Too little room for much poker

[Disclaimer: I've never played at the final table of a tournament with hundreds of thousands of Euros (or dollars, for that matter) on the line. I'm speaking from the rail here; please keep that in mind as you read this.]

I'm fortunate to get to participate in the EPTLive webcasts on a regular basis. It's a blast hanging out with James Hartigan and Joe Stapleton, watching and talking about poker (and movies, Chinese food, and whatever else catches our fancy). An interesting hand happened a few days ago during the final table of the Eureka Poker Tour Vienna Main Event final table and it got me thinking. In fact, I think it should get you thinking, too.

The situation
There are three players left, but only two of them (Andreas Freund and Zoltan Gal) figure prominently. Let's lay out the basic groundwork of the hand:

• Blinds: 150k/300k, 50k ante
• Andreas Freund is on the button with 9.2m chips (31 big blinds)
• Blazej Przygorzewski is in the small blind with 3.4m chips (11 big blinds).
• Zoltan Gal is on the big blind with 15.8m chips (53 big blinds)

Before you go any further, why don't you stop right here and watch the hand play out. Here's the video, courtesy of our friends from EPTLive and

You're back? Great; let's talk about what happens. Freund, holding AKo on the button, raises to 600k. So far, so good. Przygorzewski folds. Now Gal 3-bets to 1.5m with Q2o out of the big blind. Obviously that's a light 3-bet, but this is three-handed and Freund certainly may have a lot of hands other than the monster he's actually holding. Sometimes you re-raise a guy who has you crushed - these things happen.

This is where things turn interesting. Freund thinks carefully, and then 4-bets to 2.75m. Gal thinks for a bit (pretty much pure Hollywood on his part, which is fine) and folds.

At the time, I felt that Freund's 4-bet to essentially 2.8m (rather than shoving) was a questionable play, and you actually hear me say so during the commentary. It's difficult to discuss such concepts within the flow of the webcast, but this is something that we see frequently and is worth reviewing here after the fact.

When Freund raises to 2.8m, he leaves himself with 6.4m chips. The only "good" outcome he can hope for is that Gal will fold to his 4-bet. If Gal 5-bet/shoves, Freund can't fold. There are only two hands he truly fears in AA and KK, but everything else he is dominating (e.g. AQ) or basically flipping with (e.g. 88). But now he's putting in the rest of his chips with zero fold equity because he's the one calling and Gal has no option to fold.

If Gal calls, Freund's situation is somewhat worse, in that he may be forced to call on the flop with no pair. If he flops an ace or a king it's easy to put the money in. But he's left himself with a stack that will be almost exactly the size of the pot if and when a flop comes down. If Gal, first to act, open-shoves his stack on the flop, Freund will be miserable unless he's flopped a pair. He'll be getting 2:1 to call, and AK is almost always that good post-flop. On a J-T-2 flop, he's got 40% against pocket sixes, 37% against T9, and a whopping 72% edge over KQ. Furthermore, if he folds here, he's left with a marginally playable 21 big blinds.

Moving all-in
Now, consider the alternative: rather than 4-betting to 2.8 million, he simply shoves in the rest. This has three extremely important advantages:

• It forces Gal to a miserable decision. Putting your opponents to miserable decisions is extremely good for your poker results.
• It may well prevent Gal from recognizing his equity in the pot. For instance, if Gal has pocket sixes, he will have a miserable decision on his hands, and may well decide to fold - after all, he's either a slim 55:45 favorite or an awful 80:20 underdog. By shoving, Freund would fold out a lot of pairs that would be favorites if the cards are turned up.
• It's the "last raise" effect. Now Freund would have fold equity. As he played it, he's all but begging Gal to pull a "stop-and-go" on him, that is, call the preflop 4-bet and then open-shove the flop with his eyes closed.

Nowhere in this discussion have I mentioned the third player, Przygorzewski. He was on a very short 11 big blind stack. It could be argued that both Freund and Gal should avoid confrontations with each other and wait for Przygorzewki's (likely) bustout, guaranteeing both of them a higher payoff. Rather than wave my hands at this question, I did some ICM (Independent Chip Model) calculations on the situation. Courtesy of, here is an attempt to mathematically model the hand:


Number crunching the shove

This analysis says that Freund shouldn't have bothered with the min-raise in the first place, but should have simply open-shoved first to act. If that's true, then given a second bite at the apple, it's all the more correct to shove now.

Of course if Gal has KK or Q2o, then it doesn't matter what Freund does - the hand plays the same whether he min-four-bets or shoves. But in a ton of only slightly parallel universes, in which Gal has a wide range of other hands, shoving is substantially preferable.

And this mistake is common - I discussed this hand with Johnny Lodden, who said, "Oh yeah - a guy did the same thing at the final table in Monte Carlo last year. He called a pre-flop raise with AK and got left with just a handful of chips."

I'm sure some readers out there will disagree with me, and Andreas Freund, if you're reading this and want to describe your thinking during the hand, get in touch - we'd love to add your thoughts to this discussion. But the numbers above are pretty clear: shove first, but if you didn't do that, then shove when you get a second chance to do so.

Now, as I said at the beginning of this piece, I'm not a tournament pro. I'm not even a good tournament amateur. It's one thing to analyze a hand in the comfort of the broadcasting booth or the safety of a postmortem; it's a very different thing to do the calculations and make the decisions when life-changing money is on the line. But these postmortems are exactly how we learn to play better when the pressure is on.

Thanks for reading and I'll see you on the EPT Webcast. Send us a tweet with the hashtag #EPTLive.

Lee Jones the Head of Poker Communications at PokerStars; he first joined the company in 2003. He has been involved in the professional poker world since the mid 1980's.

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