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The Worst Possible Turn Card With $293,062 On The Line (Analysis)

Nothing in poker beats the thrill of making a final table in a large-field tournament.

Today I am going to show you a hand that Darren Elias played as the chip leader at a final table with $293,062 up top.

This hand will showcase the high-level adjustments that a very accomplished tournament professional makes to consistently crush large field events.

Let’s dive in!


Note: This hand analysis comes from the tournament master class Road to Victory, which is currently on sale for it’s lowest price ever.

In this best-selling course, Darren Elias and Nick Petrangelo teach you how to navigate every stage of a tournament like a pro, from the first hand to the final table!

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Tournament Information

Tournament: 2017 Borgata $2700 Fall Championship

Blinds: 20,000/40,000 with 5,000 ante

Stage: 5-handed Final Table

Remaining Payouts:
1st – $293,062 
2nd – $169,186
3rd – $103,232
4th – $83,159
5th – $65,380

Chip Stacks:
169bb – Darren Elias (Hijack)
22bb – Mickey (Cutoff)
57bb – Paul (Button)
71bb – Mark (Small Blind)
33bb – Keven (Big Blind)

General Background

At this final table, as is quite customary in large field MTTs, most of Darren’s opponents are not professionals. This means they have little experience playing and studying final table dynamics.

Darren believes that it is crucial to keep a close look on how each of these players react in this scenario. While some players will play far too tight just hoping to earn pay jumps, there will also be a category of players that play too loosely, being unaware of the ICM implications.

At this particular final table, the players were not adapting to the ICM implications and were still opening with the “normal” ranges. They played too loosely, which led to compounding errors on future streets.

With that said, Darren’s opponent in this hand (Keven Stammen) is an experienced pro with millions in earnings. But the fact that the other players are making big mistakes may cause Darren to be more risk-averse, knowing that he will have good opportunities to win chips later on.

Preflop Action

Darren is dealt Kc Qc in the Hijack and raises to 2.25bb. Keven calls in the Big Blind with 5h 3h.

Simple Preflop Analysis

Darren makes the correct raise with Kc Qc. He has a strong hand and as the chip leader, he wants to put as much pressure on his opponents as possible.

Keven makes a good call in the Big Blind with 5h 3h. He is getting a good price and has a hand with a lot of playability.

Advanced Preflop Analysis

Given that Darren is the chip leader by a large margin, he should be opening very loosely here to capitalize on his advantage of being able to put pressure on the other players. He’s in the Hijack position, but he estimates that he should be raising a range that looks more like a Cutoff or Button opening range in this situation. Here’s an example of a Cutoff opening range (50bb stacks):

co 50bb

Orange = Raise, Grey = Fold
This chart was taken from the Road to Victory course’s Preflop Mastersheet app

A small raise size is appropriate given that everyone is playing with shorter stacks. This small size gives him a good price to steal the blinds and antes. Plus, he doesn’t lose as much if a player behind shoves all-in and he is forced to fold.

Keven’s defense with Five-Three suited is also appropriate given the great pot odds, Darren’s wide open-raising range, and his hand’s equity/playability. He should play a bit tighter than he usually would given the ICM pressure of the situation, but this hand is still a clear call.

Flop Action

The flop comes Ks 7h 6c. The pot is 5.6bb.

Keven checks. Darren c-bets 3.1bb. Keven calls.

Simple Flop Analysis

Darren makes a good bet with his top pair second kicker. His hand is strong and he wants to build the pot fast.

Keven makes a good call with his gutshot straight draw and backdoor flush draw. There are plenty of favorable turn cards for him.

Advanced Flop Analysis

An action flop gives Darren top pair and Keven a gutshot straight draw with a backdoor flush draw.

Being a board that favors Darren’s range, he should be c-betting at a high frequency for a small size. In this case, he decided to go for a bigger size, which is not a mistake per se, just a matter of preference. Darren also concludes that he’d be c-betting on the smaller side nowadays (keep in mind that the hand was played in 2017).

Keven is in a difficult situation against the flop bet given the ICM pressure of the situation. He really doesn’t want to bust in 5th and miss out on all those pay jumps. That being said, the presence of the backdoor flush draw makes this hand a marginally profitable call.

Turn Action

The turn comes the 4d, making the board Ks 7h 6c 4d. The pot is 11.9bb. The effective stack is 27.9bb.

Keven checks. Darren bets 8.75bb. Keven calls.

