Phil Hellmuth has been an absolute wrecking ball in high stakes heads-up matches on PokerGO…
…but he just went up against the impenetrable fortress that is elite poker pro Jason Koon.
This article will retell the story of that match by recapping (and briefly analyzing) the 9 most notable hands.
But first, let’s set the stage.
Note: All images in this article are screenshots from PokerGO’s coverage of this match. You can watch the full match (and other poker content) by becoming a PokerGO subscriber.
Featured photo credit (edited from original): Drew Amato
PokerGO’s High Stakes Duel is a series of ongoing heads-up matches in which the buy-ins escalate (starting at $50,000 and doubling after each match).
Hellmuth was 9-1 on High Stakes Duel going into his match earlier this week. He had beaten a number of strong (and arguably not-so-strong) opponents including Scott Seiver, Antonio Esfandiari, and Daniel Negreanu.
Across the 10 matches, Hellmuth had netted $1,250,000 in profit. But he had to risk nearly two-thirds of that in this $800,000 buy-in match against his most formidable opponent yet — Jason Koon.
Koon is one of the most feared poker players in the world. He’s cashed for nearly $42 million in live poker tournaments (7th most all-time) and has also put up big numbers online. He’s a well-rounded beast who you do not want to see at your table.
With that out of the way, let’s get into how this match went down.
Hand #1: Hellmuth Mistimes Big Preflop Bluff
The first 45 minutes of play were uneventful, with both players trading small pots and their stack sizes hovering close to the 800,000 chips with which they started.
Then, this hand happened.
Preflop action: With the blinds at 1,500/3,000, Hellmuth limps on the button with Q♥ 6♠. Koon looks down at A♠ A♣ and raises to 10,500.
Nothing super unusual yet. Hellmuth’s limp with Q6o is reasonable and Koon has a must-raise with Pocket Aces. But then the hand starts to fly off the rails.
Preflop action (continued): Hellmuth responds with a 3-bet to 32,000. Koon 4-bets to 120,000. Hellmuth 5-bets to 260,000. Koon raises all-in. Hellmuth folds.
And just like that, Hellmuth loses a big chunk (31%) of his stack with a mistimed move. He’s still got nearly 200 big blinds, however, so he’s still very much in this match.
This did prompt Hellmuth to break out his signature “stand up in frustration” move for the first time in the match.
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Hand #2: Hellmuth Strikes Back
The blinds are still 1,500/3,000 and Hellmuth’s got around 550k to start this hand.
Preflop action: Koon raises to 7,000 with 9♦ 7♦. Hellmuth 3-bets to 30,000 with A♥ 4♠. Koon calls.
Koon makes a standard raise with his suited one-gapper.
Hellmuth 3-bet with A4o is unusual. Weak offsuit Aces perform much better as calls in this spot. By 3-betting, he’s bloating the pot out of position with a hand that doesn’t have much playability and will often be dominated. If his hand was suited or if he had a low/connected offsuit hand (like 54o), 3-betting would be more appropriate.
Koon is being laid fairly good odds (3-to-2) to call the 3-bet. Plus he has the advantage of position, a hand with great playability, and deep stacks behind. Fairly trivial call for him with the 97s.
Flop action: The flop is K♦ 8♥ 6♥. Hellmuth checks. Koon bets 30,000. Hellmuth quickly calls.
Hellmuth has a hand that could go either way (bet or check) on the flop. He opts to check and Koon takes a half-pot-sized stab at the pot with his open-ended straight draw. With the Ace of hearts in his hand, you can’t fault Hellmuth for peeling a card.
Turn action: The turn is the (K♦ 8♥ 6♥) K♥. Hellmuth checks. Koon bets 75,000. Hellmuth calls.
Hellmuth checks to the aggressor and Koon continues to represent a strong hand (trip Kings or better) with a medium bet. With the nut flush draw, Hellmuth wisely isn’t going anywhere.
River action: The river is the (K♦ 8♥ 6♥ K♥) T♥. Both players check.
Hellmuth could lead out now that he’s rivered the nut flush, but checking is a fine play as well because it allows Koon to continue bluffing with hands like 75s. Koon will also likely bet for value with some worse hands, such as a Queen-high flush.
