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Hellmuth vs Dwan: A Call on the Verge of Madness

Phil Hellmuth is one of the most successful poker players in the world. If you look at the naked numbers, he is the best tournament player of all time with 16 bracelets (as of 2022). However, there is one nemesis Hellmuth has never been able to overcome in a major tournament or cash game: Tom Dwan has outplayed him and made him look like a fool again and again over the last 12 years.

In our section Hand Jam we take a look at a hand between the two players that was already played out in 2009 in the sixth season of the American poker show Poker After Dark.

In this hand, a pot with more than 800 big blinds is played out and Phil Hellmuth tries a crazy hero call with 3rd pair on the river.

Watch the whole hand on video:

Detailed run down of the hand

The Blinds are $200 / $400:

Eli Elezra (CO): K 9

Phil Hellmuth (BU, $200,000): 9 7

Tom Dwan (SB, $163,675): J 10

Preflop: Elezra raises to $1,400, Hellmuth reraises to $5,400, Dwan reraises to $16,100, Elezra folds, Hellmuth calls.

Flop ($34,200): Q 10 7

Dwan checks, Hellmuth checks.

Turn ($34,200): 10

Dwan bets $27,600, Hellmuth calls.

River ($89,500): 5

Dwan bets $119,975 (all-in), Hellmuth calls

Dwan wins with trip tens.

Let's try to analyse this hand.

Preflop: plenty of aggression and a call without a plan

Already before the flop, this hand is pretty venturous. In the cut-off, Eli Elezra opens with king-nine and a raise to three and a half big blinds. While this is still a normal move in a loose live game, it is now followed by an unusual re-raise - even for particularly aggressive live games. Phil Hellmuth has 9-7-off and raises by almost tripling the bet to 13.5 big blinds. This is a re-raise that every now and then can be done, but in the long run such a move is not profitable, even when having position on the opponent. Hellmuth's hand is simply too bad and offers too little potential.

Tom Dwan
Tom Dwan

Tom Dwan in the small blind is the only player at the table with a halfway decent hand with J 10 . It is possible to call the re-raise with this hand even out of position, hoping to see a flop. However, Dwan is then playing a hand in a big pot with no position and no initiative. Given that the stacks are all over 400 big blinds, a re-raise is a playable option and Dwan raises to 40 big blinds.

With this cold 4-bet raise Dwan signals an enormous amount of strength, much more strength than his actual hand entails. Just to be clear, the raise is a bluff. But the hand has much better potential to hit good flops and draws than Hellmuth's 9-7 has.

Elezra, sitting between Hellmuth and Dwan does the only sensible thing and folds his now very weak-looking hand.

Hellmuth, on the other hand, suspects that Dwan is in a position to bring a 4-bet in this situation preflop with hot air. Therefore, he seems to think that his call is justified with his equally weak hand, as he is in position.

Hellmuth's call before the flop is a mistake

Hellmuth calls a 4-bet to 40 big blinds with 9 7 . This call looks outrageously wrong. And just to be clear once more, this call is wrong in almost every respect. Yes, Dwan can bluff in this situation, but even then Hellmuth's hand is weaker than most bluffs in Dwan's range.

And yes, Hellmuth is playing in position. But after he calls the raise, there's $34,200 in the middle and Dwan only has a little under $150,000 left in the stack. The stack-to-pot ratio is 4.3, which is very low and Hellmuth can do very little with his position because of it.

A high stack-to-pot ratio favours the player in position. Here, however, this ratio is too low. Why? Tom Dwan theoretically has the option of firing a pot-sized bet on the flop and following it up with another pot-sized bet on the turn. Then he would be all-in and Hellmuth would not have had any chance to utilize his position at any point. For example, what would his plan be on an A-9-2 flop? Call on the flop and hope for a showdown with no more bets? How would Hellmuth bluff on a K-T-2 flop? How does Hellmuth play a 7-2-2 flop?

If Hellmuth flops well, he doesn't hit well enough to play an 800-big blind pot, and if Hellmuth hits nothing, he probably doesn't have enough maneuvering options to steal the pot often enough.

In this situation it would be much better if Hellmuth had simply folded his hand and realised that his attempt to steal the hand with a light re-raise before the flop had failed.

Flop: Don't turn the hand into a bluff

After the somewhat adventurous raise and call before the flop, both players hit something on the Q 10 7 board: middle pair for Dwan and bottom pair for Hellmuth.

