Just how bad was that call? The Raise Your Edge founder goes into the lab to find out…

So, in case you missed it, Phil Hellmuth made a call that’s been the talk of the poker world last week.

If you haven’t seen the hand you can check it out here, but today we’re going to analyze the hand using one of my favorite poker tools to see how Phil should have played the hand in theory, and what we can take away and learn from this fun hand.

The event is the US Poker Open $25,000 buy-in tournament, and all players are in the money with 5 remaining.

The hand begins with the chip leader Alex Foxen opening 9♠ 9♦ to 2BB, with about 50BB remaining in his stack.

This is obviously an easy open from Foxen, who will want to have a decently wide opening range from the Button as chip leader. Even hands such as K4o will want to open raise from this position, since Foxen can put a lot of pressure on Nakamura and Hellmuth who are both short stacked in the blinds.

Using a powerful tool called Hold’em Resource Calculator, we solved this hand, first starting with Foxen’s opening range.

You can see below that the solver is employing a mixed strategy here, but wants to be raising pocket nines 100% of the time.


The Small Blind folds and Hellmuth looks down at Q♦ 4♥ in the Big Blind, with about 15BB in his stack.

With little hesitation, Phil puts in a bold 3-bet to 5.8BB, leaving himself just under 10bb in his stack.

While Hellmuth’s 3-bet may seem questionable at first, in terms of following GTO it’s actually not a terrible play. As you can see, the solver likes to 3-bet hands like K3o-K5o in this spot.

One note is that Hellmuth probably could have gone a little smaller with the sizing, since Foxen will struggle a lot to defend properly with hands like J8o and 98o, but overall this aggressive action isn’t terrible. Hellmuth also may not be choosing to 3-bet hands like AK or 99 in this situation as well, so he will mostly have JJ+ for value when he 3-bets and won’t mind playing postflop. So, 3-betting a bad offsuit combo here could actually be a GTO decision, but Phil should make it a smaller sizing so that he can have even more of a snap fold when facing an allin.

Choosing a weak high card/low card combo like Q4o to 3-bet can make some sense in terms of blockers, because BTN’s folding range will mainly consist of middle card type hands that contain a 7, 8 or 9.

Using Holdem Resource Calculator we can find the range that BB should be following when 3-betting the BTN open.

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When facing a 3-bet from the blinds at these stack depths, Foxen has an easy decision with pocket nines, and sticks in the 4-bet shove.

Now Phil has to make a decision for his tournament life with about 1/3 of his stack committed already. After debating for a couple of minutes, he decides to gamble and shocks the table by flicking in the call with Q4o.

As we can see with our solved range here, Hellmuth should basically only be calling JJ+ and AK when facing this jam. A hand like Q4o is a snap fold once Foxen puts it all in, but Hellmuth finds some white magic with the result.


The board runs out Q♥ K♠ 7♣ 5♥ Q♣.

Hellmuth makes trip queens and doubles his stack, giving the poker world a fun hand to critique and study, just like we did in HRC.

The takeaway here isn’t really that Hellmuth is a massive fish or anything in my opinion.

Everyone makes mistakes at the poker table, the fun comes with learning from them off the felt and adjusting our strategies.

Using Holdem Resource Calculator we were able to analyze this complex spot and learn how the solver is constructing its ranges. We learned that BB can technically 3-bet hands like weak Kx and Qx offsuit combos and still be following a GTO strategy.

And, once the chips are in, we all know that anything can happen once the flop, turn and river comes. GG Phil!

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After an exemplary rise to the top of the poker world, starting out on low-stakes SNGs and grinding his way all the way to the top of six-figure buy-in tournaments, Benjamin ‘bencb’ Rolle launched his own poker training site Raise Your Edge, delivering world-class poker courses that can help anyone to get their own game to new heights.

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