24/07/2008

Hellmuth versus Dwan

Carl Sampson 'The Dean'

There has been a lot of publicity over the past few weeks over this confrontation between Phil Hellmuth and Tom Dwan. The reason why I am bringing this up now is really because someone posted a hand on the forum last week from the “Poker After Dark” series which was quite illuminating and worth a mention.

Will this confrontational match happen... more than likely but only at the right time and after maximum exposure? Let’s face it, if they can sell two forty year old boxers as a worthwhile spectator event and make millions then they can sell this. There is nothing people like better than a grudge match.

But anyway that’s not the point of the article. What I want to write about this week is that hand and take a look at multi-level thinking processes. I still fancy Hellmuth in a live game setting against Dwan but that is purely my own personal opinion. In this hand we see Dwan open raising to $1500 with the Kc-2c and Hellmuth re-raising to $5500 with the Kh-5d and Dwan calling.

Many players would not play like this online but then again we are seriously bumping it up a few levels here and what might apply in a $2-$4 or $3-$6 game isn’t going to cut it here. I find this a fascinating hand just like I do all high limit hands involving top players. Nothing wrong of course with Dwans opening salvo even though his raise is a little low for many peoples tastes but it is not a mistake to make less than pot sized raises once you understand the game and can play very well post flop. In fact poker becomes a whole new ball game in high-stakes play and many of the plays that are considered weak in low-stakes play now become standard.

Hellmuth knows what Dwans likely range is give or take a few hands here and there so he isn’t going to show too much respect to his opening raise which is perfectly standard. So Phil’s re-raise with the K-5 while not being a play that 99.99% of the players in the world would make, against this opponent at this level in this game then this is a reasonably straight forward play also and hence the reason why Dwan calls.

Dwan has a mediocre hand at best but he wants to try and outplay Hellmuth in the same way that Hellmuth wants to outplay Dwan. Tom could try and come back over the top of Phil’s re-raise but then again this risks being raised again and Dwan knows full well that Hellmuth is capable of such a play even on mediocre hands. Dwan doesn’t want to risk wasting a big chunk of his stack being moved off a hand without seeing the flop.

If he folds to Hellmuth’s pre-flop raise then what type of hand is he going to make a stand with? He can’t tighten his range too much because that would be counter productive in itself and is not Dwans style. So a call is the only reasonable option given the stack sizes. Actually as an addition, I would have loved to have seen the entire run up to this hand and how they played out. So generally speaking Dwan cannot fold his K-2 to Hellmuths re-raise (well he can but he can’t do this too often).


So Dwan is going to be open raising on a wide range (Hellmuth knows this and Dwan knows that he knows it) and Hellmuth is going to be re-raising some of the time on a wider range (Dwan knows this and Phil knows that he knows it).

So now we see the flop and this is where the real psychological war begins with each player trying to out manoeuvre the other and to try everything they know to get the other play to think what they want them to think and vive versa. This is Hellmuths greatest strength coupled with his reading ability although it can be his greatest downfall too.

Quite often I have seen Hellmuth use multi-level thinking processes when they have simply not been called for. In these instances then thinking on several levels can be a disaster if you have not correctly identified the level that your opponent thinks on and then taken the next step. It is no good thinking on five different levels if your opponent is a level two thinker otherwise you are just going to end up out thinking yourself.

But on the end Hellmuth makes a $30,000 bet into a $67,000 pot which after long deliberation from Dwan, entices a fold. This is a great bet from Phil because he raises Dwan earlier in the hand on the turn with no pair to Dwans bottom pair and Dwan calls the raise. To call this raise then you must be at least thinking that you could be ahead and not necessarily having to hit your five outer.

So the only thing that I can find fault with here is Dwans river fold. Having pot odds of more than 3/1 then I think that this is a call against this player in this situation. Although I am going to contradict myself here by saying that all this could be wrong simply because I haven’t seen the build up to this hand. Phil cannily makes his river bet look like a milking bet and had he bet any more or any less then I am certain that Dwan would have called. I have seen him make many such calls online when he really knew a player well to think that he would have folded.

I don’t believe that Dwan was giving Phil the tickle here and was really genuinely thinking about calling. But then you have to consider the fact that Hellmuth is sophisticated enough to make his play on the river look like a milking bet. Dwan should know that Phil is constantly trying to direct his thoughts down certain paths so when he sees Hellmuth make what appears to be a value river bet then he has to be aware of the possibility of Hellmuth creating this thought.

Then when this possibility arises and with pot odds of more than 3/1 then a river call becomes the best play. This leads me to think that Hellmuth not only out foxed Dwan in this hand but that Dwan was also lagging a level behind Hellmuth in his thinking processes.

But then again if Dwan made the fold on the river simply because he had made a call thirty minutes earlier and Hellmuth had showed him top pair then this is what I mean by not witnessing the entire action and seeing a warped view of what is actually happening. Still, 3/1 is still 3/1 and I would have still made the call. But then again I would wouldn’t I because it isn’t my 30k that’s at stake.

About the Author