Flopping Top Set in a $1,000,000 Tournament (Analysis)

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Ernest Gorham|Poker Strategy|Nov 19, 2019

Flopping Top Set in a $1,000,000 Tournament (Analysis)

Flopping Top Set in a $1,000,000 Tournament (Analysis)

Ernest Gorham|Poker Strategy|Nov 19, 2019

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Humans are results oriented creatures.
When we lose a hand we’ll go over it in our heads numerous times. Yet when we win a hand we often don’t give it a second thought.
However, when analyzing your play, it’s extremely important to look back at all of your hands with an analytical eye, regardless of the outcome.
The hand in question today took place during the $1,000,000 buy-in Big One for One Drop tournament in 2018. Elite tournament pro Nick Petrangelo flops top set with pocket queens, but what makes this hand especially interesting is that he self admittedly made numerous mistakes.
Here are the concepts covered in the hand, each of which you will learn about today:

Preflop range construction.
Playing a single raised pot out of position.
C-betting strategy for the out of position player.
Versus c-bet strategy for the in position player.
River bet sizing.

The following analysis is based on or pulled directly from Nick’s Winning Poker Tournaments course. To give you some extra value, I’ve included a couple of clips and quotes from the course in this article.
There’s no denying Nick is one of the best tournament players of all time. He has two WSOP bracelets to his name and over $17,000,000 in live cashes. Not even the best play perfect poker though, and this article is a chance for us to learn from Nick and his mistakes.
So let’s get on to the action!
Preflop
The table is full with some of the best in the game; including Dan Smith, Fedor Holz, Christoph Vogelsang, Cary Katz, Erik Seidel, and of course Nicky P.
The blinds are 80k/160k with a 160k big blind ante. Nick opens to 375k with Q♠ Q♦ from the hijack, Dan Smith calls in the cutoff with K♠ Q♣, and they take a flop heads-up.
Nick has around 10.4 million chips (65 big blinds) and Dan covers.
Preflop Analysis
Both of these actions are standard, though Dan may 3-bet with his hand at some frequency as well.
Here are Nick’s overall thoughts on Dan’s preflop range:
[This post contains video, click to play]

There’s a lot of different ways to split these ranges [in Dan’s spot]. The big thing is that he’s going to be splitting some 3-bets with hands like this. He’s also going to be 3-betting and calling with hands as strong as AQs. AJs and ATs could be [called] a bunch. He’s going to have some suited connectors he calls with and 3-bets with, same thing for suited aces.
[His whole range] is going to be between 8% and 10% [of hands].
…We can give Dan credit for having a really well balanced, well constructed range, that’s going to cover the board and play well against vs my 28% [of hands].

This highlights that good players generally employ a mixed strategy, especially when facing tough opposition. Dan probably has some hands with which he 3-bets 100% of the time (like his highest pocket pairs, ace-king, and certain bluffing hands), as well as hands with which he just calls 100% of the time (like his lowest pocket pairs).
All of the hands in between, however, he’s mixing between calling and raising at varying frequencies. This gives his overall range more playability on a variety of flops and makes him much tougher to play against.
Flop
The flop is Q♥ 4♦ 6♠ and the pot is 1.15 million chips. Nick bets 325k and Dan calls.
Flop Analysis
While it’s hard to call betting small with top set a mistake, Nick prefers checking in retrospect. Here are his thoughts on how he should play his range on this flop:
[This post contains video, click to play]

So when you think about how this board hits his range, it’s a really bad spot for me to c-bet. I’m just way wider than him preflop. He has like 8-10% of a bunch of really good hands, and I have 28% of hands that have a bunch of backdoors.
I’m betting into a range that’s almost always calling. His backdoor flush draw aces call, his backdoor flush draw 87/97 call, his KT/KJ call, and a lot of those hands can put in a raise too. His 6x hands can put in a protection raise when they has a backdoor flush draw.
That kind of ruins my plan if I have something like JTs that I want to c-bet here and barrel… It’s really not good to build a c-betting strategy here. I should be checking, but I obviously misread this spot in the moment.

Some of this analysis may seem slightly counter-intuitive, as betting a very strong hand into a range that is going to mainly call seems good at a surface level.
However, the fact that it is a rainbow board really handicaps Nick’s overall c-betting strategy. Dan is going to be able to continue with many hands that have a backdoor flush draw, as well as all of his pairs and direct draws, so a c-bet is almost never going to get through. This is a big problem for Nick’s bluffing range.
Additionally, Nick may be able to put in a check-raise on the flop or a future street if he did check, which may allow him to extract even more value with his strong hands (like top set).
In general, if you’re out of position and your c-bet is going to force very few folds, it’s better to check with most or all of your range. If you check and face a bet, build a check-raise range with your very strong hands and some bluffs.
This strategy will actually allow you to force some folds when you’re bluffing and hopefully extract max value when you have the goods.
If Nick did check and Dan bet, with which hands should Nick check-raise bluff? Here’s what Nick had to say about that:

We can’t be c-betting a bunch into a range that’s not folding. So we build a range where we check-raise our really strong hands, and our strong backdoor draws like KJs, some ATs, A5s. K5s blocking KQ and having a backdoor straight and flush draw is a really good candidate as well.

