When Hossein Ensan won the European Poker Tour Season 12 Prague Main Event last week, I said it was impossible to pick out just one or two hands as critical turning points. He came into the final table in 5th place, and his route from being the short stack to the eventual winner was so chaotic that nearly every hand he involved himself in could be described as a turning point one way or another.
In the early going, Ensan had been trying to make a lot of big bluffs, and many of them didn’t work. Time and again, he’d leave himself short this way, only to find some way to recover. Ultimately, his wild image paid off, as he was able to get maximum value from his good hands because he’d shown so many bluffs.
His heads-up match with Gleb Tremzin followed a similar pattern. Ensan held the chip lead going into two-handed play, but that lead swung back and forth no less than six times. The two weren’t trading small leads back and forth, either; quite often, a 2-1 lead for one player would become a 2-1 lead for the other over the course of just a few hands.
One reason for the swings was bet sizing in general and especially on the river. It’s more common in live poker in general to see river bets sized relatively small in proportion to the pot, but it’s a principle of game theory that the more often you’re bluffing – or the more inclination you believe your opponent has to call – the larger you should size your bets, both to increase the changes that you can make your opponent fold when you are in fact bluffing, and to get maximum value when you’re not. Because Ensan had shown both a tendency to bluff and a tendency to call fairly light on the river, both players were incentivized to make their river bets quite large, which in turn made for a lot of big pots and thus a lot of swings in the chip stacks.
Gleb Tremzin (61 BB) – Button, KcTh
Hossein Ensan (93 BB) – Big Blind, 8s5c
This was the 11th hand of heads-up play. The two had agreed on a deal before beginning their match, splitting up most of the prize money based on their initial chip counts and leaving only €40,000 for 1st, so the table dynamic was fairly amicable.
Tremzin’s King-Ten would normally be a fine hand to raise with, and throughout heads-up play Tremzin generally raised his button more often than he limped it. He did occasionally limp, however, and usually it was with medium strength hands like this; broadway cards, suited gappers and the like. Ensan checks behind and they go to the flop cheaply.
Flop – KhQc5d
The flop is great for Tremzin and not bad for Ensan either, giving both men a pair. Ensan checks and then calls when Tremzin bet 300,000 into a pot of 450,000. Two-thirds pot is a rather large sizing for this texture, but again, Ensan had shown a tendency to call a lot, so Tremzin was likely adjusting most of his bet sizes upwards from what they would ordinarily be based on his opponent’s image. Ensan’s call is fine, as any pair is usually worth calling at least one street with in heads-up play.
Turn – 7d
Here’s where the hand gets a bit weird. The turn is a relative blank, although it makes some backdoor draws possible, and Ensan decides to lead out for 300,000, rather than checking to Tremzin again. He’s presumably trying to get to the river for a smaller amount than Tremzin would likely bet if checked to, but the trouble is that his tiny sizing – less than 30% of the pot – looks like that’s exactly what he’s trying to do. Moreover, it’s hard to see what kind of hand he thinks he’s representing. The only way the Seven could have helped him is by making him two pair, and in that case he would probably be more likely to try a check-raise. Furthermore, the draws that it makes possible don’t represent a significant part of Tremzin’s range, so it’s not credible that Ensan would suddenly decide that he needs to bet a top pair type hand for protection.
Tremzin sniffs out the blocker bet and makes a big raise for value and protection, to 1,150,000. That should be the end of things, but Ensan elects to call. Perhaps he feels that Tremzin would have raised any King preflop, and therefore is likely to be bluffing. Or perhaps he realizes that his sizing was a giveaway and feels like he’s being pushed around.
River – Kd
The river is an interesting card, because it can be seen as good or bad for Ensan, depending on what sort of range he puts Tremzin on. On the one hand, it cuts down on the number of ways that Tremzin could have a King. On the other hand, presumably if Tremzin is capable of raising the turn as a bluff, many of those bluffs will be backdoor flush draw semibluffs, and the river has completed the flush.
For that reason, I would have expected Ensan to think a bit after he checks and Tremzin fires a big bet of 2 million into about 3.3 million. Apparently, though, he had already decided when calling the turn that he would call any river bet as well. He made the call quickly and lost a huge pot. Based on this hand, it’s easy to see why Tremzin bets so large against Ensan; to have any hope of bluffing such a player, you need to make it expensive to call, and by the same token, you can bet large for value with your strong hands and still get paid off quite often by marginal holdings like bottom pair.
Gleb Tremzin (63 BB) – Button, Td8c
Hossein Ensan (62 BB) – Big Blind, 9s7h
Tremzin’s lead proved short-lived, as Ensan made trips of his own just three hands later and managed to build a large pot before Tremzin eventually managed to fold the river. Fate then swung back the other way once more, and by the time the following hand played out the two were nearly dead-even.
