Every year, I look forward to the start of 2 different seasons more than any other: NFL, and High Stakes Poker. I was a little disappointed to hear Gabe Kaplan wouldn't be back as host for Season 7, even though I think Norm McDonald can be a funny guy and isn't a total poker noob. The Season Premiere had some new faces, and more amateurs in the lineup than recent seasons. Now that Pokerstars sponsors the show, Full Tilt pros Tom Dwan, Phil Ivey, and Patrick Antonious won't be making appearances. I love watching those guys play, they might be the 3 best cash game players in the world, but I also think it's good for TV to see new players and their different styles. Norm was definitely a little awkward in his first episode, I didn't think his poker analysis was great, and he didn't really add much comic value either. Hopefully he hits his stride in future episodes. I didn't recognize the three amateurs who filled out the lineup, but was interested to see recent tournament star Vanessa Selbst in action. Vanessa is well known in online circles as a strong cash game player and coach, and plays particularly aggressive. That came into play in the first hand I'll review:
Episode Time 3:30
Blinds are $1000/$2000, Selbst is dealt the AQ in early position and raises to $5000. Croak calls in position with JJ and Klein and Peat call from the blinds. On a 429 flop, Selbst will be able to win the pot quite often and lives up to her aggressive reputation with a continuation bet of $7600. Croak basically makes a minimum raise to $15,700. One thing amateurs probably don't do often enough when they bet or raise is to ask themselves why they're making the play to begin with. In this case, Croak must think he has the best hand and is therefore raising. But I'm not sure he fully thought out his decision. How would he have reacted if Selbst reraised him? Based on how he plays relatively tight throughout the rest of the episode, he probably wouldn't have been comfortable putting more money into the pot in that situation. Good reasons for betting or raising are: get worse hands to call, get better hands to fold, win what's in the middle. A bad but not uncommon reason some amateurs have for betting or raising is to 'see where I'm at.' This seems to be more of what he's trying to accomplish with his puny raise size. He ends up giving Selbst almost 5-1 on her call and she takes him up on it. To make matters worse, I think he makes his hand relatively transparent to someone as good as Selbst. More often than not, amateurs won't raise their draws (unless it's something like an open end straight and flush draw or royal), and will usually put in a big raise with strong hands like a set or top 2 pair on a board with a flush or straight draw on it. In this case, on this board, I think he telegraphs to Selbst that he has a hand like a strong 9 or JJ-TT and her overcards will be good if she hits one, and she probably knows she can represent a draw herself on scary turn cards. A scary turn card does come in and Vanessa takes full advantage and wins the pot with a great semi-bluff bet. Croak would have been much better off either raising much bigger on the flop (giving her a much worse price to call with an Ace high hand) or just calling and letting someone as aggressive as Selbst continue bluffing one more street.
Episode Time 7:40
Amateur Ruffin limps with 33, Doyle Brunson raises in late position with 75, Selbst calls on the button with QQ, Esfandiari calls in the big blind with T9, and Ruffin calls the raise as well. Doyle's been on the tighter side in these TV games, so just calling with QQ makes sense in this spot for Selbst with stacks this deep. On a flop of 493 Esfandiari leads into everyone with top pair with almost a pot sized bet. This is better than check/calling in this spot, but it's probably a semi-bluff on his part as he'd probably do this with his sets as well in a multi-way pot and has to be hoping that someone might actually fold out a better hand or give him a free turn card by taking this line. Ruffin really surprised me by just calling with his set. It's uncommon to not see anyone, amateurs or pros, not raise on a board with potential draws on it. I think this is the spot in the hand that really confuses Selbst about his hand strength later. I don't think she does herself any favors though with her raise size, making it 63,800 into a pot of 55,000. Again, she'll never get better hands to fold (though there aren't many likely combos of better hands in this spot), and it'd be very unusual for a worse hand to call in this spot as well. She knew that her hand strength was underrepresented when she just called Doyle's raise preflop, and with him folding on the flop she's likely to have the best hand most of the time. Her raise size is probably intended to charge someone like Ruffin the maximum if he's chasing a draw which it appears he might be doing as played. However, the fact that he puts in a 4th bet in this spot AND acts out of turn to do so should have been a major red flag for her. Aggression's great in poker, but I don't know what Selbst was trying to accomplish by putting in a 5th bet of all-in with stacks so deep. Ultimately, she was probably done in by the fact that there were very few combos of hands that were likely to have her beat (basically just sets), and the fact that he hadn't raise the flop with a set was confusing when she replayed the hand in her head. Still, the most important factor, beyond table talk or board textures or hand combos is that when players (especially amateurs) act strong in the face of strength, they almost always have it.
Episode Time 25:10
Selbst raises to $2500 in early position with 55, Greenstein calls with 99, Esfandiari calls with 97, Croak calls with 86, Ruffin calls with A6 and Klein calls from the button with Q7. Everyone checks through on a J43 flop. The turn is the 6 giving Selbst an open end straight draw and Klein a flush draw and an inside straight draw. Greenstein makes a small bet of $10,000 into a pot of $27,000. Klein calls in position with his 2-way draw, and Selbst makes a questionable call here as well. I will give her credit for being able to bluff some rivers if she doesn't make her hand, so I doubt the only thing she's doing in this spot is drawing to a straight. The river brings the Q. This is the most interesting spot/hand of the night. Vanessa and Greenstein both check to Klein who really impressed and surprised me by making a value bet of $23,000 here. Amateurs tend to lose a lot of value on the river by checking back hands that would often get a bet called from their opponents. The problem in this spot is his bet size looks like a value bet, and a world class opponent like Barry Greenstein picks up on and exploits that by check raising. As played, I think Greenstein realizes that if an amateur like Klein were drawing to a flush and made it, his bet sizing would reflect the strength of his hand rather than considering what hands his opponents had that could actually call his bet. Klein would probably bet something closer to pot if he had a flush, but instead he bets just less than half pot. To Greenstein, this must look like either a value bet or a bluff, but not a hand that could ever call a check raise. Greenstein must also know that it doesn't matter how likely he is to make a flush in this hand as played, his bet just looks really strong and Klein's hand is probably relatively weak.