Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Blessing and the Curse

Woke this morning to watch some of the WSOP Europe live stream on PokerListings, catching most of the final heads-up match of Event No. 3, the €5,300 no-limit hold’em Mixed-Max event in which Darko Stojanovic of France came back to beat Dan O’Brien of the U.S. to win the bracelet.

These live streams are so commonplace now, many of which come on a delay of some sort and feature hole cards. The ability to go back through the program and instantly click back to earlier moments also adds a lot to the experience when following along.

I believe the 2011 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure might have been the first, most prominent experiment with the format, which means we’re going on almost three years’ worth of having it around. One of the first questions that came with the delayed-with-hole-cards format was how it would affect the actual play of tournaments -- that is, when players found out later what their opponents had in hands in which they hadn’t shown, how might they use that additional knowledge going forward?

This Event No. 3 finale this morning presented an interesting moment during O’Brien and Stojanovic’s heads-up battle that brought that issue to the foreground again, a match-changing hand that saw a big bluff succeed.

The “mixed max” format has players carrying stacks forward through the tourney, which meant in this case O’Brien had a healthy 3-to-1 advantage to start the heads-up match with 1,594,000 to Stojanovic’s 507,000.

Stojanovic quickly evened the score, however, after the Parisian turned two pair on just the second hand between them. But a few hands after that O’Brien took back a big chunk to push back out in front, setting up Hand #12 which began with O’Brien at 1,337,000 and Stojanovic with 764,000.

The hand began with a 2x button raise to 20,000 by O’Brien who held Ah5h, then Stojanovic three-bet big to 70,000 with QsJh and O’Brien called.

The flop then came Kd9cAs, giving O’Brien top pair and Stojanovic a gutshot to Broadway. With 142,000 in the middle, Stojanovic led with a huge overbet of 160,000. O’Brien paused at that for a short while, then called, and the pair watch the turn bring a cliché of a “blank card,” the 2c.

This time Stojanovic shoved all in with his last 533,000, and O’Brien took about four minutes before folding.

The live stream commentary was provided by David Tuchman, Max Steinberg, and Jesse Sylvia, and during that lengthy tank Steinberg spoke about how strange Stojanovic’s line was ("That makes no sense") while also developing a convincing argument for why it was very difficult for O’Brien to call, even predicting (correctly) that he would fold.

O’Brien still had the lead after the hand with about 1.1 million while Stojanovic had climbed back to just under 1 million. A few hands more and they were even, then as Stojanovic nudged out into the lead the trio began speculating about what would happen when O’Brien eventually found out about Stojanovic’s bluff.

Steinberg referred to “the blessing and the curse of the 30-minute delay,” something he himself had some experience with after making a couple of final tables during the WSOP this summer. “It’s almost like you don’t want to find out” explained Steinberg with reference to such a hand and the possibility of learning definitively what your opponent had.

About 15 minutes after the hand took place, they explained on the live stream how O’Brien -- in real time -- had spoken to his rail and likely had learned that Stojanovic held Q-J in the most memorable hand of their duel thus far. “He looks sort of down on himself,” speculated Steinberg, and the discussion moved on to consider how (or whether) O’Brien might be affected going forward with the knowledge that had he called the bluff early in the match he very likely would have won the tournament.

The pair would ultimately play 53 hands before Stojanovic won, and so it was probably only for the last dozen or so that O’Brien would have known about the bluff. In truth, it wasn’t obvious on the live stream that he was especially affected by any extra knowledge of the earlier hand, no more so than he might have been by the doubts about it that probably were lingering in his mind anyway. Meanwhile, they were still breaking down the hand right up until the last few hands, with the consensus favoring O’Brien's fold. “It was a good fold with the information he had,” said Steinberg.

I tend to think O’Brien probably felt the same even after getting the additional information. Now I see O’Brien is tweeting that he’s about to jump on the live stream to do some commentary on the Event No. 4 final table and to talk about his match, so I’ll think I’ll jump off here to tune in.

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