No Limit Tourney: Take on Ivey if you dare

January 24, 2017 3:00 AM


A recent issue of Card Player magazine described an interesting no-limit hold’em tournament hand involving poker great Phil Ivey and one other player. (We’ll call him Dan.) Both started the hand with mounds of chips.

Preflop, on the Button, Ivey was dealt Ad-10d – a strong starting hand. With the blinds at 4,000-8,000, Ivey raised to 16,000. Then Dan, from the Big Blind (BB), holding Qs-Jd, reraised to 44,000. Ivey called. With his Ace in the hole, Ivey was about a 60% favorite over Dan.

Considering their holecards, the flop gave cause for both players to pause and think: Qd-10s-9d.

Ivey had connected with a second pair on the board – two 10’s – with top kicker plus four-to-the-nut diamond flush. Meanwhile, Dan’s hand improved to top pair on the board – two Queens – and an open-ended draw to a big straight. Now, considering all their outs, with his pair of 10’s and flush draw, Ivey was an underdog to Dan’s pair of Queens.

On the flop, Dan checked from the BB, and Ivey bet 75,000. Dan called. The turn was the 9s. Both players checked. At this point, Dan was a 70% favorite over Ivey. With top pair and so many outs, I think Dan would have been wise to bet out unless he was trying for a check-raise.

As it turned out, both checked – and Dan missed an opportunity to get more chips into the pot while he was most likely to be a big favorite. In effect, Dan had given his opponent a free card to see the river – a good chance to outdraw him – when his hand was in the lead. (That has to be a mistake.)

The river was the 3c – a blank – that helped neither of them. Dan checked from his Big Blind position and Ivey bet 100,000. Probably, since Dan had again checked, Ivey may have thought his second-pair would take the pot, so he bet 100,000 for value.

After pausing for a long time, Dan decided to call. Undoubtedly, he realized Ivey could have been holding many hands that would beat his top-pair. But his hand was too good to fold. And, with second-pair, Ivey lost over 60% of his stacks of chips.

After reading the magazine’s description and analysis of this hand, I decided to examine Ivey’s card odds as the hand progressed:

On the flop, Ivey had 14 outs – two tens, three Aces, and nine diamonds – any one of which would give him the best hand. With two cards to come (the turn and the river), using the 4-2 Rule, Ivey’s card odds were better than even-money. Hence, even without considering all the chips already in the pot, his bet gave him a positive expectation. In the long run, that bet would make money for him. So, Ivey played it perfectly. Also, by making the bet after his opponent, Dan, checked, there was a chance his opponent would fold his hand, leaving the pot to Ivey.

On the turn, Ivey still had the same 14 outs; but, with only one card to come, his card odds increased to about 2.5-to-1 against him. Now, he had a negative expectation if he were to open bet before the river. Ivey’s check after Dan had checked before him, was the right decision. He got a free card that could improve his hand.

On the river, after Dan checked, Ivey bet 100,000 – high enough to suggest he had a strong hand. Strictly speaking, at this point, Ivey’s bet was a bluff. We don’t know if Ivey used the Esther Bluff tactic to reinforce his bluff by getting into his opponent’s head. Even some of the top players are not familiar with this tactic. It was too bad for Ivey that Dan decided to call. Other than possibly not using the Esther Bluff, Ivey played the hand beautifully – even though he lost a pile of chips.