I’m no exception, I can’t stop talking about Phil Hellmuth. That, in a nutshell, is his superpower. I’ll tell you the thing that infuriates me about Phil Hellmuth. It’s not the whole poker brat shtick, though I am particular about good behavior at the table. The thing that bugs me about him is that he obviously has some special talent, he is gifted. It’s like if some small percentage of the time you could see your opponents cards. How would you play? Well you could be a truly great player, working on your game and studying and using that extra thing that nobody else has to become the best. Or you could rely exclusively on that special talent and do nothing more. You will still be really good and win a lot but how f’ing disappointing. That’s how I see Hellmuth but then combine that with the constant attention seeking nonsense plus dillusions of grandeur that may just all be an act anyway.
So here I am, dissecting Hellmuth plays like the rest the of poker world wondering what on earth is going on. Everyone is talking about the Doug Polk laydown versus Phil Hellmuth on HSP.
Hats off to Doug, this isn’t a miraculous laydown it’s just a really good player keeping his head. This isn’t a soul read, it’s analysis of a range and the equity required to call. If you put Hellmuth’s range in an equity calculator you will see that at the very least it’s close. Hellmuth would just never overbet an overpair or two pair as a check raise of a bet and a raise. So he’s repping a really narrow range and we can debate exactly how narrow. We can see from the cards that we should put QTos in Phil’s range but this is actually a pretty surprising open by Phil. It would be reasonable to think the only nut straights he can have are with the suited combos of QT since he opened preflop and Phil is generally pretty snug. You can see from the banter that Doug doesn’t even believe he’s likely to have a set. But even if you plug in sets + straight using only QT suited + one or two specific combo draws, Doug still only has about 50% equity. If you remove bottom set, it shifts further. If you remove all the sets it becomes a slam dunk fold. If you add in some of the QTos combos it turns into a massive mistake to call. Now if it was me I would have called and then done this analysis at home, but Doug Polk gets it right in game and saves 90k.
So the real story here is not “great player keeps his head and trusts his analysis”. The real story is “self declared greatest poker player on earth lights 90k on fire by not respecting his opponent”.
But there are plenty more of Hellmuth’s plays on HSP to dissect. The strangest play he makes is in episode 9 where he limp folds AK preflop from the small blind to a single raise from the straddle who happens to also be the worst player at the table. I’ve rewatched that hand a few times and I can’t tell if it’s the dumbest play I’ve ever seen or an almost amazing soul read. First there is something weird about how Hernandez puts out the straddle (i swear i can hear him say ‘call’ as he puts out his straddle). It limps around to Hellmuth who hesitates in the small blind but then just completes with his AK. James Bord comments “I thought you were going to raise” and Hellmuth says he thought he was going to also. Then it gets to Hernandez in the straddle and he raises a normal sized raise. It folds to Dwan on the button who calls. Helmuth engages Hernandez in some banter and then bizarrely he folds… AK… preflop… to a single raise from a fish. Gabe Kaplan is dumbfounded.
Maybe Phil was doing his crazy voodoo stuff on this hand. I have no idea how anyone can be so sure of a read of a single preflop raise to fold AK but he folds. The fascinating thing is Hernandez also has AK. So something Phil senses is very close to being right, Hernandez is projecting strength and Hellmuth knows it. There isn’t a poker player on the planet who limp folds AK there. Is it idiotic or is he being some kind of savant? My take is that it’s both. Hellmuth does a ton of things that are technically just bad (the Doug Polk hand is a case in point). But he really does have an uncanny reading ability.