Boris Kasabov broke through to win his first World Series of Poker Circuit ring in December after nearly six years as a regular in the mid-stakes tournament world. He defeated a 281-entry field in the $1,700 no-limit hold’em main event at the IP Biloxi, earning $98,044 in the process.
The Houston native is a regular at WSOP Circuit stops all over the country and has racked up $422,127 in tournament earnings over his short career. The nearly half-million-dollar sum came just from playing tournaments with buy-ins ranging between $300 and $1,700 on a part-time basis.
Kasabov sat down with Card Player to break down a few hands he played at the final table of his victory in Mississippi.
Concepts: Deciding on correct river bet sizing to extract value from the top of your range
The Action: Hamid Izadi raised to 100,000 from middle position and Boris Kasabov called from late position. The player in the small blind came along as well and it was three-handed to a flop, which all three players checked. The small blind checked the turn and Izadi bet 160,000. Kasabov called and the small blind folded. On the river, Izadi checked and Kasabov bet 360,000. Izadi called.
Steve Schult: A lot of people formulate strategies around three-betting this hand preflop in cash games. Is this a good candidate for a three-bet in tournaments ever or is it usually played as a call?
Boris Kasabov: A three-bet is definitely an option. There were just so many factors that came into this particular hand. I opted to just flat. Some of it was just how I perceived my opponents and their capability of paying me off if I hit or folding to aggression. All of that I had on my side and I wanted to give him the option to make a mistake.
SS: The small blind calls as well and you’re three-handed to a flop. They both check to you and you flop nothing, but have overcards and a fair amount of backdoor equity. Do you ever take a stab on this flop?
BK: I did think about it, but obviously I didn’t. I didn’t want to get in trouble and it’s okay to go to the turn. Like you said, there were so many good cards for me on the turn that I just decided to check.
SS: Did the presence of the small blind affect the frequency that you are going to bet the flop? If you were heads-up, would you be betting this flop more often?
BK: Yes. If I was heads-up, I would definitely stab.
SS: You turn an open-ended straight draw and the original raiser bets 160,000. What is going through your mind when you’re facing this bet? What sort of range are you starting to put him on?
BK: With the turn being an overcard and filling a draw, I’m putting him on a pretty strong hand. It doesn’t seem like much of a bluff to me. He seems pretty strong like he is trying to get some value.
I haven’t made my hand yet and my perception of him is that he is pretty strong, so I decided to just call and go to a river.
SS: When you say, “pretty strong,” what types of hands are you talking about?
BK: At a minimum, Q-J or A-J. He could also have a set that he flopped. I think if he had A-10 or other 10-X hands, he would probably bet the flop. So, I don’t think he’s got air. I think he’s got a strong hand.
SS: You river the nuts and he checks to you. He has 540,000 left in his stack and you bet 360,000. How did you come up with that size?
BK: I remember thinking he was pretty tricky and pretty solid, but he was also careful and wasn’t out of line too much. It was kind of strange that he checked. I got the sense he wasn’t going to just fold and let me have the pot, so I tried to make it look like I was trying to buy it. I had a stack of big denomination chips and I bet those. Especially, since it was an overcard, I wanted to put him to the test. I was really shocked that he just called with the second nuts.
SS: In hindsight, do you wish you just moved all in, since he has about a pot-sized bet left?
BK: Yeah. I do kind of regret that.
Concepts: Picking correct spots to limp in in position
The Action: Action folded around to Boris Kasabov on the button, who limped. Wayne Boyd completed the small blind and Jeremy Eyer checked his option in the big blind. On the flop, Boyd led out for 100,000, Eyer folded and Kasabov moved all in. Boyd called.
SS: Why did you decide to limp the button with J-10?
BK: I would say that around 97 percent of the time I would raise here, but you’ve got to understand these players and how the hands were being played until that time. I was just kind of waiting to trap mainly this player. I felt like I could do a better job of exploiting them if we played post-flop because my edges will be bigger that way.
I don’t want to just get everything all preflop where I might only have a slight edge. I knew I could trap these guys post-flop. And if I had raised preflop, nothing would’ve changed. This guy was calling with any two cards preflop. I’d much prefer to see if I can trap him as opposed to bloating the pot with a raise. I figured let me just get into the pot as cheaply as possible and beat him post-flop.
SS: What types of hands would you be limping and what types would you be raising with this player in the blinds? How does this alter your normal strategy?
BK: I’d only be raising hands that I’m willing to go all the way with, in this spot. I’m not going to say only premium hands, but pretty strong ones. Maybe something like A-J and up and some middle pairs.
SS: You started this hand with 22 big blinds. Would you still have a limping range at deeper stacks? What about shallower stack depths?
BK: Against those two players, yes, I think so. I’d be limping with both deeper and shorter stacks.
