While the PokerStars Blog has a lot of poker knowledge, we’ve only ever watched EPT final tables, we’ve never actually played one. But fortunately we know a lot of people who have.
Earlier today, we had a word with Eugene Katchalov, the Team PokerStars Pro, who finished third at EPT8 Barcelona and second at EPT10 Deauville and has a vast knowledge of high-pressured final tables. He has played both with and against a big stack, and was the perfect person to climb inside the mind of Stephen Graner and his beleaguered opponents.
Katchalov was busy playing in the High Roller yesterday so didn’t get to observe any of the action then, but he spent some time in the EPT Live booth today and could make a pretty shrewd assessment of what was going on.
“Graner is putting a lot of pressure on all of his opponents which is certainly the right thing to do and he certainly looks like he’s getting away with a lot of it,” Katchalov said. “I think he is playing really well, without going nuts. He played well in most of the hands that I saw. It helps that no one’s really fighting back, the second biggest stack (Anton Bertilsson) is clearly playing very defensively trying to ladder up.”
As a result Graner had 138 big blinds as level 31 started, Bertilsson had 71, and the other three stacks had between 19-29 big blinds. “It certainly seems like he (Bertilsson) is a bit handcuffed and he’s just flatting hands like ace-king to the chip leader. To me it looks like he’s trying to keep pots small and there’s nothing wrong with that. He’s clearly aware of laddering up and hoping other people bust around him.”
In January this year Katchalov made the final table of EPT Deauville and Sotirios Koutoupas had a big chip lead. Katchalov found himself a short stack with five players left. So what’s his advice to Fabio Sperling, Jonathan Wong and Simon Mattsson, who were all still in at the time of this interview?
“I was in their situation in Deauville,” Katchalov said. “I stayed patient and waited for a hand because the big stacks were playing lots of hands. This meant I couldn’t really get involved with speculative hands.”
It’s just common sense as far as Katchalov is concerned: “As a short stack, every bet is a big percentage of your stack. So for me to bluff it’s going to cost me a lot, whereas for the big stacks to call me it’s only a small percentage of their stack. So it’s much easier for them to call me speculatively, whereas for me it can quickly become very expensive if I bluff. So for me it makes more sense to wait around for a better hand or at least have some firepower to maybe three-bet bluff.”
While 20 big blinds is seen as a shoving stack in some circles Katchalov is not so sure. “With a 20 blind stack in this situation you can still raise and fold,” Katchalov said. “The question is how often do you expect your opponents to three-bet bluff you if you raise and therefore how much you can get away with?”
What would you do with pocket eights and 20 big blinds in this situation? Katchalov said: “If you’re expecting someone to three-bet you light then eights become a better hand to open with intending to jam if they three-bet and hope they fold. The question though is do you expect anyone to three-bet fold to you?. If the answer is no then the way you’d play a hand like eights boils down to how often you expect it to be the best hand.”
The final table is being streamed on a one hour delay so right about this time the players will be getting information from friends watching about hands that have happened earlier at the final table. “I tried to use it in Deauville as much as I could,” Katchalov said. “I had ElkY watching over the hands and telling me what some of the players had and there were some very interesting hands that gave me a lot of information.”
But there can be a downside. “It is a danger as well because I think everyone’s using it and if everyone is smart then they’ll be adapting as well and trying to change their own game. Where it does give you information is in knowing what some people are capable of and what some people are not capable of and their general approach to a final table and style.”
So has Katchalov picked up on any errors during his time in the booth? “The hand where Wong floated out of position with 10♦9♦ on A♣K♠8♦,” he said. In that hand Wong defended from the big blind after Graner had opened from early position with 9♥6♦. On the flop, Graner bet 150,000 and Wong called. The 6♥ turn was checked through, Wong then bet 450,000 on the 2♥ river and Graner called. All told it cost Wong around 25 per cent of his stack.
“I think it’s unnecessary and expensive,” Katchalov said. “It’s a good play, but I don’t think it’s a good play versus the chip leader when you’re the short stack, because again you’re risking way too many chips on an exotic bluff. I would see the flop but I would just let him have it on the flop because you don’t have a hand, you’re floating out of position and you’re just hoping that he’s not going to apply pressure when you’re just risking too much of your stack. I’d like it if they were deeper though.”
With that Katchalov is whisked back into the booth to provide commentary on the Russian stream and the players are back into action.