Few things in poker are more entertaining than a Phil Hellmuth rant.
The ‘Poker Brat’ is an old school legend of the game. He has over $23,000,000 in live tournament winnings and leads all-time with 15 WSOP bracelets. But despite his success on the felt, many people know him better for his tirades after losing a hand.
That brings us to our hand analysis today. And, boy, is it a funny one. His opponent is English pro and effective altruism advocate Liv Boeree.
The game is $25/$50/$100 on Poker Night in America and the cameras are rolling. Let’s jump into the action!
Liv Boeree opens to $300 with 5♠ 5♣ ($11,900 stack) from the Hijack and it’s folded around to Phil Hellmuth who looks down at A♥ A♠ ($5,525 stack) in the straddle. He decides to raise to $800. Liv calls pretty quickly.
From the Hijack, Liv will want to open-raise around 20% of the time to a size between $200 to $300. Pocket fives are included in this range, so Liv’s hand selection and open-raise size are appropriate.
3-betting is mandatory for Phil with the aces, but the size he used is not appropriate. His range here should consist of hands such as JJ+, AQs, KQs, and sometimes a hand like AJs, small suited aces, suited connectors, and TT at some frequency.
Phil’s $800 is too small and will give his opponent good enough odds to call with some marginal hands profitably, instead of forcing them to become breakeven or losing calls. Phil’s range will be very tight and strong and he will be out of position. This means he is incentivized to 3-bet to a larger sizing to maximize the EV of his range.
An appropriate 3-bet size is at least $1,000 and could go as high as $1,200. Given the smaller size Phil used, Liv has an easy and profitable flat with pocket fives.
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The flop comes K♣ J♥ T♦ and both players check. The pot is $1,675.
Phil’s 3-bet range smashes this board because it likely includes every set and AQ. Because of his range advantage, he should continue with the aggression by betting his whole range for at least 1/3rd of the pot. By checking, he allows Liv realize a lot of free equity if she has a hand such as a pocket pairs or a pair with a straight draw.
Once faced with a check, Liv correctly interprets the situation as one that is heavily unfavorable because a bet would not render sufficient fold equity. Checking is clearly the superior play.
The turn comes the 5♦ making the board K♣ J♥ T♦ 5♦. Phil checks once again, Liv fires a $1,100 bet and Phil calls making the pot $3,875.
Phil missed another bet here. His check is, once again, suboptimal because his hand is very strong and he can extract a lot of value and/or deny a lot of equity (in case Liv decides to fold hands such as T9 or AJ).
Liv’s bet is correct and the size she used is appropriate for both her range and her specific hand. She is looking to extract value from hands such as (presumably) KQ, QJ, AJ, and QQ. Little does she know Phil is trapping with a very under-represented hand.
As played, Phil’s call is his best course of action since he can still dominate some value from Liv’s range. She could potentially bet like this with KQ, and she may be bluffing with a hand such as 98 or 87 suited.
The river comes the 3♣ making the board K♣ J♥ T♦ 5♦ 3♣. Phil quickly checks and Liv tanks before betting $2,150 into the $3,875 pot. Phil quickly calls and smirks over to Liv to see her hand, only to clap ironically when she turns it over.
He then proceeds to put forth an introspective question:
Why the fu*k do I even play in this fu*king game?
Afterward, he proceeds to explain how he is above everybody else’s skill level:
She watched me for four days bluffing Fedor (Holz) so now she’s calling me with KQ offsuit, I make her do that, and somehow they show up with the fucking set!
I’m so deep, I understand what they’re thinking so much, she’s calling with KQ offsuit!
I know all this because I’m so fucking smart but it doesn’t matter, I still fucking lose!
Look at her laughing, she knows I’ve got her dead on!
Phil’s check is standard — there’s no good reason to lead into the aggressor on this run out.
Liv now has an interesting decision to make. What bet size should she use to extract maximum value? This is a tricky question, to which multiple answers can be correct depending on the viewpoint you wish to take.
From a theoretical perspective, given that there slightly less than one pot sized bet left, Liv’s options are to either shove or check back. This would allow her to extract maximum value with her value hands and bluff with as many hands as possible.
From an exploitative perspective, Phil may respond suboptimally to a shove by overfolding. This means that shoving might be good when bluffing, but might also generate less EV when he is value-betting.
Which approach would you take in Liv’s spot?
Choosing the right approach — exploitative or theoretical — given the situation is one of the most valuable skills you can have as a poker player. Knowing your opponent’s tendencies can lead to much better decisions that have a much higher expectation.
We will never know what the best decision would have been, and that’s something we all have to live with — in this hand and in the ones we play in our sessions. The best way forward is to experiment and learn to become better at this tricky part of the game.
This was a fun quick hand from which we can once again learn that slow-playing doesn’t work nearly as good as some players might think.
Before you click away, I’ll leave you young guys a message from the legend himself:
Your generation doesn’t understand how good I am!
Want more Hellmuthian analysis? Read Phil Hellmuth Blows Up After Semi-Bluff (Analysis).
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