Poker Hand of the Week: Hellmuth Flops World, Finds Demise

Phil Hellmuth is the player with the most gold bracelets – 14 – in the history of the World Series of Poker.

He’s generally considered one of the most successful tournament players ever but he’s always struggled in cash games.

Recently Hellmuth made another appearance the TV poker show Poker Night in America.

in this hand he hit the perfect flop but, by the end, he once more felt betrayed by life.

Flop to River

It’s another episode of the highly entertaining show Poker Night in America where the line-up usually features a perfect combination of professional and amateur players.

The blinds are $25/$50 and Phil Hellmuth is sitting in the small blind with a stack of about $13,500. He just woke up with    

From under the gun, Matt Glantz – stack size about $3,000 – raises to $150. It’s folded around to real estate agent Tony Bracy on the button.

He has about $6,400 and calls. Hellmuth 3-bets to $550 and both Glantz and Bracy call. There’s $1,700 in the pot and the flop is      

Hellmuth bets out another $550 and Glantz gets out of the way. However, Bracy calls. There’s now $2,800 in the pot and the effective stacks are $5,300.

The turn is the   Hellmuth checks; Bracy checks. The pot is still $2,800 and effective stacks remain unchanged. The river is the  

Hellmuth now bets $975. Bracy now goes into a lot of antics and Hollywooding before eventually raising to $2,450. Hellmuth snap-calls and gets to look at    

You know what happened next. Watch the hand and Hellmuth’s tantrum in the video below.


It’s terrible for anyone to lose money with such a hand but let’s take a closer look at the moves of both players independently.


Get in with trap hand.

Before the flop Bracy calls with what is generally known as a trap hand – a hand that is often dominated and rarely wins a big pot.

But in a loose cash game it’s often correct to play that kind of hand in position. And also – it’s suited …

Hellmuth sits in the small blind and has the best starting hand in poker. He goes on the attack immediately.

His intention is to get rid of the big blind, who’d get great pot odds if Hellmuth just called. But if you have aces out of position you want to play against one, maybe two players max.

Hellmuth re-raises to almost four times the first raise which gives both his opponents the odds to still call – and maybe stack Phil Hellmuth.

Hellmuth Flops the World

The ace on the flop gives Hellmuth top set, which is the nuts. At the same time the A and the Q are cards that both hit his opponents’ ranges.

It’s well possible that Hellmuth is now playing against top-two-pair, middle-pair hands like K-Q or Q-J, against straight draws K-T, K-J, J-T, or against a flush draw.

A bet is the right move here as Hellmuth wants drawing hands and worse hands than his to pay. However, betting $550 into a pot of $1,700 is unusually low.


Flops big.

That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bad, but a bet size of $850 certainly wouldn’t have chased any decent hand away while it would have built the pot when Hellmuth was still the big favorite.

Glantz folds and the question now is, should Bracy call or raise with his Royal Flush draw? Bracy opts to call, which is the correct decision.

Even if Hellmuth “only” had A-Q he‘d be way behind and wouldn’t get many better hands to fold. Hellmuth’s range is pretty strong after a 3-bet pre-flop and a lead on the flop into two players

By calling he still has two ways to win the hand – by hitting a straight or a flush (preferably a straight, as it would be well-hidden) or by stealing if Hellmuth shows weakness.

A Dangerous Turn

When the flush comes in, Hellmuth checks — mainly to find out what his opponent is going to do. As there is no shot fired he bets again on the river, and this is a game plan that is a little dubious.


Dangerous turn.

The problem is that Bracy’s range has a lot of hands with a heart in it — for example K-Q — which now have additional outs and would pay-off a bet.

If Bracy only bets his flushes it would be better to bet and make money off the draws and then play check-fold on the river instead of paying a bet on the turn and then folding the river.

So, from Hellmuth’s point of view, it would have been better to bet. But what about Bracy?

For him the crucial question is, can he get paid twice – on the turn and the river – if he bets? To be fair, he would only get two bets through against very strong hands so you can’t really blame him for checking.

Hellmuth Falls into Trap

On the river Hellmuth thinks he’s safe so he tries to make a little more money with a small bet. Betting $1,000 into a pot of $2,800 is a good size, as even an ace in Bracy’s hand would only make a crying call.

Apart from the Hollywooding that suddenly starts in Bracy’s seat, there’s nothing indicating that Hellmuth doesn’t have the best hand.

After the raise to $2,450, however, things look a little different. Hellmuth calls very quickly — and there’s nothing wrong with that considering he gets 4-1 pot odds — but maybe he should have taken a little time.

On the other side of the table Bracy’s raise is a weak move. The only correct thing to do would have been to go all-in.

Bracy hellmuth hollywood

Cue Hollywooding then run-bad speech.

By pushing with all his money Bracy would have found maximum polarization for his range and would have been paid off by almost the same hands that call his raise.

Note here that Bracy would give his opponent 2-1 odds and can get paid by A-Q and sets.


Phil Hellmuth flops a monster that becomes his demise. He compliantly pays off on the river.

Tony Bracy misses the chance to take the poker brat to town for all his chips. His river bet is all too humble because he doesn’t recognize how strong the range of his opponent is.