Simple Turn Analysis

Darren should continue betting with his top pair when checked to. There are still plenty of hands he can get value from (such as worse Kings and pair + draw hands like 7s 5s).

Keven turns the second nut straight. He could definitely consider a raise, but the stacks are quite short and he may want to give Darren (who may be bluffing) the chance to shove on the river.

Advanced Turn Analysis

The 4d gives Keven the second nut straight and has Darren drawing dead!

While normally this card is better for Keven’s range, in this case, it’s quite neutral. This happens because of the specific preflop scenario, where Darren is raising with hands that are not normally present in a Hijack range (such as Six-Four suited and Five-Three suited). This means that both players have a number of nutted hands in their range.

Darren’s bet with Kc Qc for a medium size is a good decision. He thinks this bet is going to have an even higher expected value (EV) than a solver would show, given his insight:

When playing against human players, if you bet-call this turn, you’d be getting it in very badly when the money does go all in. So, that is something to consider. That not all humans are going to play as aggressively as a computer. In this spot I assumed that Keven’s continue range would be through almost only calls. I didn’t think he would be playing many raises.

And on this turn, even with hands like Five-Three suited, Seven-Six suited, and Seven-Four suited, I didn’t think I was going to face a lot of raises. And I thought villain would probably over-trap here a little bit.

This is something that we’ve talked about in ICM situations where a lot of times players, when they are covered and they are playing against a chip leader or an aggressive player who has them covered and under ICM pressure, that they tend to not find as many raises, instead opting to call in spots like this.

So, when you can get a lot of value and won’t face a balanced and aggressive check-raising strategy, c-betting is the higher expected value (EV) option.

Back to Keven now. Check-calling and check-raising are both on the table given how low the stack-to-pot ratio (SPR) is (which makes it very easy to get it in on the river). Plus, the fact that his hand is not particularly vulnerable.

It comes down to what he believes Darren’s strategy will be on the river. Is Darren going to bluff too often or is he going to shut down a lot? If it’s the former, then check-calling is best. If it’s the latter, check-raising should be his chosen line of action.

River Action

The river comes the 4h, making the final board Ks 7h 6c 4d 4h. The pot is 29.3bb with 19.1bb behind.

Keven checks. Darren checks back. Keven wins the 29.3bb pot.

Simple River Analysis

Darren makes a good decision to check. Although there are some hands that he is beating, most of those hands would fold. If he jams and gets called, he’s likely to lose.

Advanced River Analysis

On this river, Keven should be checking with his entire range as he is at a nut disadvantage.

Here is Darren’s in-depth analysis of the situation:

We have about 60-70% of the pot left. A river that’s probably a little better for him than us as 84-suited and 54-suited get there. Plus he also has some slow plays in his range.

And let’s kind of weigh our options and the possibilities because three things can happen when we shove. So, one, we shove and we have the best hand and he folds. B, we shove and he calls with worse. C, we shove, he calls with better and we lose.

And we think about those three things. The first one, where we shove and he folds, is probably happening with a lot of 7x, 6x, and straight draw + pair type hands.

And then thinking about Kx. He doesn’t really have as much Kx as we would think because of the ICM pressure when facing that open. I don’t think he’s going to be defending low Kx offsuit, so I don’t really think we’re gonna see Kx 2x through Kx 5x. If thinking about hands that we beat that have top pair that might call the river, Kx 8x, Kx 9x, Kx Tx, Kx Jx. These are the hands that will call and we will beat.

We have to keep in mind that he will still have hands like 53-suited, 85-suited, and might even have Pocket Sevens, Pocket Sixes, Pocket Fours, 64-suited, and 74-suited. He will have some traps. And with my read that he was going to trap on the turn with high frequency, I think it’s a safe play to check back here on the river.

And may not look like it intuitively initially as we are playing fairly shallow, 30bb to start the hand, and now playing 0.7 SPR. We have top pair, second kicker. We have a strong hand. And it may seem like a spot where as the chip leader, we’re going to be bluffing a lot and we should be value betting wider. It’s kind of how that logic usually works. This is not one of those spots where I felt like we needed to go wide for value.

While his hand was strong, Darren concluded that by jamming, he was far more likely to get called by a better hand than a worse hand.

What do you think of Darren’s check on the river? What about Keven’s smooth call on the turn?

Let me know in the comments below.

What a fun hand this was!

Darren’s analysis demonstrates how a high-level tournament pro thinks and adjusts his strategy on the fly depending on the situation.

That’s it for today. Good luck at the tables this week.

Note: You’ve got less than 2 weeks left!

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