Let’s take a turn.
Turn
The turn is the 6♦ making the board Q♥ 4♦ 6♠ 6♦ and Nick elects to check. Dan bets 525k into a pot of 1.8 million and Nick calls.
Turn Analysis
Again, Nick thinks he did not take the optimal line with his hand. The reason that his hand is a check on the flop is because his range plays so poorly against Dan’s range that continues so often.
However, when he does decide to bet the flop, Nick should bet at a high frequency on the turn too. This is because of how a lot of Dan’s range interacts with the turn — unless he has a 6 or two diamonds in his hand, he didn’t improve.
Nick says:

Dan has a lot of misses, like if he floated with J♥ T♥ and there’s nothing he can do.
In game I was thinking that because he has a bunch of misses, he can use the 6 as a card to try to put pressure on my checking range. It’s not that likely that I did protection bet a six on the flop, and if I did it’s probably not that likely I check it on the turn.
However, the fact that Dan does have all those misses means my range should be betting a lot, so I should bet this hand too.

Moving on, Dan’s bet makes a lot of sense as his range benefits from a small bet. Hands like pocket sevens through tens benefit from some protection. He also could have a number of top pair hands with which he would want to value bet using a small size. Lastly, he also has multiple backdoor diamond hands, like 8♦ 7♦, that benefit when Nick folds his backdoor spades or hearts hand that he decided to bet once then give up.
In regards to his decision facing this bet, again Nick thinks he misplayed his hand:

I think that when we think about his betting range that has all these protection bets, we can make some check-raise bluffs and some check-raises for value. This puts a lot of pressure on his range that’s betting very small and very linear, for value and protection. This size clearly signals that.
Even though it would be very aggressive with three queens, because it’s very unlikely for him to have top pair, I can’t let him make this bet and go to showdown.

So Nick thinks that once he bet the flop, he should bet the turn again. Once he does decide to check the turn, check-raising would be better than just calling.
River
The river is the 9♥ making the final board Q♥ 4♦ 6♠ 6♦ 9♥ and the pot is 2.8 million. Nick checks, Dan bets 1.3 million, and Nick goes all-in for 9.3 million.
River Analysis
Dan is in a slightly strange spot because Nick took such an unconventional line, but he has a clear value bet.
With the nut full house, Nick’s decision is between check-raising very small or all-in. He says:

Shoving for about a pot-sized raise is probably standard here, so I think my range should theoretically be shoving when I play it this way. My bluffs would be some A4s and 45s. The issue is that in real life, not in solver-world, people are just folding the bluff catchers that you’re targeting at this point.
They’re supposed to bet this size then call with KQ, AQ, sometimes even QT, and I just don’t think that’s happening. I don’t think people are finding the bluff with A4s or 45s either, so the river gets to be a weird spot.
It’s equilibrium vs what people do in real life. I end up shoving for the full amount because I wouldn’t make a small check raise with a hand like Aces, and I definitely wouldn’t with a bluff. If I had something like K6s and decided to play it like this I would shove for value.
I think the take-away here is that I took a very strange, not correct line, and it put me in a spot where there wasn’t a good way for me to get enough money in the pot vs a really good player. He sized both streets really well and created a situation where he can just fold one of his top bluff catchers.

Results: Dan Smith makes the fold.
What Did We Learn?
There are multiple lessons you can take away from this hand.
First, just because you are the preflop raiser and have a nut advantage, doesn’t mean you can c-bet every board. You have to think about how the board interacts with your range and your opponents range, and consider whether you should have a c-betting range at all.
Second, when forming your strategy, it’s imperative that you think of how to play your entire range, rather than your specific hand.
Finally, even the best players make mistakes and are doing constant self-analysis. Just because you won the hand doesn’t mean you played it optimally. If you want to become a better poker, the time you spend off the table is just as important as the time you spend at the table!
Note: Ready to start Winning (More) Poker Tournaments? Learn tactics that work vs. tough players, weak players, and everyone in between when you join Nick Petrangelo’s expert-level course. Learn more now!

Until next time!

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About the Author

Ernest Gorham
California bred writer and poker player you can now find frequenting the London MTT scene.

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