One of the most memorable hands of the WSOP Main Event was Mark Newhouse’s bust-out hand. It deserved the attention. Newhouse, after finishing ninth the year before, placed his tournament on the line by turning his pocket tens into a bluff. He made a decision few of us could make, and fewer would know if it were correct.
Some, like Antonio Esfandiari while commentating, heralded Newhouse for his heart. Others decried his handling of his second Main Event final table in as many years. All enjoyed seeing some of the ballsiest tournament poker ever played.
In this article, I hope to shed some light on what both players were thinking and also offer my own analysis of what could have been going on under the surface. It is good to preface this hand deconstruction by saying I think both players played their hands well. Newhouse is largely going to be the focus of this piece and I admit he is a far better player than I am. I am only guessing at the logic going on between both players and hoping to entertain and educate you all in the process. None of this is meant as a corrective for either player.
The hand started with Newhouse having roughly 22.5 million in chips. Blinds were 250K/500K, so Newhouse started with 45 big blinds. Van Hoof raised to 1.1 million and Newhouse decided to call. We could debate just this call for the entirety of the article. I can understand why a player of Newhouse’s caliber wouldn’t want to play a huge all-in pot here by three-betting. He has a distinct advantage going to flops. Others would argue him flatting this bet a disproportionate amount of the time makes his three-betting-in-position range a hard sell later, as it becomes too polarized.
A pair of tens is a hand that in a multi-way pot is more likely to lose, while it does very well heads-up. However, it is difficult in many players’ minds for Van Hoof to four-bet fold here. I disagree with these players. I still think it is possible Van Hoof would four-bet/fold here. It wouldn’t be a bad move given how little it would cost him and how it would put Newhouse’s entire stack at risk. Van Hoof showed a propensity to make gutsier plays and he certainly had the chips for it at this point.
That said, 45 big blinds is a lot given the stack distribution at the table and laddering up a few spots means millions of dollars at this final table. A little discretion is more than understandable ICM-wise.
Furthermore, according to those who tracked statistics as the players played down to the November Nine, Newhouse had a 1.7% three-bet percentage. That is insanely low. It is probably much harder for him to sell a three-bet bluff here.
After Newhouse flats, it’s folded around to the big blind, William Tonking, who re-raises to 3.75 Million. A live cash game veteran, Tonking had shown considerable prowess playing post-flop. He hadn’t three-bet much leading up to the final table, but his propensity to play tons of hands on Day 7 shows he can be creative and mix it up.
While it wasn’t extremely likely Tonking was three-bet bluffing here, he certainly had the skills to do so. Newhouse, in my view, correctly called. Given the great price Mark Newhouse was getting and the superior position he had, he needs to call. He shouldn’t four-bet because the call/re-raise move is the strongest in Hold’em. It would be hard for Tonking to make a light five-bet.
The board comes J-4-2 rainbow and Tonking makes a small continuation bet of 3.5 million into the roughly 9.5 million-chip pot. The sizing is great here. This is a very hit or miss board. Most players are not capable of raising a top pair here for value. It’s unlikely Newhouse would raise a set either on such a dry board. It’s anyone will raise this small bet; they know they will be representing nothing. This bet also keeps in smaller pairs and J-X.
Newhouse makes a good call on the flop. He is calling 3.5 million to win 13 million. To find out how much equity he needs to call here, we divide 3.5M by 16.5M because that’s the size of the pot (with his call added in) which he will receive should he win the pot. 3.5/16.5 = 0.2121. Newhouse needed 22% equity or more to flat on this flop. Even if we give Tonking a three-betting range which contains no under-pairs, but only TT+, AKo+, A-Qs+, half the combinations of AQo, and one suited connector bluff, Newhouse has 44.9% equity on this board. He has more than double what he needs to call on the flop.
Now it’s worth noting that AQo offsuit here in Newhouse’s position has about 22% equity. Does that mean you should call? Well, realize if you’re calling with 22% equity and you needed 21.21% equity, you need to realize your equity close to 100% of the time here. This can be difficult, as No Limit Hold’em isn’t a one street game. If he ever bets you off of your outs on the turn, you’re not realizing that equity.
If you can bluff on future streets, it is possible you can realize more than the equity you need, but this is a pretty hard board to bluff typically. It’s very dry. Small pairs stick to people’s hands. If you’re not going to be able to bluff much, you need to know your opponent has a turn and river betting frequency of 0%. That is a tall and unrealistic order.
