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Live Reads Explained: Lex Guts the Godfather with Fearless Calldown
You can’t call down three barrels with a marginal hand if you don’t have a read on your opponent, right?
Especially if that opponent happens to be one of the most legendary figures in the game. And you have your entire bankroll on the table.
The normal rules of poker don't apply to Dutch poker pro Lex Veldhuis, though. At least in this case.
In an iconic hand on the legendary TV show High Stakes Poker, Veldhuis called down Doyle Brunson with a hand so marginal it was exasperating.
The Godfather of Poker didn’t like it either. To say the least, he was a little aggravated. In our ongoing series about making big live reads, we spoke with Lex at this year's EPT Dublin about this incredible HSP hand.
Lex Veldhuis: The only mistake I made was wearing red on TV and I never did it again.
PokerListings: Wait, what? I mean, why would that be a mistake?
LV: Because it blurs out on TV and looks terrible. Anyway, I still get asked about this hand a lot.
What’s interesting about this hand is, at that point, I had pretty much all my bankroll on the table and I was able to shut that all out and make poker decisions purely based on fact, which is something I’m very proud of.
Make no mistake; it was completely irresponsible of me to do that – to bring everything I owned to this game. I was also ready to play for it all.
PL: People have been saying for years that everyone in these games is staked. So that’s not true then?
PL: At least you weren’t.
LV: Right. It was very late in the evening and I had just come to the table. I’d lost $200,000 the day before and there was only one hour left to play. Not only that night, but the whole season was one hour from finishing.
So when I sat down I asked if they wanted to play higher, as I thought it was a pretty soft table and I wanted my money back.
Everyone was OK with it but then Doyle, who had already put in a straddle before we agreed on higher stakes, took his straddle back. By the way I had never played a hand with Doyle before.
PL: No history between you.
LV: No history. I turned to him and said, 'I heard you were a gambler and now you take your straddle back?'
I kind of called him a pussy, so from the beginning, there was a bit of a thing between us.
PL: Would you say it was serious or more on the joking side?
LV: It was a case where the cynical European humor collides with American humor. If you keep a straight face when you’re joking it makes them feel uncomfortable.
What was also important here was that Doyle had won about 15 TV performances in a row. I knew he was very protective of his legacy and he rightly takes a lot of pride in that.
The great thing about live poker is how you can take all these bits of information and use them in a hand.
PL: Was he down at that point?
LV: Yes, a little, but he could get unstuck winning two small pots. So they played $200/$400 and I suggested we play $500/$,1000, which was also three times higher than I’d ever played.
PL: Why would you do that?
LV: It seemed like a good spot for it. The only problem was Phil Galfond sitting opposite me.
I had Tom Dwan on my right, which is much less of a problem than having him on the left, and I wouldn’t tangle too much with Daniel Negreanu, as he has really good reads on me.
But I was sure that Eli Elezra, Doyle Brunson and David Benyamine would react strongly to a young European big mouth.
They’ve been playing in these high games so long that they almost take it personal when there’s a new, young guy in the house. It’s a pretty normal reaction, really.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying they have no skills. All three of them are really good players and have my respect, but I did think they would respond badly to my kind of play.
So I liked my seat and everything, but it was still a big gamble, I’m not going to lie. It was a dumb decision to take such a big risk.
PL: You could have ended your career in three minutes.
LV: (smiles) Yes, but I was 25, so, you know. I have a lot of time to make up for it.
LV: So I had called Doyle out for taking back his straddle, and in the very next hand I did put the straddle in. Doyle limps, and he sometimes does that with big pairs.
He’s known to play aggressively post-flop so he likes to mix it up with limps pre-flop, which I think is very good. Against a player like me he might induce a rise or a shove with a big pair like that.
But I raise and Doyle calls, and that immediately tells me that he has a bad hand. If he limp-raises he would be strong, but with this call he shows he’s just annoyed and he wants to be in a pot with me.