SS: You flop the nuts and he led right into you. At this point, what are you starting to narrow his range to?
BK: At this point, I think he’s got either an ace or a pair with a straight draw. Based on the way that he bet and the way that he had played hands for the last few hours, I just felt like he was going to call my jam. I thought he was already committed to this hand.
I didn’t even waste much time. I quickly moved all in and he snap-called.
SS: When I saw this hand, I was wondering why you didn’t raise smaller, but it seems like this was super player-dependent and you wouldn’t make this play against anyone else. Is that fair to say?
BK: Exactly. This doesn’t have anything to do with GTO (game theory optimal) strategy. This was more of a Dan-Lowery-type play where you just know your opponent.
SS: You obviously got all the chips in the middle in a really good spot but caught a brutal runout to chop the pot. From a mental game perspective, how do you bounce back from that? How do you not lose your mind and spew off all your chips?
BK: It took me at least 10-15 minutes to kind of get over that. This was so bad that I did kind of fly off the handles. It took me back to not a helpless spot, but I just felt like it was such a bad runout and you start questioning yourself about how many more times you’re going to be in a spot like this. Because these are rare spots and if they’re not winning, you just feel a little helpless from the runouts.
We went on break after a while and that did help me. I needed 20-30 minutes minimum to kind of mentally get back on track.
Concepts: Picking when to pot control on the turn
The Action: Boris Kasabov raised to 130,000 from early position and Brett Apter called out of the big blind. On the flop, Apter checked, Kasabov bet 100,000 and Apter called. Both players checked the turn and Apter bet 250,000 on the river. Kasabov called.
SS: You raise to 130,000 from early position and the big blind calls off a stack that is just 760,000. Your hand selection and raise are obviously beyond standard, but what about the big blind’s play here. When he has a 12-13 big blind stack and he’s just calling, what are you thinking? I would think that is a stack size where most players are usually moving all in or folding.
BK: He was a little bit of an unconventional player, but he definitely had a tight range. I don’t know why he didn’t opt to jam, especially with pocket tens. I can’t really explain that, but he didn’t. I still perceived him to have a pretty solid hand when he defends his big blind though.
I thought he would have some of the bigger ace-highs, some broadways and middle pocket pairs were about the only hands that I could realistically put him on.
SS: I don’t know the other stacks at the table, but you had him out-chipped by more than 2:1. Would you be raising a little bit wider in this spot to attack his big blind since he was super tight? Or are you just playing your normal ranges?
BK: Well, yes, but since I was in early position, I was playing against all the other players too. If I was in late position, then, yes, absolutely.
SS: You flop top pair and bet 100,000 when it’s checked to you. It’s on the smaller size. What type of situations are you looking for when you downbet?
BK: I wanted to price him in. I downbet for a couple different reasons. I wanted to induce a jam from a worse ace, I didn’t want him to fold a pocket pair like tens. So, I didn’t want him to fold. Obviously if he jams, I’m calling. I wanted to price him in, so that was why I made the smaller bet.
It’s pretty standard. A lot of the times when you feel like you’ve smashed it and you don’t want to run off your opponent, you will tend to downbet.
SS: On the turn, he checked, and you check behind. What made you want to check back?
BK: I decided to keep the pot small and check back.
SS: What type of hands were you trying to pot control against?
BK: The board got really wet on the turn when the nine came. He did call a flop bet so I started to question myself and thought that I could be beat since that card can help his range pretty easily. Yeah, I could possibly still be good, but if I am, let me just control the pot and hopefully get a safe river. And if I’m ahead, the majority will still be pretty safe.
There were a lot of different factors, but I just remember with that player and with that turn, and the way he called, and the fact I knew that he was pretty tight, I just decided to just get to a river.
And I don’t think I could get three streets of value from worse. I think that’s a pretty significant reason as well.
SS: We mentioned earlier that he started the hand with a pretty short stack. Would you have been betting the turn at deeper and shallower stacks?
BK: Yes, to both. That’s why it was kind of tricky. It’s why I kind of regret my decision on the river.
SS: What about your decision on the river? He led out for 250,000. Walk me through your thought process.
BK: I think his perception of my perception of him, if you will, was that he also recognized that I respected his play. When he bet that, I was torn that he could just be representing something to try and move me off a strong hand because of how he thinks I view him or is he taking me to value town?
His bet screams that. He’s not folding, but what hands can he have and what hands beat me? Obviously, all the sets, any straight draw that got there, but what hand did he play preflop and through the flop that beat me? I didn’t put him on any sets, so I thought his most likely value hands were either a straight with A-10 or maybe two pair with A-J. I think he would bet A-J there.
So, I just thought that I had too much invested and had too much equity. But I thought he could have missed and wanted to represent something with a value bet instead of a jam.
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