A $5 SNG Player Analyzes the Big Bluff at the 2018 WSOP Main Event Final Table
Two weeks ago, John Cynn was crowned the 2018 World Series of Poker Main Event Champion after a grueling final table. Heads-up play against Tony Miles lasted over 10 hours and a record-breaking 199 hands. With that many hands in heads-up alone (there were 442 hands at the final table in total), there were a lot that were not at all memorable. There were a few that were, though, and tonight I feel like looking back on one: the massive bluff by Tony Miles about two hours and forty-five minutes into the final night.
Before I proceed, I should let you know that I haven’t played poker in ages, since I live in the U.S., don’t feel like dealing with offshore sites in this day and age, and have no brick-and-mortar card rooms nearby (hooray for the South!). When I did play, I played almost every day, but I was a micro-stakes player, a $5 sit-and-go player. I was quite the nit and had an Allen Kessler-like penchant for min-cashing in multi-table tournaments. Overall, I was an okay poker player, probably about break-even, maybe slightly better because I stuck to sit-and-gos, which I was much better at than cash games.
Bottom line is, while I know plenty about poker, I am wholly unqualified to seriously analyze a hand at the final table of the WSOP. But I’m going to do it anyway.
How They Got Here
To set the stage, Miles held a gigantic chip lead going into Saturday’s action. His 238.9 million chips were more than what Cynn (128.7 million) and Michael Dyer (26.2 million) had combined. A few hands before the Big Bluff, Cynn had hit a whopper, turning a sneaky full house while Miles rivered a straight. That turned the tables and at start of the hand we are about to discuss, Cynn had more than a 2-to-1 chip lead. Miles wasn’t exactly on the ropes, as he still had about 62 big blinds, but he was definitely reeling and needed to stop the bleeding.
The Basics of the Hand
Cynn had 6♠-4♣ on the button with the big blind at 2 million and raised to 5 million pre-flop. Miles had 7♥-5♦ and called. The flop was J♦-4♦-3♥ and Miles quickly checked. Cynn, naturally, continued with a bet of 4.5 million chips, plus he had middle pair. Miles thought momentarily, checked his cards (double-checking the suits?), and called. The 3♣ was dealt on the turn, pairing the board, and Miles again checked. Cynn went ahead and bet 6.5 million, but this time, Miles check-raised him to 20 million after thinking about it for about a minute. Cynn called. The river was the K♦ and Miles fairly quickly moved all-in. If Cynn called, he would win the Main Event and would go down in history as the man who made one of the sickest calls of all time. He tanked for more than 3 minutes before finally folding.
Pre-Flop and Flop
So let’s look at what went down. Pre-flop was pretty standard. Neither player had anything, but both hands at least had straight possibilities. A small raise and a call was nothing special.
Cynn’s bet on the flop was normal, too. He paired his 4, was the pre-flop raiser, and had position. It was Miles’ call which is where things started to get interesting. He could have been thinking that with two low cards on the board, his hole cards might still be live, and combined with a gutshot straight draw, it was worth seeing another card. This also could have been the beginning of the bluff setup, which is what I would lean toward. Either way, it was certainly risky. With the call, Cynn was probably thinking Miles was on a straight or flush draw.
The turn is where Cynn went wrong, and he knew it. When Miles checked-raised, he was telling Cynn that he had a 3. A Jack was unlikely, as a) Cynn’s betting may have indicated he had a Jack, therefore making it less likely Miles did, and b) Miles probably isn’t being so bold with just top pair there (even though top pair is really good heads-up).
Cynn’s mistake (and I do feel silly critiquing the play of someone who is infinitely better than me at poker) was failing to control the size of the pot with a marginal hand, even if it was heads-up. He had quite literally the worst “made” hand he could have at that point (well, I guess if you count pocket deuces as a made hand, then second worst), so the best move would have been to check back and keep the pot small. You don’t want to have to make a big decision with a weak holding.
At the same time, I totally understand what he was doing. He was continuing his aggression from the previous betting rounds, he thought he probably had the best hand, and it looked like Miles was reeling. Plus, if Miles was on a draw, he wanted to make him pay. Cynn just didn’t expect to be check-raised out of his shoes and when he was, he realized his mistake. He even said so on the river, lamenting the fact that he didn’t check the turn.
Now, you may think, “But Cynn has the best hand, so what’s the problem?”
The problem is that even if Cynn believes he has the best hand, Miles’ actions are telling him he doesn’t, which injects a large amount of uncertainty into Cynn’s mind. He has gone from feeling very confident he had the best hand to not knowing. If you are confident, you want to play big pots. If you don’t know and are confused, you want to play small pots or not play the hand at all. Cynn not only had to start making big chip decisions with a lot of uncertainty, but he let Miles put that uncertainty into his head.
As for Miles’ move, if we weren’t sure if he was setting up the bluff on the flop, he was definitely going for the bluff now. He wasn’t check-raising so huge here because he thought he would hit some magic card. He believed Cynn was just using his momentum and stack strength to pound away, so he swung back. It is possible Miles was tilting, but if he was, he picked the right time to spew.
The river didn’t mean much to Miles as far as his bluff went. He was shoving no matter what. You don’t make the check-raise on the turn only to give up on the river.
From Cynn’s perspective, the King probably didn’t mean a whole lot, as the message was sent on the turn, but it was another card that could beat his measly fours (two pair, technically). At this point, Cynn put together the story of the hand:
Miles called his pre-flop raise, which meant almost nothing. He could have any two cards, though probably not anything really strong, or he likely would’ve re-raised. Miles check-called the flop, meaning he either had nothing, paired a 3, or was on a draw (straight and flush were possible). The most important street, the turn, produced the sizable check-raise from Miles, screaming that he had a 3. If he’s on a draw, he’s probably just calling, as he would want to see the river as cheaply as possible. If he had a Jack, there’s a solid chance he’s also just calling in an effort to not let the pot get out of hand. He also might have raised on the flop with the Jack. Bottom line was that the check-raise was broadcasting that he had trips and that if Cynn wanted to continue, he could be Miles’ guest. The river, while not meaningless, didn’t change Miles’ line, so it probably didn’t alter much for Cynn except putting another card out there that Miles could have paired if somehow he was on a draw or a bluff to that point.
It looked like Cynn thought there was a good chance Miles was bluffing. He didn’t seem to quite believe him. At the same time, he knew he set himself up for the bluff by not checking the turn and he even said out loud that he was confused. If you’re Miles, confused is good. Cynn could have called and won the Main Event, but his hand was just too weak to risk it, even if he did think he had the best hand. Cynn still would have been in decent shape had he called and lost, but there was no reason for him to be a hero, so he laid it down.
Whether he had the intention of bluffing from the get-go or saw his chance on the turn, I don’t know, but Miles pulled it off perfectly. It was as good lesson to everyone on the importance of controlling the size of the pot. In this case, Cynn didn’t and found himself in a spot where the immensity of the pot outweighed his confidence in his hand.