moon, however, I do not think I agree with this over-simplified analysis, and it really comes down again to the number of raises, and what the smallish size of the raises says about the hands in question.
Of course, Anton is a highly aggro player and thus his standard c-bet on the KJJ flop means precisely nothing. When Toph raises him to $1.1 million, though, that's where the hand starts to get interesting. To me, a raise on flop, absent any other information or relevant details, generally signifies a good but not necessarily monster hand. Most players will at least consider checking, or check-calling on the flop if they have a monster, not wanting to scare away their opponent, whereas a flop raise more often than not defaults in my mind to signifying a good but beatable hand, usually a top pair good kicker type of hand, or on occasion a solid draw on a semi-bluff. The raise sizing for Toph here seems more or less normal, and thus my first thought on the KJJ board when seeing Toph raise the 450k c-bet to 1.1 million, is that Toph thinks he is ahead but is not totally sure. Maybe a KQ type of hand, maybe a medium pocket pair, something like that, and that's what I would expect Anton to put Toph on once Toph slides in that 1.1 million chip raise.
When Anton re-popped this hand to 2 million, the alarm bells first start going off in my head. I mean, you can't fold AJ in that spot to the reraise to 2 million chips, because Toph's raise on the flop is generally going to signify a good but not monster hand, and thus, with Anton knowing that, he could easily be trying to put a move on Toph on the understand that Toph is not super strong, and the small size of that raise could be consistent with either a flopped monster wanting to draw Toph in, or someone making a move with nothing great, but not wanting to lose too many chips if forced to fold to a reraise there. But still, re-raising in that spot at a huge inflection point in the world's biggest poker tournament, that definitely got my dander up, even holding the AJ for top trips in Toph's hand.
Toph responds as I probably would in his spot, which is to bump it up again, and he opted for what amounts to very nearly a minimum re-reraise, to around $2.9 million or 3 million chips. That's as small a raise as you can get, and as I mentioned above, when you're seeing a 3-bet or 4-bet (or 6-bet, see above) that is itself a minimum raise, you are looking at the stone cold nuts almost every single time. In this case, Toph did not have the mortal nuts but the third nuts, losing to KK (high boat) and KJ (under boat), but the fact is that Anton could not perceive a reraise there from 2M to just 3M -- given effective starting stacks of around 10M -- to be anything other than extreme strength. It screams such obvious strength that I don't even like the bet from Toph, who I think should probably have just moved in rather than making such an obviously-strong min-re-reraise there, but in the end of course it would not have mattered.
What does matter is that Anton then takes this clear and obvious showing of strength from Toph, and quickly pushes allin. And this is where the analysis on Moon's blog breaks down in my view. I mean, if I am Toph in that spot, I am pretty sure I would fold my AJ face-up, confidently knowing I have to be behind, and just move on disgustedly to the next hand. I mean, it's not close. AJ on a KJJ board looks super pretty, and the fact that it is trips with top kicker is very attractive, I won't deny. But as I mentioned above, this isn't even one of those one-outer type of scenarios where it's just so mathematically improbable to be beaten that you just have to call -- rather, in this case, as I mentioned Toph isn't sitting on the nuts, or the second nuts, but rather the third nuts, albeit a very pretty-looking third nuts -- but once he puts in that silly min-re-reraise to 3M, and his opponent responds to Toph's obvious showing of extreme strength by quickly moving all-in, if you think about it could it be more obvious that AJ is facing one of those two superior hands?
I know this is a huge, huge fold, but the truth of the matter is that I don't think Toph should have min-raised there, but since he did, Anton's response could not have screamed any more that he was ahead of the third nuts. Do you think any kind of a decent player is going to reraise that flop with a hand like JT (maybe, at best), and then follow that up by re-re-reraising allin after the most obvious monster-hand bet that Toph has ever made in his life? With a Jack and a medium-strong kicker? I am just not seeing it, and neither should have Toph, who in my book should have made the biggest fold of his entire poker career, and done so confidently knowing he had to be hopelessly behind given the action in that spot.
It took me a long time and hundreds of thousands of nlh hands under my belt before I started accepting the frequency with which absolute setup fuckings happen to anyone who plays this game. But several years ago at this point, I learned to accept that if all possible signs point directly to my opponent having one of the two or three mathematically improbably hands that could beat my strong hand, he almost always does. Despite the craziness of folding AJ on a KJJ flop this late in the biggest tournament in the world, as I read the hand history the very first time through, I knew the AJ was behind the minute I saw Anton's instant five-bet push following Toph essentially screaming at him with his 4-bet that Toph has AJ. In my game, when you basically get in someone's ear and scream at them that they're beat, and they insta-allin you, it's time to start thinking like PLO and assuming that whatever the stone nuts is, it is out there against you.