Tuesday, January 18, 2011


So I was watching the PCA main event final table on tv the other night when this very cool hand went down. Before I get to it, I thought it was cool to see the entire final table broadcast on tv (w/ a 1 hr delay) and James Hartigan and Daniel Negreanu did a good job covering the action. Anyway I copied and pasted the hand from another site and I give my thoughts on it.


Galen Hall entered heads-up play in the 2011 PCA Main Event with 66 big blinds to Chris Oliver’s 167 big blinds, and in one of the first hands he made an epic lay-down that saved his tournament life and propelled him to victory.

Hall opened to 450,000 on the button with {8-Clubs}{4-Hearts} and Oliver defended in the big blind with {a-Diamonds}{2-Spades}. The flop came {5-Diamonds}{3-Diamonds}{2-Clubs}, giving Hall an open-ended straight draw and Oliver a pair of deuces. Oliver check-called 575,000 from Hall and the turn brought the {2-Hearts} giving Oliver trips and removing Hall’s ace outs. Both players checked. The river was the {a-Spades}, giving Oliver a full house and Hall the wheel, and Oliver sneakily checked to Hall who bet 2 million. Oliver thought for a moment before check-raising all-in for around 9 million and Hall went deep into the tank. To the astonishment of all, Hall mucked his straight.

“We have a lot of history online,” Hall said about the hand after the tournament. “His shove looked like it was for value.”

Hall never gave up despite being short-stacked, and four hours after the lay-down he found himself with the chip lead and eventually the title. His river-fold will go in the history books as one of the best of all time, especially considering the circumstances and results.


When I was watching it I wasn't sure if Hall was going to call or fold the river but I knew it was a super tough decision, especially w/ what was on the line (PCA ME title + $2.3 mil). Anyway after I saw it I thought it'd be an interesting hand to talk about but when I saw Hall talk about the hand after he won the tournament, I thought he provided a lot of valuable insight that would help other poker players (that I could share).

First let me express my thoughts on the hand. I think the hand was well played by both guys except for the river overshove by Oliver, but I didn't think the overshove was that bad. I know he was hoping to end it right there and if Hall had a straight (which he did), there's a good chance he calls all in. I think, given what I was sensing on the table at the time, that Oliver should just make a standard value raise to about 5-6 mil (I think he overshoved for 11mil total) and get a call from Hall and have a commanding 45mil to 4mil lead. Instead Hall folded and Oliver had a 40mil to 9mil lead and w/ blinds at 100k-200k there was plenty of play for Hall to try to get back in the match. That was one of those times where one got too greedy, and it ended up costing him (granted Hall might've won even down 10-1 in chips but that seems like a much bigger mountain to climb than being down 4-1 in chips).

Anyway I think Hall's hand is more interesting and brings up a lot of good poker concepts to talk about, notably the river fold. Everything up to the river was "standard" (I guess he could fire the turn as well, but in mtts chips are very valuable so you don't want to be barreling off like in cash games...you need to be a lot more selective in mtts). So Hall talks about his river fold and explains why (w/ lots of good poker stuff in it directly and indirectly).

He says he bet 2million because he felt like Oliver had an inelastic calling range, meaning Oliver was going to fold or call regardless of any bet amount. There is some truth in that, in that Oliver probably has trips or Ax a lot there and will call any bet amount (or fold to any bet if he had bp or a missed draw) but he could've held a 5 or a mid pp where Oliver would've had an elastic range. So I don't mind Hall's near pot bet at the river given his read.

Now what really impressed me was not only Hall's laydown but why he laid it down. When Oliver shoves the river his range is polarized to nut straight, boats or air (he'll just call w/ the same straight, doing anything else would be dumb). Hall knew this and even though a straight is a huge hand in hu play (absolute strength is strong as well), he realized the relative strength of his hand was weak given the river overshove. How did he realize this?

Well he says when he bets big at the river, Oliver should know that he has a polarized betting range as well...to straights, boats, or air. So if Hall has a polarized range, then Oliver only needs to raise small to get Hall to fold the air portion of his range because Hall will probably call almost any raise w/ a straight. Yet Oliver goes for the massive overshove. So the thinking from Hall goes something like this, "well he should know my range is polarized w/ my big river bet so any raise will get me to fold air so he should raise small if he was bluffing, yet he's overshoving all in, and since any raise will get me to fold my air hands, he must think I have a straight and might be willing to call all in to his overshove, therefore he is overshoving for value w/ the nut straight or a boat so I must fold". Now that was some really impressive deduction on Hall's part and it all makes sense.

