TELEVISED POKER can appear to be nothing more than shoving all in. Sometimes it's the result of a demanding blind structure, sometimes it's simply television having to account for the exit of each player at the final table, and sometimes it's a combination.
What's lost is the art of the game, particularly the finesse of betting on the end when you believe you have the best hand and, if so, making the most of it.
"Amateurs don't know the full value of value bets," said well-known pro Antonio Esfandiari, known as "The Magician" because that was, in fact, his job before he turned to poker full time. "A lot of times if a scare card comes, they'll shut down when they could be getting value for what they have."
Stack sizes, position, interpreting bets and the context of the board are the most important factors in defining the strength of your hand by the river, as Esfandiari displayed in this hand from the $25,000-buy-in World Poker Tour Championship at Las Vegas' Bellagio in 2008.
With blinds at $50-$100, a player in middle position raised to $300 preflop. Esfandiari found A-K offsuit in late position. He could re-raise in hopes of taking down the pot, or at least force his opponent to define his hand, but he called with the advantage of acting after his opponent.
The flop came 4-J-7, rainbow. The initial raiser led out $400 into a $750 pot.
"He made a very small, weak bet," said Esfandiari, who has won WPT and World Series of Poker events. "I called, thinking I might have the best hand or I might spike an ace or a king."
The turn came the king of diamonds, giving Esfandiari top pair/top kicker.
"He checked, and it told me that maybe the king scared him, so I put him on two queens," Esfandiari said. "I felt like I had the nuts from the way he bet earlier."
Esfandiari bet $1,000, about two-thirds of the pot. His opponent called.
The river came the 6 of hearts, making a straight possible, but it was unlikely Esfandiari's opponent had raised preflop with 8-5. It's possible he was dealt pocket 6s and had hit a set on the end, but he wouldn't have been calling a bet on the turn with three overcards on the board.
So, after his opponent checked, Esfandiari believed he had the best hand.
"I value-bet $2,500, a little bit less than the pot, because I didn't think he would call the full amount," Esfandiari said. "I just wanted to get a call."
Esfandiari's bet might have been a greater percentage of the pot than a lot of value bets, but with deep stacks it was enough to entice his curious opponent, who called and then mucked his hand when he saw Esfandiari's king.
"If I think I have the best hand, I'll bet," Esfandiari said. "How much I'll bet depends on how much you think he's going to call."
Rainbow: A flop containing three different suits.*
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