The bubble has just burst in the EPT Barcelona Main Event. The bust-out hand was a relatively uneventful pre-flop all-in by short stack Anastasios Vrakas with AQ, who got called by Dmitry Yurasov with AK and failed to catch a Q. Despite that mundane finish to the bubble, the final two hands leading up to it saw some insane action between Korean phenom Dong Kim and Austrian Markus Cerny.

Both were among the deeper stacks in the tournament and at their table, with close to half a million chips each to begin with, while the average was just over 200,000. Seeing big stacks get involved in big pots on the stone bubble is uncommon, but the most remarkable feature of the hands is that both involved boards with a 2345 four-straight showing.

Unfortunately, because this wasn’t a final table there was no hole cam or RFID, so with neither hand reaching showdown, we’ll likely never know what either player was holding for sure, but it’s fun to speculate.

Cerny surrenders 4-bet pot

In the first of the two hands, Cerny was in early position and raised, only to find himself 3-bet by Kim, who was sitting to his immediate left. Cerny came back with a 4-bet to 74,000 and Kim called, creating a pot of around 150,000 and leaving both players about 400,000 behind. The flop came 542 with two clubs. Cerny made a continuation bet of 70,000 and Kim called. The turn brought a 3 to complete the wheel for anyone holding an Ace, and Cerny checked and folded to a bet from Kim.

This one is relatively easy to work out, assuming neither player was getting too out of line. Cerny could not have held an Ace since he surrendered the turn, but he must have had a fairly premium hand given that he raised and 4-bet under the gun. Although Queens are possible, I suspect he wouldn’t want to put himself in a sick spot if Kim 5-bet him, so I’d be comfortable betting that his hand was exactly Kings.

Kim, on the other hand, could have a few possible hands. The most obvious hand would be Ace-King of Clubs, for a flopped flush plus gutshot draw. I’m not sure this was the case, though, as he might have shoved such a hand on the flop. After all, his draw would be favored over anything but AA, yet he’d prefer to make another Ace-King fold and might hope to semibluff Cerny off Queens; despite being ahead of those hands, the equities are close enough that he’d rather win the pot immediately than keep them in.

More likely, in my mind, is an offsuit Ace-King, but with just the Ace of Clubs. That’s a hand with which he’d want to leave himself the option of bluffing the turn (especially on a Club), rather than shove the flop and risk getting called with rather poor equity. I’m going to call that the most likely hand.

Another possibility is that he himself had Aces and decided to slow down preflop rather than risk pushing Cerny off Queens or Ace-King, a possibility that’s much more likely on the bubble. If that’s the case, then Cerny actually got incredibly lucky to be given a runout which allowed him to get away. This is the second most likely possibility, in my mind.

A final possibility is that Kim had Queens himself and made a great read and an incredible bluff. I don’t think this is likely however, because Queens would essentially be an anti-blocker, making AK or AA more likely for Cerny. He would therefore need Cerny to have exactly Kings to be able to get a fold from him, which in turn means that Kim would need to feel very confident that Cerny would keep betting on the turn with a wheel, rather than trapping.

Dong runs into back-to-back check-raises

Immediately afterwards, Cerny was in the BB and faced a raise from Kim, who was now under the gun. Cerny called, and the flop came out 943 with two Hearts. After some joking around, both checked. The turn brought a 5 and again Cerny checked. This time, however, Kim made a delayed continuation bet, and Cerny came back with a check-raise.

Inevitably, the river was a deuce, putting the two back into a superficially similar situation to the one they’d just faced. Now, however, both players had much wider possible ranges and a deeper stack-to-pot ratio, both of which made the situation even more challenging. Cerny checked again, and Kim made a bet of 70,000 into 121,500. Cerny tanked for a long time, then finally moved all-in for 334,000, causing Kim to make a quick fold.

This hand is much tougher to analyze. Unlike the previous hand, it’s not just a matter of having an Ace or not having an Ace, as Cerny in particular could easily have a hand containing a 6, defending the big blind against a single raise. In fact, I think a hand like 65, 64 for a pair and straight draw, or even 76 for a turned straight is pretty likely, given his line. Check-raising a pair with a straight draw on the turn is fairly standard, and the river check-shove looks to me like a better straight hoping that Kim has an Ace and feels obligated to make a crying call; with just an Ace, I would expect Cerny to lead out the river or just check-call, as it’s hard to get called by worse with a check-raise, so he’d only be risking a cooler for minimal upside.

Kim folded very quickly, so probably didn’t have an Ace, unless he’d decided in advance of betting the river that Cerny would never bluff, nor check-raise an Ace. Kim had raised under the gun, however, so you’d ordinarily expect him to have something decent. He omit his continuation bet, so that makes overpairs less likely, unless he was laying some kind of trap.

For a normal player, something like pocket 7s would make the most sense; he might feel it would be hard to get called by worse on a 943 flop, especially given that it’s the bubble and he now had Cerny covered. On the turn, however, he can try to get value from a lot of Aces, particularly small Aces which have made an underpair. He’d also be half-blocking the nut straight and have a gutshot draw of his own, making it easier for him to call Cerny’s check-raise.

The trouble with calling an exact hand like this, however, is that he was the table deep stack and it was the stone bubble, so an aggressive player like Kim could actually be raising almost anything, even under-the-gun, hoping to buy the pot through aggression. The check-back on the flop certainly looks like he had some marginal equity at that point, as does calling Cerny’s check-raise on the turn, but I suspect that if the hand had gone to showdown, there are some possible hands he could have turned over that I haven’t even considered.

The bottom line

Whatever their cards happen to have been, when you take the two hands together, Kim made a net profit of about 40,000 chips – eight big blinds – off of Cerny, but that’s a relatively minor swing given the size of the pots and the fact that either player could easily have ended up crippled or eliminated on the bubble if things had played out differently. It’s worth noting that Cerny has never cashed a tournament at this buy-in level before, so keeping his composure through these tough pots is an impressive feat, especially against a player with a reputation like Kim’s.

Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.