As you can see what seems like a tough spot can actually be broken down and the correct decision can be made if you really think about it, like Hall did. One thing he never talked about, which I think is critical in times like these, is the pressure or lack of focus that happens in such a big spot like this. I bet most poker players call off here either because they don't break it down correctly like Hall did, or they just feel tired or get antsy to try to double up (and bust). So that was impressive that Hall didn't succumb to the pressure or the moment (of trying to double up because he has such a huge hand himself).

The reason I bring this hand up is for a lot of educational reasons. Besides applying elasticity, inelasticity (not sure if that's a word really), polarization, betsizing, and reads, this hand shows how vital it is to stay in the moment and not get caught up trying to double up (or some other mistake). Imagine if we all took a step back when it was our turn in a hand and broke down the hand as best as we could (and ignored all the impulses to do something irrational), we'd win a lot more money.


  1. What a laydown! I would have been out in second right there. Prior knowledge of the player and great upper level thinking got Hall the victory. Impressive breakdown of the Hand John. What would you have done?

  2. I really can't say. I'd like to say I would fold but easier to say than execute in the heat of the moment. It would depend on my read and thoughts at the specific moment. Let's be honest though, almost everybody would call and bust, inc. me sometimes.

  3. C'mon, one of the best laydowns of all time? As you said, both GH's bet size and the c/r size would make a call very optimistic. I think the pot bet by GH b/c of Oliver's "inelastic" calling range is a little simplistic if he thinks Oliver is good. Don't get me wrong, it was a nice laydown but everyone who isn't a massive fish would at least strongly consider making it.

  4. I don't agree Nathan, but then I guess I'm a fish. You are ahead of so many hands there with the straight. If you give Oliver a reasonable range the straight is ahead of most of it. Plus given the chip disparity a large portion of Oliver's range includes air. It's very easy to look at from a "Cash game" point of view and think that is wasn't that great of a laydown. But I would bet that if you search the HHs of most players you will not find a similar laydown in that situation. Just my 2 cents. Great post as usual John and food for thought.

  5. Yeah I tend to agree w/ Ron here (not about you being a fish, because idk ;) ). Sure it seems easy after the fact, but I bet most call because we misread the situation or get caught up in trying to double up cuz, hey I got a straight hu!, I call!

    Also I've watched a lot of televised poker on tv..given the hands involved, the circumstances, and the fact Hall was able to come back and win, I would say it was one of the best laydowns of all time.

  6. Meh, I don't think I'm that results oriented, in fact, you guys might actually be results oriented in saying this is a great laydown.

    To play devil's advocate, GH's range is basically capped at 4x, and so if he is folding it, this would be an amazing bluff spot, even if you have to check/overshove. Maybe Oliver has a bluff heavy range in this exact spot, ie all missed flush draws, 76 and a bunch of made hands turned into bluffs, and just happened to have a full house in this one situation. GH could have made a disastrous fold.

    Of course, very few people do the above (honestly, can you even remember the last time someone c/overshoved bluffed the river on you, as I cannot), and even those that do do so infrequently (probably justifiably so b/c as you guys confirm, people don't like to fold), which is why this is a good but not incredibly difficult laydown.

  7. Also, Ron, you say "a large portion of Oliver's range includes air". Well, I obviously completely disagree, but if that were true, wouldn't it make GH's fold very bad?

  8. sup nicolak,

    I am playing more hu nl than six max and was wondering what is the number of buy ins you should have since it has more variance?

  9. Nathan good points but I have played in a lot of live tournaments and when someone has you outchipped 10-1 they will make the exact play that Oliver made often with air. I made the final table at a Casino near Jeremiah. I had a large stack in the SB and the BB also had a large stack. He had run over the table he had come from with his large stack. First hand of the final table it's folded to me and I raise KQ suited. He immediately shoves allin on me with position. I felt it was highly unlikely that he had the best hand and I called. Sure enough he had rags and was trying to blow me off my hand. Instead he was eliminated and I coasted to the win against the remaining players. You have to take the stack sizes into consideration.Even though Oliver made it 10 million he would still of had plenty of chips left. That's why it was a good laydown. A short stack against a big stack with what looks like a sure chance to double up.Hall said it was an easy laydown based on his knowledge of the player but to an outsider without that knowledge it's still impressive to me.The reason I say that a large portion of Oliver's range is air is there are not that many boats possible, so in effect Hall is beating most of Olivers range. Did you see the hand at the final table of the ME at the WSOP this year? The hand between Duhamel and Cheong was similar in many ways and Duhamel made a hero call.A lot of people have called Cheong's move a "blow up" but it's an example of big stack poker IMHO. That said in a cash game I think with a paired board it wouldn't be that tough of a laydown. But for a short stack at the final table most peoples chips are going in with that hand.

  10. For hu, it depends on limits and style of play. There is more variance so I'd recommend at least 50 buyins. If you're really good you can get away w/ 30 buyins.