Monday, July 13, 2009

Did Hellmuth Play His Pocket Aces Poorly at the WSOP?

Phil Hellmuth busts out from the Main Event with Pocket Aces

First, Phil Hellmuth is a great tournament poker player. The fact is that he has cashed more than any other player at the WSOP and he has won the Main Event. You may not like his antics, but he has created himself into a brand as the Poker Brat. It works for him very well.

Second, it is easy to second guess players based on outcomes rather than the decision itself. I think we need to evaluate the decision that was made and not the outcome.

Third, I only know what happened based on what I've read on If you know specifics, please let me know.

Finally, the key in reviewing his play is not to criticize but to see if you can learn from his play.

A Few Hands Before The Pocket Aces

Abraham Mourshaki raises to 20,000 and Phil re-raises to 36,000. His opponent calls. Phil can re-raise with a range of hands, but it looks like a min re-raise. A min re-raise usually signals pocket Aces. Phil knows he will be called.

Note: I don't know the levels, but it looks around 2000-4000 blinds.

The flop is Jh-Jc-3d.

Phil bets 40,000 and his opponent calls.

The turn is the 7s. Both players check. This is a good play by Phil. If you are beat, you don't want to lose more chips. What if you get check-raised? Why give yourself a tough decision?

The river is a 5h. Mourshaki bets 120,000. Hellmuth calls. His opponent has As-Jd.

“I’m gonna vomit on the floor,” Phil said. “You had to find jack-jack for him. You couldn’t find just one jack so he could sail off? Phil's speech means he had pocket AA, KK or QQ, or he is just bs'ing.

Phil is down to 100,000.

Pocket Aces and He Is Out

A few hands go by and Mourshaki raises to 22,000 preflop. Hellmuth calls with pocket Aces.

Is that a good play?

My opinion is that Phil made the right play since he was so low on chips compared to average chip level and the leaders at the time. He wants to take the risk that he will be heads-up again and be able to double-up plus. He is playing to win. I don't believe Phil is targeting his opponent because he beat him a few hands earlier.

Unlike the last hand, though, three players call the raise. This is a problem. My estimate is that you lose about 8% per player when it comes to the probability of winning the hand with AA. With 4 callers, I think my Aces will hold up only about 2 out of 3 times. (I'm sure there is a more accurate formula but this is what I use when I have AA and get callers.)

The flop is Jc-10d-5c.

One early player moves all in for 83000. Hellmuth moves all-in for his last 110,000 (I guess he won a hand since his previous loss.) And another caller, also calls the all-ins.

Now, before we reveal the hands, I want to make one point here. This flop is dangerous since it is so coordinated with straight and flush draws, especially with cards 10 and over. I can't stress enough that a coordinated board with two cards 10 and higher are action flops--and a potential problem against many callers (like here).

Phil knows that as well. Even if he is up against two pair, he has a backdoor nut flush, can make a better two pair, and may even be ahead on the flop.

Hellmuth: Ac-As
Early player all-in 9h-8h (a straight draw all-in move)
Late player caller Jh-10c (calls with two pair)

The 7 hit on the turn and the early player gets his straight. Hellmuth is out.

What do you think?

Do you agree or disagree with Hellmuth's play?
Do you agree or disagree with my comments?
Anything to add on the probabilities of the hand match-ups?

Thanks for your input!


Mark Sweeney said...

Some tough calls to make, and we could use more information.

If the stacks yet to call behind Phil are much larger than his, just calling the 22K raise practically invites more callers. Pot odds get better with each caller, and players acting after him have better position as well. (With the exception of the blinds).

Before Phil acts, there's 28K on the table - 6K in blinds, + 22K raise. A call from him makes it 50K on the table. For the Big Blind, that's 14K to see a 50K pot, 1:3.6 pot odds.

A third caller makes it 72K in the pot, or 1:5 pot odds for the Big Blind, again inviting more players.

With a stack of 132K, I think the better move is re-raising to 44-50K instead of just calling. If you have to fold after the flop, you've still got 82-88K left, and you're discouraging others from calling. You hope to get a heads up situation instead of facing four opponents after the flop.

Paul Ellis said...

This is a tough one. I don't hate his min-raise, but it becomes extremely difficult to play Aces after the flop given what happened. You're basically hoping for the last Ace in the deck to win the hand at this point because there is no way you're betting the opponent off his set. I would say it was played right, but just got unlucky.

Let me re-ask if Hellmuth misplayed aces on this hand. It is the hand that busted him in this years 2009 Main Event. Blinds are at 3000-6000 and a player raises to 26k, Phil squeezes As-Ac and flat calls. But call's also come from the cutoff, the button and the Big blind. So 5 players see a flop of J-T-x. The Big Blind shoves his whole stack of 58k, the early player fold to Phil, who moves all in for 120k. The button makes the call for about 1/3 of his remaining stack. BB shows J-T for 2 pair, and the Button shows 8-9os.

The turn card comes as a 7 elminating the other players (including Phil). Was this misplayed?

Mitchell said...


Thanks for the specifics on the pocket Aces hand. The player chip stacks are somewhat different than what I read on cardplayer. But, your write-up makes sense.

As to being misplayed--I think not. He wants to double up here, and didn't expect callers.

However, if he wanted to be fairly certain to be heads up he could have min-raised as in the previous hand. However, that may have only added about 30% to his stack...although he still would be alive.

It will be interesting to see if he says he misplayed the hand or not.


GiJoeValdez said...

Had he reraised players would have either folded or called his raise, but for sure he wouldn't have gone up against 5 players.

Rob Lee said...

I'm still learning the ropes of poker...but I would say that Phil played the hand right. It was just unlucky as Paul has commented.

Personally, pocket Aces scare the bejesus out of me. Every time I've played my AA's I've end up like Phil LOL

]=[endo said...

I don't really see a fault in the play, but as a matter of personal preference, I'd throw in a raise...little more than a min raise, in hopes that no other others would get in and I can go heads up against the original raiser.

Anonymous said...

obv the correct play would be reraise. That said, given his chip count, ppl left in the trny, I think he would be willing to gambel more, by letting in more players, to try and tripel up rather than take down whats out there. Myself, i would have shoved preflop.

StB said...

I hated his play. Go after the guy that just got lucky on you. Wait until you have more chips and are not putting your tournament on the line with a play like this.

Paul Ellis said...

I would have liked to have seen Phil 3 or 4 bet the raise to 26k. I mean, Doyle Brunson once said "with Aces, you either win a small pot, or lose a big one."

With that many players left to act behind, you increase the odds of a multi-pot. Despite the fact that it was slightly more than a 4 bet original raise, you weren't betting enough to chase everyone with a strong starting hand. Phil later commented that he couldn't believe that the button would call a 26k raise, but the BB calling with J-T makes sense because with 4 people in the pot and a discount, it makes too much sense to call here.

But Hellmuth I believe played the post flop correctly despite the fact that he was behing the two pair. You're either going to shove or fold with AA in that position, and with the BB just calling, you have to figure him for top pair or a draw. And at this stage, it was important to collect chips. AA is not a hand that you want to get rid of.

I think that if you were to ask Phil if he would play this differently, he's either saw re-raise the pre-flop or continue to say that he just got unlucky. i believe the latter.

What's Your Poker IQ?