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Was Phil Hellmuth a GTO Robot Against Negreanu in the High Stakes Duel?

Phil Hellmuth

Phil Hellmuth, who defeated Daniel Negreanu in the final round of their High Stakes Duel match, has publicly stated that he will not adapt his game style to fit the new modern GTO approach to poker and that he will continue to rely on his reading abilities that have earned him more World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelets than anyone else.

However, when looking at this hand that he played against Negreanu as part of the High Stakes Duel II back in Round 1, he wasn’t actually too far off from the solver, which makes me think maybe he has been doing some secret GTO studying!

The hand took place with the blinds at 75/150 when Negreanu (53,000) raised to 375 and Hellmuth (47,000) looked down at the {a-Clubs}{8-Diamonds} in the big blind. I think this is a spot where Hellmuth should be calling every time, but he opted to three-bet to 1,500. The solver actually will three-bet with {a-}{8-} offsuit 10 percent of the time when 300bb deep.

When you are deep stacked and out of position you can often use a larger three-bet size. Negreanu should be defending against this three-bet frequently due to the depth of stacks and being in position, and he does call to see a {k-Hearts}{6-Clubs}{5-Hearts} flop. Hellmuth missed, but he should be continuation-betting. His range should be stronger than Negreanu’s on this board assuming he is using a GTO three-bet strategy.

"Negreanu’s range should fold more often against bigger bet sizes, so using a small bet size on the flop keeps your opponents in with a much wider range of hands."

Hellmuth does continue for 1,800, which is too small in my opinion. That’s because weaker parts of Negreanu’s range should fold more often against bigger bet sizes, so using a small bet size on the flop keeps your opponents in with a much wider range of hands that you can apply more pressure to on later streets and win bigger pots if they decide to fold.

Negreanu called and the {9-Spades} appeared on the turn. Now, Hellmuth needed to decide to either keep blasting – say by betting small like 2,000, medium 4,000, or large 6,000 – or give up with a check. What would you do? The nine will connect with Negreanu’s range often, plus if you are betting frequently on the flop, then you will have to check the turn a large percentage of the time to avoid becoming exploitable. Both are motivations for Hellmuth to check as opposed to betting with a polarized range.

Even so, Hellmuth goes for a near-pot-sized bet of 3,800. I like the size as when you are betting infrequently you usually want to use a larger bet size. The solver opts to bet with {a-}{8-} offsuit most of the time preferring a larger bet size when it does decide to bet. The solver will bet around 40 percent of the time with Negreanu’s range opting for a pot-sized bet just over half of the time.

Jonathan Little breaks it down.

Negreanu opted to call and at this point I am going to spoil his hand – he had the {6-Hearts}{8-Hearts} for a pair with both straight and flush draws. This is a spot where Negreanu should always call because, as a general rule, when we are playing deeper stacked we want to avoid playing huge pots with draws. The solver does sometimes mix in raises with high-equity hands that lack showdown value, but with Negreanu’s hand it almost always calls (it only raises with Negreanu’s hand 12 percent of the time).

Negreanu does in fact call and the river is the {7-Diamonds}, giving both players a nine-high straight. I have to assume if Hellmuth missed on the river he was going to barrel, and I think it probably would’ve worked. A big mistake I see a lot of players make is giving up on bluffs when they shouldn’t!

With Hellmuth’s range the solver evenly mixes between a check and a bet. He should be betting with strong overpairs and better. The rest of his range should be checking at a high frequency apart from complete air that should also bet at some frequency. Hellmuth did go for the bet here with 7,600, which just over half pot.

Over to Negreanu, who has an easy raise. The solver says to raise every hand containing an eight. However, in this scenario, he just called and the pot was chopped. Why did Negreanu just call? To find out that answer, you’ll have to watch the video:

Jonathan Little is a professional poker player and author with over $7,000,000 in live tournament earnings. He writes a weekly educational blog and hosts a podcast at JonathanLittlePoker.com. Sign up to learn poker from Jonathan for free at PokerCoaching.com. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanLittle.

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