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Derk’s blog » Blog Archive » Breaking down the A9 call of Russell Thomas

Breaking down the A9 call of Russell Thomas

October 30, 2012 | 4:35 am | Derk

I have been working with Russell Thomas the past couple of months on short stack play and ICM issues.  I am doing an entire series of videos about my work with him over on PokerVT.com where I make poker training videos. You can also check out more of his training he did with Jason Somerville and other pros here on Youtube.

There weren’t many spots where Russell was truly short or had to deal with short stack shoves, but I did want to break down the math of his A9 call, because at first glance a lot of people think it’s not a good call, but I immediately thought it was probably OK.

The stacks were like this:

Greg Merson: 88,425,000

Jesse Sylvia: 62,825,000

Russell Thomas: 15,900,000

Jake Balsiger: 30,825,000

Blinds are 300,000/600,000 with a 75,000 ante.

It folds to Russell in the SB who opens to 1,500,000, Jake moves all-in from the BB, and Russell calls.

When I was watching the hand in real time, I was pretty convinced that Russell would fold.  He took a minute or two to call, and in my work with Russell, he was pretty quick and accurate with his ranges.  Granted, things change at the final table, but I feel like the length of time he spent on the call indicated it was the bottom of his range.

In the press conference afterwards, Russell said that he figured Jake would shove any ace, any broadway, and likely some suited connectors.  I think against a decent online player, this is probably a fairly good range.  Things do change at the final table of the Main Event, so it’s possible that Jake was tighter.  I do think we can also discount monsters from Jake’s range.  I doubt he would just simply shove with a hand like AA or KK.  Let’s do some analysis now:

    Russell A9o call analysis

Russell A9o call analysis

This is the “base” situation, which I’ve set up to be even tighter than Russell thought Jake was shoving.  I’ve had to move stacks around and adjust the blinds to deal with the raise/3-bet shove/call decision scenario, and I’ve adjusted edge to -0.15 here, mainly because ICM overvalues short stacks.  If you want more details on using SNGWiz, how to use it for complicated situations like this, and how to adjust for edge, then you can check my videos at PokerVT.com.

As you can see from the picture, A9o is a call, and it suggests he can call even a few hands wider than that, including A8o+, A7s+, KQs, and 33+.

Doing some further analysis, regardless of if AA/KK is in Jake’s shoving range, then Jake needs to be folding the worst aces (A2o-A4o), 22, KJo, QJs, and K9s for this to be a fold from Russell.  If Russell was correct about Jake’s range being wider, then his call is actually a lot better and he could call most aces and broadway stuff like KJo+ profitably.

There is perhaps one situation where this could be considered a fold.  Due to the fact that there’s real life changing money here at the final table, one can reasonably choose to be tight and wait for a really good situation.  We decrease variance by doing this, but we also decrease our earnings.  So, I think if Russell was taking this into consideration then he could have folded everything but something like AT+ and 77+, and that’s with Jake modeled as being tighter than Russell thought he was. Still, A9 is very close to this range, so even taking the utility value of money into account, this would be a very small error at best.  Making this decision is simply personal preference — one is more profitable and the other is ostensibly less variance.

All in all, I’m proud of the way Russell played.  Congrats to him for winning $2.9 million!

One Response to “Breaking down the A9 call of Russell Thomas”

  • October 30, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    Gideon said:


    Thanks for posting this… great read! This situation seems so unique within the ME context that I would feel like Balsiger’s range is much harder to determine than in a “normal” tournament against an average competent reg. I could picture him shoving fairly wide (basically about a game-theory optimal range… or even wider if he thinks getting looked up is much less likely because of the stakes) or being really tight and only shoving a real value range (something like AJ+/66+) simply because the stakes are so high and pay jumps so significant… I guess knowing he got coaching from Timex, you have to lean towards him not being oddly tight there… and I guess you have to just range him as well as you can and go for it… really interesting spot though (for what would normally be a fairly standard spot)!

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