In poker forums and social media across the Web, certain hands become YouTube fan favorites for the combination of play and personality on display. A recent hand between Vanessa Selbst and Kevin MacPhee at a European Poker Tour event in Berlin has become especially popular because of the wild play and wild talk that went on throughout the hand.
The blinds were 4,000-8,000, and the table was seven-handed with about 60 players left in the tournament. Selbst, first to act, raised to 17,000 with 4s 4d, and when it folded around to MacPhee on the button, he reraised to 37,000 with Ac 9h.
The players in the blinds folded, and the action returned to Selbst, who thought only briefly before reraising to 79,000. MacPhee then quickly five-bet it to 131,000.
Selbst took a moment to regard her own stack, then asked her opponent how much his contained. MacPhee withdrew his arms from the table to reveal the size of his stack. Selbst then calmly announced she was all in.
MacPhee began the hand with 425,000 and had already invested nearly one-third of it. But he delayed for a moment and began talking out loud about how he was probably committed to the hand, and that it was likely he dominated some of Selbt’s range. In other words, MacPhee thought there was a chance Selbst was holding ace-rag suited.
As MacPhee rambled, his girlfriend, poker pro Liv Boeree, watched closely from the rail. In addition to being MacPhee’s girlfriend, Boeree is also a close friend of Selbst. The three of them often spend time together, so each has a good idea of the other’s playbook.
Eventually, MacPhee settled on a call, but not before saying his intention had been to “snap,” as in snap-call. Upon seeing his A-9, Selbst told him she thought it should have been a “snap-fold.”
The board came Ad 8s 6h Qd As, giving MacPhee the hand. Selbst, visibly irritated, went to the rail to speak to Boeree, lamenting that MacPhee seemed to always go after her in the major tournaments. Selbst pronounced his call to be “the worst play ever.”
It’s true that players often pass up likely coin-flip scenarios where they give away equity by not getting the money in. And it’s even possible that MacPhee was correct to get his money in with ace-nine against Selbst since he already had so much invested. But sometimes players make the mistake of getting overcommitted in marginal spots by not considering their bet-sizing and their opponent’s likely bet-sizing, as well as their own stack size.
If MacPhee had begun the hand with 600,000, as opposed to 425,000, it would have been much more risky for Selbst to shove over a raise of 131,000. MacPhee’s five-bet was still large enough that Selbst didn’t have many options beyond shoving or folding (although some players will make a minimum reraise). As it turned out, with MacPhee having 425,000 in his stack, choosing to five-bet just about committed him to the hand and forced him to play a huge pot with ace-nine.
And of course, you have to know your opponent. Selbst is going to go to war preflop far more often than many of the old-school players, who only get into reraising battles when they’re certain of their hands. But that unwillingness to play preflop Russian Roulette often prevents those players from gaining value with their strong hands, leading them to bleed away as the tournament continues.
Tony Dunst is a poker pro and host of “Raw Deal” on World Poker Tour telecasts.