Idol Hands: Bluffing one of the Best

Negreanu steals one from Juanda

Negreanu: 9s8d
Juanda: KcJd

Negreanu: 1,008,000
Juanda: 1,083,000

Table is 6 handed with 25 players remaining in the event

This clash between future poker hall of famers takes place deep in the 10K Euro buy-in EPT Grand Final held in Monte Carlo. With a relatively big ante and action folded around to the small blind, Daniel Negreanu and John Juanda have good reason to fight over the blinds and antes.

Blinds 6K/12K with a 2K ante

With action folded to the small blind, Daniel looks down at an unimpressive but very playable eight-nine offsuit. This hand is almost always playable from this position, and in a high ante level such as this one, it’s an easy decision to continue. Getting laid 5 to 1 on a call, folding can be ruled out. I prefer to raise this hand a lot of the time, but with a stubborn and experienced player in the big blind, limping is a fine choice.

Negreanu calls 6K

Juanda takes a look at king-jack offsuit with 36K up for grabs and the small blind showing weakness by limping in. Sure, Negreanu is world-class and probably isn’t folding here very often, but weakness is weakness and two paint cards are pretty good in position against an obligatory call. Raising to around 3.5 blinds should adequately extract value from limping hands.

Juanda raises to 42K

Daniel didn’t get the cheap flop he hoped for here, and is now facing a raise of 30K in order to proceed in the hand. Reraising is a bit maniacal and could lead to a very inflated pot out of position with a weak hand against a world-class professional. I prefer folding in this spot. Daniel is sticky, and Juanda knows this. He probably isn’t raising many weak hands, and playing eight-nine off out of position against a solid hand range isn’t the best idea, even getting 2 to 1 on the call. Then again, you don’t get the reputation of being sticky without, well, being sticky. And with Negreanu’s post flop maneuvering, he can find value where many others cannot.

Negreanu calls 30K

FLOP Kh Jh 8s

Daniel flops bottom pair, and pairs are pretty hard to make in No Limit Hold’em. On this board texture, however, it’s rather weak. There are a lot of combos that Juanda raises with that hit the flop in the form of a better pair or a draw with a lot of equity. Easy check for Daniel.

Negreanu checks

Juanda flops a monster with top two pair, but there’s no room for slow playing here. There are a ton of cards that could hit the turn that could make John’s hand second best or make it difficult for him to get full value for his hand. He should continue for his normal continuation bet on a fairly wet board. I’d go with around 60 percent of the pot with this board texture.

Juanda bets 50K

Herein lies the trouble in playing a weak hand out of position against a strong opponent. There are plenty of raising hands Daniel is currently ahead of, including ace-highs, smaller pocket pairs, and a host of weaker hands Juanda may have decided to get feisty with, and getting 3 to 1 on the call makes this a tough fold. However, against a strong player who is capable of continuing to apply pressure on later streets with or without the best hand, staying in the hand becomes more precarious. I think this is an extremely close decision. I would lean toward folding against great players, but I don’t hate a call here either.

Negreanu calls 50K

Turn Kh Jh 8s Ah

The ace of hearts on the turn changes the board texture dramatically. Both Daniel’s and John’s hands drop dramatically in value relative to which hands are possible. Daniel’s hand is now very unlikely to be best. He can either turn it into a bluff by betting to represent a turned flush, or check with the intention of giving up. It seems a bit fishy to lead here and will likely be looked up by a good chunk of John’s hand range. Checking to give up seems best.

Negreanu checks

Juanda may hate the turn even more than Daniel. He is still likely to be best, but it will be hard for him to get value from many worse hands and he could easily now be behind a flush or straight. Still, these hands aren’t as likely as hands with equity such as a pair with a heart or straight draw that he’d like to protect against. Against a player willing to make a big check raise bluff, checking to control the size of the pot with this now marginal hand is the play. However, against a player like Negreanu who is unlikely to take that big risk in this spot against a top player, I’d prefer to see a bet here with the intention of folding to a check-raise.

Juanda checks

River Kh Jh 8s Ah Ts

Daniel’s hand is now only ahead of small pocket pairs and an unlikely, random seven-high-type hand that Juanda raised pre-flop to mix it up. He can either check and accept his fate, or attempt to bluff Juanda off the likely best hand. While this may look like a good opportunity to bluff, I don’t think that it is. Juanda is going to have more queens in his hand range than Negreanu is. Therefore, it is not only more likely that Negreanu’s bluff will run into the very queen he is trying to represent, but he will also get looked up by weaker hands since he shouldn’t have a queen very often. If he’s going to bluff, it’s best he represents a flush since Juanda pretty much can’t have one, and over-bet the pot, hoping that even a queen will fold some of the time. Even then, Juanda may find the courage to call with just an ace since most of the big hearts are on the board and Daniel would need a pretty specific flush holding. All told, Negreanu should give up on this hand and hope to showdown against a worse holding.

Negreanu bets 85K

What started as a monster for Juanda is now beating only a bluff. But, this is no time to reminisce about times past. He’s facing a bet of 85K to win a pot now sitting around 285K, so he’s getting a very reasonable price of approximately 3.3 to 1 on his call. It certainly feels like Daniel should have the best hand here a lot of the time, but he’s also extremely capable of turning a weak hand into a bluff as we’re currently witnessing. In order to come to a decision, Juanda should do a quick range assessment. Daniel is unlikely to be betting two-pair for value here, so he’s representing a straight or a flush. He almost certainly would have raised AQ before the flop, and most likely KQ and QJ a lot of the time. He may limp and call with QT, Q9, and Q8, but he probably wouldn’t be calling Q9 on the flop. There’s a good chance he’d lead the turn with QT to protect his hand and get value from hands that are checking back. He’d also lead a flush on the turn a chunk of the time. All told, there just aren’t that many value hands he can have. Still, he also doesn’t have too many bluffs, since he called on the flop which generally signifies he has some equity. On top of all of this, Juanda starts thinking aloud and Negreanu chimes in with some tactical wordplay of his own! This is not an enviable position for Mr. Juanda, but with the odds he’s getting, I like a call against Negreanu’s range of hands. If he’d bet more, say about 130K or 2/3 of the pot, I’d lean toward a fold.

Juanda folds

This hand was played a bit unorthodox by both players, which is common when there is as much history as there is between these two players. Negreanu put himself in a difficult spot out of position, but he was able to use his post-flop talent and table talk to achieve a favorable outcome. Juanda was unlucky with the board run out, and didn’t give Daniel the credit he deserved for being able to take a weak holding, realize he was beat, and bluff the best hand. It’s no wonder why Daniel won the WSOP player of the year award for a second time and is in the running for several yearlong races.

December 2013