Hand of the Week: Dwan Paints Phil a River Masterpiece

Tom Dwan6
Master bluff painter.

In the history of poker, few can match Tom Dwan when it comes to polarizing hands and putting opponents to the test.

In this hand from the canonized poker TV show, Poker After Dark, Dwan battled with Phil Hellmuth and, as he liked to do, got all his chips in.

Hellmuth couldn't fight the urge to be a hero and called to create a $330k - and very memorable - pot. 

Flop to River

Ah, the good times. Remember Poker After Dark? Sure you do.

In this episode Doyle Brunson, Gus Hansen and Eli Elezra are at the table but only Dwan and Hellmuth get involved.

Hellmuth raises an open from Elezra with     on the button and then calls Dwan’s re-raise from the small blind.

[Editor’s note: The raising war pre-flop is missing from the clip. Elezra opened with a raise to $1,400, Phil re-raised to $5,400. Dwan made it $16,100 out of small blind; Hellmuth called.]

There's now $34,300 in the middle and effective stacks are at $147,600. The flop is      

Dwan checks and Hellmuth checks behind. The pot stays at $34,300 and they go to the turn  

Dwan now takes the lead with a bet of $27,600. Hellmuth calls. The pot grows to $89,500 and effective stacks melt to around $120,000 each.

The river is the   Dwan takes a while and then moves all-in for $120,000. Hellmuth takes a long while and then calls with    

He loses to Dwan’s     Dwan rakes in a pot of almost $330,000.

Poker Hand Analysis

It’s a big call by Hellmuth and, out of context, it looks completely crazy. But it’s not that easy. Here's how Dwan manages to get a full pay-out from a very marginal hand. 

The. best.

We didn't see the pre-flop action in the clip but we know what happened. Elezra opened with a raise to $1,400 and Phil re-raised to $5,400. Dwan made it $16,100 out of the small blind and Hellmuth called.

Dwan raises with a lot of hands from the small blind which makes it hard for his opponents to put him on a range

Against a tight player Hellmuth would probably fold his weak 9-7o, but against Dwan he's not afraid his opponent has to have high pairs of Broadway cards.

It’s just as possible that he’s up against hands like A-4s and generally a much wider range.

Brakes Hit On the Flop

The flop is very wet and hits both players’ ranges. When Dwan checks, Hellmuth has to ask himself why an aggressive player wouldn’t follow up with another bet.

If he had a strong hand like A-A, K-K, A-Q, or K-Q, a set or a strong draw like K J, he would definitely bet. So it looks like he has a mediocre hand like J-J, 9-9 or a ten and doesn't want to blow up the pot.

Or he has nothing. This is also why Hellmuth doesn’t bet. He has bottom pair which would only beat the bluffs but wouldn’t get money from a worse hand.

Checking here is the right play.

Already in the grinder.

Especially If It's Tom Dwan

Another ten on the turn makes things interesting. After playing slowly on the flop, he suddenly bets three-quarters of the pot.

From Hellmuth’s point of view this means Dwan has either hit a ten or he’s bluffing, based on the flop-play analysis.

Calling is the obvious move because Hellmuth can’t fold a hand that beats all the bluffs with pot odds of 2.3 to 1 – especially if the guy on the other side of the table is Tom Dwan.

So, they go to the river with a sizeable pot of $89,500. The river card is a meaningless 5.

A River Masterpiece

After taking a moment to think, Dwan moves all-in and polarizes his range to the max.

Hellmuth has only two options – he either thinks Dwan has a ten or nothing. A queen wouldn’t check the flop or go all-in on this board.

Things getting worse.

Sets which would now have developed into full houses or quads would also rarely check such a draw-heavy flop.

Hellmuth’s hand is pretty marginal but against the range we just laid out he beats everything except the tens. Which theoretically makes his hand just as good as if he had a queen.

At this point let’s change up and look at the hand from Dwan’s perspective. He’s also faced with two possibilities:

1. Hellmuth has a busted diamond draw like K-J, 9-8 or something similar.

2. Hellmuth has a mediocre hand like Q-J, A-7, or 8-8.

Against this range an all-in is the perfect move because Hellmuth would fold any busted draw anyway. But he would also suspect a bluff much more if the bet is as high as possible.

It’s important to know that Hellmuth is aware of Dwan’s ability to make such a bluff. If Dwan was known to be a nit who can’t polarize his hands, a smaller bet would have been the better choice.

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The Only Sure Thing is ...

Hellmuth certainly analyzed the hand thoroughly and decided to make the hero call. Experienced players often base their decision on feelings here because there isn’t any simple right or wrong.

The only sure thing is you’ll look like an idiot if you’re wrong and a star if your meagre pair of sevens is good. It’s really a borderline hand because there are very few value hands with a ten that can play like this.


Hands like this one against Phil Hellmuth are the reason Tom Dwan was the most feared NLHE player in the world. 

He’s always good for a bluff and he played his strong hands the exact same way.

Hellmuth can’t resist the urge to become a hero in this hand but in the end he’s out of money and speechless. That’s something that doesn’t happen very often to the Poker Brat.

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