In the nearly two decades since poker experienced a boom thanks to Chris Moneymaker’s historic World Series of Poker main event victory in 2003, the strategy surrounding the game has evolved at a pace never seen before. With online poker, the game’s best players were able to see more hands quickly and develop more complex strategies to win. Bet sizing, aggression levels, and even something as basic as preflop hand selection has changed drastically since the game went mainstream.
Few players have experienced as much success on the felt as David Paredes, and even fewer have lived such an interesting life off it. The New York native was a child actor, appearing in commercials and even a few movies before becoming somewhat of a chess and video game prodigy.
He found poker while in high school, and continued to play while at Harvard University. After graduating from NYU Law School, he pursued a career in finance, but ultimately came back to poker, and wound up playing a major role in helping to uncover the UltimateBet cheating scandal. He has more than $2.5 million in live tournament earnings, including a World Poker Tour title from his victory in the 2015 Borgata Poker Open for $723,227. He is currently an ambassador for Chasers Poker Room and Casino in Salem, New Hampshire.
Paredes sat down with Card Player to break down a hand from season 5 of High Stakes Poker (filmed in December of 2008) featuring Eli Elezra, Daniel Negreanu, and Doyle Brunson.
The Action: Eli Elezra put a $1,600 sleeper straddle on in middle position and Daniel Negreanu raised to $5,600 from the cutoff. Doyle Brunson called from the small blind and Elezra defended his straddle. On the flop, Brunson checked, Elezra checked, and Negreanu made a continuation bet of $8,500.
Brunson called, and Elezra check-raised to $25,000. Negreanu folded, and Brunson called. On the turn, Brunson checked and Elezra bet $55,000. Brunson called. Brunson checked again on the river, and Elezra finally gave up his bluff, checking behind. “You should have pulled the trigger,” Brunson joked, turning over his kings and scooping the $187,700 pot.
Steve Schult: There was a $1,600 sleeper straddle put on by Eli Elezra in middle position. Can you explain what a sleeper straddle is?
David Paredes: Sleeper straddles were very common in the late 2000s, especially in high-stakes private games. What a sleeper straddle means is that if someone acts before you, then the straddle is off. However, if the action is folded to you, then it functions as a normal straddle and you get the last option preflop.
SS: It folds to Eli, so the straddle is on, and Negreanu raises to $5,600 from the cutoff. This is the 3 or 3.5 times the big blind raise size that I’m accustomed to seeing from that era. But with the straddle on, should it have been bigger since there was more dead money in the pot?
DP: I’m not going to necessarily say that. I think 3.5x is a perfectly fine sizing, even with a straddle. He could even get away with going a little smaller like 3×.
SS: What about his preflop hand selection? Is 9-6 suited too loose to be opening from the cutoff?
DP: Yes. Daniel is known, at least back in those days, for having an affinity for suited connectors. But this hand is so gapped that I think it’s just too loose.
SS: Doyle calls from the small blind with pocket kings. What is the reason to just call with such a big hand?
DP: First of all, let me state that Doyle has played poker at the highest levels for so long. He is pretty much universally respected as one of the greatest players of all-time. He understands that pocket kings are a three-bet preflop. In fact, I would think that if he were playing nowadays, this would be three-bet about 100% of the time. And I think that even in those days, kings would be three-bet if not 100% of the time, maybe 90% of the time.
This is a very specific scenario, however, where Eli is in the sleeper straddle and Daniel is the one raising. Doyle is perceived as a tight player. He is exploiting two things. One is that Daniel likely c-bets (continuation bets), in Doyle’s mind, too often, and he may put in too much money with a weaker hand. But he’s also exploiting that since people perceive Doyle to be so tight, if he three-bets, he’s not going to get any action. Even if he does, his hand will be too face-up.
At the same time, if he does three-bet, he almost certainly gets Eli out of the hand. This is a pure exploit of those two factors. The other opponents in the hand, and his own image. I’ve heard the famous “Kentucky” Len [Ashby] say that understanding your own image is one of the most important criteria to be a winning live cash game player. And I think Doyle is acutely aware of his image.
SS: You can’t take this hand in a vacuum then. You’re saying that these guys have played so many hands together that they are just starting an old school leveling war?
