Inside the Mind of Mike 'Timex' McDonald.

Inside the Mind of Mike 'Timex' McDonald.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Ever wondered what it would be like to win four million dollars in less than six weeks? Well, 24-year-old wizard Mike ‘Timex’ McDonald has kicked off 2014 by doing exactly that.

We catch up with this precocious poker genius to pick his brains on the two most controversial hands from the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure final table.

Hand 1 - The Context

There are seven players left on the final table of the PCA Main Event, and Muur and McDonald are the two runaway chip leaders, although Muur has slightly more.

The Action

1. McDonald (BTN) raises to 125,000 with AcKs.
2. Muur (SB) 3-bets to 310,000 with QsQd.
3. McDonald 4-bets to 700,000.
4. Muur 5-bets to 1.275 million.
5. McDonald goes all in for 6.73 million.
6. Muur tanks, and folds.

The Thought Process

Five-bet folding may not be a very common move, but in this spot facing my shove I thought Muur would be doing it maybe ¾ of the time. I think he was a good player but he was inexperienced playing for so much money. Before each big final table, I usually research my opponents pretty thoroughly beforehand. I found out that Muur posts on 2+2 forums with me, and last year he made $60k at poker, while this year his goal was to work really hard and make $120k. Now he was at a final table where first is almost two million dollars, and those stakes are so far beyond what he’s used to playing for! It was clear that he’s someone who practices hard, studies hard, and really wants to improve – not someone who’s just going to f**k up, take a silly risk and make a giant disaster. For example, I knew he wasn’t going to call it off with Tens.


There might be a little bit of a wild card aspect where he might call my shove with AK or QQ, but I thought if he was going to play a 14 million chip pot with still so many players left, he would want to have a VERY good holding. I think it’s possible I got lucky and made the right play for the wrong reasons – at the time I thought that he did a lot more 3-betting out of position than I would, but once I watched it back, it seemed like a lot of his out of position 3-bets were quite strong hands. It’s possible that he was randomly getting triple or quadruple his share of good hands out of position, leading me to think he was quite position unaware.

At the time, I thought he was someone who might be 3-betting all suited aces, all cards Ace-Jack and higher, and a lot of mid-pocket pairs like 88 or 99. After I 4-bet in the hand, he 5-bet quite quickly. Once he 5-bet I didn’t think he was completely bluffing or anything, but I still thought that he might have a lot of hands where he wanted to like take the initiative with – Ace-Jack, pocket tens, stuff like that. It’s possible his range was just very tight, and I got lucky to run into the low part of it. With his timing, I thought he would have gone slower with Aces specifically. I also had blockers to Aces and Kings, so if his range was JJ+, instead of being half the time JJ/QQ and half the time KK/AA, it’s more like 2/3 of the time JJ/QQ and 1/3 of the time KK/AA. I felt okay with it, since I reasoned that with Ace-King I’ll run into him having KK/AA as often as I’ll run into Aces specifically when I have Kings. For all those reasons it’s difficult for him to have a monster hand there, and pretty unlikely that he’s going to try and play a 14 million chip pot with me when even 8th place would be far and away his biggest poker accomplishment.

Were you surprised that he was actually so strong?
Yeah, I was. If you’d showed me that he had QQ, I’d have just called his 3-bet. I thought his 3-betting range was going to be substantially wider. I didn’t know this at the time, but there was another hand where he folded Ace-Ten to a button open of mine. If that’s how he’d been playing throughout, then I think me 4-betting to 6-bet isn’t the right play. But from the information I had at the time, I was of the impression that he would 3-bet to 5-bet this spot a decent amount, and there’d be an opportunity for me to pick up quite a few chips so long as I don’t run into Aces!

How would you have played it differently if you had Aces or Kings instead of Ace-King?

With Aces I would’ve 6-bet him small – after he made it 1.3 million I would have made it around 2 million. With Kings I might have just called his three-bet. I’m not entirely sure. The difference between Kings and Ace-King is that Kings post-flop is a much more dominant hand. Therefore, with Kings I wouldn’t try and play a 14 million chip pot – I’d much rather try and keep a lot of his weaker hands in and let him try barrelling me off postflop. This way I can call him down on most boards, whereas with Ace-King I’m not dominating a range that much – against his 3-betting range, I might be like 60% favourite compared to in the low 70s with Kings. As a result, there’s less opportunity to trap, unless I hit an ace or a king.

When I crammed there, a lot of my friends on the rail thought that I had AA, but I’m pretty sure that in that specific dynamic I almost always just have Ace-King there. I guess sometimes I’ll have Aces there if I felt like he was extremely strong and didn’t want to risk losing action. If he seemed extremely comfortable, extremely confident, and had timing to suggest that he had a nut hand, then I might not want to trap him with Kings with a small 6-bet, then have to fold on a AQ3 flop.

Hand 2- The Context

It’s down to heads-up play at the final table of the PCA Main Event, and McDonald and Panka are competing for the win. McDonald has a fairly significant chip lead.

The Action

1. Panka (BTN) raises to 400,000 with 9d9h.
2. McDonald (BB) 3-bets to 1.2 million with K?J?.
3. Panka moves all in for 13.1 million.
4. McDonald asks for a count, tanks, and calls.

The Thought Process

This was an interesting spot. A lot of people thought my call was bad and spewy, but there were quite a few factors in my decision. Panka and I had been talking about the hands we’d been playing earlier on, and there were some noteworthy hands relevant to this situation. One was when Isaac Baron opened the button, I 3-bet 44, Panka 4-bet with Q3, I 5-bet crammed for maybe 50-55BB, and he folded. Another one was a hand where Panka 3-bet me with 33, and I also had 33 and called. The flop came J98 with the flush draw, and he check-folded. He commented that he liked how I 3-bet to 5-bet with a small pair, and that he’d do the same against me as well. In another hand I’d 5-bet with A9?, and we basically had this dynamic where it seemed as if we’d both been playing hands lighter with 3-bets, and planning on shoving over 4-bets.

ITMO Panka

Given that previous dynamic, after he made it 400,000, I made it 1.2m. It really seemed like if he had a strong hand, there’s so much reason for him to small 4-bet them to induce me to 5-bet light. As a result, when he just made an overbet-cram, I just assumed that he never really had any strong hands here. Obviously there’s still hands that don’t dominate me that have good equity, like if he has A8? covering one of my suits, KJo’s not doing that well. But I still thought when he crammed so quickly and comfortably, I’ll have 6 outs almost always. I thought KQ and AJ will sometimes have me dominated, but I figured that his most likely hands were small pairs and suited aces, although there’s always just a chance where you’re just flipping for it.

It felt like a similar spot to Greg Merson’s winning hand in the WSOP main event, where he 4-bet crammed K5?. With Panka I was going on the fact that we had a history of 3-betting to 5-betting each other light, and I was fairly surprised to see him have something as strong as 99. I honestly would guess that 99 would be about the strongest hand he ever has there. I honestly thought that he would’ve been inducing with all more dominating hands, so KJ is getting about 1.3 to 1. These are quite good odds against a tough player like Panka who I don’t really think I have much of an edge on. I think heads-up I might be like a 51/49 favourite to win, but it was close enough that I was willing to take that spot even though I think his range is a little stronger than mine.

Tags: Mike 'Timex' McDonald