One consequence of doing commentary for the World Poker Tour is that when opponents at my table fall into a strategy discussion, they often ask me my thoughts on the hand they were analyzing.
Personally, I’ve always felt that strategy discussion at the table should be kept to a minimum. Whenever possible, I like to answer inquiries with agreeable or vague cliches like, “Not much you can do there,” or, “That’s poker.” I feel it’s especially important to avoid strategy discussion about hands that just occurred at the table, but now and then I’ll truly engage when the hand in question wasn’t played at our table.
The hand I’ve often heard discussed recently was a major pot played at the World Series of Poker 2013 National Championship final table. And the cause of all the discussion is the play of Max Steinberg on the river.
Steinberg has made a name for himself in tournament poker over the last three years, with remarkably consistent success in the large-field events at the WSOP. I also got to watch him play some very good poker when I did the online commentary for the Legends of Poker event in 2012, where he finished second. There’s no question that Steinberg can play. But there are many questions about why he played a big pot so strangely at the National Championship final table.
Four-handed, Steinberg was neck and neck for the chip lead with Jonathan Hilton. Both players had around 1.4 million, while the two other players each had about 600,000. Brock Parker raised the 12,000-24,000 blinds to 50,000 with Kd Qs from the button, and Steinberg called from the small blind with Jh 10s. Hilton made the call with 5h 5d in the big blind and nailed the flop when it came 9c 6h 5s.
All three players checked, leading to the Kc on the turn. Steinberg fired with his gutshot straight draw for 90,000. Hilton just called with his set, and Parker also called with his top pair.
The river brought the 9h, missing the club flush draw that had developed on the turn. Steinberg checked, and everyone watching assumed he was giving up on the hand. Hilton finally came alive and fired out for 335,000, which got Parker to fold his two pair. When the action came back to Steinberg and he didn’t immediately fold, announcers Norman Chad and Lon McEachern wondered what was taking so long. When Steinberg announced a call, Chad went berserk: “What could he beat!?” he cried.
I agree that Steinberg’s call was a major mistake, but it’s not quite as absurd as it looks at first viewing.
For Hilton to have led big on this river, he either had a bluff or a big hand like 8-7, trips or a full house. Hilton wouldn’t be betting this river with hands like K-10 or K-J. Steinberg also believed Hilton knew that if Parker had a 9, he’d bet the flop, and that if Steinberg himself had a 9, he’d bet the river. So if Hilton did have something in the weak part of his range — mostly club flush draws that missed — it would actually have been a reasonable spot for a bluff.
Then again, even with that logic, there was still one big problem for Steinberg: He could lose to some of Hilton’s bluffs, like busted queen-high flush draws. The hand was crazy enough with a jack-high call, but if there had been a queen-high value bet, too, I think Norman Chad would have had a seizure.
Tony Dunst is a poker pro and host of “Raw Deal” on World Poker Tour telecasts.