Chris Brewer played his first hand of poker while attending the 2012 Olympic Trials as a distance runner for the University of Oregon. He was just 19 at the time, and little did he know that just eight years after being dealt into that $5 buy-in home game, he would be playing in the highest stakes cash games in the world, with $1,000-$2,000 blinds and six-figure pots flying back and forth with just a few clicks of a button.
Brewer has made a meteoric rise up the ranks in the cash game world in recent years, playing poker professionally around southern California since graduating with a business major and a math minor. In the past year, Brewer has begun to play in more tournaments in addition to grinding cash games. He strung together a few deep runs in big events during this year’s World Series of Poker Online, making the quarterfinals of the $10,000 heads-up championship, cashing in the $25,000 buy-in high roller event, and making the final day of the $25,000,000 guaranteed $5,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em main event.
“That was awesome. I mean, it’s not as cool as I’m sure [going deep in] a live main event probably would be, but it was still just so exciting,” Brewer said of his run in the event. “As you get closer and closer, you realize, there’s a shot at this. It could happen. Because the entire time you’re playing something like that, I feel like at last for me, I [assume] I’m never going to actually win. I’m just registering. I know it’s good value, but I don’t expect anything to come from it. All of a sudden, I was still in the tournament on day three, and there are less than 40 players left. I was like, ‘Oh, I actually have hope now.’ It was really exciting.”
On the final day of what will almost certainly be the largest poker tournament held in 2020, Brewer ran a multi-street bluff that ended with him moving all on the river with just king high. Brewer discussed the hand with Card Player, walking through his thought process street-by-street.
Preflop: With 35 players remaining, and blinds of 125,000-250,000 with an ante of 30,000, Kelly Wong (11,223,575 in chips) raised to 500,000 from the button with AK. Chris Brewer (2,875,152 in chips) called from the big blind with K3.
Card Player: So you were one of the very shortest stacks with 35 players left. Kelly Wong, one of the medium-stacked players, opened with A-K, and you defended K-3 for a min-raise at a seven-handed table. First I’ll ask, is that defend more or less standard with your stack?
Chris Brewer: Yeah. You’re super loose defending off these short stacks, and especially with stuff that can flop top pair. Not against her hand [specifically], but as a general thing, flopping a king off of less than 15 blinds is just so valuable, you’re just not going to fold any K-X.
The Flop: The Q65 rolled off the deck and Brewer checked. Wong checked behind.
CP: The flop comes out queen-high and you checked. What’s your initial plan at this point?
CB: I’m just check-folding at this point. When that’s the flop, there’s no way for me to continue. So yeah, I’m just going to check everything, and I’m going to fold if she puts any money in.
CP: When she checks back, though, does that prompt you to consider adjusting your approach to the hand moving forward?
CB: Yeah, now there potentially are ways to win the pot depending on what comes on the turn. Also, I don’t really think that this is a spot I would expect the button to check very often, so when they do, it seems like they probably have a hand that really wants to check, whatever that is. It could be top set, but I think a lot of times it’s just going to be pocket jacks or A-K, or something along those lines. They have something that is too strong to get value, because it just blocks everything, or they just want to get to showdown.
The Turn: The 10 was dealt on fourth street. Brewer bet 690,550 into the pot of 1,335,000 and Wong called.
CP: So it was now a full rainbow board of Q-6-5-10, and you’re out of position. You bet just over half the size of the pot. What was your thought process at that point?
CB: I’m sure that I spun some randomizer and ended up with an aggressive number in this instance. But I think a hand like this, the approach makes some sense in that I’m going to get some sweet rivers to bluff, like a nine or a jack. I also do have an over to the queen, which in case she ever did check back top pair, that is equity.
Also, this is a really easy holding to bet fold, which is actually huge in this type of spot. It sucks if you bet like J-9 and get shoved on. What are you going to do? You kind of want to have I think a range, where it’s like you’re just betting hands were your bluffs are hands that kind of have some equity, as in this case where I could hit a king in theory, but you’re just going to get to fold if they shove without it being some really sad result.
CP: Which it would be if you had the J-9 for the open ended straight draw?
CB: Yeah. When you’re this shallow, that’s a huge issue. You’re way better off just check-calling J-9 and seeing the river. Bet-folding would be a disaster, but bet-calling it would also be a disaster, so you’re going to have to pick your bluffs from hands with much lower equity in this type of spot.
The River: The 6 paired the board on the end and Brewer moved all-in for 1,654,602 into a pot of 2,716,100. Wong folded and Brewer took down the pot with the worst hand, increasing his stack by just shy of 47 percent without a showdown.
CP: Can you tell me about your decision to back up the turn stab with a shove on the river?
CB: I think just not having an ace is pretty important in this spot. That’s the main thing I would care about is just not having an ace, because almost every hand that I would expect to fold just contained an ace. So maybe I could get a fold from pocket jacks, but I doubt it. I bet I would just get called in this spot. But I’m going to always get a fold from A-K and A-J.
I guess I could maybe get a fold from some middle pair that never improved. So it was queen, six, five, right? So, maybe I could get a fold on like A-5 or something, but yeah, I really am just trying to get her to fold. My hand can never win at showdown, so if she folds anything, it’s good. So whatever non-pair hand she has, if she folds it, then awesome.
CP: Did ICM impact your decision at all? Or were you kind of freed up to just think in terms of chip equity when assessing your decisions because you were essentially the shortest stack? Does that free you up to just try to accumulate chips and not worry so much about laddering up the payjumps?
CB: Definitely, to an extent. I mean, I do have to be concerned about some, because as long as I’m in the tournament, I have more equity than if I’m out of the tournament. But I think in the main event, people are probably going to under bluff that spot. So I actually expect my bluff to get through too often. So that’s not really like an ICM thing or anything, but based on the situation, I would kind of rather go for it more often than less there, just based on the way I think people are going to play. I could see people making insane folds in that spot, just because in the main event, they might think that no one is bluffing for their stack.
CP: Players might not admit it, but the fact that this is such a huge event with so many players for the buy-in and millions on the line, it might understandably impact their tolerance for risk in certain spots deep in the event.
CB: And I do think that’s a huge advantage for guys who play all the high rollers all the time. You end up deep in one of these $1,000 through $5,000 buy-in events, but you’re now playing the equivalent of like a $25K tournament. It’s so much easier for you to be like, ‘Eh, oh well, I’ll get this spot again.’ While someone else is thinking that this is the only time they’re ever going to play these stakes, and they don’t want to make a mistake.
Brewer photo credit: WPTDeepStacks.