In January, Aaron Mermelstein saw a sharp increase in his career tournament earnings. At the end of January, Mermelstein outlasted a field of 989 players to take home $712,305 and a WPT title by winning the World Poker Tour Borgata Winter Poker Open $3,500 Main Event.
The win brought the Philadelphia native’s career earnings to over $856,000 and came on the heels of a win in a $300 No Limit Hold’em prelim event last November for just shy of $40,000.
Mermelstein sat down with BLUFF to go through his thought process for some of the hands played at the final table.
Mermelstein Busts Liberto in Sixth Place
Very early on at the six-handed televised final table, with blinds of 50,000/100,000 and a 15,000 ante, Justin Liberto raised to 200,000 from the cutoff. Mermelstein three-bet to 600,000 from the small blind and Liberto moved all in for his last 3.3 million. Mermelstein tanked for a minute and then called.
Liberto was in bad shape with his K Q against Mermelstein’s A K. The board ran out J 6 3 4 2 and Liberto was eliminated while Mermelstein shot up the chip counts and was just shy of the chip lead with 9.825 million in chips.
Aaron Mermelstein: “I think the dynamic kind of started the day before. Me and Liberto played a bunch together in the past. He’s from where I’m from and we both have played a lot together at Parx all the time together and we know each other. The day before I had been three-betting a lot, so there was this dynamic between the two of us where I kind of felt like he would be ready to shove and four-bet light on me.”
“But with the ICM considerations and Randy (Pfeifer) having 10 bigs, I was ultimately concerned when he shoved all in because I guess in that spot, I would think that he would have a tighter range than usual. But in addition, the way that it was set up, all the money was in the top two spots, so there is an argument really kind of press and shoot for those first two spots.”
“I think with ace-king the hand kind of plays itself, but would I three-bet lighter in that spot? Yea, I probably would. In my mind, we are so early into that final day that I’m thinking I can put a lot of pressure on the shorter stacks because they wouldn’t want to bust out right away. I thought I could put a lot of pressure on him with a lot of hands worse than ace-king. I don’t blame him for re-shipping with king-queen suited there.”
Mermelstein Rivers a Full House to Take the Chip Lead
The table was still five-handed and the blinds were increased to 60,000/120,000 with a 20,000 ante. Mermelstein raised to 260,000 on the button and Shawn Cunix defended his big blind.
The flop was 9 8 5 and Cunix led out for 325,000. Mermelstein called and the turn was the Q. Both players checked and watched the 8 fall on the river. Cunix bet 625,000 and Mermelstein raised to 2.2 million. Cunix called and showed J 8, but Mermelstein took the pot with his 8 5.
Mermelstein moved his chip stack into the eight figure territory with 11.1 million and Cunix slid to 9.5 million in chips.
Mermelstein: “What is going through my mind is that Shawn is, out of all the players at the table, is the wild card and he could literally have anything here. I think Shawn is going to have a lot of weird gutter ball type of hands and weird, random bluffs in this spot. I think Shawn at this point, was really willing to fire way. There were times when he shoved all in with five-seven off one of the hands and you could tell that he was really willing to do some crazy things, so in my mind, there was no reason for me to raise the flop based upon the fact that I don’t want him to fold his three-outers and four-outers, so for me, it was a pretty clear call on the flop. And also, I’ve seen him do some tricky things where he would lead with the nuts. My goal was to keep the pot smaller and let him blast away and bluff if he is bluffing and there was no reason to inflate the pot in that spot.”
“When he fires the flop like that and then he checks the turn, I think he still has a lot of air balls and maybe some sort of one pair hands. Knowing Shawn, he is not going to give up. If I bet that turn and then he raises me, he could have just turned top two or flopped the nuts or something. He really is able to put pressure on me more than anyone else at the table, so in my mind the best course of action was to let him barrel the river. Obviously when I river the boat, there is no reason to just call and the river just kind of plays itself.”
Mermelstein Regains a 2-to-1 Chip Lead Heads-Up
With blinds of 200,000/400,000 and a 50,000 ante, Mermelstein raised to 800,000 on the button and Todd called. Both players checked the flop of Q 9 2 and the K peeled off on the turn. Todd check-calls 850,000 from Mermelstein and the river was the 9.
Todd check-called again, this time 2 million from Mermelstein. He tabled K 4 and Todd mucked his hand. Mermelstein re-opened up a 2-to-1 chip lead over Todd.
Mermelstein: “Eugene is very very very sticky. His fold to c-bet might have been 0%. For me to just throw chips in there on a Q-9-2 flop just didn’t make any sense. I would also imagine that if he is flatting me pre, that flop should really hit his range based upon the hands that I think he is flatting me with. In my mind, it was a check behind because I didn’t see any point in putting more chips in the pot when I’m fairly certain he is just going to call. I’m going to have to barrel at least two streets in order to get him to fold. And he was not in a folding mood at the time. King-high could be the best hand at the time anyway and pot control was a big thing that I was playing heads-up with Eugene towards the end. I just figured lets keep the pot small, king-high could be good and let’s go to the turn.”
“Based upon how Eugene played, I thought if he had a straight or some sort of two pair type of hand, a lot of times I would find out about it on the turn. And especially on the river when he checks, I think I can rule out all of his nines, all of two pair like king-queen or something, and a straight. On that type of board, I didn’t think he would fold a pair or even ace-high on that type of board, based on the way the action went. So in my mind, it was very clear that I had the best hand and it really comes down to extracting maximum value. If I tried to make my hand look like a bluff and bet bigger, I thought I could get max value that way.”
Mermelstein took that chip lead and rode it to victory after he called a shove from Todd with A Q on a flop of Q J 7. His hand held up against Todd’s Q 8 to earn himself his first WPT title.
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