Saving Timex

Saving Timex

Monday, 10 February 2014

Unfathomable goings-on on the bubble at the PCA Super High Roller last month. Jeff Kimber elaborates.

There are few things more painful in poker than being a short stack on the bubble of a big tournament. Fold after fold after fold, eyeing up the other shorties and working out how long till they’re forced to make a move, while praying that someone – anyone – gets coolered, kings into aces or suchlike.

ICM dictates that almost no hands are worth playing while there are other short stacks around, so it’s just a case of giving your cards a cursory glance, slinging them in the muck and waiting for something to happen, desperate to avoid that something being your imminent demise short of the money.

It’s easy to go into autopilot, just waiting for the big confrontation, but a hand at the recent PCA Super High Roller in the Bahamas showed how you must always keep your wits about you, even if it seems every situation “plays itself”. Sometimes you have to think outside the box to find the optimum move.

With 56 entries at $100k apiece, eight players were paid, with eighth place taking $217k. Nine players remained and, as the bubble dragged on, with the short stacks doubling up, a strange dynamic developed, with five players falling below 10 big blinds while the other four had 35bb or more. After Ole Schemion got a lucky double-up against Matt Glantz with Q-5 v K-Q, the two on life support were Mike “Timex” McDonald and Paul Newey.

It was getting on for 2am, 14 hours after play had started. McDonald, the Canadian EPT winner and one of the best tournament players in the world, and Newey, a British businessman and keen amateur poker player, were fighting it out to avoid becoming the $200k-plus bubble boy.

As both stacks dwindled towards being blinded out, McDonald held the advantage, with slightly more chips, meaning Newey would either be forced to make a move or be all-in in the blinds before he would. Then the following situation came up.

With blinds at 30k-60k, Newey was under the gun and had just 20k left, a third of a big blind, having paid his 10k ante at the nine-handed unofficial final table. McDonald, who had just gone through the blinds, also had less than 1bb, and was in the cut off with 50k back after paying his ante. Finally, Newey made his move, sticking his last 20k in, seemingly without looking at his cards. Vanessa Selbst, Dan Shak, Shemion and Tong Gregg folded round to McDonald.

I have to admit that having sat and folded hand after hand in the knowledge that Newey would have to make a move, and now presuming that, having “shoved” less than a small blind, it was likely the Brit would have to beat at least two other hands, I would have almost auto-folded and waited for the big stacks to do my dirty work – preserving my stack in case the worst happened (Newey winning) which meant I would have to make a stand next. McDonald, though, possesses one of the great poker brains and the Canadian went into the tank. What did McDonald have? Aces? Kings? Surely a monster to consider risking his tournament life here?

After a brutally long day, including a prolonged period of playing all-in or fold poker, McDonald found it difficult to engage his brain (another reason I’d have folded!) but eventually, after a period in the tank, called all-in for his 50k.

Antonio Esfandiari folded the button and Glantz made up the 60k big blind. It looked likely they would go four-handed, with the unwritten rule seeing the two larger stacks check it down to hopefully burst the bubble.
As it happened, Fabian Quoss, who went on to win the event, raised it to 185k from the big blind, forcing Glantz out, and it was on their backs. Quoss had the best of it, A-Qs; Newey, claiming he’d only seen one card, tabled 9-6os; and McDonald revealed he had called it off with K-Qos. The flop came ace-high, and while Newey hit a six on the turn, giving McDonald a bubble sweat (while also drawing dead), a five on the river meant Quoss won the hand. Both opponents were out, but McDonald took the $217k eighth-place money, having started the hand with more chips.

Looking at the hand from McDonald’s perspective, it’s fascinating to see how switched on and alive to opportunity he remains, even while nursing a micro-stack, when it would be tempting just to insta-fold anything that isn’t a monster and hope your opponent busts out. Make no mistake, McDonald’s only goal with a stack this size is to make the money. His chances of winning the tournament have gone and finishing eighth is the height of his ambition.

While it’s tempting to let a hand like K-Q go, McDonald quickly assesses all outcomes. If he passes, he’ll have 50k left – five antes – although if Newey loses the hand against the small and big blinds (although, as it turned out, with Quoss having A-Q suited it would only be against one hand), McDonald would be in the money.

Newey has moved in blind or close to it, glancing at one card as he put his chips in, but he’s likely to have at least 25% equity, depending on how many people behind McDonald call. In this case, if McDonald passed, it’s likely the hand would have gone heads-up between Quoss’s A-Q suited and Newey’s 9-6o, giving the Brit 33%.

McDonald, with K-Q, has an above-average hand, and by calling he will eat into Newey’s equity. More importantly, because McDonald has the bigger stack, Newey will have to beat McDonald’s hand and all others to avoid the bubble – at least two hands, probably three and maybe four.

The key, though, is Newey’s stack size, which sounds laughable given he only had 20k, two antes, or a third of a big blind. If McDonald folds and Newey wins the hand, he will win his 20k back, plus 20k from the small blind, 20k from the big blind (potentially another 20k if Antonio calls from the button) and the nine 10k antes, giving him a stack of at least 150k.

Should he win, Newey will have to pay a 10k ante and 60k big blind on the next hand, leaving him 80k. McDonald will have to pay a 10k ante out of his 50k. Presuming they both fold and no one else goes out (which is an just about 100% certain), Newey will have to pay his 10k ante and 30k small blind next, leaving him 40k, while crucially McDonald, having paid his 10k ante, will have the shorter stack, 30k.

What all that means is, if McDonald passes his K-Q and Newey wins the hand, he will be forced all-in next, so the Brit will be able to afford to pass until McDonald makes his move.

If Newey had paid just one more ante, leaving him all-in for 10k in this hand, it would make more sense for McDonald to fold, as even if Newey wins the hand he would have just 120k, and after paying blinds the next two hands, he would have the shortest stack again, and be forced all-in first. In this scenario, folding would make more sense, as McDonald would have two chances to get rid of Newey before he has to make his move.

Tournament poker throws up all sorts of scenarios that feel familiar, but actually can be slightly different, and having the poker savvy to recognise those nuances and make the optimum move has to be the goal of every player if they are to be successful.

Tags: Jeff Kimber, strategy