In our Hand Jam section, we take a look at exciting or strategically interesting hands in the poker world. In doing so, we shed light on the intricacies of each move and evaluate each move of the players.
In our first hand in this section, we look at the WSOP 2021 Main Event, specifically Day 1B and a folded set starring JJ Liu and Perry Friedman.
Let's take a look at the hand first:
JJ Liu folds bottom set in the WSOP Main Event
The blinds are t300 / t500 with a t500 big blind ante.
Steve Zolotov (UTG, t57,400): A K
Perry Friedman (CO, t209,700): 8 8
JJ Liu (BU, t176,000): 2 2
Preflop: Action unknown
Flop (t9.200): K 8 2
Zolotov bets t6,000, Friedman raises to t22,000, Liu calls t22,000, Zolotov folds
Turn (t59,200): 4
Friedman moves all-in (t186k), Liu folds
This is how the hand unravelled:
Some people go broke with top pair top kicker, some people go broke with bottom set... but not JJ Liu and Steve Zolotow!— PokerGO (@PokerGO)
Strength over strength on the flop
Now let's look at the hand from a strategic point of view. We are missing the action before the flop, but this is hardly necessary to assess the play on the flop with the given action.
The size of the pot before the flop is over 18 big blinds, so we can assume that raises and re-raises were involved. The board is comparatively dry and only allows for a flush draw.
In the following, we look at the players' actions and consider what hand combinations they could be holding. Thanks to the recording, we know their hands, but the players themselves do not have this luxury, of course, and have to deduce during the hand what their opponents might have. We put ourselves in the shoes of the players at the table and try to determine what hands (or rather what range of hands) the players hold based on their actions.
Zolotov's strength: Big bet from the front
Zolotov brings a substantial bet on this dry board - just under two-thirds of the pot. He has no position and would probably only make such a big bet with a strong to very strong hand. The range he signals to his fellow players is top pair or better.
He is the first of the three to demonstrate strength here.
Friedman' strength: Massive raise in the middle
Friedman then brings a massive raise. Mathematically, his raise size is about three quarters of the pot - a massive announcement in any tournament situation. Which hand combinations would Friedman bring such a raise with? Friedman would clearly play all his monsters (i.e. extremely strong hands) like that - that is all sets (KK, 88 or 22). But beyond that there are already no particularly strong hands on this board that he would feel comfortable to raise with. He might get the idea to raise the flop with ace-king now and then, but that would by no means be a good move.
To some extend flush draws can be eliminated from Friedman's range. With those, he would more likely just call to give Liu, a chance to call as well. We're not saying Friedman would never raise with a flush draw here (in fact, a raise with a weaker flush draw would be correct from time to time), but it's not the most likely scenario.
Liu's strength: Cold calling a raise
After Friedman's raise, it's Liu's turn to call. This move demonstrates a lot of strength because her call does not complete the action on the flop. Behind her, it is still Zolotov's turn and it is entirely within the realm of possibility that he will push his stack into the middle. Liu would practically never call with a hand like top pair (say with A K ) in this situation. Against the hand strengths demonstrated by her teammates, such a hand is already far too weak.
There are only two hand types on this board that she could hold that could cold call this raise on the flop: sets and damn strong flush draws (such as A K for the nut flush draw with top pair). With all other hands, Liu would almost certainly fold.
Simple fold on the turn
After Liu's call, Zolotov quite logically throws his top pair into the muck. The 4 on the turn is an absolutely meaningless card and changes nothing in the respective hand strengths.
Friedman goes all-in and this bet more than double the pot - over 300 big blinds. Liu nods a few times and shoves her cards into the middle after a few seconds signaling a fold. Several poker media wrote of an "absurd fold", as Liu had a set on a board that looked harmless. This assessment is nonsense. Anything other than a fold by Liu would have been absurd in this situation.
