Whether you are a follower of this blog or stumbled upon it accidentally, you most likely already know that I busted Phil Ivey on day 3 of the Main Event this year. It was a fantastic experience for several reasons, 1) I busted arguably the greatest player in the world in the biggest tournament of the year 2) It was a catalyst in getting a sponsorship deal with 888poker 3) A random 30 something year old women wanted to take a picture with me and 4) I got participate in many fun interviews discussing the experience and the specific bust out hand.
Something I didn’t expect during these aforementioned interviews (by the way, if you want a good explanation of the hand and my experience pokerlistings conducted a great interview that can be found here: http://www.pokerlistings.com/videos/v/max-steinberg-explains-how-he-busted-phil-ivey-in-main-event-7c8c11ad) was the repeated question of, “Do you think Ivey played it badly?” Before I was asked, it never crossed my mind. The reason it never crossed my mind was because that once I flat my opponents raise to Ivey’s cbet, Ivey’s only choice to any poker player with a brain is the raise (barring live reads). Once he raises, he’s never folding, so his question is “How do I size this raise?” Given his image (aggressive and capable of anything) shoving there seems like a fine way to attempt to get a bad call.
I found out later, after reading some criticism about the hand, that most people were critical of the fact he “risked his whole stack.” This, in general, is a sentiment a lot of tournament players share–and for good reason. There are specific points in a tournament where you have to be extra careful about not busting because of pay-jumps. But I find that a lot players take this way too far. And not only that, they also will make postflop plays that basically totally contradict this philosophy. I’ve seen countless occasions where I see a good player make a big call or a big bluff for most of their stack but then watch that player at a final table not shove against a clear 4bet bluff because they are risking their stack.
The fact is, a big call, a big post flop bluff, and a big preflop shove are more similar then we think. They all are just moves that have a certain expectation, and there are certain in a tournament where we should pass up marginal or even solidly +EV plays because of ICM. The fact that something is happening postflop does not necessarily make it significantly more +EV. I suspect, however, that tournament players believe that it DOES make it significantly more +EV, but I disagree. It may have been true 4 years ago, but now with better players and better regulars, being too confident about your ability to play postflop can get you in trouble. I’ve seen too many players attempt a bad bluff against me or make a big call against me (in a spot where my range is pretty balanced) when ICM dictated they shouldn’t, shockingly not taking into account what they love to take into account preflop.
On the flip side I’m shocked, when doing commentary, at some of the preflop plays players pass up because of ICM. 3-handed at a final table, I saw a player pass up a 5bet shove spot 60bb deep with KQ (a great candidate to shove because of blockers) against a player with a massive 4bet bluffing range. Many players thought I was crazy for wanting to shove there, but to me that spot was going to be 100x better than any postflop spot he was going to get into with the other player. I think the positive expectation of that spot was staggering, and I don’t think anyone who saw the hand would really disagree. It’s just a common thought that one “doesn’t want to risk ones stack” And that’s really the only counter argument I got about the hand. Tournament culture has swayed too far in the direction of this small ball style, and if you want to improve your game, I suggest switching away from it.