Jonathan Little Hand of The Week: How to Play Your Bluff Catchers
If you want to increase your edge at the tables, make sure to get your FREE 3-day pass and check Jonathan Little training site at pokercoaching.com
I came across an interesting hand from the High Stakes Duel between Phil Hellmuth and Tom Dwan that offers a great perspective on the value of bluff catchers on the river.
The hand started with Phil Hellmuth limping from the button and Dwan raising with pocket tens, making it 5,600 to go. Nothing surprising so far.
But then Hellmuth takes the opportunity to go for a chunky 3-bet, raising to 21,000, putting Dwan in somewhat of a tough spot.
Phil will clearly do this with all of his premium holdings like big pocket pairs and big aces, but he’s also been known to do it with some really bad hands.
So, what should Tom do here with roughly 100 big blinds effective? If he stacks off with pocket tens here, he’ll be in bad shape against all over-pairs, and he’ll be flipping against Ace-King.
If Phil does have nothing, as he sometimes does, Dwan’s jam will make it easy for all those bad hands to fold.
So, with all that considered, Tom makes a call, as I believe he should in this spot.
The flop comes J 7 2 rainbow, and Tom checks, playing in flow. Then Phil goes ahead and checks as well, making this an even more confusing spot, as he is supposed to bet with a high frequency in this situation.
So, when Hellmuth checks back, this narrows his range somewhat to hands like:
- Ace-high hands (AK, AQ)
- Some weak jacks (like J3)
- Pocket pairs like 88 and 99
- Hands containing a 7 or a 2
The turn pairs the board with another 7, and Dwan checks once again.
This is another interesting spot, as many players believe this is a good spot to bet out if you’re in Tom’s shoes. However, betting out doesn’t achieve much.
You will likely get called by hands like pocket pairs, but every time you get raised, you’ll be in a miserable spot.
Also, when Hellmuth has absolute garbage that didn’t connect with the board in any way, this lets him off the hook easily.
Hellmuth goes for a small bet of 17K into the 42K pot, and Dwan doesn’t really have much to think about. Phil could definitely be value-betting with some weaker hands at this point, so calling is the only play that makes sense.
The river comes a 9, and after Tom checks for the third time, Hellmuth fires a half-pot bet of 37K.
This is a very interesting spot, as this particular bet sizing is often used as a value bet with nutted hands.
Of course, when your opponent is Phil Hellmuth, this isn’t as clear-cut, as Phil probably uses a variety of sizings, so the only way to know is if Dwan had actually studied Hellmuth’s tendencies in different spots.
So, what should Dwan do on the river here?
There aren’t many logical bluffs in Phil’s range that play the hand this way, i.e., check back the flop and then bet the turn and the river.
The problem is, I don’t really know what Hellmuth’s preflop range really looks like. For all I know, he could be doing this with a hand like K-8 suited that decided to check the flop for some reason and then start bluffing on the turn.
What would you do in this particular spot?
I don’t really know what the right play here is, but I’m going to guess that calling, which Tom did, is correct. Phil will have some garbage hands in this spot, although he probably bets many of those hands on the flop.
If his range by this point consists only of sevens and bad jacks, then the river is a fold.
All this being said, you shouldn’t assume you know what your opponents are doing unless you’ve done some extensive research.
And, without that kind of knowledge, it’s wrong to start making really nitty folds, which folding pocket tens on this river would certainly be.
We’ll be shown bluffs at least about 30% of the time, which is enough to justify the call given the bet and the pot odds.
So, what does Tom do here and does Phil have it this time around? Check out the video below to find out!
What Would I Do Differently?
So, if I got to the flop in the same exact spot, how would I’ve played this hand in Hellmuth’s shoes?
Checking the flop is probably fine, although I might go for a small bet sometimes. On the turn, though, I think he should bet a little bit bigger, targeting hands like a lone jack or a pocket pair like the one Dwan actually has.
Betting small may get you some value from ace-highs that decide to hero call, but you’ll lose value from these relatively strong hands that can definitely call a bigger bet.
On the river, Phil could have probably gone for a slightly bigger bet, too. I understand this may sound like nitpicking, but in heads up, you’re usually working with small edges, so getting those few extra big blinds in the pot in spots like this one adds up over time.
Jonathan Little is a two-time WPT champion with more than $7 million in live tournament winnings and best-selling author of multiple poker strategy books. If you want to learn from the best and increase your edge at the tables, make sure to get your FREE 3-day pass and check his training site at pokercoaching.com