DP: Exactly. There are so many metas. It’s almost impossible to analyze in a vacuum. Eli and Doyle are great friends and competitors, as are Daniel and Doyle. And they all know each other so well. When you’re playing against opponents that you play with all the time and know each other’s tendencies, you have to throw them for a loop once in a while.
It could blow up in your face, but I think Doyle has the self-belief to not lose an enormous pot with one pair, and has enough confidence in his reads post-flop that he’s willing to take the gamble [of just calling preflop] here.
SS: The leveling wars were big back in those days, but people don’t talk like that anymore. The game has become more math and solver-oriented among today’s best players. Given that the high-stakes player pool is trying to standardize a winning approach to the game, how do they deal with that dynamic and still play something close to optimal?
DP: I would say that for the most part, they don’t. They have pre-defined ranges preflop where, sure, certain hands that are a mix, they’ll randomize. But for the most part, they’ll always three-bet kings because they have enough of a flatting range and they have a balanced three-bet range.
So kings just won’t be necessary to throw into a flat range because they have enough hands. But I don’t think Doyle’s strategy incorporated enough bluffs, and he was also aware of that.
SS: Eli defends his straddle with A-6. Are the reverse implied odds just too great to call here?
DP: It’s just too loose. Yeah, you’re getting a good price, but there is a lot of reverse implied odds. If he had A-5 compared to A-6, that would be better since he could make a straight, but A-6 is just such a bad hand that it’s simply not worth defending.
SS: They go three-ways to J-5-5 with two diamonds. Action checks to Negreanu, who bets $8,500. I wanted to touch on his half-pot sizing. I feel like I remember half-pot was kind of the standard. Was this just sort of a crutch since strategy hadn’t evolved enough yet to incorporate different sizes?
DP: It was a little bit less than half-pot, but you’re right that smaller size flop c-bets were not as common as they are now. For example, nowadays, this flop might be bet with a quarter-pot sizing. That’s because the flop is pretty dry and there is no reason to bet more with your entire range.
It was almost like a fallback, catch-all sizing, whereas now, the fallback sizing would be much smaller. It was almost a little bit more loosey-goosey back then, and there is just more precision in today’s game.
SS: Doyle calls. Is he still trapping or is he just pot-controlling because of Negreanu’s affinity for suited connectors that you mentioned earlier? That love of connectors would make it more likely that Negreanu could have a five.
DP: It doesn’t make a lot of sense for Doyle to have a check-raising range there. It could, but when he calls from the small blind, he is extraordinarily unlikely to have a five in his hand. Therefore, when he raises, what type of range is he exactly representing?
From that standpoint, his call is correct. I think the vast majority of his continues should be flats. In fact, you could argue that you shouldn’t really have a raising range.
Now, there is another factor in play here, and that is that Eli is still in the pot. If [Doyle] decides to raise, you’re actually negating what you were trying to accomplish preflop by trapping Eli. By flatting, he actually gives Eli the chance to spazz out.
SS: And Eli does end up doing something creative. He check-raises to $25,000.
DP: It’s such a small raise. It’s too small.
SS: I assume that since you think he should’ve folded the hand preflop, that Eli should’ve dumped it on the flop as well. But what should his sizing be and what type of hands should he be check-raising?
DP: I think it makes sense to raise in that Eli clearly has the 5-X advantage. By defending the straddle, he’ll have the most fives in his range and he can balance those with flush draws, or even a hand like 10 9 where he could turn some backdoors.
So Eli could have a pretty balanced range with 5-X, flush draws, and bluffs. But he should probably make it somewhere in the neighborhood of $35,000 if he wants to raise, just because he is giving too good of a price to the flush draws otherwise.
It’s only $16,500 more to call for either of the players with so much in the middle already. There is some effect where he is squeezing Daniel because Doyle is still behind him, so that could make an argument for a smaller raise size on the flop. But at the same time, I think he’s just giving too good of a price for hands that could want to continue.
SS: I wanted to get your opinion on his zero-equity bluff. It’s just a random ace-high hand without any real draw or hope of making a hand, so he’s just hoping to get his opponent to fold. You don’t see this anymore, and today players are generally choosing hands with some equity and/or some blocker effect to turn into bluffs.
DP: I think what happened is that with solvers, we realized that there are enough bluffs that have backdoor equity that you don’t need to run a pure ‘zero-equity bluff,’ as you can call it. There are enough hands like K Q or 10 9 that will turn enough backdoor equity and allow you to continue betting on the turn.
