The Grid

I recently began binge-listening to The Grid, an ambitious podcast series hosted by Jennifer Shahade. Each episode is an interview with a well-known poker player focused on a memorable card combination, with the goal of covering all 169 combinations on the grid with no duplication.

After seven episodes, a theme has emerged. Here are some Bass Notes on the first few episodes, followed by a discussion of the pattern:


#1 – Lex Velduis – K4o

In an EPT tournament in 2007, at blinds of $200/400, Velduis (now a popular streamer on raised in middle position to $1,000 with K4o, then faced a 3-bet to $3,500. Determined to maintain his aggression, Velduis re-raised all-in for approx. 12,000-14,000 only to be called (and knocked out) by the villain’s KK. Ouch! His main takeaway was that this hand is symbolic of how restless, immature and ill-prepared for tournament poker he was at that stage of his poker career.

#2 – Kevin Rabichow – T5o

In a $5/10 heads-up cash game on Party Poker in 2013, Rabichow (an online heads-up specialist and coach affiliated with Run It Once) min-raised to $20 on the button with T5o against a known, aggressive opponent and got called. The flop of 652♦♦ gave Rabichow middle pair on a low, wet board. The villain checked, Rabichow C-bet $35 and then faced a check-raise to $95. Rabichow called. On the turn K♠ (completing no draws) Rabichow called another bet of $172. The A on the river (still completing no draws) and Rabichow called a final $430 with his one pair of fives, resulting in a final pot of $1,434. The villain showed 43o for a flopped straight. Ouch!

Veldhuis’ main takeaway was that even though the turn and river cards “changed nothing” (uh, debatable), the villain’s continued betting served as additional information that should not be ignored.

#3 – Jamie Kerstetter – AA

In a live $5/10 cash game at The Borgata casino around 2009, Kerstetter (now also a frequent TV poker commentator and co-host of the LFG Podcast) raised to $35 UTG with AA and faced a 3-bet to $80 from a loose, recreational, suit-wearing businessman on the button. She re-raised to $320 and the villain called quickly. After a flop of A63 rainbow gave Kerstetter top set, both players checked, then both checked again on the turn 2. Kerstetter checked a final time after the river 9, finally inducing a bluff in the form of an over bet of $750. When Kerstetter jammed all-in for approx. $800 more, the villain jumped out of his seat a loudly screamed “you stupid bitch!” He ultimately folded his hand and was summarily kicked out of the poker room. Ouch!

Kerstetter’s most positive takeaway was having another regular who she never would have expected to defend her to be the first to demand an apology on her behalf.

#4 – Maria Konnikova – 72o

In a daily deepstacks tournament during the 2018 WSOP, Konnikova (best-selling author of The Confidence Game and other books) became disinterested in the tournament when some friends invited he to join them for dinner. She began shoving all-in every hand, even announcing to the table that she was trying to shed her remaining chips and head off to dinner. Ouch! Instead, she quickly built a huge stack, passed on dinner, and began playing serious poker again. Leveraging her wild image, she raised with 72o and got two callers. On a board runout of AKX-Q-9, Konnikova continued betting each street, with her river shove getting the last villain to fold.

Konnikova’s main takeaway was to find the experience liberating as an alternative, old school “gangster” style of effective (uh, this time at least) poker.

#5 – Ryan Laplante – KQs

Early in Day 2 of the $10,000 buy-in tournament during the WPT’s annual end of year series at The Bellagio casino, the blinds were 1,250/2,500 plus a 2,500 BB ante when Laplante (the founder of Learn Pro Poker) min-raised to 5,000 UTG with KQ, getting called by the cutoff, button, and a vigorous but much older gentleman in the BB. On a A7A♣ flop gave Laplante the nut flush draw. He C-bet 7,000 only to be check-raised to 15,000 by the BB, which he called. The turn T completes Laplante’s flush, and the BB check-calls 22,000. After the river Q, the BB led out for 40,000 and Laplante ultimately folded, saying the villain later privately claimed to have turned a full house with AT. Ouch!

Laplante refers to his skill edge multiple times during the interview (while also reading lots of non-ace combos into the 85-year-old villain’s flop check-raising range, uh…), but he sure didn’t outplay anyone here. 

#6 – Greg Shahade – A9s

In a $215 online Sit-N-Go tournament in 2005, Shahade (the host’s brother) has the chip lead with 11.5 BBs and three players remaining. He called a 6.5BB all-in bet by the player with the next most chips with A9s, losing both the hand and the chip lead and sparking a long, contentious thread on a 2+2 forum featuring other players declaring this spot to be an obvious fold. Ouch!

Greg Shahade’s key takeaway was that game theory and poker math have evolved considerably in the last 14 years, proving him more right than wrong.

#7 – Matt Matros – J2s

In the 2013 NBC Heads-Up poker tournament, a invitation only, made-for-TV event, Matros (a winner of three WSOP bracelets and author of two poker books) decided he needed to balance his pre-flop 4-bet range with more bluffs against an opponent he considered highly skilled at heads-up play. Early in the first round, he 4-bet with J2s (the worst of the hands he had pre-selected as a 4-bet bluff range) and got called. The players got all-in on a JT3 flop and his opponent’s AT won when an ace fell on the turn. Ouch!

Matros’ main takeaways were 1) once you apply a new concept to your poker game, it’s amazing how soon you get an opportunity to put that into action and test its effectiveness, and 2) “there’s so much luck in this game.”


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Notice the Theme?

First and foremost, junk is JUNK. K4o, T5o, 72o, J2s are all junk hands. These are all world class poker players, yet the only one able to succeed with this junk was Maria Konnikova with her ‘I don’t care; I’d rather be somewhere else’ attitude at that moment. The rest got what they deserved, albeit with several valuable lessons learned.

Want to win at poker? Call 1-800-GOT-JUNK to come haul off your junk hands before they get you in trouble.

Greg Shahade makes a compelling mathematical-based argument to justify his call with A9s. But as the caller, he had no fold equity, only the hope of winning at showdown. I don’t have enough experience with late-stage dynamics of Sit-N-Go tournaments to have an informed opinion.

The two players with unquestionably good starting hands made unquestionably good finishing hands, Jamie Kerstetter’s set of aces and Ryan Laplante’s flush. Want to win at poker? Play good starting hands and keep playing when they improve.

I was most amused by Ryan Laplante’s interview. Make no mistake, he’s talented as a poker player at a level I cannot ever expect to reach. But the hubris inside his assertion that a skill advantage can overcome a positional disadvantage is asking for trouble. Over and over, poker experts remind us that position is the most important thing. “Most” important means more important than hand strength, stack size… and skill.

Kerstetter’s was the best. Wait for aces, flop top set, induce an overbet bluff and get the villain thrown out of the poker room in the process. Boom!

I’m looking forward to more of this excellent podcast series. Next up is Jake Abdalla with 82s. What could possibly go wrong?


BONUS CONTENT: I’m now a regular contributor at PokerNews. Here is a link to my newest article!

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