Newhouse’s hand only needs to realize it’s equity around half the time. That seems plausible. After Newhouse’s call, the turn comes a four, putting two hearts on the board. Tonking curiously checks.
I say curious because that card is a decent blank. It’s unlikely Newhouse (pictured) has a four. It makes it much less likely he connected with a small pair on the flop. Newhouse has shown a propensity to call down before. He’s very loose post-flop. You’re probably still getting a call from J-X, 8-8, 9-9, 10-10, and maybe 7-7 if you double barrel here.
Of course, many do not like betting because then if you check the river out of position you are waving a white flag that says, “I likely don’t have much better than one pair.” The hope is that the turn will get checked through and you can play a smaller pot with one pair, but sometimes that’s not realistic.
I humbly believe the check is ill-advised. You should go for three streets. It’s possible Newhouse slow-played aces or kings, but statistically that’s a very small part of his range. If you check to a great player like Newhouse as well, he will have a better idea of where you’re at. Your double-barrel range will be more difficult to interpret.
It’s likely that Tonking would double barrel a flush draw here, so when he checks, he’s telling Newhouse a river heart or overcard is a great card to bluff, as he’s probably not check calling ace-highs all that often. This is a very dangerous situation to put yourself in.
Mark Newhouse makes a 4.5 million bet into the pot, which is pretty small. I don’t mind it’s sizing because it’s unlikely to encourage Tonking to check-raise bluff; the stacks are too shallow, and there’s too much money on the line.
I refer to these kind of bets as a move to “buy the showdown.” When Newhouse bets small here, he could get value from smaller pairs, flush draws, and ace high, while also insuring his opponent normally checks the river to him.
The problem with this bet is did Tonking really three-bet that many smaller pairs? His three-bet percentage didn’t crack 4% before the final table. Also, is he calling down with ace highs? I’m doubtful of both of these scenarios.
Tonking calls. The river comes an offsuit jack, pairing the board, and we realize one of the benefits of Mark Newhouse’s turn bet: if he wishes to fire the river as a bluff, his “value” line is more credible.
Tonking checked. This is where the hand becomes really interesting and debatable. Many said Tonking didn’t look that confident when he saw the river. I would wonder if he would have taken a few seconds more to consider shoving the river if he did indeed have a jack in his hand. You could certainly see why Newhouse wanted to bluff this card.
Newhouse declared all-in fairly quickly. He threw his body into it a bit. In my experience, this is players having to get their nerve up. This is why I commented after I saw the hand that, “Newhouse isn’t going to regret this shove. He’s going to regret he didn’t think through the river more.”
However, that doesn’t help Tonking much. He is left with essentially a bluff catcher. Newhouse isn’t jamming tens assuming nines or eights will call him. That would be too thin of a value jam.
It’s hard to believe Newhouse would have the gall to bluff here, which gives the play credibility. He said frequently how much he didn’t want to go out ninth again. He’s betting 10.8 million into 25.5 million. His jam isn’t even for half the pot. Tonking would have to call 10.8 million to win 36.3 million. That’s an insanely good price. He will only need to be right 23% of the time to make this call.
However, contextually there’s much going against Newhouse here: His history of blowing millions shows others he’s capable of riskier moves. His itchy and constant movement at the final table. His active image. His admittance he didn’t play any poker before the final table. His kneejerk reactionary way he shoved. This is a guy who does what he wants, when he wants. If you know you made an obviously dejected check here on this river, then it stands to reason Newhouse could be bluffing more than a quarter of the time.
That said, this is not an easy call. Esfandiari said he loved the shove and that it showed an incredible amount of heart. I agree completely. This showed Newhouse had the attitude of a winner; he was going for it, his last year’s finish be damned.
I have been in Tonking’s spot and have folded, many times. I think many high stakes regulars have. It certainly not inconceivable that Tonking decides, given the stakes, Newhouse is not bluffing here ever and lays down his hand.
This is the part of poker that is so difficult. This river play is not easily defeated with numbers. It does come down to a feel. This guy doesn’t like his hand, but can he fold given this great price?
Nothing Newhouse did in the hand wasn’t explainable or necessarily incorrect. Like many hands where he’s profited greatly from, he was operating on the margins, the gray areas. It just goes to show how difficult it is to really paint the black and play for a championship when everything is on the line.
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