Linus Loeliger has been arguably the best No Limit Hold’em online cash game player in the world for the past few years.
In fact, he was ranked as the 5th greatest poker player of all-time in the Doug Polk Podcast’s fan voting.
Observing the best players in the world is one of the best ways to learn, so today we are going analyze a recent hand where Linus was put to the test by another elite-level poker player, S. Nikiforov.
The stakes are high ($200/$400 three-handed) and the hand is wild, so let’s dive in!
Nikiforov opens up on the Button to $900 with A♣ T♦. Linus 3-bets to $4,400 with K♣ Q♣ from the Small Blind. Nikiforov 4-bets to $9,900. Linus calls.
Both players played this spot correctly.
Nikiforov should be opening with (roughly) the top 40-45% of hands from the Button. Obviously, A♣ T♦ is well within that range. His raise size of around 2.2 to 2.5 big blinds is appropriate.
Faced with the raise, Linus’ 3-bet is also correct both size-wise and hand selection-wise with such a strong preflop holding. He is looking to 3-bet with a merged range consisting of about 15% of the strongest preflop hands. KQ-suited is more than strong enough to do so.
Against a 5x re-raise, Nikiforov should defend with around roughly 45% of the opening range both by calling and 4-betting. AT-offsuit isn’t strong enough to call, but it has great blockers for 4-bet bluffing. This is because it blocks AA, AK, and TT, all of which would 5-bet shove versus a 4-bet.
AT-offsuit should definitely be part of a 4-bet bluffing range (at least sometimes) along with hands like:
- Small-medium Ax suited
- 86-suited and similar hands
Faced with the 4-bet, Linus’ decision to call is also good. KQ-suited is a very strong hand with a lot of equity against a balanced range like Nikiforov very likely has, being able to flop strong pairs, straight draws, and flush draws (greater playability compared to KQ-offsuit).
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The flop comes K♥ 9♥ 8♥ and the pot is $20,200.
Linus checks with the top pair second kicker. Nikiforov checks with Ace-high.
Monotone flops are more difficult to navigate optimally compared to the average flop.
On this specific flop, Nikiforov has a range advantage of roughly 14%. This is due to a few reasons:
- He is more likely to have AA and AK
- He is more likely to have QQ–JJ
- Linus has a lot of hands that missed the flop completely (such as AQo, AQs, AJs, ATs, QJs*, QTs*).
*These hands can’t call a small c-bet because their draw is very weak given that one of the outs completes the 4-flush and because of the chance that they are drawing dead.
Linus’ check is standard here as the preflop caller.
Now over to Nikiforov who completely whiffed with his A♣ T♦.
As the 4-bettor, he has a big range advantage. But he is a big underdog in terms of nut advantage as he has far fewer flushes in his range.
Linus, on the other hand, has a bunch of flushes because his range contains a ton of suited hands. For these reasons, the correct strategy for Nikiforov is to c-bet for a small size (25%-40% of the pot) with a medium frequency of around 50% of hands. This bet will force Linus to fold a lot of his range while also not allowing Linus to deny Nikiforov of his equity by check-raising too much.
Despite this, Nikoforov’s decision to check back is fine. He could go either way on the flop given that he has more than the guaranteed fold equity needed to make a small c-bet profitable and also make better Ax hands fold (like AJs and AQ without a heart).
The turn comes the T♥, making the board K♥ 9♥ 8♥ T♥. The pot is $20,200.
Linus checks once again with his top pair. Nikiforov makes a delayed c-bet of $6,668 with second pair. Linus calls.
(Remember, Nikiforov and Linus have A♠ T♦ and K♣ Q♣, respectively.)
Things get very weird on the turn!
The T♥ is one of the best cards in the deck for Linus’ range because it completes QJ, upgrades some hands to two-pairs and sets (KTs, T9s), and some hands to flushes (like 66 or AQo with a heart).
Because of this, Linus should be probing for a small size with almost his entire range as a sort of protection/value bet.
That being said, checking with his hand is not a mistake per se (at equilibrium) since it’s not actually a value bet or a bluff.
Nikiforov’s bet doesn’t make much sense from a theoretical standpoint because he still has enough showdown value and he doesn’t fold out any better hands.
As played, Linus has an easy call with his hand. He is beating some pure bluffs such as A7s and A6s but also beating some hands that Nikiforov might be turning into a bluff (Q9s, Q8s, 97s, 86s).
The river comes the J♦, completing the K♥ 9♥ 8♥ T♥ J♦ board. The pot is $33,536.
Linus checks. Nikiforov bets all-in $22,632. Linus calls.
With the J♦ river, Linus improves to a straight on the four-flush board.
The Jack is the worst card in the deck for Linus’ range because now even most of Nikiforov’s bluffs are completed. That being said, his hand just improved a lot. Even with that in mind, Linus should still check.
Faced with a check, Nikiforov makes a very smart bet here since he recognizes that ATo is now at the bottom of his range and thus, it’s best to turn it into a bluff. The only size that makes sense is to shove because there are no thin value hands that would want to bet smaller.
Back to Linus, who actually has a very easy call since he is almost at the top of his range (from a theoretical perspective). Plus, Nikiforov is a high-level pro who should have enough bluffs in his range. It still takes a lot of conviction to make this call, but it’s not quite as crazy as it may look.
It’s really awesome to see that the best players in the world are not perfect — everyone is human. I also appreciated the intelligence that Nikiforov showed with his river bluff. It’s easy to see why he is at the top of the food chain right now.
That’s all for this analysis! I hope you liked it and that you learned something new from it. As usual, if you have any questions or feedback please let me know in the comment section down below.
Want more hand analysis? Check out Doug Polk Chases a Flush Draw in Massive Pot (Analysis).
Till’ next time, good luck, grinders!
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