Keeping up with the Super High Rollers: “Chip and a chair”

March 14, 2019inFeatures

We’ve seen what they’re doing, but do we know why? Here are three current Super High Roller trends you should keep an eye on.

Put on a pot of coffee, grab a notebook, and get comfortable. We’re about to lay some in-depth, next level, high stakes poker strategy on your keisters.

Still reading? Then don’t worry; while we’ll be laying it on you, the strategy won’t be coming from us. Taking advanced poker lessons from the PokerStars Blog team would be like taking a photo of Conor McGregor. You just don’t do it.

Instead, the strategy stuff will be coming straight from some of the best poker players in the world. We scoured through our live streams and reporting from the $100K Super High Roller at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA) 2019, and picked out three interesting trends that seemed to keep cropping up:

• Leaving one chip behind when moving all in
• Raising “marginal” hands for thin value on rivers
• Check-raising all-in with middle/bottom pairs

Let’s get to it. Giddy up.


Leaving a small amount of your stack behind when moving all in has been a popular play in the online world for a while now, particularly when on the bubble. It gives you some wiggle room, especially when you’re very short-stacked (and cashing is worth more than doubling up).


For example:

Let’s say you’re two away from the money in a freeze-out tournament and you have a 5,375 stack with the blinds and antes at 500/1,000/125.

Action folds to you in the cutoff and you look down at 3♣3♠. There’s a good chance you’ll just pick up the pot by jamming, but bubbling and not making the money would be a disaster after several hours of play.

By making it 5,000 and leaving 375 behind, you can get away should the button, small blind and big blind go nuts behind you. You’ll have three antes remaining, by which time you’ll likely be able to fold yourself into the money.

The “chip and a chair” play has crept into the live world too, and is proving a popular move among the wizards of the game.

One example you might have seen is Stephen Chidwick’s failed bluff versus Sam Greenwood (who held the nuts) at the final table of the PCA Super High Roller:

“It’s a virtual all-in!” says commentator James Hartigan. “He’s left himself with one chip!”

The bad news for Chidwick arrived quickly when Greenwood set him all in for that final 5,000 chip (less than the big blind). By folding in a spot where he had zero chance to win, Chidwick at least kept himself in the game (albeit not for long).

It was a play that Matthias Eibinger had already made earlier in the tournament. While the cameras missed the hand in which he dropped down to a single chip, they were there to capture the aftermath:

Eibinger would bust not long after that.

So far it might seem there’s not much merit in making this move. But hold your horses, because the man who would go on to win that Super High Roller–Sam Greenwood–was about to change your opinion of it in the PCA Main Event.

Fresh off his $1.77M victory, Greenwood was grinding his way through the business end of Day 2 of the Main Event when the following hand took place (as reported by PokerStars Blog):

He was down and all but out. Yet with only two hands left on the day, Greenwood managed to turn that single 5,000 chip into 57,000 by the time the bags were brought out. Half an hour into Day 3 and Greenwood called all in from the small blind with 7♦7♥ only to flop quads. That took him up to 145,000, and he was officially back in the race.

Greenwood would ultimately finish in 73rd place for $20,980, proving what Joe Stapleton has known all along (since inventing the phrase in 2013): “All you need is a chip and a chair.”

But what have we learned from this? Well, leaving one chip behind in a big blind ante tournament can be a fruitful play. The chance for a comeback is always there when you’re not forced to ante every hand.

Make sure you balance the move so you’re making it with strong hands too, though, otherwise leaving a chip behind could become as obvious a tell as munching on an Oreo.


What gives the best tournament players their edge? While there are dozens of answers one could give, a surefire one would be that they’re able to get value from marginal hands in spots where many players would be happy to get to showdown.

This was a dynamic we saw frequently at the PCA. We’ll kick things off with this pot between Isaac Haxton and Dominik Nitsche:

“He’s definitely betting for value here,” says Lex Veldhuis from the commentary booth after Nitsche leads the river with second pair. “You can judge that from the sizing. Now the question is: is Ike going to raise or call?”

Haxton, who ‘slow-played’ his top-pair-weak-kicker on the flop and turned the same straight draw as Nitsche, opts to raise it up.

“Wow, Ike is so good,” Veldhuis notes. “This is one of those situations where these High Rollers are so tough. 95 per cent of the time when you play this hand your opponent is just going to call and take it down with the queen-three. This is a little bit of a bite back when you bet this small against guys like Ike.”

Nitsche does end up making the call, and Haxton picks up some “excellent value” according to Veldhuis. This hand is a great example of two players seeking thin value with marginal hands in spots where it might have also have been fine for them to check.

