Monday, November 5, 2012

TV Poker: Lessons from Greg Merson

"Think like a casual player;  Play like a casual player; Expect the results of a casual player. "
-Uncle Wobble

Us diehards that watched the final two days of this year's WSOP Main Event got more than we bargained for. Deep stack final table play by six (of nine) really good poker players. Great laydowns, creative bluffs, lots of 3- and 4-betting, and strong, aggressive play. Even the three, ahem, less than stellar players (Gee, Esposito, and Koroknai) at least gave us creative, entertaining poker and lots to talk about. The only real downside was the length of the event. Hell, the last "day" took twelve full hours to play down from three to the eventual winner, Greg Merson.

Which brings me to the reason for this post: lessons from the final table. Or, more to the point, There were a couple of MTT-specific lessons I took away from watching some of from hands that Merson was involved with:
  • Lesson 1: Have Patience Grasshopper-- and Fold. On day one, Thomas opens in EP with A-A to 750K. Balsiger has A-Ko and just flats the 750K*. It folds to Greg Merson, who 3bets Q-Q to 1.85M. It  folds around to Jessie Sylvia, who picks a terrible time to make a move with a 4bet with T-5o. He bumps it up to 4.6M.  It folds back to Russell, who shoves all-in**. Everyone folds, including Merson with his Queens.  Okay, so this may not seem like such an earth-shattering lay down, as folding Q-Q PF this deep stacked is the right, safe play, but I have to admit I've gone broke with this same hand a number of times in similar situations because I got impatient and/or      married to the ladies. Merson clearly was worried about KK or AA here, and made the right play. The take away for me from this hand is to play patiently, and don't be afraid to go with fearful reads and big laydowns when the tourney is a high PF event.
  • Lesson #2: Take the Beats in Stride. On another hand, Sylvia opened with a 2M bet and Merson raised to 4.8M. Sylvia responded by 4betting to 10.2M. Merson thought for a minute but then moved all-in, having Sylvia’s 42M easily covered. Sylvia snap-called*** and tabled A♥ K♠ but was in a world of hurt against Merson’s K♦ K♥.  The board ran out 5♣ 3♠ 2♦ 8♥  4♥, completing Sylvia’s wheel on the river and giving him the massive 85 million chip pot and the chip lead. I would have been tilted, but Merson didn't seem to even flinch. In fact, on the very next hand he was back to the process of grinding his stack back up as if nothing had happened. RDM, baby, RDM.

All-in for now…
*This was an unconventional play, and it ended up working out for Balsiger in the end, but I'd love to know why he didn't 3bet with the hand to isolate. Big Slick plays so much better heads-up than MW. Maybe he put Thomas on a big hand (QQ+ and AQ+ for instance), and wanted to reevaluate on the flop. Or maybe he was hoping someone would squeeze, and then he'd move in. Dunno.
** Another thing that surprised me in this hand was the way Thomas played his AA. Yes, the safe play is to 5bet shove the AA when the action gets back to you, as you're probably assuming that somebody has KK, but if so, why drive them off their hand with such a huge bet? A min 5bet raise would look strong, too, but one of the AK or QQ/KK-type hands might feel priced in. I also wonder how terrible just flatting, and then check-raising on the flop, would have been? Dunno. Shoving here seems like a I-want-to-take-this-pot-down-now instead of I-want-to-maximize-my-EV-with-my-rockets play.
*** I know that AKo is a monster short-handed, but you're risking your tournament life calling an all-in. There's a really good chance you're flipping here against Merson's range, so does it really make sense? I know a lot of people with think I'm crazy for even suggesting this, but I wonder nonetheless. 

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