Tremzin raises to 600,000 (2.4 BB) with his Ten-Eight, which is fairly standard. Much less standard is Ensan’s three-bet to 1,375,000 with Nine-Seven. Heads-up, it’s not too unreasonable to three-bet sporadically with any hand in order to stay balanced, but usually one would prefer to three-bet bluff with hands that don’t flop particularly well and/or which have an Ace or King to act as a blocker. Tremzin decides that Ensan’s wild enough that he can call even with his fairly mediocre hand, and they go to a flop.
Flop – 8s4c2d
The flop comes low and rainbow, which usually means a small pot, but that was not to be. Ensan, rather than continuation betting, elects to check. Tremzin, who has made top pair, naturally decides to bet to protect his hand. This time, however, he chooses a very small sizing – 475,000 into 2.75 million.
Partly, it’s that the texture is so dry, and unlikely to have connected with Ensan’s three-betting range. Tremzin has to feel that he’s either drawing to 5 outs against an overpair, or else is well ahead and only needs to fade a 3- or 6-outer from Ensan. In this kind of situation, it’s unnecessary to bet very big, but you’d still expect a bet of maybe 800,000 or 900,000, around a third of the pot, not one-sixth.
I think probably Tremzin expects that Ensan is checking with the intention to check-raise. Since he has top pair, he’d like for that to happen, so he bets small to make it look like he’s just trying to buy the pot cheaply, and draw Ensan into trying one of his crazy multi-barrel bluffs.
Sure enough, Ensan makes a big raise, to 1.9 million, which Tremzin calls.
Turn – Ah
An Ace on the turn is probably the card Tremzin least wanted to see, since naturally Ensan’s preflop three-betting range should contain plenty of those. However, for the same reason, it’s also an irresistible card for a guy like Ensan to keep bluffing on, so Tremzin understands that he can’t just give up on his hand because of the scare card.
Ensan continues for another 2 million, into a pot now over 6 million. Tremzin calls, and probably this is another example of Ensan getting himself into trouble by failing to think about his bet sizing. After Tremzin calls the flop check-raise, he almost certainly has a pair (and, if not, then probably Ace high, and he has now hit the turn). Moreover, having called the three-bet preflop, Tremzin presumably has more Eights in his range than Fours or Deuces, so his hand is likely pretty good. By betting only one-third pot, Ensan is laying Tremzin 4-1 to call and see a river; even if Tremzin is worried about the Ace, I don’t think he can fold any Eight getting those odds.
River – Kc
At this point, Tremzin is likely hating life, and probably would actually have to fold – or at least think about folding – if Ensan just bombed the river. Instead, though, Ensan makes his bet size even smaller than the turn, a mere 1.3 million into over 10 million.
It’s hard to fathom what Ensan could be thinking with that sizing, because he’s giving Tremzin such incredible odds it makes it nearly impossible for him to fold. Perhaps he’s trying to make it look like he knows Tremzin has an Eight, and that he’s going for value and wants to be sure of getting called. If Ensan had a different image, you could imagine that working once in a while; it doesn’t matter what the pot odds are if you know for sure (or think you know for sure) that you’re beat. But Ensan only needs to be bluffing a little more than 10% of the time for Tremzin to be obliged to call, and Ensan has established himself as someone who for sure is bluffing way more than 10% no matter what the situation or the sizing of his bet.
You can see that Tremzin is at least somewhat convinced, because although he knows he can’t fold, he’s uncomfortable calling. So, instead, he shoves all-in, turning his Eight into a bluff. It makes sense, because Ensan’s small sizing looks a lot like thin value; maybe he has an Ace with a very poor kicker, or backed into a King, or maybe he even has an Eight himself, but could have Tremzin beaten on the kicker. Of course, Ensan snap-folds his Nine High and Tremzin would have won the pot either way, but I quite like his shove because it would make it pretty tough for Ensan to call, with the entire tournament on the line, with just a weak Ace or a King.
Hossein Ensan (23 BB) – Button, 5d4c
Gleb Tremzin (80 BB) – Big Blind, AsKc
Shortly before this hand, Ensan had found himself at his worst chip disadvantage of heads-up play, after Tremzin had turned second trips against Ensan’s top pair top kicker. Ensan had proceeded to rally somewhat over the next few hands. On Hand #149, just before the hand we’re looking at, he’d made a highly unorthodox flop shove in a limped pot, for several times the amount in the pot, which had gotten through. Even so, Ensan was still at nearly a 4-1 chip disadvantage and needed to make something big happen.
