The 2023 WSOP Main Event was down to 14 when Joshua Payne raised to 1.6 million from middle position in the 400K/800K/800K blinds with . All folded to the button. Jose Aguilera 3-bet 4.5m with . Daniel Weinman found himself in the small blind and faced a difficult choice. His decision was an all-in for 29 million chips, which made this hand one of the most talked about hands of the entire series and a key one in determining the winner.
Simulating the WSOP Main Event
Is Weinman shoving jacks right theoretically? How good was Payne's call, forced to risk his tournament life? And what about Aguilera, whose stack covered both opponents – should be have played for the stacks?
The GTO Wizard database has many ICM options for the last two tables, but there is no perfect match with the stacks of the participants, not to mention the stacks of other players, which also play an important role in determining the right strategy. GTO Wizard models do not use Aguilera's 3-bet sizing. Finally, the prize structure of the World Series Main Event is heavily skewed in favor of first places, while the GTO Wizard usually reflects flatter online prizepools.
The simulation of the last two tables, which turned out to be the closest to the one we are interested in in terms of the size of the stacks of all-in participants, is not quite accurate in terms of payouts and stacks of other players. Therefore, our further analysis is not aimed at finding the absolute truth about the decisions of the future winner and his opponents, but rather, is intended to demonstrate a method of working on adjustments taking into account late-stage ICM. The truth in a particular hand is certainly not bad, but ultimately we want to become stronger and learn a deeper understanding of poker.
It's hard to come up with something when you have 24bb and you are dealt kings. The min-raise is the ideal sizing, allowing you to open the maximum number of hands and having fold equity even against the player in the big blind. Despite excellent pot odds, the BB, by our calculations, should fold more than half the time:
Although the middle position player's stack is lower than the few players to his left, it's possible to open quite aggressively, relying on high cards that combine good equity and the effect of blockers:
Since Payne is one of the shortest stacks, he is more interested in fighting for the pots than many middle stackers, who benefit from sitting out the short stacks without risking elimination. Therefore, Payne's opponents have no reason to give him a narrow and strong range – he should open about 20% of the hands.
3-bet Aguilera from the button
José Aguilera stack – 42 million chips, approximately 52 blinds. With two queens, the player 3-bets 4.5 million – 5.6bb. Of course, 3-betting is the main action with his hand (calling is also possible, but done at a very low frequency), but the sizing seems to be too big. The reraise to just 4bb that we use in our simulations also puts a lot of pressure on Payne and allows Aguilera to rebound with a weak part of her range if Payne or someone else in the blinds gets aggressive.
Despite the button's ideal position, the GTO Wizard recommends against calling and folds 87% of hands:
For comparison, here is the button's strategy excluding ICM – by Chip EV – in the same effective stack of 25bb against a raise of 2.1bb:
In the early stages of the tournament, the button can enter the pot almost twice as often and rarely uses small 3-bets, preferring to call or all-in.
The ICM model prefers to consistently take small pots and not increase risk to win bigger pots (for example, by calling with aces to hide the strength of the hand). The high cost of tournament life reduces the appeal of all-in play. Although Aguilera has the largest stack of the remaining players and is not in danger of being eliminated, the chips he loses are also worth more than the chips he wins.
Weinman 4-bet from the small blind
Seeing a raise and a 3-bet, Daniel Weinman should be playing very tight, especially in the last two tables of a big tournament. According to our model, the expectation for a fold and a small 4-bet with jacks is almost the same. Push with this hand is not recommended – it is reserved strictly for and :
A small reraise seems preferable for the same reasons we discussed with Aguilera: it gives Weinman a disproportionate amount of fold equity, minimizing risk. Payne would have to fold almost all of his opening range (but not , of course), and Aguilera, despite the position and a large stack, would fold more than half of the hands he 3-bets with:
Considering that Aguilera didn't actually min-raise, but moved to 5.6bb, Weinman's tiny 4-bet didn't quite go through, but he still should have tried something like that – turning it up to 11bb, for example. Even if he planned to stack against either opponent, why take the risk, because there are two extremely unpleasant scenarios for him: the BB 5-bets or both opponents go all-in. In both cases, the fate of the jacks is unenviable.
In the ChipEV model, the option of a small reraise does not occur, since few hands are ready to 4-bet-fold, having invested such a significant part of the stack. However, according to ICM, this happens all the time. As we have said, lost chips are worth more than won ones. When the pot is 20bb and we get 20bb all-in, the pot odds are 2 to 1 only in the ChipEV model, but not in terms of the real value of the stacks.
A small 4-bet for jacks is useful insurance against unlikely but possible and catastrophic (unless the magic turn is placed) scenarios for us. And of course, this 4-bet sizing allows us to get more action with aces when they know we can fold to a shove.
Payne thought for a long time and, it seems, suffered seriously. Given the money at stake, this is understandable. However, the call, of course, is absolutely correct. In our model, even such a weak pair as two tens is ready to play for a stack, and the prize structure with a bias towards the top places makes the risk more justified.
Despite losing the hand, going all-in against Queens and Jacks is a phenomenally successful outcome for Payne. Not much worse would be a more risky scenario of going up against and . With 14 players still fighting, folding didn't improve Payne's chances of making it to the final table. With his stack, I also don’t want to take risks, but not close to that degree.
In addition, Aguilera's overcall was less likely than his fold. With Jose's 5.6bb in the pot, Payne's call becomes even more profitable.
According to our model, this is a near-marginal but correct call, winning 0.21% of the remaining prize pool. It may not sound very pompous, but remember what money was at stake! In dollar terms, calling is better than folding $55,000.
And this is in our model, and taking into account the uniqueness of the WSOP, there should be even less doubt about the call:
– Aguilera already invested 5.6bb instead of 4bb
– Aguilera started the hand with a stack of 52bb instead of 41bb, which allows for a bit more liberal calling of all-ins – the
payout structure is risky
– Both Weinman and Payne took very long and had painful decisions, which can be an additional argument in favor of the fact that they do not have hands that dominate Aguilera. They could also discount Aguilera's aces, believing that he would min-3-bet with the strongest hand.
– Weinman, as we have seen, is probably betting all-ins a little wider than optimal according to ICM. If the time spent at the same table with Weinman was enough to make this conclusion, calling with queens becomes more profitable since Weinman's all-in will often have jacks.
What if Weinman really did min-4-bet?
In our model, the small blind 4-bets jacks to 8.4bb or folds. After that, he is ready to call an all-in from one of the opponents, but folds against two – he folds all hands except aces! That's the whole point of a small 4-bet – to dodge a bullet that could end your tournament life, to make a good fold against an obvious overpair.
The fact that Weinman did not give himself this chance was the biggest mistake in the hand. It is easy to admit because most often there will be no difference: you will rarely have to go against two players. However, at this stage, the opportunity to escape from a hopeless situation is worth tens of thousands of dollars, and should not be neglected.
I went deep four times in the main tournament, but I didn’t have this deep a run. The stress that comes with playing poker at this stage is incomparable. I was completely devastated playing Day 6 – I can't imagine how the players who made it through Day 8 feel. In all four tournaments I mentioned, I made more serious mistakes – not in terms of dollars, of course, but objectively they were more unforgivable. Therefore, I do not want to criticize anyone, but simply learn from an interesting situation that I can only dream of being in.
Whatever the case, Daniel Weinman now has several million reasons to ignore what some blogger thinks about him 4-betting.