The biggest buy-in tournament of the WSOP 2018 finished a few days ago. It was Justin Bonomo who took the prestigious first place in the $1,000,000 Big One for One Drop and the accompanying prize of $10,000,000. However, during the final table play, there was an incident that may have influenced the final outcome in a rather significant way.
Namely, at a critical point of the tournament, with one player being all in and Fedor Holz calling the shove, Rick Salomon found himself holding Ace King suited. Holz had Salomon covered but only barely, and his shove over the top screamed of strength. Fedor was holding pocket 10s and was facing a really difficult decision.
An expensive mistake?
If this were all that happened, whatever Fedor ended up doing would be his own decision. We could argue over ranges, ICM, and whether pocket 10s are strong enough to call off most of your stack with such big pay jumps in play.
But, his decision was made much easier by the fact Salomon was forced to expose his Ace. This isn’t something you see every day even in a local, small buy-in tournament, so how did it happen in a $1,000,000 event?
Protect your cards at all times – or else
In the hand in question, short-stacked Byron Kaverman moved all in for around eight million, which was around 12 or 13 big blinds. Holz, finding pocket 10s in the hole, naturally made the call, sitting on a stack of about 28.6 million total.
When the action came to Rick Salomon in the big blind, his cards were probably mentally in the muck. It’s one of those spots where you really need a super strong hand to even think about getting involved. So, he took his first card high up and looked at it – exposing it to the table (or at least two players seated next to him).
Holz was seated at the opposite end of the table, so he couldn’t clearly see the card. And, when Salomon realized his first card was an Ace of Hearts, he checked the second hole card – only to find a King of Hearts. He decided it was way too strong to fold, so he moved all in for about 27 million.
A challenging decision
Up to this point, it is all another poker hand. We can discuss math and equity but outside of that, there is nothing particularly strange. It is here, though, that Jack Effel, the tournament director, stepped in, announcing that a card was flashed.
WSOP rules are quite clear on this topic – if a card is flashed, all players at the table are allowed to have the same information.
Following the WSOP rulebook, Effel decided Salomon’s Ace was to be turned over and exposed. All of a sudden, Holz knew half of Salomon’s hand and he could figure out his range much better. All better pairs were out of question, so he could only have pocket Aces, AK, and maybe, on occasion, AQ.
So, Fedor did the math against the range and ended up making a call – a call, which, thanks to a lucky 10 on the river, saw two players eliminated from the event and Fedor’s stack increased significantly.
Should rules ever be broken?
There is no questioning the legality of Jack Effel’s decision. He observed WSOP rules closely in this instance and did things by the book. This is probably why Salomon didn’t put forward any resistance when asked to turn over the card.
However, in this particular situation, players who had a clear view of Salomon’s exposed card couldn’t benefit from the information. Smith had already folded and Kaverman was all in, so there was nothing either of them could do to change anything even if they knew both cards.
The only player who could utilize the information was Holz and he was seated across the table and he didn’t see the card clearly. So, while he was entitled to this information strictly by the rules, could this be one spot where the punishment doesn’t fit the “crime?”
A real game changer
Although it is impossible to say with 100% certainty, without that Ace exposed, Holz would have an impossible call on his hands, knowing Salomon’s range consists mostly of overpairs. If he had folded, Salomon would actually win the pot with his flopped two pair, eliminated Kaverman, and the play would have continued.
Perhaps the end result would be the same, but that’s also impossible to predict. That one decision had influenced the tournament profoundly and the question remains if, perhaps, an exception should have been made this one time.
What do you think? Should Salomon’s card have been exposed in this particular situation or was it too harsh of a punishment? Should rules always be followed to the letter or should a TD be the one to make a judgment call in extreme situations such as this one? Have you ever had a similar experience in a poker tournament?