Hold’em with Holloway, Vol. 45: Satellite Dilemmas -- To Call or Not to Call

"Hold'em With Holloway"

A little over a week ago, I attended the Mid-States Poker Tour Potawatomi stop in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. While there, I was approached by Michael Miller, a tour regular, who wanted to ask my opinion on a hand he’d played in a $250 MSPT qualifier that saw 20% of the field win a seat into the $1,100 Main Event.

The hand was interesting, and Miller was kind enough to allow me to discuss the hand in this week’s Hold’em with Holloway. Here’s the situation:

The qualifier drew 50 players, meaning the final 10 would get a seat. The hand in question happened on the bubble with 11 remaining and the blinds at 1,500/3,000/300. Miller’s table had six players, and action folded around to the player in the hijack, who was the extreme short stack. He moved all in for 6,300 — just over two times the big blind. The player in the small blind made the call, and Miller, who was the second-shortest stack with 33,500, opted to fold {6-}{3-}-offsuit from the big blind.

The question is, should Miller have called?

Things aren’t always clear cut in poker. I think this is one such situation where, in my opinion, a case can be made either way.

Hold’em with Holloway, Vol. 45: Satellite Dilemmas -- To Call or Not to Call 101
MSPT Potawatomi

In this hand, there were 600,000 total chips in play, so with 11 left the average was 54,545. According to Miller, everyone else at his table was above average, while most others at the secondary table were as well (he believes the short stack over there to have had approximately 40,000).

It was a mere 3,300 for Miller to call, but that constituted nearly 10% of his stack. Was that amount worth risking to try to eliminate the hijack and end the tournament?

If he did call and both he and the small blind lost, the hijack would triple to 20,700 and Miller would drop to 26,900, making them near equal short stacks. If Miller folded and the hijack won, he would still have 30,200 while the hijack would double to 17,400.

My initial impression was that Miller should have called and taken a shot (better two players trying to knockout the hijack), but after considering the tournament structure (the blinds were going to increase to 2,000/4,000/400 in just over four minutes) and some subjective facts (Miller wasn’t going to play the Main Event unless he qualified, and this was the penultimate qualifier he could play), I’m okay with the fold.

With the blinds about to go up, assume that Miller called and the hijack managed to triple. Miller would then be left with six big blinds and the hijack five. With a fold and assuming the hijack won against small blind (of course, Miller will still get a seat if the small blind wins), Miller would be sitting on seven big blinds and the hijack four.

That three-big-blind gap as opposed to one can make a heck of a difference in these qualifiers, especially when you consider the blinds are about to pass Miller (he’ll have to pay the small at the “reduced” 1,500/3,000/300) and the increased blinds will hit the hijack first. In other words, the pressure would still be on the hijack to make a move before Miller had to. Meanwhile, if Miller calls and loses, they’d be on almost equal ground.

Of course if Miller had a better hand, he should have went with it. Likewise, had the small blind folded, I would call from the big blind. {6-}{3-}-offsuit isn’t a great hand, but chances are you’re drawing live to low cards (the hijack is likely pushing with big cards). If you’re the only one standing between the short stack swiping the blinds — especially when it only costs you a single big blind to defend — and possibly bursting the bubble, I would take that shot. As it played out, though, Miller didn’t to take the chance as he had the luxury of leaving it up to the small blind.

For the record, the all-in player ended up holding {4-}{4-} and the small blind {8-Clubs}{6-Clubs}. The board ran out {q-}{9-}{2-}{6-}{7-} rainbow, and the hijack was eliminated, thus awarding Miller and nine others a seat. Being results oriented, had the small blind folded and Miller defended the big blind, he would have turned a six to burst the bubble.

Satellites are a different breed than regular tournaments. Had it been the money bubble of a regular MTT, I would call in Miller’s shoes as you’re getting great odds and ideally are playing to win. But in satellites these exact sort of convoluted situations pop up all the time, and they can present some challenging decisions. Miller said he caught some flak from the other players for making a bad fold, but I don’t think that’s the case.

A call would have been just fine — you couldn’t fault Miller for taking a shot at bursting the bubble for a single big blind. But in this particular case a fold was probably better. Oftentimes in satellites preserving your chips needs to be your top priority, no matter how tempting a call may be.

What are your thoughts on this hand? Would you have called or folded? Let me know on Twitter @ChadAHolloway.

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