Covering live poker tournaments for a living affords me the opportunity to see countless thousands of hands played out, many of which offer interesting and potentially valuable insights into how players — both amateurs and professionals — play the game. In this ongoing series, I'll highlight hands I've seen at the tournaments I've covered and see if we can glean anything useful from them.
It's once again time for the World Series of Poker Main Event to air on televisions everywhere, as episodes first hit ESPN a few weeks ago. That means plenty of televised hands for poker fans to dissect, and there's a lot to unpack in every episode.
This week, we'll be taking a look at a hand from Day 5 of this summer's WSOP Main Event, when blinds were 25,000/50,000 with a 5,000 ante and about 100 players remained in contention for the $8 million first-place prize.
The hand came up between experienced and highly skilled pro Tony Gregg and William Kassouf, a British player who made headlines and drew cameras with his chatty play. At the point this hand took place, Kassouf had a monster stack of more than 7 million and had been playing very loose and aggressive, while Gregg had about 1.75 million.
Preflop, Gregg opened from early position to 110,000. Kassouf made it 260,000 from the button, and Gregg called.
The flop came , and Gregg checked. Kassouf bet 425,000, and Gregg called, leaving himself about 1.2 million back. The turn prompted checks from both players, then the river brought a . Gregg bet 190,000 into the pot of nearly 1.5 million.
"I'm hoping you've got ace-king or queens," Kassouf said
Kassouf splashed in a call, and his was good against .
Concept and Analysis
Everything is pretty normal here preflop, with Gregg making a standard opening with a strong starting hand and Kassouf picking up the aces. It's a mandatory three-bet with his aggressive image, unless he has some reason to think a player in the blinds is going to shove.
When the flop arrives, pairing Gregg, he's in position possibly to lose a lot of chips as he's essentially in a cooler situation against a player as aggressive as Kassouf. Gregg makes a pretty standard check-call on the flop. There's no reason for him to raise against a player who has shown he's willing to bluff off chips.
On the other hand, I really like Kassouf's bet here as he sizes pretty big, betting 425,000 into a pot of 635,000. The trend of late seems to be leaning toward smaller and smaller continuation bets, but this board hits the range of Gregg's raise-calling hands pretty hard. He's going to have lots of Broadway cards in there that are looking to flop top pair, so Kassouf is getting maximum value out of his hand with a big bet.
Kassouf's decision to check back the turn, though, may have cost him the chance to stack Gregg here. On a board of , Gregg has less than a pot-sized bet left. Surely, there are some hands like and that now beat Kassouf. Gregg could also have slow played something like a set of tens.
But Kassouf is going to have some semi-bluffing hands in his range on such a draw-heavy board. That means a value bet here is credibly balanced by his bluffs, meaning worse hands are likely going to call him.
As the hand played out, the arrives on the end and Gregg makes a cagey move of firing out a tiny blocking bet of 190,000. This is the perfect board for the blocking bet and a fantastic time to use it.
In position, there's no real reason for Kassouf to bet if he has a hand like or an inferior king with which he made a light three-bet, say . He can't ever fold to a bet of 190,000 into that pot, so Gregg will get value from those hands.
On the other hand, one of the risks of the blocking bet is that you will be bluff-raised. However, is that ever going to happen here?
First, look at the size of the pot. There's more than 1.5 million in the pot after Gregg's bet, and he only has about 1 million back. A bluff-raise would likely mean a shove, and Kassouf, despite having that big stack, is unlikely to want to risk that much against a perceptive player like Gregg who can and will pick off bluffs lightly. (In fact, earlier we saw Gregg call a river bet with king-high to beat Kassouf.)
Second, look at that board. There are any number of hands Gregg could have that are credible value bets, and a raise by Kassouf represents a really narrow range.
Gregg basically put Kassouf in a spot where he was jamming backdoor flushes, calling some weaker hands, and calling some better hands like aces that probably would have bet in the neighborhood of 500,000 when checked to. That's the best-case scenario for a blocking bet.