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Should She Fold Aces Full in the $10,000 WSOP Main Event? (Analysis)

What does it take for you to lose all your chips in level 1 of the WSOP Main Event?

With 300 big blinds and the slowest structure of any live tournament…

…it should require the coldest of cold decks.

Let’s look back on a classic, crazy hand from the 2017 Main Event that demonstrates what it takes for an accomplished pro to exit so quickly.

This article is based on my video here and includes analysis from poker pros Dara O’Kearney and Daiva Byrne.

Note: The once-a-year Upswing Poker sale has been extended for one final day. Get 25% off now before it’s gone tonight at midnight!

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Editor’s Note: This article is by Irish tournament pro and Unibet Poker ambassador David Lappin who is a great follow on Twitter. Alongside Irish poker legend Dara O’Kearney, David produces and hosts the GPI global poker award-winning podcast ‘The Chip Race” sponsored by Unibet Poker. All episodes are available on Apple Music, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

Background

Game: The $10,000 Buy-In WSOP Main Event 
Format: No Limit Hold’em
Blinds: 75/150 no ante 
Stage: Level 1
Relevant Stacks: 

  • Vanessa Selbst: 43,400 (289bbs)
  • Gaelle Baumann: 50,425 (336bbs)
  • Noah Schwartz: 51,025 (340bbs)

Preflop

Selbst raises UTG 8-handed to 2.7bb with A♠️ A♦️. Baumann calls on the Button with 7♥️ 7♦️. Schwartz calls in the Big Blind with J♣️ 8♥️.

Preflop Analysis

This is standard stuff from Selbst with Pocket Aces and Baumann with Pocket Sevens.

It’s a loose call from Schwartz with J♣️ 8♥️, who should prefer hands that play better in multiway pots. Versus two good players, his call is likely losing money in this spot (even with the good pot odds).

Let’s get straight to the flop.

Flop

The Pot: 8.5bb

The Flop: A♣️ 7♣️ 5♣️

The Action: Schwartz checks. Selbst bets 4.7bb. Baumann calls. Schwartz folds. 

Flop Analysis

On monotone boards, Selbst should play a defensive strategy with her entire range by checking often. Top set, however, is a very reasonable hand with which to bet because it gets value from worse hands and draws. It also denies equity by forcing hands with a low club to fold. Her bet size (55% pot) seems reasonable.

Baumann could raise in this spot, looking for further action from an Ace-X hand, particularly one in which the second card is a high club. This line would also charge the nut draw and fold out weaker draws that have some equity

On the flip side, Baumann’s call keeps her range wide in the eyes of her opponent who might do the betting for her on later streets. It also allows her to:

  • Control the pot and react to interesting turn cards when equities will likely be farther apart
  • Prevent bloating the pot in a spot where if it were to get very big, she will quite often be behind 

Turn

The Pot: 17.8bb

The Turn: (A♣️ 7♣️ 5♣️) 7♠️

The Action: Selbst checks. Baumann bets 11.3bb. Selbst raises to 38.7bb. Baumann calls. 

Turn Analysis

Having improved to top full house, Selbst gets a little tricky and checks, hoping to induce a bet from Baumann who obliges with her turned quads.

Given the very high stack-to-pot ratio, Selbst’s check-raise is a good move. She needs to try and get as much money in the pot as possible, and there’s always the chance Baumann checks back on the river. (Little does she know, she actually wants to minimize the amount of money that reaches the middle).

Once Baumann calls the check-raise, her range is incredibly strong. She can have a flush, a full house, quads, and maybe trips. This will greatly inform both players’ river decisions.

River

The Pot: 95.2bb

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The River: (A♣️ 7♣️ 5♣️ 7♠️) 4♦️

Stack-to-Pot Ratio: 2.55:1

The Action: Selbst bets 108bb. Baumann goes all-in for effectively 243.3bb. Selbst calls. 

River Analysis

Selbst pulls the trigger on the overbet, a polarizing play that represents very strong hands and bluffs.

(It is worth noting that Selbst was once one of the most fearless and aggressive players on the circuit and has always been capable of making extreme plays without the goods. Had Baumann not been holding the actual nuts, this would have been factored into her calculation.)

In response, Baumann has no other play other than to go all-in with the stone-cold nuts. In ‘The Chip Race’ strategy video, Dara O’Kearney notes the speed of this shove and suggests that it was a tell because all other hands (flushes, lower full houses, and potential bluffs) would have required more thought.  

It’s a gross spot for Selbst and she ultimately falls back on pure game theory in how she reacts. In solver-land, she simply must call in this spot because even if she reduces Baumann’s holdings to two combos — 7♥️ 7♦️ or A♥️ 7♥️ — she beats one of those and there’s a lot of money already in the pot.

In the moment after the call was made, Baumann commiserated with Selbst and agreed with her that she could have had A♥️ 7♥️, but in an interview afterward, Baumann conceded that she would just have called with that hand. 

The Main Event is a special tournament with a lot of weaker players who tend to do a poor job holding onto their chips. Therefore, putting it all on the line for this many big blinds without the nuts versus a capable player like Selbst was not a move in Baumann’s arsenal.

Unfortunately for Selbst, she thought differently and made the fateful call, eliminating herself in level 1. At least she didn’t have to play for 3 days without making the money as so many other entrants did!

Results

Baumann shows 7♥️ 7♦️ for quads and Selbst is eliminated.

Final Thoughts

You wait an entire year for the World Series Main Event to roll around. After registering, you find out that you’re on the feature table. You take your seat and look down at Aces. You flop top set and turn top boat. It’s reasonable to think that you’re about to win a big pot. 

However, when your opponent raises the river, you must consider the very real possibility that you are behind. Top boat versus quads in level 1 of the Main Event is certainly a poker player’s nightmare, but when it was Vanessa Selbst’s reality, perhaps she should have gotten away. 

What do you think of Vanessa’s play? Is it crazy to consider folding or should she have let it go?

Let me know in the comments below.

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