When the Dynamic Changes

I thought that I would make this weeks article about the main talking point on the forum last week and that was Phil Hellmuth’s call with a pair of eights against JC Tran (stop groaning). I am certainly not going to use this article to take an unfair opportunity to say that I was right with my opinion. To be honest I don’t even know if I am and simply calling with the eights may have been the best default play rather than trying to over analyse the situation by trying to plough through various multi-level thinking processes.

But my point about Hellmuth’s ultra fast flop call and that this gave an awful lot of information to Tran cannot be ignored. I am going to use the expertise of Mike Caro here to help me with this article and mention something that he once dubbed “the calling reflex”.

As poker players, on a psychological level we desire to get involved in action. These are subtle drives that direct us all along certain paths even though we may not be immediately aware of them. There may be a strong psychological bias towards taking an action that involves putting chips in the middle (betting, calling or raising) rather than checking or folding and especially in marginal situations.

Plus in many marginal situations, it is often your natural personality which can take over and make that decision for you or in this case, the limbic side of your brain. In fact Mike Caro even talks about this reflex in Super System 2 and this was precisely what I was referring too. But even in this instance, when you are unaware of the meta game factors then you really are in danger of arriving at conclusions that are flawed.

When you play the same opponents over an over again, there is a connection between hands that may not have even been played in the same session. It is for this reason that I mainly don’t get involved in commenting on hands except if something intrigues me like in this instance.

In the hand against Tran, Hellmuth definitely telegraphed his intentions by the body language that he displayed with his flop call in my personal opinion. In this instance it may have been possible that Hellmuth got lucky here because this definitely allows an opportunity for a multi-level thinking opponent to set him up.

If Tran can somehow tune in to that then he can value bet Phil and simply bet the hand that Hellmuth thinks that he hasn’t got. Phil even said that he was trusting his reads that week and this underlines my point about Phil’s action on the flop…..he just didn’t believe Tran had a better hand at that stage and was trying to tell him so in a subtle way. Of course this action also has several other permutations and this can also be interpreted as a bet that does not want the other player to fire another barrel and wants to see the river cheaply.

Here I think that Phil was allowing himself to be set up if Tran did hold a hand better than eights because he basically signalled his intention that he was not going to be easily pushed from this hand. Of course this then throws doubt on Tran’s follow up turn bet. Although you can hardly back off just because an opponent calls quickly on the flop as this tactic can be used to see cheap showdowns and free cards which can cost you.

The flip side to Hellmuth’s super fast flop call is that it can actually intimidate an opponent into checking a weak hand on the turn. Then Phil has the option to either bet himself or see the river for free. World class players shouldn’t really fall for this tactic. So in this instance Tran was probably correct to fire again on the turn but here Hellmuth makes another almost instant call…..a clear message.

On the river Tran is in a difficult situation because there is a strong possibility that his deuces would not be good and shoving does put Hellmuth under pressure to make the call. You can hear Tran say “I thought that I could move you off a weak hand”. Tran must have been contemplating that Phil had a mediocre hand so he must have thought that Phil would not call with a hand like eights.

So did Tran think that his all-in was giving Hellmuth a non-standard call or did he believe that this was his only available option and merely took the gamble? I don’t know and I certainly haven’t provided any answers in this article……as for Hellmuth’s call……there was always a chance that Tran had fresh air all the way or a weaker hand and was not value betting due to figuring out his actions. For me personally, it is the multi-level thought processes that really get my juices flowing and why I love Hellmuth so much…….someone has to.