Dear Daniel Negreanu

Dear Daniel Negreanu,

When I saw you busted just short of the final table of the World Series of Poker last year I was disappointed because it would have been great for poker and poker legalization across the United States.  You are one of the most recognizable figures in poker, and have always maintained a smile on your face while making the game seem fun and enjoyable to the masses.  Hats off to you!

When I first saw the report of your final hand, where you called preflop with A4 and checkraised all in on an AdKdT board it seemed clear to me that your hand was an obvious shove preflop.  When I saw the explanation of your mistake of this hand and 2 others on your blog, I was pretty shocked to see the clear mistakes in reasoning and I feel compelled to point them out.  The italicized are your words and the bolded are mine.

“Hand #1 Justin Schwartz threw out a 500k chip in the cutoff with 80k-160k blinds and didn’t say anything. I know limping is part of his game plan, but he had smaller denomination chips that he could have called with. My thinking was that he did this on purpose to make it look like he meant to raise so that the rest of us left in the hand would be less likely to attack his limp.
I picked up 7d 8d on the button and limped. This is exactly the type of hand that plays well post flop and I didn’t think it was necessary to isolate Justin. The small blind folded and the big blind checked his option.
The flop came Kd 7s 6c and both players checked to me. Here is where the mistake comes: I bet 250k. The big blind folded, and a short stacked Justin check raised to 600k. I called with lots of back door potential with a 3 card straight, 3 card flush, and a pair.
The turn was the 3 of clubs and he went all in for about 3 million. I didn’t think about it for very long and folded my pair.

So what is the mistake? My bet sizing on the flop allowed Justin enough room to check raise me as a bluff. If I bet 450k he would have to risk a million or so to bluff me and that wouldn’t have left him enough wiggle room. By betting just 250k in a spot where I could easily be bluffing myself, I opened the door to get outplayed. I found out later that he had QT of clubs so he turned a flush draw but I was still ahead. I don’t think folding the turn is a mistake, besides, he had 15 outs to beat me, but that could have been avoided had a I made a more substantial bet on the flop.”

Your call preflop is fine, and kudos for paying attention to your opponent.  However, if you believe there is a decent chance that you will be check raised as a bluff on the flop (though that is probably results oriented thinking), then perhaps checking back or 3 betting his checkraise bluff is the correct play.  You are probably betting pretty wide when checked to in that spot, so you want it to cost you less when you bluff/bet with weak hands, not more.

Calling his checkraise because you have “a 3 card straight and 3 card flush” is silly, because with your small ball style, the last thing you want to have to do is call a big turn bet when you turn a draw (hello variance!) or to get bet off your hand on the turn.  In most of the possible turn scenarios, you lose 350k chips when you call the flop raise and fold the turn, and in some you wind up calling again with a draw (hello variance!) and fold when you miss.  The only time it really works is when you make 2 pair or trips and he bluffs it off(and doesn’t have you beat or outdraw you), which happens very rarely.  It’s obvious you weren’t deep enough to start making moves like this and you are not playing Pot Limit Omaha where he is suddenly going to get scared and check fold a strong hand on the turn or river because a scary card comes.

Hand #2 Blinds at 150k-300k Alex (short stacked) raised from middle position at a 5 handed table to 600k and I defended the small blind with Ac 6c and we went heads up to a flop of 10-10-3. I checked, he bet just 350k and I called. The turn was a 9 and we both checked, and once again it went check check on the Jack river.

So what is the mistake? This one is a little more subtle so think about this one for a minute…

Some would argue calling preflop is a mistake. I disagree with that, and that’s not the mistake. When I checked and he bet 350k I felt like I had the best hand, but wasn’t certain. The play was to check raise to one million and put the pressure on Alex to guess. A 10 is a card that is very likely to be in my hand (9T, JT, QT, KT, AT) so even if he had a hand like 88 he may consider folding. Truth is though, he rarely has a hand like that and bets only 350k. To call my check raise he would have to call more than 25% of his stack and then be in no mans land on the turn whether I bet or check.

