Podcast Breakdown: Episode 52

This was a crazy episode for me. As I sit down to write the podcast breakdown, I’m still not sure if I think Matt Berkey is crazy or genius. He’s definitely a little bit of both, but the ratio is still up in the air for me in terms of the strategy of this hand. Let’s start with a recap.

Poker Night in America at the Seminole Hardrock


Tom Marchese opens to $150, Matt 3-bets to $500 with JJ, Jennifer Tilly calls in SB, Marchese calls. Tilly is the effective stack with 22k.

Flop (1550) 6d5h9s

Tilly leads 1000, Marchese folds, Matt raises to 2700, Tilly calls

Turn (6950) Th

Tilly leads 4000, Matt calls

River (14950) Tilly Checks, Matt bets 4000, Tilly calls with 88

You can actually check out the hand here.

The hand starts at about 6:17:00 - it was interesting for me to go back and watch the hand after spending almost an hour discussing it. Until the river tank, it happened extremely quickly for such an unconventional play. The fact that Matt was able to make the decisions as quickly as he did has a lot to do with why the play could work.

Matt was very confident in his assumptions about the way Jennifer would play. To begin the analysis, I’m going to just look to make sure that the equities make sense for Matt’s play given his assumptions.

Preflop is pretty standard. OTF, Matt felt like Jennifer would have led some of her nutted hands, but not all. He did seem confident that she would lead with all of her pair+draw and top-pair hands as well as some of her overpairs including an occasional AA. Let’s look at how that range fares against JJ on this flop. Here is that range just based on Matt’s assumptions. I’m giving Jennifer half of all sets and straights, some combos of queens, and one combo of aces. Everything else she is betting 100%. The yellow indicates inclusion in the range.

Against this range, Matt has just over 61% equity. So far things are definitely checking out. I’d probably have just called here whether or not you told me that Jennifer was playing exactly this range. If Matt’s assumptions are correct, and Jennifer’s exact holdings are very favorable to his theory, then he is making a very savvy thin value raise.

The other reasons Matt gave for this raise include balance and putting Jennifer outside her comfort zone. As stated on the podcast, she clearly wasn't betting this hand hoping to get raised. I assume Matt would fold to a 3-bet, but he didn’t expect her to ever 3-bet, even with the nutted parts of her range. If he thinks she will check most turn cards, then Matt has successfully gotten in a second value bet and now only has to call on the river if he wants to turn his hand into a bluffcatcher by checking back the turn. All these factors make the raise seem very correct given Matt’s assumptions.

The sizing is also very telling here. Matt raised to $2700 giving Jennifer about 3 to 1 on a call. I think Matt realized that she was very likely to call with her entire flop betting range. This is a key observation since Matt has less equity against her calling range as she begins folding her worse hands. This would make raising a worse play.

So, on the turn, Jennifer decides to lead again. The T seemed like a very good card for her range to all of us when discussing the hand. It made her lead seem quite savvy. However, if she leads her whole range on this turn card, then Matt still has almost 60% equity. Therefore, at least calling is clear. If she adjusts her range somewhat, Matt is still likely getting the right odds to call assuming she will play the river poorly and check a lot of the weaker hands in her range. The fact that she played 88 this way makes me think that she could potentially be taking this line with nearly her entire turn range. While the equities are very similar to the flop when Matt raised, given the stacks and the strength of the line, I don’t think raising again would result in Jennifer continuing with her whole range making this somewhat of an “ahead or behind” raising spot.

Here is a turn betting range that only includes hands that are nutted or have ways of improving to a nutted hand. I'm also leaving in the AA and QQ since Matt was confident they might be betting.

Against this range, Matt should clearly be calling since he has over 45% equity that he feels confident he can realize. 

Given what we have said so far, when Matt is checked to on a T river, the river value bet seems pretty straightforward. I actually think I prefer a somewhat larger sizing since I think he is admittedly unbalanced toward value with this sizing. On the podcast, I liked the smaller sizing given the possibility of QQ and AA in Tilly’s range. However, given how many smaller pairs she has, I think it’s worth going for a little more value, especially since I think that size is more plausibly a bluff. I'm also a little biased since we've seen Tilly play 88 this way and call and I still think AA and QQ are unlikely.

Given Matt’s confidence, Jennifer’s exact hand, and the math discussed above, I’m moving the dial way in the genius direction on Matt’s play. I do want to emphasize, however, that this line is a disaster if taken slightly differently or if Jennifer plays differently. If Jennifer is betting a range OTF where the nutted portion makes up close to half, then Matt is losing money on this raise. Also, if Matt chose a larger raise size like 3500 that could get Jennifer to fold some of her pair+draw hands, then he would also be losing money on the raise. Also, if the river was an A, then I definitely would like the river value bet less since Jennifer could have some A9, A8, and A7 in her range, even though we didn't include it in our exact range analysis.

All in all, great play by Matt. Be sure to check out the interview portion of the episode. As always, feel free to email me any questions at jack@justhandspoker.com.