Hand of the Week: A Monster That Isn’t Necessarily the Nuts

A set of kings is a monster, usually. But by the river it isn’t necessarily the nuts.

At the most expensive poker tournament of last year – the $300,000 Super High Roller Bowl – experienced amateur Talal Shakerchi hits a third king on the river.

But this potentially fills up a straight for his opponent, pro player Connor Drinan, who gets both lucky and unlucky at the same time.

Flop to River

We’re in the early stages of the highest buy-in poker tournament of 2016 that was open to both professional and amateur players.

The $300,000 Super High Roller Bowl drew renowned pros like Erik Seidel and Phil Galfond but also wealthy and tough amateurs like John Morgan, Kathy Lehne and Cary Katz.

Another player that falls into that category is Talal Shakerchi – a famed hedge fund manager who also happens to have won the SCOOP main event for $1.5m.

In this hand he has 250,000 chips. The blinds are 1000/2000/200 and Shakerchi opens from first position with    

He raises to 4,200 and gets only one call from Connor Drinan (230,000 chips) who sits in middle position. This brings up the pot to 12,200 with the effective stacks being 226,000.

The flop is       Shakerchi bets 6,500 and Drinan calls. The pot is up to 25,200 with the effective stacks being 220,000. 

The turn is the   Shakerchi bets 13,200 and Drinan raises to 35,000. Shakerchi calls, growing the pot to 95,200 with effective stacks now being 185,000.

The river is the   Shakerchi checks, Drinan bets 40,000 and Shakerchi calls almost instantly. He wins the pot of 175,200 with top set. Drinan held     Here’s the complete hand in a video clip:


A dramatic hand for both the players and the audience, who could see the hole cards.

Call oder Raise

Call or raise?

Let’s take a closer look with a special focus on whether Shakerchi missed out on more chips on the river.

Pre-flop, the action is pretty standard – Shakerchi raises with the second-best starting hand in Texas Hold’em and gets a call.

Professional players sometimes like to play a lot of hands early in a tournament but Drinan’s range is still pretty strong. It has a lot pf pairs and Broadway cards in it plus a couple of suited connectors like J-Ts or 9-8s.

On the flop, Shakerchi usually has the best hand and he can get value from a lot of weaker hands — for example pairs like J-J, 8-8, 7-7 and from different sorts of draws like overcards, straight draws with Q-J and sometimes J-8s or 8-7s.

Flush draws like A Q as well.

Call or Raise with Top Set?

Drinan is asking himself, on the other hand, if he should just call or raise it?

With the two hearts on the generally draw-y board he might be able to represent a semi-bluff, and he would probably make quite a few hands in Shakerchi’s range fold, like A-K, A-Q and some more Broadway hands.

By just calling, however, he lets Shakerchi get to the turn with his full range so Shakerchi might:

Bluff again
Hit the turn for the second-best hand
Bet for value again (when he really isn’t)

Not Much Changes on the Turn

With the 6 on the turn the nuts are now 8-7, but from Shakerchi’s point of view there’s only a very remote chance Drinan has that hand.

Volltreffer Drinan

Now Drinan wants to raise.

It’s much more likely that Drinan is playing a weaker pair or a draw.

Thus, another bet by Shakerchi seems to be the right move. But when Drinan now raises – as he obviously now wants to build the pot – Talal has to readjust Drinan’s range.

The raise eliminates J-J and Q-Q as these hands would just call.

Apart from the above-mentioned 8-7 (probably suited), there are four possible sets – T-T, 9-9, 5-5 and 6-6 (although sixes would have probably folded the flop) – as well as a couple of semi-bluffs like A Q or even Q J.

Against this range it would be pointless to raise again as the draws would have to fold and only the hands that beat Shakerchi would call. A fold on the other hand would be too careful of a play as it would make Shakerchi the target of the professionals. That’s why a call is the correct play.

Call or Raise with Top Set Redux

The river card is a dream card for Shakerchi. It’s a king, so he overtakes all the sets and now has the third nuts – he’s beaten only by 8-7 and Q-J.


Now what?

It’s correct for him to check as Drinan would fold all the busted draws to a bet, while he might bet his good hands and, of course, his bluffs.

From Drinan’s point of view a bet is a must because there are several hands that he beats and that would pay him off — A-A, A K, Q-Q, J-J or even K Q or K J.

Maybe the most surprising thing at this point of the hand is how fast Shakerchi calls the bet. But then again, he does have a lot of experience.

Correct play

Before we ask whether Shakerchi should have raised, let’s take a look at the pot and stack sizes. After Drinan’s bet there’s 135,200 in the pot with the effective stacks at 185,000. So a pot size raise would be a virtual all-in and it would only get called by the nuts.

This is what Drinan’s range looks like. He can hold:


Time to collect.

Busted draws
Rarely two pair with T-9 or maybe even A-K
(four) sets
Q-J or 8-7

Shakerchi can’t win any additional chips against the first and second group of hands because Drinan would always fold to a raise. He wins against the sets — T-T, 9-9, 5-5 and 6-6 are theoretically possible to come in 24 different combos.

In opposition to that there are 32 possible combinations for Q-J and 8-7, although it’s very unlikely that Drinan is playing 8-7o like that in this spot. If we discount these combinations we’re left with 20 possible card combinations for Drinan – so both ranges are of similar size.

Our last question is, then, whether Drinan would actually even call a raise with a set. He would certainly fold to an all-in. So, at the end of the day, Shakerchi was perfectly correct to forgo a raise.


The winning position goes back and forth in this spectacular hand and by the end of it Connor Drinan can count himself lucky to not have lost more chips. Apparently, Shakerchi was so astounded by the unexpected river that he didn’t seem to consider all his options. However, he still made the right decision.

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