With a rivered straight on a four-flush board, Koon has an easy check back. It’s unlikely he would have paid off a lead from Hellmuth anyway.
And with that, Hellmuth pulled himself back to nearly even.
Hand #3: Koon Is Locked In
The blinds are 2,000/4,000 and the players are nearly even (Koon has 856k, Hellmuth as 744k).
Preflop action: Hellmuth limps on the button with 8♦ 2♣. Koon checks J♠ 9♥.
Hellmuth’s limp with 82o is too loose. If there was an ante in play (which would improve his pot odds) or if he was up against a weak opponent (which would allow him to realize more equity), an argument could be made to limp with hands as weak as this. But there is no ante and Koon is a world-class player who will not make it easy for Hellmuth to win pots after the flop. He’d be better off ditching this one and moving onto the next hand.
Koon’s J9o is not strong enough to raise for value and not weak enough to raise as a bluff, so he wisely checks.
Flop action: The flop is A♣ Q♦ T♠. Koon checks. Hellmuth bets 4,500. Koon calls.
Hellmuth decides to take a stab at this pot, which seems a little ambitious since he’s going to have very little equity when called. Koon makes an easy call with his straight draw.
Turn action: The turn is the (A♣ Q♦ T♠) J♣. The action goes check, check.
River action: The river is the 9♠. Koon bets 4,000. Hellmuth raises to 9,500. Koon re-raises to 30,000. Hellmuth folds.
Koon opts to block bet for value with his two pair, hoping to get called by a hand like an Ace. Hellmuth decides to raise small for value with the low end of the straight, but Koon reads him well and comes back over the top, which elicits a quick fold from Hellmuth.
This wasn’t a big pot — Koon netted just 18,000 chips in this one — but it shows just how dialed-in he was in this match.
Hand #4: Koon Snap-Calls With Ace-High On River
After a few small and medium-sized pots, this ego-bruising hand went down with the blinds still at 2,000/4,000.
Preflop action: Koon raises to 10,000 with A♦ Q♦. Hellmuth 3-bets to 26,000 with Q♥ J♣. Koon calls.
One interesting note here is that Hellmuth 3-bet quite small with this hand, whereas he had 3-bet to 32,000 just a few hands prior with 7♠ 4♥. It’s possible he has a sizing tell, going smaller with medium-strength hands. Whether that’s true or not, I’m certain Koon noticed this change in 3-bet size.
Flop action: The flop is 9♥ 9♣ 2♠. Hellmuth bets 32,000. Koon calls.
Hellmuth should be c-betting with a very wide range on this flop, but a smaller size would be optimal. While Hellmuth does have the stronger overall range, here, Koon is the player who is more likely to have flopped trips. When you have the stronger overall range but your opponent has more super-strong hands, betting small is the way to go.
Koon can’t go anywhere just yet with Ace-Queen high on a flop like this. Let’s take a turn.
Turn action: The turn is the (9♥ 9♣ 2♠) 3♣. Both players check.
Hellmuth has a decent hand with which to continue bluffing, but he opts to slow down. Koon has showdown value and no good reason to bet, so he checks back.
River action: The river is the (9♥ 9♣ 2♠ 3♣) T♥. Hellmuth bets 52,000. Jason calls instantly.
Hellmuth decides to represent an overpair that slow-played the turn or a rivered top pair, but his size is too small to truly test Koon. If he had a hand like QQ or AT, he’s almost certain to have the best hand and can go for a big value bet around the size of the pot.
Against this less than half pot size, Koon is getting an amazing price (better than 3-to-1) against a range that contains many potential bluffing hands. Remember, Hellmuth had 3-bet with 7♠ 4♥ just a few hands earlier, so it’s not hard to imagine him having a junky hand that takes a stab at the pot on the river.
Hellmuth’s face after this hand, which put Koon well above 1 million chips, says it all.
Hand #5: Let’s Play Another 3-Bet Pot
Hellmuth is down, but far from out. His 532,000 chip stack is still over 100 big blinds going into this hand.
