A Crucial Hand: A Closer Look At Seidel’s Big Call

A Crucial Hand: A Closer Look At Seidel’s Big Call

This is an column I write for Epic Poker detailing a key hand between Erik Seidel and Chino Rheem. To see details of the hand, click here: http://www.epicpoker.com/broadcast-information/main-event-key-hands.aspx

Poker’s beauty lies in the unknown. In poker, each movement from your opponent represents a characteristic, each expression a plot element, each bet a chapter, each hand dealt an entire novel. Through the course of the careers of Chino Rheem and Erick Seidel, they have amassed a library of information, each tale having a dramatic effect on their perception of each other. In the following hand, it was a lifetime of reading that led to one of the most spectacular displays of talent that our game has to offer.

Preflop – Seidel (raise)

Seidel opens the cutoff, which he will do with a wide range of hands. How wide depends on what he thinks of the three-betting frequencies of those yet to act. Because he’s risking 70,000 to win 70,000 (the blinds and antes) combined with his likely positional advantage after the flop, raising is good. However, against an extremely aggressive button like Chino, there is cause to worry.

Preflop – Chino (call)

Although you could argue for 3-betting, I prefer Chino’s decision to call. With a hand like Q-T that he can play for value, it is counterproductive, because his opponent calls with stronger hands and weak folds weaker ones. It also opens the door for a creative four-bet from Seidel, which puts Chino in a bind. For a three-betting range, Chino should be fairly polarized, reraising only with hands he’s willing to Put Erik all-in preflop ( 9-9+ and A-Js+) and complete garbage (K-3, 8-6, J-4s, etc.)

Flop – Seidel (bet)

On a dry flop like Ac-Ah-Kd the likelihood of both players having strong holdings is remote. Rheem’s holding ranges from 8-7o to A-A, roughly 40% of the deck. Seidel, smart enough to know this, bet the flop, representing a premium hand. Although you could argue for check-folding to a player as aggressive as Chino, continuing with flop aggression is good for range balancing and leads to a direct win a large percentage of the time.

Flop – Chino (call)

Although Chino knows Seidel will continue the majority of the time here, he fears Seidel’s hand more than Seidel fears his. Folding is always an option, but Chino didn’t get this far by being passive. Although a raise can win the pot directly and severely limit Seidel’s options, he represents a minuscule portion of the deck. The hands he would raise for value, namely those with an ace, he would most likely flat-call on the flop, both for range balancing and to induce further bluffs from Seidel or get value from inferior hands. Perhaps most relevant, if Chino has a hand like Q-J, Q-T or J-T, it is still the best hand. (Q-T, of course, is Chino’s actual hand but at this point, his actual hand is less important than what he is representing.) Unless Seidel has an ace or a king, even if Chino’s hand is inferior he gives himself a chance, by calling, to improve or outplay Erik. With this in mind, I really this call by Chino, not just with this particular hand, but his entire range.

Turn – Seidel (bet)

Seidel’s small turn bet (40% of the pot) serves two purposes: to protect against free cards and maintain control of the hand. If Chino called the flop with a hand like QJ, JT or QT, he has thirteen outs against a pair of sevens, roughly one-third of the deck. Checking puts Seidel in a tough spot because Chino will inevitably bet, both with his floats and hands that dominate Seidel, forcing him to fold. In other words, a check from Seidel allows Chino to play perfectly against him. You could still argue for a check here, simply because Seidel should never get called by a worse hand. I disagree. Against a player as aggressive and tricky as Chino, I like his bet, and particularly his sizing. Finally, Seidel also bets this way with his strong made hands, which serves as a way to merge his range.

Turn – Chino (raise)

Chino broke one of poker’s golden rules. Know your opponent. This maneuver may work against inferior players, but Seidel is no guppy. Chino calls the flop hoping Seidel will check the turn. Once Seidel bets, Chino’s must consider how often Seidel is bluffing. Presumably this frequency is low for Seidel must fear that Chino is holding an ace or a king. For Rheem, folding is standard. The two arguments for not folding the turn are weak: (a) It will likely result in the final action in the hand which allows him to play near perfectly on the river, and (b) he could improve to the best hand. But against a potential strong holding from Seidel, it is not enough. Raising is even more controversial.

When Chino raises, consider the hands he is representing. You can narrow this even further by excluding many hands containing an ace (as he sometimes raises those on the flop). As played, he would almost certainly call, to both control the size of the pot and because very few cards help Seidel to improve. With his super premium hands, 7-7+, he would also call to induce action. When Chino raises here, the majority of his hands are complete bluffs. To Rheem’s credit, he correctly discerned that Seidel was weak. Unfortunately, Seidel’s just too good.

Turn – Seidel (call)

Seidel’s read is absolutely brilliant.

River – Seidel (check)

A check on the river is mandatory from Seidel, a play he should be doing 100% of the time. If Chino’s bluffing, he must let him continue. If he’s beat, he gives himself the option to re-evaluate. This is just basic math for Seidel.

River – Chino (bet to put Seidel all-in)

Chino put himself in a tough spot. To successfully bluff, he must consider what hands Seidel is calling a raise on the turn but folding to a shove on the river. Seidel’s particular hand is the absolute worst he can have and given that he is still calling the river with that, bluffing is a mistake. (It’s important to note that there is no difference between a pair of sevens and KQ, because from Seidel’s point of view, both beat only bluffs but lose to any ace).

Much of the reason I dislike Rheem’s raise on the turn is it leads to poker’s equivalent of compounding interest. Chino credit, if any, comes from his optimism that Seidel will conclude that nobody in their right mind would bluff here and his undying faith that Erik will fold. Chino has given Erik essentially the same decision he gave him on the turn. Even though Erik previously called, putting Chino on a bluff, Chino is hoping Seidel will second-guess that earlier call, especially because it requires him to call all-in.

River – Seidel (call)

In the same way that Chino committed to his river decision on the turn, so too must Seidel with his action, given that Chino could be bluffing the turn. His brilliance, a marriage of hand reading and physical observation is something all pros practice. This call, however, was for his tournament life, at the final table, with every payout difference being significant. Most pros would rather risk all their chips betting than calling, but Erik had the confidence in himself to make a call under the most possible pressure


As extensive as the concepts are, the combined hand reading is always a distant second from sheer intuition. In any battle, instinct trumps all. This was a hand that critics, pros and fans alike, will remember, analyze, and debate before finally shaking their heads and saying, “unbelievable.” These rare examples inspire us not only to play the game, but to improve.

Chino shouldn’t lose much sleep. It’s not that he did everything wrong, Seidel just did everything right. This hand showed Seidel at his best, not Chino at his worst. Still, it was to Chino’s credit that when he found himself heads-up for the championship with Seidel, he could get past losing this hand, learn from it, and eventually win the tournament.

“The problem with chess,” Tom Dwan said to me, “is that it is a solved game.” Poker can never be truly mastered because the decisions are contingent on people. Where robots struggle, humans prevail. Math leaves no compression for the emotion of tilt. So long as emotions dictate our actions, poker will remain a puzzle. Constant in mystery, changing in style, eternal in appeal.

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