Hand Review: Ari Engel Squeezes Out River Value
Covering live poker tournaments for a living affords me the opportunity to see countless thousands of hands played out, many of which offer interesting and potentially valuable insights into how players — both amateurs and professionals — play the game. In this ongoing series, I'll highlight hands I've seen at the tournaments I've covered and see if we can glean anything useful from them.
The 2018 Aussie Millions Poker Championship recently wrapped up, and this year I had the privilege of heading Down Under for the first time to cover one of the most prestigious tournament series in the world. It was quite an experience, as the Aussie Millions is truly a first-class event with a unique atmosphere.
Of course, I saw some fun and interesting hands while I was there, and we'll go over a few of them in the coming weeks.
To start off, we're going to look over a hand from Day 3 of the Main Event by played a man who has made an absolutely legendary run at Crown Melbourne the last few years. Ari Engel won it all in 2016, and he nearly followed that up with another final table showing this year, narrowly missing out on doing so due to a sick beat.
The following hand began with Engel and Aussie regular, Tristan Bain, playing 120,000 effective stacks at 1,200/2,400/400, with Engel covering Bain comfortably.
After a player opened to 5,600, Engel three-bet to 15,600 from the button with . Bain was dealt in the big blind and made it 34,500 to go. The opener folded and Engel called, and the two watched as flopped.
Bain bet 22,000 and Engel called. Both players checked the turn, then the river brought the . Bain quickly checked again and Engel tanked briefly before dropping in a bet of 23,000. Bain took some time to think as well before paying off the bet.
Concept and Analysis
This hand gets interesting right off the bat when Engel, who has a ton of chips, three-bets with queens and then faces a cold four-bet from a regular in the big blind.
I'm not too familiar with Bain's game, but I'm very familiar with Engel, having covered for him for years and played with him a number of times to boot. As most everyone who has spent any time on the poker circuit knows, Engel employs one of the highest aggression levels of any player out there. He's probably about as aggressive as you can get away with being without playing in a completely maniacal manner and constantly punting off stacks.
Given that, his opponents are always aware of his aggression and forced to adjust if they want to have any hope against him. You have to fight back if you don't want to get totally run over, and that means comfortably getting stacks in with a wider range than you would against most players.
Four-betting Engel for value with jacks is totally standard, so given that, it's interesting that Engel chooses to just call here with queens. I think, given his image, I'd be just looking to get stacks in preflop here, as Bain's four-betting range should probably include stuff like and for value, never mind the times he is trying to steal it with worse but has decent equity with -suited or something similar.
After Engel calls, Bain makes a standard, if small, continuation bet on a king-high board, putting in less than a third of the pot. Engel peels, as he should with queens in this pot. Many players aren't going to fold much against this sizing, so it's hard for Bain to know if he has the best hand or not. From Engel's perspective, he's probably in a "way ahead, way behind" spot with little chance of improving.
Checking the turn makes sense for both players, then the river pairs the board with an inconsequential-seeming four. This is the other interesting point in the hand as Bain checks, likely hoping to get to showdown. Betting would probably be too thin for value.
Engel, though, has a real decision. Does he bet and go for value, or check and show down? This is a spot where I see the majority of players choose the latter, figuring not many worse hands will call them. However, Engel opts for a very small bet of 23,000 into a pot of around 125,000.
I just love this play. It's just so incredibly likely Engel has the best hand. What hands beat him? Aces, ace-king and king-queen are the only likely value hands, with king-queen being a nice hand to four-bet bluff with in these spots because it blocks kings and queens. Engel himself has two blockers to that.
Furthermore, if Bain had a better hand, he'd have likely looked to get more money in the spot at some point but checked the last two chances he had to bet. His hand looks like either a weak one pair or an ace-high that shut down.
In the end, Bain has to be a little baffled here because he likely expected Engel to make the more standard play and jam preflop with better pairs and ace-king. He ends up calling the small bet and Engel squeezes some value out of a spot where most players probably would not.