Turns out he had Q9 and hit the 9 on the turn to beat me that hand. Many would look at the hand and think “unlucky.” I don’t see any value in that. What’s the point in labeling it as lucky or unlucky? Did I play the hand the best way that I could? No. There is value in analyzing your plays, not your variance.”

You actually played this one well and it was unfortunate that he hit a 9 on the turn to win the pot.  I wouldn’t call it “unlucky,” as that is going to happen roughly 25% of time the hand plays out the way it did, not including the times he a)has you beat or b)bluff you off your hand.

You should not be checkraising this hand to “put pressure on him to guess.”  You are unlikely to get him to fold anything you don’t have beat, and saying a ten is “very likely to be in your hand” (which it is not, use Pokerstove to count the combinations if you need) is silly.  If your range is somehow has a lot of tens in it, then calling your range should be enough to ensure you don’t get bluffed too often.   It’s interesting that you want to checkraise him to “put pressure on him to guess,” while representing a very narrow range out of position.  

You probably would happy with the way this hand played if you had won it.

“My last hand was the A4 vs J3dd hand on an AKTdd flop. Some will argue that against a player who opens 100% of buttons in that spot, that moving all in preflop is a better play. I think for most people that is absolutely true, but not for me, and not in that situation. The reasoning for that is a little lengthy but I’ll try to explain it in brief the best I can:

My goal was to win the tournament not make the final 9. I knew that Joe was abusing the bubble and the other players were not fighting back. I felt fine playing both in position and out of position against his very weak range post flop. My strategy wasn’t to just guess when he had a hand preflop that was strong enough to call a reraise, it was to see flops with him and eek out value wherever I could and rather than double up in a flip situation, GRIND my way to a double up.

It was working. I was able to go from 4 million in chips to 9 million without being in an all in situation. I was clawing my way back into the match by seeing flops and moving in with some hands when necessary.

Once I got over 8 million it allowed me to start defending my blind a bit more liberally against Joe. A few rounds in a row I had defended the blind, once with an all in reraise with KT, a much better hand to move all in with than A4, by the way, considering how he was playing.

So the reason I chose to call with A4 rather than reraise was threefold:

1) It balances my calling range from the blind a little bit
2) I WILL get extra value post flop when I hit an Ace. He can’t check an Ace
3) I avoid getting it all in preflop in spots where I will almost certainly be a 2-1 underdog when called

Once the flop came out, the hand played itself and it wasn’t meant to be in the end. Had I won that pot, though, I would be sitting on a very healthy stack of about 14 million. That’s the way I do it. Chop away, chop away, chop away, see flops, try to get it in good when necessary, and then hopefully the hand holds. It didn’t this time, but I’m quite happy with how I played overall and stuck to my game plan throughout.”

Almost everyone’s goal is to win the tournament, not to make the final 9.  Making a poor play and blaming it on “trying to win” is a cop out.

You might feel fine playing against him postflop when he(and you) have weak ranges, but there isn’t really enough room to maneuver with a hand that flops as poorly, and has poor equity on so many flops.  You don’t need to balance your range in this spot, since it will a)probably not get to showdown b)you won’t be in this situation often c)he won’t know what you had.  In addition, when you do flop an Ace, you will get a small continuation bet out of him, but likely not too much else that you want (you want a bet, but if he barrells off, that’s not great for you).  You do much better in the long term shoving against a guy that is opening that wide(and who may or may not call marginally) then hoping to flop well and win a bet.  

All of this analysis is completely moot, since as soon as you flopped an ace, you checkraised allin, rendering all of your analysis of small ball, eking out value and grinding completely moot.

For the record, if you just call the flop, which you absolutely should, you will be put to the test on the turn when he shoves this hand.

I’d love to hear your thoughts of my analysis.

Best of luck this year!



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