Thursday, October 25, 2012

Poker’s Possible Worlds; or, “Easy Fold for Jesse”

Was watching ESPN’s coverage earlier this week of the last moments of Day 7 of the 2012 World Series of Poker Main Event. A memorable finish to the night, of course, with both of the remaining women -- Elisabeth Hille and Gaelle Baumann -- going out in the last two spots shy of the nine-handed final table.

In yesterday’s post I was writing about “hand-for-hand” coverage at the WSOP. Once Hille was eliminated and the remaining 10 players assembled around a single table, those of us doing the PokerNews live blog decided to take turns reporting every hand from that point forward. As it happened, it would be over in just 15 hands when Baumann was finally eliminated by Andras Koroknai.

As I wrote about here last July, it was kind of a manic scene. I had been on the secondary feature table, and so once Hille was knocked out I raced over and hastily set up in one of the media towers by the main table. The action went quickly, and it would take just over half an hour for those last 15 hands to be played.

On just the fifth hand of ten-handed play, Russell Thomas made a big preflop all-in shove following a lot of action and everyone folded. He showed his hand afterwards -- pocket aces. It had been my turn to write that one, and as so as I watched it again the other night, I remembered the hand. I looked back after and saw I’d given the post a pretty generic title: “Thomas Pushes With Aces.”

In truth, the hand didn’t seem all that notable at the time. Sure, we were surprised to see significant action so quickly after ten-handed play had begun. But the way the hand ended made it seem not so remarkable, and soon we’d forgotten about it as we became preoccupied with subsequent hands and the plight of Baumann and her short stack.

Watching the same hand on ESPN this week, though, revealed just how dramatic and unusual it was. And how a decision made by one player -- chip leader Jesse Sylvia -- might well have affected the ultimate outcome that evening regarding who among the ten players would not be coming back next week for the official final table.

That picture to the left is a screen shot from ESPN’s coverage showing the chip counts at the start of ten-handed play. The first four hands had been blind steals, and so the stacks hadn’t changed a lot by the start of Hand #5.

The blinds were 150,000/300,000 with a 40,000 ante, so there was 850,000 in the middle to start. First to act, Russell Thomas opened with a 2.5x raise for 750,000 from under the gun. Jacob Balsiger, sitting to Thomas's left, called the raise. It then folded over to Greg Merson who reraised to 1.85 million from middle position.

Baumann quickly folded, then Sylvia made a four-bet to 4.6 million from the cutoff seat, pushing the total pot up to 8.8 million.

Everyone else quickly got out, and that’s when Merson responded by pushing his stack of about 17.6 million all in. The remaining players didn’t waste a lot of time folding, Thomas showed his aces, and Timmy the dealer was soon shuffling and dealing the next hand.

Check this out, though. In ESPN’s coverage, we got to see all ten players’ hands in this one (not just Thomas’s). Look at what they had:

Seat 1: Russell Thomas (UTG) -- AsAd (raises, shoves)
Seat 2: Jacob Balsiger -- AhKc (calls raise, folds)
Seat 3: Jeremy Ausmus -- 8d7c (folds)
Seat 4: Steven Gee -- Ac2d (folds)
Seat 5: Greg Merson -- QdQh (reraises, folds)
Seat 6: Gaelle Baumann -- 9c5h (folds)
Seat 7: Jesse Sylvia (CO) -- Th5c (re-reraises, folds)
Seat 8: Robert Salaburu (B) -- Jd3s (folds)
Seat 9: Andras Koroknai (SB) -- 4d2h (folds)
Seat 10: Michael Esposito (BB) -- TdTs (folds)

Wild, huh? Three “premium” hands -- A-A, Q-Q, and A-K -- plus another big pocket pair (T-T). And the chip leader with 10-5-offsuit getting cheeky with a big four-bet.

On the show we can hear the players revealing their hands to each other afterwards. “Oh my God, I’m so happy,” says Balsiger, glad he avoided danger and was able to fold his A-K. Both Merson and Esposito tell the table about their respective pocket pairs. “What’d you have?” asks Thomas of Sylvia. “Like 5-3-off?”

“Something like that,” answers Sylvia with a grin.

Incidentally, if we had been closer to the table, I probably would have reported that chatter afterwards, which would’ve certainly helped suggest more about the hand and its significance -- although not everything.

Talk about “what if”! If Sylvia doesn’t make his play, how do you think the preflop action might have played out? Does someone get his stack in against Thomas’s aces? Do they get to a flop (at which point any number of possibilities could play out)?

At the time, Baumann had just a little more than 2 million, not even seven big blinds. If Sylvia doesn’t make his four-bet, might she have made the final table?

“Easy fold for Jesse,” says Norman Chad, initially describing Sylvia’s decision. “Easy fold for Jesse,” repeats Lon McEachern somewhat comically when it becomes apparent Sylvia isn’t folding right away.

And then he doesn’t. Proving again that poker is a game of many possible worlds. There’s what happens. Then there’s what might have happened. And then there’s what we all think happened.

Proved something else, too. Nothing is easy.

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Blogger Rakewell said...

Ahem. "Three premium hands," you say? Are you overlooking the 2-4?

10/25/2012 3:10 PM  
Blogger Rakewell said...

BTW, Merson's bold little speech after that hand, about not being afraid of the bubble, lost a lot of credibility coming right after he folded QQ.

10/25/2012 4:15 PM  

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