Last month in Iowa, I got to play with one of my favorite players. Mark “PokerHo” Kroon was one of the first people to be well known for playing online poker. As a ranked player in the early days of pocketfives.com and one of the first players to really make loose-aggressive play an art form, Mark has been known to the world of tournament poker for a long time. Since he lives nearby in Madison, Wisconsin, you will see him at most major tournaments in the Midwest, and you will definitely know if “Ho” is at your table.
Mark makes his presence known at the tables in a number of ways. He spends a lot of time with his chips in the middle, but even when he tightens up you will notice his larger than life personality. Look for the big guy with the big voice who rarely stops talking and has already offended the two overly-sensitive players at the other end of the table. That would be Mark.
I really enjoy the big fella’s company but we have had our clashes at the tables. Before this trip to Iowa, we met up most recently in Indiana last October. The largest main event in WSoP Circuit history drew over 1,600 players and first place was over $390,000. At the beginning of day three we were down to three tables, and I eagerly found my seat, checking out the bags of chips at the tables and looking for names that I recognized. On my left was the last name I wanted to see – Mark Kroon. Seriously? With over a million in chips?
It’s like the poker version of a campfire ghost story. A nightmare and almost unbelievably bad table draw for a short stack. Big money on the line and I get a smart, super aggressive, fearless player on my left with a huge stack. It was going to be a hard road…and it was. I fought my way through as well as I could, aware of the fact that any hand I played must be a hand I was willing to go all-in with. I ended up 18th and felt like I played well but I made a mental note to give Mark a little of his own medicine the next time the positions were reversed.
Imagine my joy when we started the $1,000 buy-in event in Iowa last week and he was on my right. Hah! Now I had him. I know his game, I’m not a short stack, and he’s on my right. This time it’s no campfire ghost story, it’s a dream. I knew it was going to require some risk and some guts on my part. I was going to end up yelling “Hold!” with all my chips in the middle but I had a shot at getting a big stack in this one.
We played a few pots, I three-bet him a few times, we were both slightly below starting stack when we finally played a big hand. I had about 16,000, Mark had me slightly covered. At the 200/400 level, a tight older player in early position raised to 900. Mark called the raise. I looked down at A♣K♣ on the button. I had to raise. I certainly don’t want to see a flop three or four ways with this hand if the big blind calls. The pot was already around 3,000. I was happy to increase my stack by 20% by winning the hand right there, so I raised to 3,000. If someone calls we can play a pot but I thought the older player would probably fold, and if he didn’t call, Mark couldn’t call either.
He might be nuts but Mark will not call off 15% of his stack out of position against a strong player in a heads up pot. Unfortunately the original raiser wasn’t aware of how bad a play it would be to call my raise and see a flop out of position for so many chips. When he called, Mark had a good reason to call as well. He was closing the betting, he had a weak player in the pot and he was getting reasonable odds now that the old guy had called my raise. We saw a flop with almost exactly 10,000 in the pot. I had 11,500 remaining in my stack. The flop was 9♠9♥8♠.
The old guy obviously missed the flop, checking immediately and looking disappointed. Mark also checked, but he will never lead out into this pot. Whether he has five-high or quad-nines, he is going to check to me. With a pot nearly as big as my stack, and a hyper aggressive player who looks for fold equity in every spot, I knew that I couldn’t get away from my hand. Maybe I could fold on a J-10-9 flop with no clubs, because I would be behind his range on such a bad flop, but in that case I would either shove all-in or check behind and hope to improve on the turn so that I could call the inevitable all-in bet from Mark.
On a slightly less scary flop and a flop that would look scary to most players, I knew that if I bet, I was going to have to call if Mark went all-in. I also knew that he was going to go all-in with any two cards if he thought there was a chance I would fold or if he had flopped any sort of draw or a pair whether he thought he had fold equity or not.
I could write an entire article about hand relevance, and in fact I have written that article in the past, but I’ll try to explain it quickly so the magazine doesn’t get too thick. If you know that you are getting all-in against a certain range of hands, you can ignore that portion of your opponent’s range. For instance, not worrying about aces when you have kings if you aren’t going to fold them pre-flop. You might as well ignore the possibility that you are facing aces, because no matter what you do, all the chips are gone if your opponent has you beat.
Hand relevance teaches us to ignore the things we can’t change. If you can’t affect the pot size or the result of the hand against a portion of the hands your opponent may have, then you might as well ignore those hands because you can’t change how much money you are going to win or lose. Those hands are irrelevant, you can pretend that they don’t exist and focus on the hands that allow you to make more or lose less by making the right choices.
In this case, I know I am going to call Mark’s all-in bet and I know he will go all-in with any pair or any draw regardless of how much I bet. I can ignore all of those hands, because we are getting all the chips in no matter what I bet if he has a real hand. Ignoring those hands allows me to focus on the portions of his range that I can do something with – the relevant portion.
In this spot, I felt that the relevant portion of his range was the completely junk hands, anything that missed the flop so completely that my ace-high is a favorite. Against those hands, that were drawing to six-outs at the most, I wanted to get all the chips in the middle. The best way to do that was to give Mark the illusion of fold equity. If you want a shark to bite, throw blood in the water.
I bet $3,500, which I thought might give Mark the illusion that I could fold to an all-in raise and save the remaining 8,000 in my stack. The original raiser folded and Mark glanced at my stack. I knew he was counting it, trying to decide if I had enough chips left to fold. He decided that I wasn’t committed yet, or the scent of that blood in the water was just too strong, because he quickly raised all-in.
I felt pretty good about my call after seeing him glance at my stack. His stack was small enough, just barely more than I had, that there would be no reason to consider any bet other than all-in. He wasn’t worried that he was over-betting by going all-in, so the glance at my stack could only mean that he was wondering if I could fold.
My ace-high held up, crippling Mark, but he built his stack back up to over 50,000 and we played a number of big pots before they broke our table. Even the big call with ace-high didn’t slow him down much, he was back to his aggressive play and chipping up. I had the ultimate calling station table image which allowed me to get some calls and prevented my opponents from bluffing me for a few hours so I was able to chipp up myself. By the time we met at another table later in the day, we both had over 100,000 in front of us. And, a pleasant surprise, he was on my right again! I still owe him a few re-raises from Indiana, but we’re getting close to even. Not that I was counting.