Sometimes, making a fold can be a show of true discipline and hand reading poker skills. And Doug Polk showed that with his fold against Phil Hellmuth. This one came down to table talk, physical tells, math and strategy. Polk, who made the big fold with the second nuts straight on the flop, is more of an online poker whiz. But he caught onto Phil Hellmuth, the experienced live player, who talked his way out of an additional $90,000.
The Hand Replay
Polk flopped the second-nut straight and folded after Hellmuth Check-raised all in.
This High Stakes Poker hand happened in a $200/$400 No-limit Texas Hold’em cash game with a $400 big blind ante. Effective stacks were $98,000 at a seven-handed table, so players are in pretty deep at this point still.
- Phil Hellmuth raises to $1,100 pre-flop with Q10 from the hijack.
- James Bord called with 22on the button.
- Doug Polk defends his big blind and calls with 107.
- Both Polk and Hellmuth flop a straight on the J98 board ($3,900 pot).
- Phil checks to James Bord who bets $2,000.
- Polk check-raises $7,000 and Hellmuth quickly shoves for $97,200 more.
- Polk, with a $90K+ remaining stack, tanks for a few minutes and ultimately folds.
- Phil wins $12,900 from the hand.
While watching the hand, you can see a lot of table talk going on, some presumptions were made on Phil representing a set of some kind. It would indeed be hard for Polk to put Hellmuth on a straight given his pre-flop play, so you’d think he had to call. Phil does his signature move where he goes silent and covers most of his face with his fists. This is actually the quietest he’s been the whole episode. There’s a long pause from Doug, but luckily he doesn’t have a short time bank like during online play.
All the other players keep speculating between themselves while Polk tries to sniff Hellmuth out, asking what he may have. Saying he’s thinking about making a big laydown. Phil engages and says he could easily have a set, barely containing his glee. Doug Polk says outright that he could not have a set here. Even poking fun at him saying he’s a better player than that. Phil also says he could have blockers or Ace-ten, but his table talk just convinces Polk to fold to Hellmuth. Polk is convinced that he’s either dead to Phil, or his opponent has a ton of equity against him. The fold was a struggle, but he was right in the end. So what made Hellmuth convince Polk to fold? And was this the most game theory optimal play?
Polk vs Hellmuth Ranges
Doug Polk is on the big blind and is going to be defending with a lot of hands here. With a raise and a call preceding him, he’s getting a good price to continue and see a flop with his 107. Going to the flop, his range is one he mostly wants to check-raise with, and sometimes check-call.
If Polk had a spade in his hand, on a board with two spades on it already, it may be wise to check-call sometimes too. The reason for this is that you can represent QT here a lot of the time with this kind of play. One thing is that the button is still in the hand on the flop, and they can also have QT in their range.
Meanwhile, Phil Hellmuth has raised from early position pre-flop, so his range includes a lot of overcards to the flop. All the Ax, Kx, and Jx cards, some high-end draws and flush draws. This is how Doug Polk is doing against Hellmuth’s range:
|HELLMUTH RANGE||POLK EQUITY|
|QTs, T7s, ,||29.94%|
|QTs, T7s, , ,||40.3%|
|QTs, T7s, , , , ,||48.82%|
|QTs, QTo, T7s, , , ,, , ,||35.02%|
Polk only has enough equity to call if Hellmuth is moving all in with all set, straight or ace-high combos. We talk about this in “Does Doug Make a Good Fold?” section below.
The Polk Check-Raise
So action is on Polk first after the flop, and he elects to check - which he is likely doing with his entire range. This is a good play because you’re out of position and this action gives no information regarding the strength of your hand in relation to the flop. So it can also gain more value while it’s disguised, since your opponent will likely bet.
Hellmuth, who was the preflop raiser, checks behind, and allows James Bord to bet $2,000 and grow the pot to $5,900. So this gives Polk an easy opportunity to check-raise with his made straight - he is beating at least one of his opponents for sure.
Polk would also be raising here with a lot of his range, including his best hands, like high pairs, two pairs, sets and so on, which risk being outdrawn. The button (currently still in play) has lots of flush draws in his range which give him over 35% chance of hitting and beating you. Or some two-pair hands or sets which can improve to a full boat one out of three times on the turn or river. So a raise can help protect your hand.