Ensan has a weak hand, but it being heads-up, raising any two cards is reasonable. Tremzin finds a premium hand in Ace-King and makes a 3-bet to 1.6 million, about 5.3 big blinds. Ensan’s stack being what it is, he should likely fold, but as we know, he’s a player who doesn’t like to fold. He calls.
Flop – 5c5s4h
The flop comes out and suddenly Ensan has a full house. Tremzin decides to check, as the board texture makes it hard for him either to get worse hands to call or better hands to fold. Ensan wisely decides to slowplay, so he checks as well.
Turn – 8s
The turn is the Eight of Spades, making a flush draw possible and potentially completing a straight if someone were holding Seven-Six. Tremzin checks again, presumably hoping to get to showdown cheaply and maybe induce a small bluff. Ensan realizes that Tremzin isn’t going to be putting chips in the pot on his own, so elects to stop slowplaying.
He bets, but he sizes it small in order to make it easy for Tremzin to call. His bet is 700,000 into 3.3 million, and for once it seems like his sizing is well-considered; it makes the pot 4.7 million after Tremzin’s call, and leaves Ensan just slightly more than that behind. Ensan would definitely like to get all his chips in on the river if he can, and when that’s the plan, arranging things so that your stack and the pot are approximately the same size is usually a good idea.
River – Td
The river is a blank, Tremzin checks again and Ensan makes a show of counting out some chips and seeming to consider his bet sizing, before finally announcing all-in. Tremzin thinks for about 40 seconds and then calls. Ordinarily, this would be an extremely difficult call to make, but it’s another example of how Ensan’s wild image works for him at times; Tremzin presumably knows he could be beat, but also knows that Ensan cannot resist trying to bluff in big pots when his opponent is checking. Thus, Tremzin feels obliged to call and Ensan gets a full double-up from his miracle flop and is right back in the match.
Gleb Tremzin (53 BB) – Button, 8s4d
Hossein Ensan (48 BB) – Big Blind, Qh5s
The swings didn’t stop there. After the above hand, Ensan managed to pull ahead, but then it was Tremzin’s turn to rally until they were back to even once more. At that point, one of the more bizarre hands not just of the tournament, but of the year played out.
Things start out quietly enough. Both players have fairly weak holdings. Tremzin had usually been raising with his worse hands, but here he decides to limp, and Ensan checks his option.
Flop – AhTc5d
The flop is of no help to Tremzin, but Ensan does manage to make bottom pair. He checks and Tremzin checks back. You’d normally expect Tremzin to take a shot at the pot, seeing as he has no showdown equity, but perhaps he feels, based on earlier hands, that Ensan will never believe he could have an Ace in his limping range.
Turn – 2h
The turn is a Deuce, and when Ensan checks a second time, it’s enough to convince Tremzin to take a shot after all. For one thing, it does give him some actual equity in the form of a backdoor straight draw, and it also gives him a few more things he can represent if Ensan believes he’s mostly limping with low cards. Finally, it also makes a flush draw possible, meaning there will be more bluffing opportunities on the river. Tremzin bets 400,000 into 700,000 and Ensan quickly calls.
River – 6h
The river completes the hypothetical flush and now Ensan makes another of his weird moves, suddenly deciding to lead out for 400,000. It looks like a blocking bet, and Ensan’s hand is such that he could be hoping to get to showdown cheaply. However, if we think back on some of the other hands we’ve looked at – #94 and #106 above – it’s clear that Tremzin almost always raises when Ensan makes an unusually small bet; possibly a reflex built up through his online career.
I would wager that Ensan was thinking about those hands and that tendency at this point. We’ll never know whether he threw out the blocking bet reflexively and only remembered what had happened the last time once he saw Tremzin’s raise, or whether the plan had been an elaborate reverse-bluff from the start, inducing Tremzin to bluff-raise so that Ensan could come back over the top and bluff him instead. Either way, that’s what Ensan did, putting in another 2.5 million to make it 4.8 million total.
This is where the hand goes from interesting to legendary. Ensan pushes out his raise without a word and Tremzin, failing to count the stacks, assumes it’s a call. “Good call,” he says. Ensan mishears and asks “You call?” Tremzin, presumably also mishearing, nods.
Ensan says “you’re good, I only have Five.” Tremzin, still thinking that it was he who’d been called, shows his Eight High. Ensan then asks the dealer to count out the extra chips he’s won, and Tremzin is confused. Once the situation becomes clear, he points out that he’d never have called with Eight High, and explains that he said “good call,” not “I call.”
The floor is eventually summoned, but Ensan relents at this point. Once the heat of the moment has passed, he realizes that Tremzin must be telling the truth, that he would in fact never call with Eight High. An ugly situation is thereby averted, and the hand instead goes down as just one more absurd and comical moments at what was arguably the year’s most entertaining final table from a spectator’s point of view.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.