On Friday night, 16-time World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth made a questionable play during a televised hand that ignited fire in the poker community and has already been dubbed “the worst hand Phil Hellmuth ever played.”
That hand, which took place during Event #9: $25,000 No-Limit Hold’em at the 2022 US Poker Open, and the poker community’s subsequent reaction are subjects of the latest edition of The Muck.
The Hand That Broke Poker Twitter
During five-handed play with blinds at 30,000/60,000/60,000, Alex Foxen opened to 125,000 off a stack of 3.2 million. Hellmuth, apparently sensing weakness from his opponent, made a move from the big blind by three-betting to 350,000 holding with a stack of 950,000.
Foxen knew what Hellmuth was up to and four-bet jammed to put him all-in for 540,000 more. Hellmuth, to the surprise of many, did not instantly fold. Instead, he mulled over a call, which the utterly shocked PokerGO commentators said would be “arguably one of the worst decisions of his poker career.”
“Nobody would call here,” said Jeff Platt.
“Not a single person,” agreed Brent Hanks. “Absolutely nobody is putting the rest of the money in.”
Hellmuth disagreed and ultimately found a call for his tournament life.
“Yeah, I guess I better play to win,” he said before putting in the chips.
Hellmuth didn’t have to sweat it long as the flop came to pair his queen, and the board finished out to improve Hellmuth to trips and keep him alive.
“He’s being rewarded for this!” Hanks observed with bewilderment.
can someone explain to us what’s going on here?
— PokerGO (@PokerGO)
Foxen went on to finish in third place for $220,500, while Hellmuth took second for $315,000 after falling to Erik Seidel during heads-up play. Hellmuth was indeed awarded.
‘Torching’ Call or ‘White Magic?’
The tournament commentators were not the only ones shocked by Hellmuth’s questionable call. From the top high-stakes crushers down, every near poker player with a Twitter account appeared to have an opinion on “The Poker Brat’s” play.
“Here is why the (Hellmuth) 3b and call off with Q4o wasn’t as bad as it looks,” tweeted Jason Koon, quickly following up with another tweet consisting of two words: “Just kidding.”
1/6 a thread. Here is why the @phil_hellmuth 3b and call off with Q4o wasn’t as bad as it looks.
— Jason Koon (@JasonKoon)
“‘Guess I better play to win’ he says hahaha,” tweeted poker streamer Lex Veldhuis. “Mate, if you want to play to win you’d best just stay home.”
‘Guess I better play to win’ he says hahaha. Mate, if you want to play to win you’d best just stay home. https://t.co/MVOcsVQU49
— Lex Veldhuis (@LexVeldhuis)
Fellow poker streamer Kevin Martin got in on the fun by tweeting a hand chart showing a range of pockets aces through pocket jacks, ace-king and, off toward the bottom, queen-four offsuit.
“Hey guys, I found (Hellmuth’s) 3 bet call range for value,” Martin tweeted.
Hey guys I found @phil_hellmuth’s 3 bet call range for value. https://t.co/LJr0VCbO98
— Kevin Martin (@KevinRobMartin)
Yet another poker streamer had something to say about Hellmuth’s call.
“Everyone’s gonna be 3betting the Q4o on Sunday aren’t they?” Ben “Spraggy” Spragg chimed in.
Everyone’s gonna be 3betting the Q4o on Sunday aren’t they?
— Spraggy (@spraggy)
Some social media users asked PokerCoaching.com’s Jonathan Little for his thoughts on the hand, which the poker coach was happy to provide.
“Multiple people have asked me to analyze this hand. It is simple. Trips > Two Pair,” Little dryly tweeted.
Multiple people have asked me to analyze this hand. It is simple. Trips > Two Pair https://t.co/o3P7fbgpSr
— Jonathan Little (@JonathanLittle)
High-stakes cash pro Phil Galfond may have had the best response as he posted a four-page satire sarcastically explaining why the call was a good play.
We’ve been here before. @phil_hellmuth makes a play that looks ridiculous, and all the poker fans at home – includi… https://t.co/ti2DmmmD0y
— Phil Galfond (@PhilGalfond)
“I believe that after observing Alex’s open raise, tank and 4bet jam, Hellmuth knew 3 things: That Alex had a 9 in his hand, that Q4o is a 64.08% favorite (vs. 99,98,97,96), and that everyone at the table was an idiot,” Galfond’s analysis reads. “Still that leaves over a 1 in 3 chance of busting the tournament, and it was clear that Phil agonized over the decision. Many disagree with the call, but I think 64% equity with 2:1 odds is just too much to pass up. The remaining players weren’t that bad.”
You win this one, Mr. Galfond.
A few poker players and social media users jumped to defend the 16-time bracelet winner and noted that he did in fact have the correct odds to make the call with his holding.
“Wasn’t too bad of a call. I know many pros would agree,” said one Twitter user. “He had to call 580k into 1.35 million. He put 380k in already. If Phil puts Alex on Ak or A rag, it’s the correct call.”
@PokerGO Wasn’t too bad of a call. I know many pros would agree. He had to call 580k into 1.35 million. He put 380k… https://t.co/HDSt6Ky1wt
— Deraj808 (@Deraj8082)
“The call is actually kinda ok, it’s the 3 bet that’s terrible. He 3 bet WAY too much with the wrong kind of hand, but priced himself in for the call if Foxen shoves,” another user noted.
Meanwhile, investor and poker enthusiast Jason Calacanis, who has played with Hellmuth on “Hellmuth’s Home Game” as part of Poker After Dark, defended Hellmuth by suggesting that the play may have broader implications.
“White magic!!! This move just made him $1.7m in the home game,” Calacanis tweeted.
White magic!!! Go @phil_hellmuth go!!! This move just made him $1.7m in the home game ## https://t.co/KP1r4lTPhv
— @jason calacanis (@Jason)
But others weren’t falling for the idea that Hellmuth’s unorthodox play was somehow defensible, including none other than second-all-time-money-earner Justin Bonomo.
“Some days I feel rusty and wonder if I still have a decent edge playing poker,” Bonomo tweeted. “Reading poker Twitter… let’s just say today is not one of those days.”
Some days I feel rusty and wonder if I still have a decent edge playing poker
— Bonologic (@JustinBonomo)
Up and coming grinder Landon Tice tweeted a similar observation: “People saying poker is dead while using an ‘equity chart’ to justify a massively torching Q4o call. God bless.”
People saying poker is dead while using an “equity chart” to justify a massively torching Q4o call.
— Landon (@LandonTice)
Hellmuth and Foxen React
After the hand that broke poker Twitter, Hellmuth laughed off criticism of his play and jokingly made an “official announcement” that he had “decided to add Q-4 off suit to my list of ‘Top Ten Hands.'”
Official announcement: after a lot of debate, reflection, and careful study, I have decided to add Q-4 off suit to… https://t.co/lvSk8oa6eq
— phil_hellmuth (@phil_hellmuth)
Hellmuth also doubled down a bit by retweeting charts and videos defending the call.
Foxen, meanwhile, who showed little emotion or reaction after taking the beat, appeared less amused than Hellmuth.
“Had been on a twitter hiatus and then log on today to see people non ironically defending Q4o as a reasonable 3b/c candidate 16bb eff,” Foxen tweeted, accompanied with a GIF of an animal entering a room and immediately leaving.
Had been on a twitter hiatus and then log on today to see people non ironically defending Q4o as a reasonable 3b/c… https://t.co/poW9oRzDZg
— Alex Foxen (@WAFoxen)
Any poker players looking to freshen up their big blind three-betting skills can check out this handy PokerNews article on when to put in that additional raise.