Preflop action: Koon raises to 12,000 with J♠ T♦. Hellmuth 3-bets to 36,000 with 7♣ 4♠. Koon calls.
It’s okay to 3-bet some junky hands preflop in heads-up poker, but it’s preferable for them to be a bit more connected so you have some extra postflop playability when called. For example, 65o is a good 3-bet bluffing hand. 74o, not so much. In any case, Hellmuth 3-bets 74o for the second time in a 10 minute span.
Koon’s call with JTo would be somewhat borderline in theory, but against an opponent using a small 3-bet size with a range that includes a lot of junk, it crosses the threshold into “easy call” territory.
Flop action: The flop comes J♦ 8♦ 6♣. Hellmuth checks. Koon checks back.
Hellmuth decides to not bluff on the flop despite picking up a straight draw, which seems fine considering how well this flop connects with Koon’s range. Koon’s hand could go either way, but he opts to check to keep the pot small and allow Hellmuth to bluff turns and rivers.
Turn action: The turn is the (J♦ 8♦ 6♣) T♣. Hellmuth bets 62,000. Koon calls.
Hellmuth picks up a double gutshot straight draw and goes for a very big bet, 62,000 into a 72,000 chip pot. The size might be bigger-than-ideal, but he has a great hand with which to bet.
Koon is clearly not going anywhere with top two pair. He could raise to get value and deny equity, but he opts to string Hellmuth along with a call.
River action: The river is the (J♦ 8♦ 6♣ T♣) 7♦. Hellmuth checks. Koon checks.
It’s hard to say what Hellmuth should do on this river because, frankly, he should never reach this point with 74o. His measly pair of sevens is likely never good, so he has to bet to win the pot. It’s tough to imagine him having many worse hands, which makes me lean towards bluffing.
Hellmuth ends up waiving the white flag. As Koon is stacking his new chips, Hellmuth rips into Koon for playing too loose preflop.
This hand vaulted Koon to around 1.2 million chips, good for a 3-to-1 lead.
Hand #6: Hellmuth Snap Calls River
The blinds are 2,500/5,000 going into this one.
Preflop action: Koon raises to 12,000 with 6♠ 5♣. Hellmuth calls with A♥ 8♦.
Flop action: The flop is 7♣ 5♠ 4♠. Hellmuth checks. Koon bets 16,000. Hellmuth calls.
Hellmuth checks to the aggressor and Koon makes a good bet with his middle pair plus open-ender. Hellmuth has an easy call with Ace-high, two overcards, and a gutshot.
Turn action: The turn is the (7♣ 5♠ 4♠) J♦. Both players check.
Koon still has a strong hand, but it’s not quite strong enough to continue betting for value. He’s going to try to steer this to showdown unless he improves on the river.
River action: The river is the (7♣ 5♠ 4♠ J♦) 8♣. Hellmuth checks. Koon bets 56,000. Hellmuth quickly calls.
Unfortunate river for Hellmuth. He could bet for value with his rivered second pair, which will often be the best hand. But checking to induce bluffs from Koon is a good play as well.
Koon goes for a big bet (pot-sized) which makes sense since he is representing a very strong range of value bets (two pair or better, mostly straights).
Even versus the big bet, Hellmuth has to call with a hand this strong against a player who is more than capable of bluffing.
After this hand, Hellmuth’s stack is down to about tree fiddy (350,000).
Hand #7: Ambitious Bluff
Hellmuth seems to feel like he’s on the ropes going into this hand, but he’s still got some room to maneuver with a 35 big blind stack.
Preflop action: Koon raises to 12,000 (blinds 3,000/6,000) with A♥ 5♠. Hellmuth calls with 9♦ 8♥.
Standard play by both.
Flop action: The flop is Q♣ 5♣ 5♥. Hellmuth checks. Koon bets 6,000. Hellmuth calls.
Koon has a big range advantage on this tough-to-connect-with flop, and he wisely leverages that advantage with a small bet. He has trips in this instance, but Koon would make a similar bet with most, if not all hands in his range.
Hellmuth’s call with 9-high is very loose. He clearly has devious plans for future streets.