Our next example also includes Nitsche, this time battling against eventual champ Sam Greenwood.

Having opened pre-flop, Greenwood elects not to continuation bet when he flops a gutshot straight draw. Nitsche opts to check back his top pair, as he also would on a seemingly blank turn.

The river is obviously a disaster for Nitsche’s hand, giving Greenwood a broadway straight. “This is a checked-through pot, so he’s bound to make some money,” Veldhuis predicts.

Greenwood now needs to start betting in order to get value from his hand, and he does lead. Would you also lead with a queen for value though? After all, Nitsche has shown no signs of having an ace thus far.

“Wow, he bets 17,000 [into a pot of 56,000], a very small raise,” says Veldhuis. “[Greenwood] has an excellent read on the situation. Nitsche might go for this and put in a raise, very similar to the Isaac Haxton situation we saw earlier.”

Nitsche does indeed raise it up, making it 65,000. “These guys are smart enough to know that sometimes it works as a red flag for somebody to go for a bluff or some extra value.”

Greenwood takes his time, which Veldhuis says would be necessary if you were thinking of bluffing. Of course, we know he has the goods, and he eventually sets Nitsche all in. He folds.

As Stapleton says, the look on Nitsche’s face says it all: “He knows he got caught.”

We saw this dynamic happen again before Day 2 of the Super High Roller was over, when Mikita Badziakouski clashed with French businessman Jean-Noel Thorel.

By checking the turn, Badziakouski implements some pot control with his over pair. This could be done for a number of reasons, including keeping the pot small for those times when Thorel does have a deuce or a flush, plus it can trick a pair of tens into a false sense of security.

Thorel then leads on the blank river with his trips. “We’ve seen a few of these situations,” says Veldhuis. “Maybe Badziakouski will go for a raise. We saw Nitsche do it earlier with a marginal hand, still for value, so it’s definitely a dynamic we’ve been seeing a lot in these Super High Rollers.”

Badziakouski does raise, and Thorel calls quickly with the three ducks. Had Thorel held A♥T♠ instead this play would have been perfect, but alas, it didn’t work out this time.

So, when should you hunt thin value and when should you just check? We couldn’t tell you. But if these examples have shown us anything, it’s that being too conservative with your marginal hands can sometimes cost you more than if you go for it and are wrong.


Now, we only have one solid video example of this next trend, but the insight given by Veldhuis in his commentary made it well worth including.

It’s from a hand between Badziakouski and Joao Vieira. Check it out:

After defending his big blind with a weak-yet-suited holding against Badziakouski’s open, Vieira flops middle pair and checks it. Badziakouski has less than 20 big blinds (Dangerzone!) and c-bets for 10 percent of his stack having completely whiffed the flop.

“Middle pair is pretty nice to flop,” says Veldhuis. “Badziakouski is getting short, I actually wonder whether Vieira is going to check-call or check-raise. There’s a lot of merit to check-raising these kind of hands. You don’t have many tough turn decisions.”

Vieira seems to agree, and check-raises Badziakouski all in. He then folds.

“This is kind of the new semi-bluff,” Veldhuis goes on to explain. “It’s to protect what you have. You’re not going to make any bad folds on the turn. Let’s say someone has jack-ten and the turn is an ace, and they bet and you fold. Or you go check check and an overcard hits your opponent.

“So this is kind of the new semi-bluff in the sense that if somebody calls you’re going to need to hit two pair, and if they don’t call that’s fine too because you didn’t overplay a strong hand anyway.”

Stapleton then asks whether Vieira minds that Badziakouski folded. “No, you hope that happens,” Veldhuis explains. “You hope they fold and then [if not] you have an emergency two pair draw.”

Veldhuis provided the insight

The questions and answers kept coming even after our video stopped, with Veldhuis going in to more detail about this rising trend.

“So is there like a line for the hand strength [you should have when making that move]? Because [Vieira’s hand] was medium to weak, so he’s OK with worse hands folding?” Stapes asks.

“Yeah, the most important thing is that you don’t make bad folds on the turn when your hand is still good,” Veldhuis says. “You don’t give him six free outs when he has overcards. But it just depends how deep your opponents stack is.”

“What would be too good of a hand to do that with?” Stapes continues.

“In this case I would say two pair. You could definitely do it with queen-X as well because if Badziakouski has ace-seven or king-seven there he’s definitely calling. With a queen there are quite a few hands you could get called by.”

Well, there you have it. After every European Poker Tour stop we’ll be looking to bring you more trends from the Super High Roller world, so you can try and implement some of these moves into your own game.

You can try out some of these moves by playing for free on PokerStars. Simply click here to open an account.


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