The Debate: Make the call?

The beauty of poker is that 10 players could play the same hand 10 different ways. Granted, most of us would raise with aces preflop, but the amounts might be different. Or maybe the way we would play them against different opponents would change our respective strategies.

The Debate makes a triumphant return with an interesting situation and this week, Brian Kornfeld joins me to analyze a situation from a recent online tournament. While some might believe this situation is a clear move one way or another, neither of us was sold on the action that would take place.

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Situation: Hero is sitting on the button with a slight chip lead over his opponents in a single-table sit and go turbo tournament. The action is now five-handed and the blinds are $80/$160. Even holding the chip lead, hero has only 23 big blinds with $3,700. The action begins with a very aggressive player moving all-in from under the gun for $2,600. The next player to act folds and hero looks down to see As-Js. Everyone at the table has at least $2,200 and all have proved to be solid players.

Let the debate begin ...

Feldman: What we know about this player is that he's an aggressive player which means he could be shoving with a wide range of hands here. I'm just confused about why he moved all-in here. He has plenty of chips to make a standard raise to $375-$400, something he'd probably do if he wanted action. Shoving for 17 big blinds just makes me wonder if he's trying to induce someone to call light or get everyone out of the way.

Kornfeld: Although he has the stack to raise to 400 or even the standard opening bet of 480, an aggressive player does not want to be reshoved on or allow an opponent to catch up. It seems to me that he is trying to protect a hand he does not want to play postflop, or even play at all. I'd say his range includes any pocket pair up to jacks, any ace, and king-queen or king-jack. Being that he is an aggressive player, I would take his raise lightly and think that ace-jack is beating his range, but it is still a gamble to call, especially with two solid players still to act.

Feldman: I agree with you there and in fact, my estimates for hand ranges were approximately the same. I feel like he's more likely to have a middle pocket pair than something like K-J and if that's the case, we can assume we're in a race situation. The real question is if we want to race for a good amount of our chips. If we lose, we're down to $1,100, which is still nine big blinds, but in these fast-moving sit and go tournaments, the blinds go up extremely fast and we'd have to make another decision soon. When is it appropriate to race in a sit and go?

Kornfeld: Assuming this is a race situation, I think I would pass. I trust my own game enough to pick up small pots and not have to gamble over half of my stack in one hand where I may or may not be ahead. In a sit and go, you can't afford to give up any chips unnecessarily and you haven't put a dime into this pot. I think the best course of action is to sit back and let him take the 240 chips. There are a lot of spots you can use your power as the chip leader, especially approaching the bubble. Gambling here means you could be giving yourself a 50 percent shot at giving up the power of the chip lead. There are better spots you can find at picking up chips, even with a little over 20 big blinds.

Feldman: You raise a good point, and while I'm assuming it's a race, it also might not be. He could make this move with any ace as well and in those situations, we're way ahead (except for A-K and A-Q). Don't we always look for spots against weaker opponents to take advantage? This could be a mistake on his behalf and I think we need to take that into consideration before we just throw our hand away.

Of course I also like folding and keeping our chip lead. With the blinds increasing and the bubble approaching, we will be able to use our aggression and pad our stack. I'm always talking about picking better spots and while this might not be the best spot, these turbo tournaments offer us different and more limited opportunities to take advantage.

Kornfeld: I couldn't agree more. He may have a weaker hand here, but when all the potential hands are looked at, we basically overall have only a slight edge mathematically. I advocate a fold and finding a better spot to pick up chips.

Feldman: Now that we're both in the same spot, what do you think the percentages are that we're in a race versus we're dominating versus we're dominated?

Kornfeld: I would say it's about 40 percent racing, 35 percent ahead and 25 percent behind. Now, I know that means we have a slight advantage (10 percent) over his range, but I would not want to gamble with just a 55-45 advantage. It's just not worth it with the chip lead and nothing invested in the pot as you will lose almost half of the times you put yourself in this position.

Feldman: But in a turbo tournament, how can you avoid a spot where you believe you may have the advantage? If we really bring the speed of the tournament in as a factor, I think it's very hard for you to throw this hand away since you know he's looking at any ace as a spot to push.

Kornfeld: I know that's possible, but also remember you have the chip lead approaching the bubble. That can be worth a lot more and you have a much higher chance of pushing opponents off marginal hands than your 55 percent chance to win here. If you trust your game, you can pass this spot up for a better one.

What happened: Hero made the call and the blinds folded. The under-the-gun player showed Q-Q and hero was in a 30-70 situation. The board ran out dry and hero's stack was knocked down to $1,100.

Feldman: I'm really shocked he had queens here. Obviously with a premium hand you're trying to maximize value and perhaps he felt that someone would be more likely to call his shove than get enough from the action postflop. I still don't hate the call. Even though hero was wrong this time around, I'd say seven out of 10 times we're going to be in better shape.

Kornfeld: Although I'm surprised at just how strong he was, I think the hero is gambling way too much with a call. I wouldn't say you're in better shape as much as 70 percent or even 60 percent of the time, and way too often you are risking your stack and your position as chip leader on a 50-50 shot. I'd say trust your game and find a better spot.

How would you have played the hand? What would you do if you were in this situation? Leave your comments below, and we'll take a look at your thoughts next time.