WSOP November Nine Thoughts - AVP Strategy

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AVP resident pro Benton Blakeman analyzes hands from the 2013 WSOP main event November Nine final table.

Last week, ESPN aired the WSOP main event final table featuring the final nine players, also dubbed "The November Nine," and the subsequent heads-up match between Ryan Riess and Jay Farber. The broadcast concluded with crowing Ryan "The Beast" Riess as the 2013 WSOP main-event champion. He was awarded a $500,000 WSOP bracelet as well as first prize of $8.3 million. Not too shabby for a 23-year-old! This week, I'd like to give a little background on the players and discuss some key hands that played out during the broadcast involving the eventual champion.

Ryan Riess is a 23-year-old poker professional from Michigan who made a name for himself while traveling the WSOP Circuit during the 2012-2013 calendar year. He finished second in a WSOP Circuit main event, where he did a money chop for more than $250,000, and he made several other final tables.

Jay Farber is a Las Vegas resident who is a VIP nightclub host by trade. He is good friends with a lot of high-stakes poker players who were on his rail for the final table, and his play showed that he is no amateur.

I spent many hours watching the "live" broadcast and had a few thoughts about Riess' play. Several hands really got my attention while watching which I'd like to discuss. Also, social media was buzzing about Riess' play — both praising and criticizing — and I'd like to address some of those criticisms and give my thoughts on them.

The first hand that I made notes on was hand No. 14. In this hand, the blinds were 250K-500K, and Riess opened for a min-raise of 1 million from under the gun holding A-Q. Action folded to David Benefield, who was the short stack with about 7.5 million in chips, and he moved all in holding A-K. After a few minutes of being "in the tank," Riess folded, and Benefield won the pot. As this hand played out, all I could think about was, "What would I do if I had A-Q in this spot?" Many people said that it should have been an easy call against the short stack, but I disagree. I think that Ryan correctly thought through this scenario and realized that Benefield’s range likely isn't as wide as it would normally be in a standard, run-of-the-mill tourney. He correctly realized that Benefield valued his tourney life and wouldn't be sticking in 15 big blinds light here against an under-the-gun opener, especially Riess, who had been playing rather tight himself. I have to assume that Ryan recognized that A-J likely wasn't in Benefield’s shoving range here and that the best he could hope for was a coin-flip situation. With Ryan being third in chips, I like his fold, leaving him still solidly in third and waiting for a better spot to get in 15 big blinds.

The next hand of note came during the same blind level. Riess open-raised the button to 1.1 million holding Ah-Qc, and he was met with a call from Marc-Etienne McLaughlin out of the big blind. The flop was J-9-7 all clubs, and McLaughlin led into Riess for 1.5 million. With two overs and the Qc in hand, Riess elected to call here. Personally, I like his call. His hand is too weak to raise and get all in with so much money and million-dollar pay jumps on the line. His hand is also too strong to raise and then have to fold to a shove. Calling definitely seemed like the optimal play here. The turn was the 3c, putting four clubs on the board and completing Riess' flush. The action checked through. Once again, I like Riess' play. Betting only opens the door to get check-raised and put into an impossible spot. Checking also under-represents his hand and leaves the door open for McLaughlin to bluff the river — and that is exactly what happened. The river blanked out, and McLaughlin fired a bet of 1.6 million. Riess picked off the bluff, added to his chip stack, and propelled himself to second on the leader board.

Riess went on to win four hands in a row during that level. One very interesting — and courageous — hand took place during that time. In said hand, Riess raised to 1.1 million from the hijack seat. Amir Lehavot three-bet to 2.5 million from the cutoff, and then McLaughlin cold four-bet to 4.75 million from the button. After some thought, Riess five-bet to 11.1 million, essentially putting his tournament life on the line. Riess did have the monster holding of A-K, but after a three- and four-bet, that hand tends to shrink in value. Riess didn't seem to mind, though. He carelessly slid his bet into the middle and watched as both opponents folded. This hand was discussed online in depth. Some said that Riess planned on folding to a shove and saving his remaining 20+ million. I personally don't think Riess would have committed 30% of his stack with A-K and then folded, essentially turning it into a bluff. I believe that he had every intention of calling off if either Amir or McLaughlin six-bet shoved. I do think he was hoping for a fold by them, as he knew that at best he'd be flipping if they shoved, but I think he prepared himself for that scenario before making the 11.1-million-chip five-bet.

There were several hands of note during heads-up play between Riess and Farber, but none as talked about as "the big bluff" by Farber. The hand I am speaking about was hand No. 195. The blinds were 500K-1M, and Riess opened the action on the button with a raise to 2.5M holding Q-7. Farber defended his big blind with 6h-5h. The flop was 7-3-3 rainbow with one heart, and Farber checked to Riess, who bet 3M with his top pair. Farber made the call, and the 2c fell on the turn, putting two clubs on board. When Farber checked, Riess made a bet of 5M and was faced with a check-raise by Farber to 13.5M. Riess made the call. Analyzing up to this point, I like Riess' call. He was ahead in chips before the hand with about 115M to Farber’s 75M, and Farber had just lost a sizable pot prior and seemed like he could be a little tilty. I think Riess analyzed Farber’s range to be straight- and flush-draw combos where he picked up clubs on the turn, overcards with a flush draw, turned full houses with 2-2, occasional hands like A-3 or K-3 suited, and complete air just making a frustrated move at the pot. In a perfect world, I think Ryan is hoping Farber gives up on the river, checks, and then Ryan will know that his hand is good and he can check back for showdown. The river was an offsuit 9, and Farber didn't slow down. He made a bet of nearly 25 million, leaving himself less than 30 million. Riess went deep into the tank.