Dwan has a pair as well as a couple of backdoor draws to a flush or a straight. He wants to see a turn card with his hand and he wants to avoid bluffing. A bet on the flop would be very close to a bluff. After Hellmuth's pre-flop call, Dwan has to assume that strong pairs are a substantial part of Hellmuth's range and against those hands he is way behind. With a bet, Dwan would hardly get better hands to fold and would rarely get value from worse hands. Besides, it is generally not a good idea to inflate the pot unnecessarily with a medium weak hand that has showdown value. That's why a check is absolutely correct here.

Hellmuth hit the flop as well as he could hope with 9-7-off. He has a pair with overcards and somehow a bit of backdoor straight draw. Hellmuth also has some interest in seeing the showdown, because against a hand like A-K or A-J he is clearly ahead. That is why his check on the flop is understandable.

Turn: Looks like a bluff, doesn't it?

Hellmuth: Snap Call
Hellmuth: Snap Call

On the turn Dwan hits trips. After Hellmuth's check on the flop, Dwan must have already guessed that his middle pair is good. It is likely that Hellmuth would have bet strong hands on the draw-heavy board. At the same time, Dwan can be fairly certain that Hellmuth has some hand that has showdown value. Otherwise Hellmuth would probably have bluffed the flop.

Dwan's goal now is to win as much as possible from Hellmuth and make Hellmuth think he is bluffing. Thus, Dwan brings the big guns and goes for a comparatively big bet of around 80% of the pot. That is pretty much the size of bet you would expect from a bluff. Dwan's bet is good and his sizing almost perfect.

Hellmuth makes a massive mistake on the turn: he calls instantaneously. There are less than 10 seconds between Dwan's bet and Hellmuth's call. First and foremost, Hellmuth telegraphs the nature of his hand. He has no draw. He would have considered on the turn whether the odds were right and whether a semibluff would not be a better option. He also doesn't have a strong hand. With a strong hand he would have considered whether a raise was an option.

A quick call in this situation is almost always a mediocre hand and an attempt to convince the opponent to check the river.

With his quick call Hellmuth tries to convey that he is not afraid, that he is convinced he has the best hand. In this situation, however, it is too transparent. To the attentive player, Hellmuth's insta-call only signals that he does not want to see another bet on the river.

River: Strong All-In, Maddening Call

Dwan is an observant player and he will have had a very good idea of his Hellmuth's hand after his call on the turn - a weak hand with showdown value.

After an absolute blank comes on the river with the 5 (which completes no draw), Dwan tries to continue his story of a big bluff. In 2009, when this hand was played, Tom Dwan was known for his fearless bluffs. This image naturally stood him in good stead in this situation. He chooses the all-in as the most convincing option to make his bet look like a bluff.

In fact, Dwan represents a very polarised range here. He either has a monster (trips or better) or nothing (ace-king or another hand with no showdown value). Dwan knows what range he represents, he knows that Hellmuth has a hand of medium-low strength and he knows that Hellmuth would like nothing better than to win a huge pot against him. That's why the all-in option here is much better than a smaller, milking bet.

After Hellmuth called on the turn within a few seconds, it now takes him several minutes. In the end, he manages to convince himself that it could be a genius call and he shoves his money in the middle.

The call - regardless of the outcome of the hand - is not genius. A look at the pot odds shows that Hellmuth has to win the hand around 36% of the time for the call to be profitable. That doesn't sound like much at first, but Tom Dwan's bluffing frequency is extremely low in this situation.

The way the hand unraveled, Hellmuth knows that Dwan knows the strength of his hand. Hellmuth has convinced himself in this situation that Dwan knows he has a weak hand and is therefore trying to push him out. Almost certainly however, Hellmuth overestimates the likelihood that Dwan would bluff with a hand like A-K.

It would have been Hellmuth's last opportunity to get his head out of the noose and still get out of the hand reasonably unscathed. But his delusion of making a genius hero call against his nemesis drove him to give away $120,000 on this river. Sure, if Dwan had A K or a hand like 9 8 in this situation, the call would look fabulous. But Dwan has a legitimate hand here about 90 percent of the time and a bluff only 10 percent of the time.

This week, Hellmuth and Dwan will play for $400,000 in the Highstakes Duel on PokerGO. The first round went to Tom Dwan and it seems unlikely that Hellmuth will have much of a chance in the second round. Only with a good portion of luck can Hellmuth achieve the first big success against Dwan.

» More on the Highstakes Duel between Dwan and Hellmuth

Antonio Maldonado
2022-01-29 18:37:12

Crazy call…

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