Monday, May 12, 2008

John Juanda vs Jennifer Harman - Full Tilt Poker Million Dollar Cash Game

John Juanda vs Jennifer Harman - Million Dollar Cash Game

Its the Full Tilt Poker Million Dollar Cash Game, and top high stakes cash game players John Juanda and Jen Harman sit in the small and big blinds respectively, with Tony G first to act and Phil Ivey and several other well known players behind him. Phil makes it $1800 to go, and the action is folded around to Juanda, who looks down at pocket queens.

Never one to play in a consistently conventional manner, Juanda makes the highly unusual play of just flat calling with his queens. Harman behind him in the big blind looks down at pocket 10s.

Most aggressive players would raise here with 10s to try to win it right there or take the flop heads up, but Jen was never a super-aggressive player, and the stacks are deep enough that calling looks pretty good, so she just calls.

The flop comes 3d-7s-Qs, giving Juanda a set of queens and Jennifer an underpair to the board. Phil Ivey has nothing but Ace-Jack high.

This hand is interesting because both Juanda and Harman make some unconventional moves. Juanda flops a set of queens and checks when the board shows a flush and straight draw. John decides that if one of the two player behind him has a flush or unlikely straight draw, they will likely lead out, and that even if Phil Ivey has nothing at all he will still probably fire a continuation bet. Betting out or "donking" (betting into the preflop raiser) might win a high % of these pots, but John is more interested in maximizing the value of the nuts.

The value of deception can be quite high and John gambled that either 1) Harman or Ivey would bet and he could reraise or 2) Harman and Ivey would check and the turn would help one of them a little bit without hurting him, or miss everyone. An underpair to the Queen is probably Harman's most likely holding given the action.

Jen and Phil checked, but the 10 that came on the turn and helped give Harman the second best hand was the Ten of Spades, which conventional wisdom says should slow both players down. But John decided to find out where he was, so he led out and bet $4,000 into a $6200 pot. Jen thought for a bit and made a very interesting play. She raised to $18,000. Jen knows that Juanda is an aggressive player; she and Phil checked the flop so he would likely be betting here regardless of whether he had a hand or not.

If John has something like A-K or A-Q with the Ace of Spades, or K-J or J-9 with the Jack of Spades, the $4,000 bet is a profitable semi-bluff against an opponent with only one pair and no spade, who is probably going to fold a significant percentage of the time.

Against all those hands, Jennifer's set of queens is a favorite, but she must raise to protect against the straight or flush coming on the river. Calling or folding with a set of tens here - and not raising against aggressive players who consistently semi-bluff with the previously mentioned group of hands - will cost a fortune over the long haul.

If John reraised her $18,000 raise, Jen could throw her hand away knowing she was likely beat. Raising in that spot accomplished the following:

1) It gives her a chance to win the pot when John folds his bluffs - she doesn't have to worry about him making a big move on the river.

2) Makes John pay a premium for his big draw if he calls.

3) Makes John pay a premium when he calls with a hand she has beat like a set of 7s, Q-10, or A-Q with no spade.

4) Makes John fold a weak flush that has her beat like the 6-7 of spades or 7-8 of spades (its impossible she put him on QQQ).

5) If John reraises her she can fold her hand knowing she is very likely beat.

John can play like a maniac at times, but he clearly always in control, and would almost never attempt bluff the tightest player at the table after she raised him $18,000 into a $10,200 pot.

Juanda was faced with a pretty tough decision given Jen's $18,000 raise. He had played his hand in such tricky way that he knew Harman would never put him on three queens, and the stacks were still deep enough that if he did fill up on the river he could probably use his aggressive image to get payed off by Jen's flush.

It was pretty clear to me that when John called, he was almost sure he was beat there, but given the stack sizes and his number of outs to a full house (he couldn't know Jen had two of them) it was a call he had to make.

Watch John's body language and facial expression as he registers the reraise from Harman, and decides what to do. The raise clearly bothers him. He takes a few deep breaths, and he shakes his head slightly as Jennifer counts out the raise, and again as he looks at the board.

But the tell that most clearly signals to me that John feels weak here is his facial expression after he has called Jen's raise. He takes a quick glance at Jennifer, sees that she looks very relaxed (strong), and compresses his lips right before the dealer peels off the river. While the shakes of the head may or may not have been an act, the lip compression is unconscious - nobody is watching John there but the camera - they are all watching the dealer. He quickly checks the river - far too quickly in my opinion. Would he ever check that quickly with the nut flush? The highly perceptive Phil Ivey, who was watching all the action intently and had a gutshot straight draw to the king, folded quickly.

Its one of those bizarre situations where the player who has the best hand thinks he is behind and drawing, and the player who actually is way behind thinks she is ahead, strictly because of table images and the exceedingly deceptive way in which Juanda played his Queens.

The river the 4 of diamonds, making for a board of 3d-7s-Qs-10s-4d. Juanda doesn't take long to check - I don't think bluffing if he missed was an option; he thinks he's behind. But Jennifer probably doesn't like his call on the turn, so I think if John fires first on the river with a $20k+ blocking bet he probably takes it down a fair percentage of the time, but he let Jennifer take the pot away from him by checking.

Jennifer reaches for chips and makes a perfect sized bet of $25,000 into a $42,200 pot. This is a bet John surely wont call without a huge hand, because as tight as she is, Jennifer makes big bets very rarely. What can he beat with a straight and a flush showing? Against a tough player, this is the perfect example of a position bet designed to take down the pot when the opponent shows weakness by checking. A donkey will call every time with 3 queens. But Juanda cant raise without committing his stack and he cant call without a huge hand - not against Harman. John shakes his head a few more times, casts another glance or two at Jen, but you know he's folding.

Juanda, as great a player as he is, got a little too tricky in this hand. He was trying to run so many circles around his opponents that he ran himself into the gorund. This is a clear example of how playing straightforward ABC poker makes the game so much easier to play, and how expert, tricky plays make the decisions so much more difficult, and often backfire even in the hands of an expert professional player. Flat calling with queens is tricky, but then proceeding to check the flop with two players behind you and a flush draw on the board is just too tricky in my opinion. One play or the other is deceptive enough, but the two plays combined proved lethal in this case.

Its very rare that you see a top player outplay himself, but in this case I think its pretty clear that is what happened.


nick said...

Nice read!

md galaxy said...

I was way in over my head reading this post. Chronic, that was humbling.