The European Poker Tour Season 12, Prague Main Event wrapped up on Wednesday. The eventual winner was Germany’s Hossein Ensan, who took home €754,510 after striking a heads-up deal with runner-up Gleb Tremzin then going on to defeat him.
For those who watched the live stream, the most memorable part of the final table was likely a controversial hand which took place near the end of Ensan and Tremzin’s heads-up battle. And yet, reviewing the hand histories, what strikes me more than anything is just how wild a route Ensan took on his way to winning the title.
His quality of play was all over the map, as was his luck. A couple dozen hands in, you never would have picked him as the likely winner, and indeed, he could easily have finished in 6th. And yet, he played well when it counted, and likewise got a bit of help from the deck at opportune moments. By the time it had come down to him and Tremzin – a match which was swingy in its own right – his victory had begun to feel something like fate.
When recapping a final table, I try to look for one, sometimes two pivotal hands which were either particularly interesting, or which changed the momentum and impacted the final outcome. Ensan’s journey was so full of twists and turns that it’s impossible to pick just one or two, and in fact I’m going to need a two-part article to cover it all. Today we’re going to look at how some questionable bluffs by Ensan repeatedly left him on the verge of elimination, yet how that same wild image ultimately helped him stage a comeback. Next week, I’ll look at some highlights of the five-hour heads-up struggle with Tremzin, including the controversial hand I alluded to above.
Gleb Tremzin (88 BB): Cutoff, As6s
Hossein Ensan (27 BB): Small Blind, 5s3s
Ensan came into the final table 5th in chips and got himself into trouble right off the bat. He obviously had little intention of playing tight and aiming for pay jumps, but his early aggression proved poorly-timed.
Tremzin finds a small suited Ace in the cutoff, which is of course an obligatory raise, especially at a shorthanded table. He makes it 240,000 (2.4 BB) and Olivier Ferrero folds his Button. Ensan finds Five-Three suited in the small blind and elects to make a 3-bet to 465,000, which I think is dubious.
It’s understandable that he’d want to play the hand, because everyone loves these speculative hands. Flat calling would be risky, however, because the deep stack, Ilkin Amirov, is in the big blind and if he decides to squeeze, Ensan is just lighting chips on fire. So, if he wants to play the hand, three-betting is probably the right idea, yet it’s his stack size which gives me concern.
He’s a little too deep to just shove, yet if he makes a substantial three-bet, he’ll make the pot big enough that his continuation bet will have to be a shove. So he makes a pretty tiny three-bet, to only a hair over 4.5 BB, which means Tremzin is forced to call with just about anything. That means Ensan is relying on a continuation bet to win the pot on the flop, but will have to invest over a third of his stack in the attempt.
Flop – Ah8s2s
Tremzin calls the three-bet, as he must, and the two go to a flop, which comes out Ace high and two Spades. It’s a disaster for Ensan, and there was actually a quite high probability that his tournament would have ended right here. Tremzin has an unfoldable hand with top pair and a nut flush draw, while Ensan ends up with a baby flush draw and gutshot to the wheel, all of which looks great to him, but in fact just gives him three outs to win the pot and seven to guarantee he goes bust.
Ensan leads out with a continuation bet of 450,000, which is more or less the only move, unless he wants to try to check-raise all-in. Tremzin’s call is likewise fairly inevitable; his hand is strong enough that he’d be delighted to get the chips in, but on this texture, against an opponent who three-bet preflop, he’s going to see Ensan fold far too often, and be behind a bigger Ace far too often when Ensan calls. Thus, it’s almost always better to call and try to keep Ensan bluffing with his weaker hands.
Turn – 7d
The turn is a blank and Ensan has to be very tempted to fire a second barrel, but here we see how his stack size has gotten him into trouble. There’s close to 2 million chips in the pot now, and he only has around 1.7 million left, so any bet is pot committing. Tremzin has a lot of weaker Aces in his range at this point, but it’s a toss-up whether he can fold them, yet in order to continue the bluff, Ensan would have to shove. It’s an ugly spot.
Ensan checks, and Tremzin checks back.
River – Ad
Mercifully for Ensan, no third Spade comes out, so he doesn’t get caught in a cooler situation, but at the same time, the second Ace makes it a little less likely for Tremzin to have one, and therefore tempting for Ensan to try to bluff again after all. There’s also the fact that it’s normal to size bets smaller on the river than on other streets, and now that he has only Five High, pot commitment isn’t an issue. He can therefore bet small and snap-fold to a raise and therefore doesn’t have to worry about going completely broke.