Polk would also raise here with some semi-bluffs, like straight draws (Qx, Tx hands), flush draws, some backdoor draws - like having the Ace of spades. These are called semi-bluffs because they still have some equity. Meaning a raise can let you take down the pot there and then, but if not, you still have a chance of improving and making a better hand than your opponent’s on the turn or river.
This J98 board is also very connected which increases the chances of other players having draws. So someone with a made hand, like Polk, wouldn’t mind growing the pot in this situation. In fact, Doug Polk check-raises Bord’s $2,000 bet to $7,000. This is pretty good bet sizing, but you can even go bigger - say $8,000-$9,000 if you’re this deep. Remember they’re playing with over 200 bb stacks here so you want to be raising to bigger sizes than if you’re playing shallow. In this situation, if you bet smaller, you’re not really protecting your hand or maximizing value in any way, so there is little sense. Your bets should always be made for a reason.
The Hellmuth Check-Raise All-in
This is when Phil Hellmuth shoves the rest of his stack - over $97,000. This is a very polarizing bet and bets that are 8x the pot are rare in deep-stacked cash games. Also consider that this player is known to play pretty straightforward, without too many bluffs. So that lets us assume that he either has a made hand (which he does) or a hand with a huge amount of equity. This is in fact what Doug Polk verbalizes during his table talk in the tank. Also, PH knows Polk loves to call, especially with good hands, so he was likely betting for value.
It’s a standard play in poker to overbet when your opponent doesn’t have that many strong hands. However, Hellmuth overbets into two players who could have more equity. Maybe his shove was protecting his straight against a possible flush draw? But basically, if he has the QT, then you’re losing out on value because everyone is going to fold right away. If he was bluffing, there are many QT hands in the other two players’ ranges, so it wouldn’t be a good spot to bluff all-in either.
Does Polk Make a Good Fold?
Polk was perhaps reluctant to fold because he knows players would want to be balanced with a few bluffs in their repertoire. Also because technically there are more hands he would be beating than losing to. So from a GTO perspective, this should be a call.
Unless - your opponent is supremely tight that he only ever raises the complete nuts. So against anyone else at the table, this would be an easier call. But Phil Hellmuth has quite a tight range in this spot vs Doug Polk.
Also consider that Polk had to risk $90,000 to possibly win $200,000, that’s less than 2:1. In fact he would need to have 45% equity to make this call. Which he does not, because he is losing equity to Phil’s premium hands - like sets and top flush draws according to his play.
What made it even more clear that Phil had the nuts though was when he started talking. He said he could have a set. But shoving with a set wouldn’t be ideal. In fact, shoving with anything wouldn’t be ideal when you’re this deep. Phil said he could have blockers (referring to the pair of 10s) or the Ace of Spades. He basically listed all the hands he does not have (see Zach Elwood’s poker tells trilogy books) which was a bit of a giveaway.
Doug then flipped his cards over, Hellmuth clammed up and Polk proceeded to fold. So what Polk did was consider all of the above in under 5 minutes (as you see in the video). He deduced that his T7 was no good against Hellmuth’s tight range and he just did not have enough equity to call such a big raise. Phil was only doing that with the nuts in that situation.
- If Polk had 107 instead of 107, he could probably still call pre-flop and check-raise the flop. Except when faced with a huge overbet, he would have more equity to call, it would be around 40% at that point which is more or less the minimum amount required to make a justified call.
- Say the button had called a 8x overbet after calling a 3bb raise pre-flop and making a pot-sized bet on the flop. Polk would have been able to call Hellmuth’s all-in with hands like K♠ T♠, A♠ T♠, or K♠ Q♠ because he would be getting over 3:1.
Hellmuth vs Polk After Play
Both players addressed the hand publicly, Polk called it his favorite fold in his entire career and teased “Imagine making 15bb here” on Twitter in reference to the hand. Because Phil’s stack went in when they were pretty deep (over 200 bb), and 15 blinds would have been the profit for such a risk. However, Phil Hellmuth commended Polk on his big fold on Twitter saying it was a “Great Play”. And that most players would have lost their remaining $90K stack to him in that hand.
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