November Nine: Don’t Three-Barrel McKeehen
The 46th Annual World Series of Poker has now reached its ultimate conclusion, with the November Nine finding its nearly-inevitable winner in Joseph McKeehen last night. McKeehen had entered the final table with a third of all the chips in play and managed to double his stack on the first night, this Sunday. From there, it only took him 41 hands to finish off his remaining two opponents, Josh Beckley and Neil Blumenfield.
No one but Beckley ever looked to be catching up on McKeehen, and even at the peak of his hot streak partway through the second day, his stack was barely 60% of the latter’s. Overall, the tone of the final table was of eight players all vying for second, and this was especially evident on the final day of play.
The one player who seemed, at times, to be shooting for the win, was the amateur Neil Blumenfield, but his willingness to get sporadically out of line ultimately cost him an over-$1 million pay jump; he’d entered the final day with a slight chip lead over Beckley, but lost about a third of his stack on a huge bluff gone wrong. Echoes of that hand were seen later on, after Blumenfield had busted, as during their heads-up match, Beckley likewise attempted a three-barrel bluff on McKeehen, to no better effect.
Coincidentally, both Blumenfield and Beckley chose nearly the same hand to try it with: Queen-Eight offsuit for Blumenfield, Queen-Seven for Beckley. Although neither of these hands resulted directly in elimination, both can be seen as breaking points beyond which neither player recovered, nor even won a significant pot.
Joe McKeehen: Small Blind, KcTs
Neil Blumenfield: Big Blind, Qh8d
McKeehen completes from the small blind rather than raising with his broadway hand. There are a few likely reasons for this; it’s a hand that flops well heads-up, limping under-represents his strength, and it’s a hand that’s kind of borderline when facing a 3-bet blind-vs.-blind against a player like Blumenfield, so he’d rather avoid that scenario. He’s also got a better skill edge postflop against Blumenfield than against Beckley, so guaranteeing that they see a flop and keeping the stack-to-pot ratio high has some intrinsic value.
In Blumenfield’s situation, it may be that checking his option is best for similar reasons – it’s a decent hand, but not great if you get 3-bet – but McKeehen had been known to raise most of his stronger hands rather than complete with them in the small blind, so perhaps Blumenfield assumed even a mediocre Queen was likely to be the best hand. Whatever the reason, he elects to put in a raise to 3 million (3 big blinds), which McKeehen of course calls.
The flop comes T-6-3 with two Clubs and a Diamond, a complete whiff for Blumenfield, but top pair for McKeehen. McKeehen checks and, in my opinion, Blumenfield should check back, despite having very little showdown value. My reasoning is that if he raised preflop in the belief that most of McKeehen’s range would be two cards worse than a Queen, then this flop texture makes it very difficult for McKeehen not to have at least a small pair or a straight draw of some sort, both of which he’ll call with. Nonetheless, Blumenfield decides to make a continuation bet, and McKeehen happily calls.
The turn is a 7 of Diamonds, which is an unfortunate card for Blumenfield, given that McKeehen is not going anywhere. It gives Blumenfield some river outs in the form of a gutshot, while also making the board very draw-heavy in general and a scare card likely on the river. These facts combine to make it very tempting to turn what was probably originally going to be a one-shot stab into a multi-barrel bluff, which Blumenfield does, firing another 3.5 million into a pot of around 13 million.
McKeehen would be unlikely to fold top pair for any amount, but this sizing looks all wrong to me; it’s hard for Blumenfield to have anything better than, say, Ace-Ten or an overpair, given the low board, but McKeehen’s range should be full of draws in Blumenfield’s mind. Thus, with a strong but vulnerable hand, he would be betting larger for protection. I suspect McKeehen would have called even with, say, a Six for this reason, while he may have folded such a hand to a larger sizing.
The river brings the Five of Clubs, completing both the flop flush draw and a possible straight, although unfortunately not Blumenfield’s. McKeehen once again checks and Blumenfield cannot resist firing a third barrel, another 7 million into 20 million. Although not a huge bet, this is larger in proportion to the pot than what he bet on the turn, so again, his sizing works against him.
More important than sizing, though, is that by firing every street, Blumenfield has made his value range quite narrow. He’s extraordinarily unlikely to have a hand containing a Four – unless it’s a pair of Fours, perhaps – so the straight is more or less impossible. A small turn and large river sizing likewise eliminates top pair and overpair possibilities, whereas a large bet on the turn and a smaller one on the river could potentially have looked like a thin value attempt. That leaves only flushes and bluffs, and Blumenfield had checked a nut flush draw on the turn against McKeehen the day before. With all this taken into account, the call was not too difficult for McKeehen to make despite the board texture. He dragged a huge pot for himself, sending Blumenfield down the path to eventual 3rd place elimination in the process.
Josh Beckley: Small Blind/Dealer, Qc7s
Joe McKeehen: Big Blind, Jh8h
This was the sixth hand of heads-up play. McKeehen had won four of the other five. The one Beckley had won had been a decent-sized pot, which he’d taken down with a turn gutshot semibluff, but he’d given all those chips back on the following hand, when McKeehen sniffed out his light preflop 3-bet and pulled off a 4-bet bluff of his own with Seven-Five offsuit. Beckley was surely feeling frustrated, and that winning against McKeehen was not going to be possible without either pulling off a few big moves or getting extremely lucky.
Beckley’s raise with Queen-Seven is pretty normal, as it’s a pretty average hand with which he neither minds getting called with, nor stealing the blinds, nor folding to a 3-bet. McKeehen’s flat call with his suited two-gapper is likewise totally natural, as it’s too good a hand heads-up to turn into a bluff, yet not strong enough to 3-bet for value.
As he has throughout the final table and, indeed, the tournament, McKeehen flops the world, with the dealer turning over two more Jacks and a Six, with two Spades and a Club for the suits. McKeehen checks, of course, and Beckley makes a tiny continuation bet of 1.2 million into 4 million – a small sizing being normal on this kind of board where it’s hard for either player to have much. McKeehen just calls.
The turn is the Three of Clubs, once again making all sorts of draws possible in a situation where McKeehen wants his opponents to be bluffing. He checks, and Beckley obligingly throws in another 3.5 million. McKeehen takes his time and then calls, trying to sell Beckley on the possibility that he’s holding not a Jack, but a Six.
The river is the Nine of Clubs, completing the backdoor flush, and once again, McKeehen checks. As was the case in Blumenfield’s hand, Beckley finds himself in a situation where he has virtually no showdown value, but too many chips in the pot to be happy surrendering. And once again, it’s not as great a spot to bluff as it appears; McKeehen’s certainly never folding trips heads-up, but if he only had a Six and was planning on surrendering the river on any Club or Spade, would he have bothered calling the turn? Usually, if a good player is calling the turn with a marginal hand, out of position, when scare cards make up a huge percentage of the deck, it’s because they’re planning on gritting their teeth and hero-calling the river as well.
But Beckley can’t resist. He fires a final 3.2 million into 8.8 million and gets snap called. Less than ten hands later, he loses a coin flip with pocket Fours to McKeehen’s Ace-Ten to seal the deal and make McKeehen 2015’s Main Event champion.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.