Dara O’Kearney: A Divergence From Theory at the WSOP

  • The hand took place in the final event of the series, the last 1k freezeout
  • I have J-T and the flop comes Q-9-8 so I raise his 1,100 bet to 3,200
  • Turn comes 8 of clubs and he calls my 4,000 bet after enormous reluctance
  • River comes K and I went against the shove, deciding to bet half his stack
Theory and practice
Irish poker pro Dara O’Kearney has explained a divergence from theory in a hand during the WSOP. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

My most talked about hand

Several hands I played this year at the World Series of Poker (WSOP) were reported with varying degrees of accuracy, but one hand, in particular, led a lot of my elite friends to question my play. I thought that provided an opportunity for me to give my reasons for that divergence from theory.

I start the hand with 22,500 (just over 56 bbs)

The hand comes from my final event of the series, the last 1k freezeout. The blinds are 200/400 with a 400 big blind ante and I start the hand with 22,500 (just over 56 bbs).

A loose recreational opens to 800 under the gun playing roughly the same stack as me. It folds to me in the small blind and I have J♦️ T♦️. I call and the big blind folds.

Notes on the opponent

Before I go any further let me share a couple of specific preliminary reads I already had on my opponent.

1. Preflop he mixes sizes that seem to correlate to hand strength. He uses smaller sizes for weak hands, and bigger sizes for strong hands.

2. Postflop he bets too much with the betting lead, and similarly mixes sizes. Small tends to be weaker value or bluffs, big tends to be stronger value he thinks needs protection.

3. He doesn’t like folding to small bets and raises, but will fold his many weak holdings to bigger bets. For example, he had defended 9-2o against a button min raise, and then check called a small bet on a Q-4-3 board with a flush draw present.

Flop comes

Q❤ 9♠️ 8♦️

I check and he bets 1,100.

Theory: With the nuts we definitely want to raise: the only question is how much. The solver mixes three different sizes: just under three times the bet size, just under four times, and just over five times. Of these, it uses 4x the most frequently, which makes sense as this size allows us to get all in by the river without overbetting, but isn’t so big our opponent will fold most of the time.

the smallest raise I was reasonably confident he would fold almost nothing to

Practice: In practice, I raised to 3,200, the smallest raise I was reasonably confident he would fold almost nothing to. At this point, I have the nuts and I’m just trying to milk him. He does call.

Turn comes


Theory: The solver now mostly bets 80% of the pot. When it doesn’t it checks. This is because it has a lot of weaker hands that have to check on this card as they’re no longer strong enough to bet for value (most of our Qx and 9x). We need to protect these weaker checks by sometimes checking stronger hands like J-T.

Practice: In practice, I’m not concerned with protecting my checking range against what I perceive as weaker opposition. I just want to try to win the maximum with my hand. I know I’m supposed to bet big but given my read that he would fold too much to a big bet, I decided the best way to proceed was with a small bet. I’m now targeting his Qx and maybe some weaker hands that have a gutshot so I bet 4K, the amount I think those hands will call. He does call after a while, with enormous apparent reluctance.

River comes


Theory: Solver mostly checks this card which improves more of my opponent’s hands than mine, and when it doesn’t it splits between small bets (protecting weaker hands that want to blocker bet) and shoves (to maximize value).

I was convinced I was up against a weak Queen at best

Practice: This is the street many of my elite friends were convinced I messed up, believing the shove to be mandatory (interestingly, the solver does not bear this out). In practice, I completely ruled out checking thinking my opponent will nearly always check behind (and like on the turn I’m not worried about protecting weaker checks), and I didn’t like the shove either. Faced with the most reluctant of sigh calls on the turn, I was convinced I was up against a weak Queen at best. I was fairly convinced my opponent would fold all of these to a shove (a very common tendency you see in weaker live players is they call every river bet size too frequently except all in, which they overfold to), so I bet exactly half his remaining stack, 5k, trying to exploit the tendency to call small bets too much, hoping for another sigh call.

After a long tank, he did make the call and I scooped the pot against his unrevealed holding.

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