Ellie Biessek: playing with fire

Grosvenor Poker Pro Ellie Biessek has come up against a lot of wild cards in live tournaments, but write them off at your own risk – they’re dangerous, thinking, players

Some people play poker for the fun of the game, but most players are trying to win and they’re always on the lookout for the perfect strategy. ‘Perfect strategy’ is a very vague term though. What works for Phil Ivey will most likely not work for you. Some people play a loose aggressive style and are very successful at it, others play a tight game and that works for them.

But there are also what I like to call ‘wild cards’ – players who seem to play an unorthodox game like calling three-bets with T-3s out of position. They always get criticised but they’ve also got enough results in the bag to suggest that there might be more method to their madness than it seems at first glance.

Let me give you some hand examples where you get to play against our unorthodox player – I’ll leave his cards a mystery for now. You can try and guess what he has in each example.

Example 1 – blinds are 1200/2400/ a300 (nine handed)

UTG+2 is a guy with a loose passive image who opens to 5.1k out of a 120k stack with Sevens. The wild card in middle position three-bets to 18k and everyone folds to UTG+2 who calls. The flop is 2-5-3 rainbow and the original raiser checks.

Now the unexpected happens – our wild card, who has about 200k, jams all-in 

You’d be hard pressed to find a poker book that would describe that move as good with any two cards, so how can you guess what you’re up against? What would you do with Sevens here?

Example 2 – blinds are 4,000/8,000/ a1,000 (nine- handed)

Our wild card makes it 22k from UTG+1 from a 585k stack. So far he’s called an all-in shove twice with A-8o and managed to win one of them. He has been playing mediocre cards and hasn’t shown a premium hand once.

SB is a chip leader with 760k who seems to be playing a loose aggressive game successfully. He decides to call with A-Jo. The flop comes T♦-5♥-4♠ and the SB checks. The wild card bets out 100k into the 61k pot. SB calls and the turn is the 9♣. The SB checks and our wild card moves all-in for 463k into the 261k pot. The SB only has A-Jo but would you call here with Sevens? How about Jacks?

Example 3 – blinds are 5,000/10,000/a1,000

Our chip leader from the previous hand has just knocked someone out to increase his stack to 1.1m. He opens to 22k from UTG with A♠-2♠. Our wild card, who is now up to 728k, calls from the hijack and everyone else folds. The flop comes 7♠-5♣-4♥ and UTG c-bets 55k into the 67k pot and gets called.

The turn is the 5♠. UTG checks and our wild card bets 135k into 177k pot. UTG calls. The river is the 4♣ and UTG checks. The wild card now jams his remaining 516k into the 447k pot. Would you call here? How about if you had Jacks?

Try to make your decisions before reading on. Finding it difficult? That’s my point exactly! Wild cards like this are not scared of putting on maximum pressure to make your decisions as difficult as possible. It’s precisely why they’re so hard to play against.

Take the first example. What cards would you like to have to make the call? It’s pretty easy if you have a set but unfortunately they’re pretty rare.

What do you do with an overpair? In the hand the original raiser tanked for ages before folding his Sevens face up. He was shown 5-8o for a very weak holding preflop that turned into a weak top pair on the flop.

What would you do in the second example if you had Sevens? Is there an overpair that you would call with? If you decided to go with Queens then you wouldn’t be happy with the outcome as our wild card had Kings this time.

How about the third example? Would you call with Ace high? Would you call with an overpair? Eight-high would have been good enough as the wild card had a counterfeited underpair – Threes.

Wild style

All the hands I’ve described here actually happened and our wild card player is a well known regular on the UK live scene with lots of good results. His style is unorthodox and many players would describe it as ‘so bad’, but if you think about it deeper there is logic to his madness.

Players like this are fearless and are willing to put all their chips on the line to put the maximum pressure on you.

How do you play against this sort of player? Although this might be an oversimplification, high boards usually hit the aggressor range, while middle and low flops hit the caller range. This type of player, more than others, will put the pressure on the board that favours their range. Since they can apply pressure whenever you show any type of weakness, slowplaying can be very profitable.

Many players make the mistake of waiting for a huge hand, thinking that they will get paid off. But, if they show significant strength, wild cards simply get out of the way. Because of that, you can occasionally bluff in situations when you think the wild card will assume you must have him beat. Even they realise that if you are willing to put your stack in versus someone who appears to be crazy, you must have a premium hand. But be warned – playing against wild cards isn’t for the faint of heart!


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