Hold’em with Holloway, Vol. 18: Getting Inside the Head of a Poker Pro

Brian Rast

One of the best parts about being a live reporter for PokerNews is that oftentimes I get the chance to watch some of poker’s best in action. It’s an unparalleled learning opportunity, and one that I try to take advantage of whenever possible. Most recently that was at the 2015 Aussie Millions Poker Championship in Melbourne, Australia.

In my last Hold’em with Holloway, I told you about a hand from Day 2 of the Aussie Millions Main Event between Richard "nutsinho" Lyndaker and Jack Salter, a hand that you can read about here. But this week I want to rewind a day and go back to a big hand I witnessed between Brian Rast and Manny Stavropoulos, players who went on to finish fifth and first in the event, respectively.

The hand took place in Level 6 (250/500/75), and I picked up the action with around 5,000 in the pot and a flop of {6-Clubs}{9-Clubs}{k-Diamonds}. Stavropoulos checked from the big blind and Rast bet 3,500 from middle position. A third player then put in a huge all-in raise to 34,900 from the cutoff. Stavropoulos thought for a considerable amount of time before shrugging and moving all in over the top for 42,000.

Rast couldn’t seem to believe what happened, and soon enough it became apparent he had a legitimate hand — and a not-so-easy decision. He took out his earbud, grabbed his eyeglasses out of their case, and got an accurate count of both his opponents’ stacks. He stated he would have called the cutoff’s shove, no problem, but the push from Stavropoulos had given him pause.

Rast would spend the next few minutes in the tank, and seemed to agonize over the spot. Sometimes he looked as if he were going to call, and at other moments he appeared as though he was going to give it up.

“When the [first] guy shoved, I thought he could have any two clubs, any king, an open-ended straight draw, or any combo draw obviously, so he was super wide,” Rast told me during the next break.

“[But] the guy who overcalled, it was tough. He hadn’t really put in any big money postflop, but he had been playing a lot of hands. He said this after, but I was pretty sure he was aware that the other guy was tilting. I didn’t really think there were any value hands I could beat. I thought at best I’m chopping with the {a-}{k-}. [With] all the other value hands, he would have three-bet aces and kings, and also sets and two pair. Then I thought maybe he would have enough draws where any nut-flush draw, maybe any combo draw [were possible]... The former is really good for me, because it’s just a pure flush draw as I’m blocking the ace.”

You could see the wheels turning in Rast’s head during the hand, and while talking to him after the fact I discovered that he and I had the same read on Stavropoulos.

“I also made a bad live read. You have to be careful sometime putting too much stock into them,” Rast explained. “[Stavropoulos] took over a minute [before going all in] and looked like he was really thinking about what to do, which made me think he was less likely to have a set. So even if it was two pair, I have an ace, or like a king and an ace, a running pair, to still win. I can’t imagine he could fold {6-}{9-} in that spot.”

Rast ended up making the call, and discovered the bad news when all three hands were tabled:

Rast: {a-Hearts}{k-Clubs}
Stavropoulos: {6-Spades}{6-Diamonds}
Cutoff: {k-Spades}{q-Diamonds}

Rast had flopped top pair with top kicker, and just as he expected he was ahead of the cutoff. Unfortunately for him, Stavropoulos had the best hand with a flopped set. Still, Rast explained the basis for his call — expected value.

“I was unhappy with my call. Obviously results-wise I have to be, because I got it in basically dead. But part of what made me want to call was chip-wise I don’t think it’s that huge going back down to 45,000 at that point in the tournament,” said Rast. “I thought putting in 42,000 to win 80-something, I need to be 33% — I thought maybe I was there. The truth is I’m never going to know unless I know exactly what draws he would and wouldn’t play. Obviously I wish I had folded.”

Hold’em with Holloway, Vol. 18: Getting Inside the Head of a Poker Pro 101
Manny Stavropoulos

He went on to add: “It was a chance for me to get like 160,000 if I won. So I was making the decision based only on equity. If calling and losing made me go down to like 20,000, then maybe I want to be a decent favorite to make such a big call, but because I thought chip-wise it was reasonable, I was just going off straight up whether or not it was +EV, so that was my thinking.”

The {3-Spades} turn actually left Rast drawing dead, and he watched helplessly as the {A-Spades} completed the board on the river. The player in the cutoff hit the rail, Rast’s stack was cut in half, and Stavropoulos nearly tripled up to 125,000, which was a massive stack at that point in the tournament.

Interestingly Rast’s supposition proved true — losing that pot didn’t hurt him too badly. As previously mentioned, Rast went on to make the final table and ultimately finished in fifth place. Even more interesting, Stavropoulos, a popular Melbourne local, went on to win the tournament for AU $1.6 million.

It’s rare to catch such a big hand so early in a tournament, and the chance of it being between two players destined to make the final table (not to mention the eventual champ) is damned near impossible. Obviously I was thrilled to have captured this hand, and even more appreciative I got the chance to get a pro’s perspective on it.

It’s a prime example of what one of the best poker players in the world thinks about when put to the test in a complex hand. What did I take from the hand? Do the math, determine your expected value, and act accordingly. Of course, much of the time that proves easier said than done.

As a bonus, check out this video with Rast in which he analyzes a different hand from the Aussie Millions:

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