With our assessments on the flop, we have done a lot of preliminary work to assess the play on the turn. Liu knows that Friedman almost always has a very strong hand and would very rarely play like this with a flush draw. We can now eliminate hands like naked top pair from Friedman's range. He would simply never bring such an overbet in this tournament situation. All hands from the "very strong" category beat Liu's bottom set. Therefore and logically, her set must be disposed of.
Before we talk about Friedman's play, let's take a closer look at the situation from Liu's point of view in case you're not convinced yet her fold is trivially easy.
The mathematics behind the fold on the turn
In the following section we take a quick look at the mathematics and ask: How likely does it have to be that Friedman bluffs for Liu to call profitably here?
TLDR: If maths is too dry for you, you can skip the following box. Only if Perry Friedman bluffs at least 49.8% of the time, Liu can call profitably.
What odds does Liu get on the turn?
First, let's take a look at what odds Liu gets on the turn. Liu has to pay t152,000 and can win a pot of t363,200. Looking at the bare pot odds, she has to win the hand 41.85% of the time to call with a positive expected value.
To even think about calling the all-in, Liu has to assume that Friedman is bluffing from time to time. So let's just assume that he does have a (strong) flush draw from time to time. The other times he has a set and Liu is beaten.
What is Liu's probability of winning in each case?
- Against a flush draw: Liu's opponent has 7 outs and Liu has 84.09% win probability.
- Against a set: Liu has 1 out to quads and 2.27% probability of winning.
How many times does Friedman have to bluff for Liu to profitably call the turn?
Now some maths needs to be done. We assume that Friedman has a flush draw x percent of the time and a set (100 - x) percent of the time.
The expected value (in chips) for a call by Liu on the turn can be expressed as a function of x (i.e. the probability that Friedman bluffs) as follows:
EV = x * (84.09% * t363,200) + (1 - x) * (2.27% * t363,200).
When x = 0% (in case Friedman never bluffs), Liu's expected value is just t8,244 (she only wins if she hits a 2 on the river). For x = 100% (in case Friedman always bluffs), Liu's expected value is t297.006 (she always wins if no diamond comes on the river).
If Liu folds on the turn, she also has an expected value, exactly the number of chips she still holds. That is t152.000.
The exciting question now is how big x has to be so that the expected value for a call exceeds that for a fold. In other words, how often does Friedman have to bluff for Liu to call profitably? For this, we can simply solve the formula above for x and with the EV = t152,000. Then we get x = 49.8%.
In other words, if the probability that Friedman is bluffing is above 49.8%, Liu's call is mathematically correct according to pot odds.
Is Friedman bluffing here 50% of the time?
Without strong reads, it is reasonable to assume that in this tournament situation (after the action as it unfolded on the flop) a sane player only bluffs extremely rarely, definitely not in 50% of the cases.
It would be absurd to assume that someone shows so much strength on the flop against three players and then on the turn (after his opponent has also shown lots of strength) pushes all-in ice-cold and dry with a semi-bluff. That would be a sensational move, but by no means something an normal player would do 5 times out of 10.
Why Friedman's play is wrong
Now let's take a quick look at Perry Friedman's play and ask how he could have played better.
With middle set against bottom set, you actually have a fantastic chance in poker to clean up big time. Friedman missed this chance with his ill-conceived all-in. On the flop his raise was already too big and could have been a little bit smaller to allow wider ranges to continue against his monster.
On the turn, however, he would have had much better chances of a high payout with a bet equal to half the pot or even less. If Friedman had thought the hand through with more care, he would have known that it was very unlikely that Liu could have a flush draw after the call on the flop. He could have known that she probably holds an enormously strong hand, meaning a set.
With his all-in on the turn, Friedman manages to isolate himself with middle set against the better part of Liu's range, because the only hand she can call the all-in with are kings and they beat Friedman. He forces all other hands into the muck.
Decisions in poker are often hard. But sometimes they are very simple. And JJ Liu's fold of bottom set on the turn was almost as easy as disposing of 7 2 preflop. Perry Friedman made that decision far too easy for her with his unfortunate all-in.