The flop goes check-check. I check behind because if I bet, he folds all the hands that I beat. Also, he could bluff me out by check-raising, as this flop doesn’t really hit a hand that made it $11,000 pre-flop.
I decided to go for pot control because if he check-calls, I have an issue. I don’t expect to get away with a triple-barrel bluff after all the table talk I did. So if Doyle has something, he’s not going to fold to me.
PL: The turn is a jack. That could hit Doyle.
LV: Yes, and he bets really big, and the thing is, the jack is also in my range. I was very confused by the size of the bet.
I was thinking if he had a six he would bet small to keep the ace-high hands in, and if he has a strong hand he would also bet small, because he wouldn’t want me to fold.
If he has a jack he might even check to see if I go for a delayed c-bet. So his bet didn’t fit any hand in his range and I think I should always call.
I’ve shown weakness, but my weak hand still beats a lot of his hands as he’s not really representing anything.
PL: Is there anything in his demeanor that gives something away?
LV: Absolutely nothing. I have no read whatsoever.
PL: The four on the river completes a straight draw.
LV: Yes, and then bets big again, $60,000. So on the turn he’s representing a jack or better and now he represents a straight?
It’s of course possible that he bet an inside straight draw big on the turn. I don’t think he would turn a three, four or six into a bluff, so I’m not afraid of these.
So then the question is, what hand did he limp-call pre-flop with? A 4-5 or 6-5 would have gotten there, but I think both hands bet smaller on the turn because he wants me in.
He doesn’t have 2-5 or 3-5 because he wouldn’t limp-call $11,000 pre-flop with these, and he would have checked the turn to get to the river.
LV: J-5 could be in his range, but if he bets the turn big I’m only going to call with better jacks and I fold all my floats. It was his bet-sizing on the turn that completely screwed him up.
PL: That’s the crucial mistake?
LV: If he’d bet $14,000 on the turn and pot on the river, I probably would have folded. It was the pot-pot bets that gave it away.
He was trying to pull some old tricks on me and bet hard. The river card was actually the perfect card for him to bluff, but it didn’t make sense.
Still, I wouldn’t really call it a mistake. Maybe he read me correctly for being weak, and consequently he tried to push me off the hand.
PL: You say you have no read on Doyle, but do you generally pay attention to physical tells?
LV: Very much. But it depends on the situation. For example, in the high roller events you often see players just sitting there and staring at each other for two minutes.
Sometimes I wonder, do they even know what they’re looking for? Are you just staring to make the other guy uncomfortable, or does it really have anything to do with your hand?
Personally, I just don’t like staring at people for so long. But I do think that there are many little and important things you can see.
For instance, at the World Series, I was ready to fold to some dude because he bet the river and I had like third pair. Then suddenly a waitress walks by and he just glances at her. That’s a lack of concentration.
If he has a hand, he has to stay focused because the hand is not done yet. I might raise him and then he would have a decision.
But the fact that he can just look away at some random person means that for him, the hand is over, which means it’s a bluff. I called and he had queen high.
These small things are incredibly important, but Doyle is very good at guarding all that. He wouldn’t be where he is if he couldn’t.
PL: And yourself?
LV: I noticed a tell about myself that I really used to do a lot. When I was 3- or 4-betting pre-flop and got a call, I would push the pot in the direction of the dealer. I would only do that if I was bluffing.
It was like I was already saying good-bye to my chips, subconsciously. I stopped doing that.
PL: What role does age play in this?
LV: In general, they say that older players bluff less, but of course that’s not always true. I remember a guy in his 70s ripping my table apart with his 4-bets and overbets.
Young players usually have great fundamentals which they learned playing online, but they often lack the social skills. They know the numbers but they don’t know about game dynamics; they hardly notice what’s going on around them.
I was playing $100/$200 heads-up in an underground game. At some point I was all-in, and I could see him just staring at the board, trying to crunch the numbers.
I made a joke out of it and showed him my cards. I held them up for about five seconds and he didn’t even notice. That’s how focused he was.
He was very good online; he just had no sense of the social aspects of poker.