Hand of the Week: Dwan Drops Sledgehammer on Bob Safai

Master of overkill bluff.

Tom Dwan has been gone from the big poker stage for a while but he’s left us with several masterpieces of poker art.

He was the star of the great shows Poker After Dark and High Stakes Poker and he played several unforgettable hands on both shows.

This week we look back at what might be the most extreme river bluff you’ve ever seen.

Dwan Bluffs Safai

It’s High Stakes Poker time and the cash-game table is populated by superstars like Antonio Esfandiari, Phil Hellmuth and Phil Laak but there’s also very wealthy amateur Bob Safai.

Safai’s day is going well. He’s already taken more than $100,000 from Dwan and now sits with a stack of $170,000. On top of that, he now wakes up with     and raises to $2,000.

Dwan calls from the cut-off with a slightly smaller stack and everyone else gets out of the way. There's $5,200 in the pot and  effective stacks are roughly $150,000.

The flop is       Safai bets $5,000 and Dwan calls. There's now $15,200 in the pot and effective stacks are at $145,000.

The turn is the   Safai bets $12,000 and Dwan calls again. There's now $39,200 in the pot and effective stacks are down to $133,000.

Now they go to the river   Safai checks, Dwan thinks it through quickly and then bets all-in with $133,200. Safai smirks but mucks his hand after some thought.

Dwan holds     and wins the hand and the $40k pot with eight high. Watch the hand in the video below.

Hand Analysis

This is a curious hand because Tom Dwan creates a very bad risk-reward ratio for himself and then brilliantly pulls himself out of the hole.

Tom Dwan
It was a one-gapper, what can I say?

To uncover the secret of his play in this hand we’ll go through it from both his and his opponent’s point of view.

Pre-flop Dwan finds one of his favorite hands – a suited mid-range one-gapper.

These are the hands Dwan earned a fortune with because they can hit hidden monsters and play well against the predominant raising range of the time, which mainly consisted of high cards.

Safai hits the flop well and finds top pair, top kicker. He bets almost pot-size, which is a good move as he has the best hand almost all the time and is playing an extremely stubborn opponent.

Dwan’s Options

When Safai bets, Dwan has to come up with a plan for the hand. He has a flush draw and a backdoor straight draw but that’s not enough for a player like him.

He also has position, giving him more chances to win. He can hit his hand and win but he might also be able to steal the pot if his opponent checks the turn.

The reckoning is coming.

Safai bets the turn, so that option is cancelled. But there’s another option Dwan has in his repertoire – the semi-bluff raise.

The problem with this move, however, is that Dwan would have to fold to an all-in of his opponent. Look at the numbers:

Let’s say Dwan raises Safai’s bet of $12,000 to $40,000 and Safai pushes for over $150k. Dwan would have to pay $112,000 with pot odds of 1.35-1 and just 20% equity - not exactly a good spot.

The Backdoor Call

The advantage of a semi-bluff obviously is that you can win a hand two ways – by hitting or by pushing the opponent off their hand. But Dwan decides to call with a backdoor option and that's having position on the river.

Tom Dwan
The grim reaper of river bluffs.

After the 2 on the river Safai continues to play textbook poker. There’s a chance Dwan has 6-4 but the main reason he checks is because a worse hand is unlikely to pay a third bet -- plus he might be able to extract some value from busted draws.

This is all fair and well but Safai counted his chickens before they hatched and is now in for a bad surprise. An aspect of this play he might have missed is that by checking he’s just capped his range.

Had he had a set of queens or tens, he definitely would bet again.

The Art of Bluffing

This is the aspect that Dwan is now exploiting. He bets a gigantic $133,200 into a pot of just $39,200. A move that at first glance just looks like madness. A closer look reveals there's method to it, too.

Let’s see what Safai’s range looks like. There are

  • Good hands like A-Q, K-Q, A-A, K-K and maybe J-J
  • Busted draws with any two clubs

All the hands in the second group fold to any bet but the ones in the first group won’t – they can’t be beat by a regular bluff either.

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The usual line for A-Q or K-K in this spot would be betbetcheck-call. Safai would be happy to snap-call a regular-sized bet from Dwan as he has so many draws in his range.

By going all-in Dwan destroys all the reckoning mentioned above.

It has to be said, though, that he also gave himself a very bad risk-reward ratio.

Mathematically, Safai has to fold 80% of the time to make this bluff profitable, which sounds a little unlikely. But Dwan said in an interview afterwards he was sure he'd make Safai fold that percentage of the time.


When Tom Dwan suddenly finds out that in this spot his opponent wouldn’t hold the top hands of his range, he bets with a sledgehammer and thus wrecks the plan of his opponent Bob Safai.

In retrospect, Safai would certainly have rather played a blocking bet instead of a check-call.

Dwan finished this hand with a masterstroke. To do this you need a lot of courage and a long-term plan -- attributes that only top players like Tom Dwan have.

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