Turn action: The turn is the (Q♣ 5♣ 5♥) 6♣. Hellmuth checks. Koon bets 25,000. Hellmuth raises to 60,000. Koon calls.
The turn brings a possible flush, but Koon’s hand is still worth betting to extract value from draws and worse made hands.
Hellmuth’s raise with his turned gutshot is ambitious. His hand simply doesn’t have enough going on to make this play profitable. If he had a single club, this would be reasonable.
Koon can’t go anywhere when he’s holding trips with the nut kicker.
River action: The river is the (Q♣ 5♣ 5♥ 6♣) 3♥. Hellmuth checks. Koon bets 40,000. Hellmuth folds.
Hellmuth decides to wave the white flag and Koon makes a super sharp play by betting small. Hellmuth had less than a pot-sized bet behind, here, but Koon correctly recognized that Hellmuth’s range is mega weak (probably a weak pair at best) after he plays the hand this way. Against such a weak range, a small bet is best to put Hellmuth’s weak range in a tough spot.
Hand #8: Hellmuth Hero Calls King-High
Hellmuth’s stack is 190,000 going into this hand with the blinds at 3,000/6,000.
Preflop action: Hellmuth limps with K♥ 2♥. Koon raises to 24,000 with 6♦ 4♦. Hellmuth calls.
Well played by both players preflop. Hellmuth has the perfect hand to limp and call a raise. Koon has a great hand to raise over a limp (you can think of it as a sort of preflop semi-bluff).
Flop action: The flop is J♥ J♦ J♣. Koon bets 30,000. Hellmuth calls.
Koon continues representing a strong hand with a relatively big bet (as far as flop bets go). Hellmuth, knowing Koon can have some low hands, makes a good call with King-high.It’s tough to have much better on a board with three jacks!
Turn action: The turn is the (J♥ J♦ J♣) Q♣. Both players check.
Koon slows down on the Queen, which is a good card for Hellmuth’s range. Hellmuth checks, hoping to steer this hand to showdown.
River action: The river is the (J♥ J♦ J♣ Q♣) 4♠. Koon bets 36,000. Hellmuth quickly calls.
Brutal river for Hellmuth. Koon goes for a small bet to extract value from King-high and Ace-high hands, and Hellmuth obliges by paying him off.
After seeing the bad news, Hellmuth erupts out of his seat and gets some steps in.
The Final Hand: Hellmuth Picks Up Big Slick
Hellmuth starts this hand with 103,000 chips (to Koon’s 1.5 million). The blinds are 3,000/6,000.
Preflop action: Koon raises to 12,000 with Q♣ 8♦. Hellmuth 3-bets to 35,000 with A♦ K♣. Koon puts Hellmuth all-in for 103,000 total. Hellmuth calls.
Koon’s all-in here is very non-standard. So, non-standard, in fact, that I decided to turn to Twitter to get thoughts from other people as to why he decided to stick it in with Q8o.
I think poker pro Amit Makhija’s answer makes the most sense.
Thinks Helmuth will jam most of his good hands, and will random bluff many hands for smaller sizes as we’ve seen in past matches, and has too many random hands to make up for the few small size monsters. I think he expected hands like AKo to be in jam.
— Amit Makhija (@amak316) December 8, 2022
To build on Makhija’s point, Hellmuth once made a big 3-bet in a tournament with Q4o and called off versus a shove, so perhaps that hand (and ones like it) were sticking in Koon’s mind when he made this shove.
Anyway, let’s run out the board.
Board runout: Q♠ T♣ 4♠ T♦ 3♠
Koon drags in the last of Hellmuth’s chips and wins the match.
What Do You Think About Hellmuth’s Play in This Match? What About Koon’s?
Let me know in the comments below.
I watched a lot of the hands from Hellmuth’s past High Stakes Duels, and he always seemed to bob and weave at the right times. This was the first time he seemed, dare I say, outclassed by his opponent.
Koon did run very well in this match, but as the hands above show, he got the best of Hellmuth in a number of spots that had little to do with luck. I’d be surprised to see Hellmuth opt to rematch Koon, who is now waiting for a challenger in the next match (which will boast a massive $1.6 million buy-in).
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