He therefore takes a shot at it with a bet of 600,000, but Joe Stapleton was not a fan of the bluff in his commentary, and neither am I. Stapleton felt that he couldn’t represent very much after checking back the turn. I’m not sure that’s entirely the case, as I could see myself reading him for a big pair like Jacks, Queens or Kings, initially worried about losing to an Ace, but feeling better once the river brings a second one out. With those hands, he could put Tremzin on some kind of Eight or small pocket pair and be going for thin value. However, for the bluff to work, he would need Tremzin to have exactly one of those kinds of hands, and for Tremzin to put him on one of those big pocket pairs. And when you need everything to be just so for a move to work, it probably won’t; Tremzin will have a weak Ace far too often, and even when he does have an Eight or small pocket pair, he may hero call anyway.
Sure enough, Tremzin calls with his trips and Ensan leaves himself with a 10 BB push-fold stack.
Thomas Butzhammer (66 BB): Button, Js7c
Hossein Ensan (35 BB): Big Blind, Qc6c
Despite having left himself crippled, Ensan quickly doubled through Ferrero (who was then eliminated on the next hand) and then turned a 3-outer against Tremzin in the following orbit to get his stack back up into a healthier range, only to get himself in trouble once more in a rather questionable manner.
Butzhammer has a rather junky hand but the best position, and so he decides to take advantage of his button with an open to 250,000, just slightly more than a minimum-raise. Tremzin gets out of the way in the small blind and Ensan’s suited Queen is more than good enough to defend his blind.
Flop – AdAc7s
The flop brings a pair of Aces and Ensan surprises everyone by leading out for 300,000, about half the pot. This is kind of a shocking move to see at this level of play, as donkbetting on an AAx flop is the kind of thing one usually associates with bad online players. It makes little sense to bet an Ace, because the board makes it very hard for your opponent to have anything, but if you don’t bet with an Ace, then you can’t represent anything if you bluff.
In terms of legitimate hands a player in Ensan’s spot would be inclined to bet with here, the most likely possibilities are small pocket pairs or a Seven, i.e. hands which are probably the best, but for which most turn cards will be bad. But even if Ensan thinks he can credibly represent these hands, Butzhammer will still be inclined to float a lot, because those are all hands Ensan can likely be made to fold on later streets.
Thus, the only rationale I can see Ensan having for betting is as a levelling move of sorts: “We all know I should never bet an Ace here, so Butzhammer knows he should call with almost everything, but if he knows that I know that he’s calling with almost everything, then maybe I am going for value with trips after all.”
Regardless of what Ensan was thinking, Butzhammer has a Seven and is never folding. He calls and they go to a turn.
Turn – 8s
The turn is a relative blank, though it makes some backdoor draws possible. Ensan elects to keep up his bluff, firing again for 720,000, over half the pot. The decision to two-barrel and his sizing makes me think that I’m correct in guessing that he’s attempting to level Butzhammer into thinking he’s taking a reverse-psychology line with trips. One has to imagine that Butzhammer is a little confused at this point, as there are now no two cards Ensan could have for which this would be a standard line, but like most players would, he decides his best option is to call down and see what’s up.
River – Ks
There are now 2.5 million chips in the pot and Ensan has just a little more than that left in his stack. The backdoor Spade draw came in, and if he was betting a hand like King-Queen for protection, he’d now have made a big pair. Thus, there’s a part of me that feels like if he was going to fire two barrels, he may as well go full crazy and jam the river.
The main problem with that idea, however, is that Butzhammer could very easily have the trips himself. After all, if leading with an Ace on this board texture is crazy, raising with one when your opponent looks like he’s trying to bluff you would be even crazier. If Butzhammer did have an Ace, he would be calling the whole way and desperately hoping that Ensan would keep firing away. It’s also hard to see what Ensan could be representing – after calling twice, it’s clear Butzhammer is never going to believe him for an Ace, but he probably wouldn’t jam with a King, so really the only hand he could hope to convince Butzhammer of would be the backdoor flush.
Ensan therefore decides to give up his bluff and just checks. You can tell that Butzhammer was a little confused by the hand, as he cut out chips for a bet at this point, thinking about turning his hand into a bluff. It’s true that after Ensan checks, one could read him for a King, so perhaps Butzhammer was wondering whether he could convince Ensan to fold one. Ultimately, though, he decides against betting and just checks back to win the pot and put Ensan back in a bit of a hole.