Theoretically, Farber’s range shouldn't have changed. The only difference the river made is if Farber was semi-bluffing the turn with a hand like Qc-9c. But realistically, if that was Farber’s hand, he likely wouldn't have made such a large river bet, as Riess' hand could easily be an overpair to a 9. Antonio Esfandiari, a renowned player who was announcing the television broadcast, said repeatedly that Farber’s line doesn't make a lot of sense and that Ryan should call. I have to agree with Antonio here. If Riess called the check-raise on the turn, he should be calling this river that theoretically changes nothing. But let's look at it another way.

During heads-up play, it was obvious that Riess was the better player. He was chipping away at Farber slowly but steadily, and doing so with little to no risk. While I do think that Riess should have called based on the way the hand played out, I can't blame him for folding, holding onto half the chips in play, and planning on getting back to work winning small pot after small pot risk free. I think that it's OK to pass up on a plus-EV spot in tourneys from time to time to preserve a chip stack that can be better put to use to gain more chips later at a lower risk. Riess eventually folded and later learned that Farber held a mere 6 high. He seemed to laugh it off and went back to work pounding away at Farber’s opens by three- and four-betting him often, winning many pots uncontested.

As an aside, Riess extracted his revenge a few hands later. He called Farber’s 2M chip preflop open-raise holding the same 6-5 that Farber held five hands earlier. Riess check-called the flop and turn on J-J-3-3 and then led out when an offsuit 10 hit the river. Farber folded king high, and Riess won the pot by bluffing with 6 high.

There were many other interesting hands involving the eventual champion during the tournament, far too many to detail, but I think the ones mentioned above are interesting and show a lot of insight into the way a great player thinks through hands and scenarios. I hope my comments on the hand are close to the way Ryan thought through the hand.

During the broadcast, social media sites were buzzing with people's thoughts of the play. A common topic that was brought up by many high-stakes tournament regulars was Riess' passive nature while holding the chip lead when there were five and six players left. Several times the action folded to Riess in late position, and he opted to fold as well, rather than raising with any two cards to put pressure on the shorter stacks to his left. He took a lot of heat for this, and I can understand why. Standard tourney strategy dictates that he should be raising constantly and not giving anyone a free pass. Personally, I understand that, but I also understand Ryan's reasons for playing as he played.

The main thing to note is the money jumps. By this point, each player who was eliminated resulted in an extra $1 million or so in real money. Most players, myself included, would not be willing to splash around at this point when the money at stake is so huge. I agree that could also be a reason to raise more often, as these money jumps are a consideration for others, as well. But the biggest reason I think is that he was doing his best to avoid flips at this point. And the stacks to his left all had perfect size re-shove stacks in the 15-25 big blind range. Ryan seemed to prefer missing out on winning the blinds and antes rather than trapping himself in a game of raising with rags, getting shoved on, and forfeiting his 2-2.5 big blinds each time. While a little more aggression would have been nice, I completely understand his lack of willingness to get involved in more high-variance spots.

Overall, I thought Ryan played an amazing game at the final table and ultimately was crowned a most deserving champion. I think he will prove to be a great ambassador for poker and look forward to seeing how he handles the spotlight.

Luckily AVPer "queen10off" is good friends with Ryan Riess and was in the front row for the heads-up match. He will be writing a blog that details both his thoughts about being there to witness the November Nine, the heads-up match, and hopefully even some details of the after party from the winner’s suite at the Rio! I believe he also spoke to Ryan about a few of the hands and got his thoughts. You can read his blog about this by clicking HERE and then going to the last page.

Special thanks to hardboiledpoker's blog as well as poker news for the in depth reporting on the hands which is where I pulled the exact betting amounts and hand numbers from.

As always, please leave any feedback, comments, and suggestions about this article in the forum here at AVP. Best of luck on the tables!

This discussion continues in our AVP Forum. Please click HERE to join in and read more!

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  1. I've watched the entire final table a couple of times. While I totally agree the Ryan Riess played well and deserved the win, I also think from the start of the final table to the end he had the best cards. I also felt that JC Tran was mostly card dead for his final table. In many ways I thought Tran's play was equally as impressive. To play that patiently for that long is not easy.

  2. I agree that Ryan played great. The 5 bet with AK was tough. He almost called the bluff. I was impressed by the AQ fold as well. I also completely understand how he passed in late position a few times. When you play online enough against good players sometimes you'll notice that they know you know you should raise and often they will 3bet shove wide on you knowing it. It's a weird metagame when the players are solid

    Per Jc tran -> he plays really well in the blinds, post flop and out of position. Spots that I avoid he seems to max value and/or minimize damage. When you face aggro players it is great if you play these spots well as you will face these marginal tough spots more often against their wider ranges. Tran is solid.

    Obv some of the other 9 were excellent as well. I commend them all for a great run!!