Whereas a hand like A-6 offsuit just doesn’t have that type of equity. Yes, you have the ace as sort of emergency equity, which makes it better than something like Q-6 offsuit, but you just don’t see that play anymore because people have just sort of figured it out.
SS: Negreanu folds to the check-raise and Doyle calls. The 4 comes on the turn and Doyle check-calls again, this time it’s $55,000. Do you have any thoughts on the turn play?
DP: Realistically, when it goes check, check, bet, call, raise, fold, call, what hand are you putting Doyle on if you’re in Eli’s shoes? A pure flush draw? Is Doyle just calling a check-raise on the flop out of position with like a ten-high flush draw? I would argue that he isn’t.
I think this turn bet shows that Eli is underestimating the strength of Doyle’s range. Which, by the way, goes back to the fact that by Doyle just flatting preflop, in Eli’s mind, he doesn’t have those overpairs. This is where Doyle’s caginess kind of tricked Eli into thinking that Doyle’s best hand is J-X because he knows that Doyle isn’t likely to have a five. Eli probably thinks A-J or K-J is the best hand Doyle has here.
SS: With a check-raise on the flop, Eli isn’t necessarily representing something like J-10. So from a hand strength perspective, aren’t pocket kings and A-J still beating the same sorts of hands?
DP: I agree with that, which is a flaw in Eli’s logic for sure. It’s almost like with this turn sizing, I’m not sure what he’s targeting.
SS: I guess this is the hard part of breaking down this specific hand. It goes back to what you were talking about preflop, where these guys have so much history, and they are trying to mix up their play without the use of solvers. They could just be trying to level each other on every street.
DP: Yes and no. Yes, they know each other well, so it’s much harder to try and figure out what’s in their head. But you can safely assume that Eli perceives Doyle to be a tight player, as does Daniel. And Doyle shouldn’t have much 5-X in his range. So effectively, Eli is targeting Doyle’s strong flush draws, which kind of makes this turn sizing a little bit on the larger side. I don’t think you need to bet $55,000 to get a flush draw to fold.
And at the same time, he is trying to get Doyle to fold a jack. I think you can safely assume that Eli is hoping that Doyle will fold J-X, knowing that Eli will have many fives in his range.
SS: From a game theory perspective, if Doyle is going to not be exploited by Eli, he will have to fold some of his weaker J-X hands because otherwise he’ll just be calling down too much.
DP: I agree with that as well. Eli comes from a limit background so there will be times where he could be check-raising A-J. Doyle and Eli primarily played mixed limit games, so it’s not out of the question that Eli would raise J-X for value. Now, will he bet $55,000 on the turn with A-J? That I’m not sure of. But I think it’s reasonable that Doyle will fold his worst J-X hands in this spot.
SS: Doyle calls and they both check the river. With ace-high and no real showdown value, should Eli just fire that last barrel?
DP: This is what makes live poker. I’ll give you a list of four guys that it just takes balls to bluff. Doyle, Phil Ivey, Antonio Esfandiari, and Phil Hellmuth. Nowadays, people say that live cash game reads aren’t really a thing. However, as someone who has played a ton of live cash for the last 14 years, I would strongly disagree with that.
If you want to bluff Doyle on the river, you’re going to have to endure the stare down. And it’s not like this hand went check-check immediately. Eli thought about bluffing, but I think he just got shook by Doyle watching his every move. (Gabe Kaplan even pointed out in the commentary that it looked like Brunson was daring Elezra to bet.)
Good luck bluffing him on the river. And by the way, good luck value betting him on the river. That man is paying attention to every single thing that Eli is doing and he’s incorporating the thousands of hours that they’ve played together and everything that is in his memory bank. All of that is going into his decision as he’s watching Eli’s body language and counting his chips. From Eli’s perspective, that makes it very difficult to bluff there.
Some of these guys just have a huge database of information in their head. They know your tells, they know your tendencies, and also they have their instincts. I was in this scenario in a $25-$50-$100 cash game at Bellagio against Esfandiari where I found myself bluffing the river with a missed flush draw and straight draw. And I got soul read and called down by just ace-high. It’s not easy. ♠
*High Stakes Poker shots courtesy of PokerGO