Gleb Tremzin (47 BB): Under the Gun, JhTs
Hossein Ensan (34 BB): Button, QdTd
As the motivational cliché goes (originally attributed to George Custer), it’s not how many times you get knocked down that counts, but how many times you get up. After spewing off a big chunk of his chips for a second time, Ensan began to build up again, only to run into a cooler on Hand #42, when an unfortunate river simultaneously gave him trips and Tremzin a flush. That cost him half his stack, but undeterred, he began chipping back up once more. Eventually, Sleven Popov fell in 5th place and the table was down to four. On the following hand, Ensan’s wild image finally paid off for him, and began the momentum shift that would ultimately carry him through to the win.
Tremzin picked up Jack-Ten offsuit under the gun, a perfectly decent hand for four-handed play. He opened to 370,000 (about 2.3 BB) and Ensan, on the button, made the unusual decision to three-bet to 635,000 with Queen-Ten suited.
It’s not unreasonable for Ensan to believe his hand is probably ahead of Tremzin’s opening range four-handed, but conventional wisdom is to have a polarized range – that is, to be clearly raising for value or clearly raising to bluff – rather than to raise with hands that are close to the middle of the opponent’s range. It’s also a hand that flops very well, particularly in position, so most players would call out of reluctance to risk having to fold to a 4-bet.
Still, the upside to three-betting is that he takes control of the hand, does a pretty good job of disguising his holdings, and sets up plenty of great semibluffing spots postflop, so it’s not terrible in my opinion, just unusual.
Flop – Jc8d7d
The flop looks pretty good for Ensan’s hand, giving him a gutshot straight and flush draw. It’s a particularly nice straight draw, as well, in that if his opponent happens to hold a Ten as well (which it turns out he does), then any Nine will give both a straight and put Ensan on the right side of a cooler, seeing as he has the Queen as well.
Of course, Ensan had his opponent dominated preflop and Tremzin has just hit a three-outer to make top pair, but Ensan knows neither of these things. Tremzin checks to him and Ensan bets 450,000. The continuation bet is of course extremely standard, but the sizing is very weird. The pot is over 1.3 million before Ensan’s bet and the texture is very wet, so you’d normally expect a player to bet at least half pot and probably more.
I suspect Ensan may have been hoping to induce a raise from Tremzin so that he could shove all-in, which is a pretty desirable outcome when holding a combo draw like this. It’s also possible that he simply wanted to keep as many chips behind as possible for either bluffing or getting value once he finds out whether he hit his draw or not.
Turn – Ac
The turn is an Ace, which is of course a tempting card to continue semi-bluffing on. And yet, when Tremzin checks, Ensan checks behind as well. Stack size may be the issue here; there’s now 2.2 million in the pot and Ensan has about 4.5 million. If he bets, say, 1 million and Tremzin shoves, he won’t be getting the correct odds to call with his draw, yet it would be a shame to fold a hand with so much potential. Ensan therefore decides that his showdown equity is worth more than the fold equity he’d have by firing a second barrel, and he decides to take the free card instead.
River – Ad
The river is perfect for Ensan, giving him the flush. It also makes his check-back on the turn look great, because with the Ace pairing, he’s now happy that he didn’t decide to represent one on the turn; the fact that Tremzin cannot easily put him on trips makes it much easier for him to get paid off.
Tremzin checks, and you would expect here that most players would be checking with the intention of calling. After all, Tremzin presumably had something to call the flop with, Ensan did not show much strength on the turn, and a second Ace falling means that from Tremzin’s perspective, Ensan is less likely to have one. The question for Ensan, then, is how much he can bet without convincing Tremzin to change his mind and fold.
Ensan decides to go huge with a bet of 2 million. I wasn’t a fan of his small bet sizes on the earlier streets, but I think going really big here is great, especially given his history at the table. If it were another player doing it, I’d say that the sizing would be suspicious, because it’s bluff-sized, yet the spot is a weird one to bluff after checking the turn. Ordinarily, that might set off warning bells, but that’s exactly where Ensan’s image pays off: He’s very well-established at this point in the day as someone who tries crazy bluffs in spots that don’t quite make sense. In fact, in the last hand we discussed, he’d specifically tried to represent trip Aces in a spot where conventional wisdom says you can’t represent trip Aces.
It’s easy to see, then, how from Tremzin’s point of view, it looks like Ensan has simply decided that a pair of Aces and a flush coming in is a great spot to represent a monster, and that he hasn’t really thought about the story he’s told on previous streets. I think that in Tremzin’s shoes, I would likely put Ensan on something like a missed gutshot, or that he’s turning a small pocket pair into a bluff, and so I would likely make the call as well.
Sure enough, after a lengthy staredown, Tremzin decides he needs to look him up and Ensan gets paid off huge. It’s enough to catapult him into a close second place, and give him the leverage he needs to make it through to heads up.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.