So, as I indicated in my last post, I’m going to be reviewing one hand from the 2008 World Series of Poker Main Event Final Table, primarily to demonstrate that the hands shown are not necessarily the best-played hands. I believe this was the second hand shown on ESPN. Amateur Dennis Phillips entered the final table as the chip leader, lost some chips on the first hand, and was in second place to Russian professional Ivan Demidov when this hand came up. Phillips was first to act, Demidov was near the button. I’m going to jump right into the hand, and evaluate each action. I’ll indicate some thought on how I think the players should have played each action too.


IVAN DEMIDOV — 24 MILLION — HAND: AQs (both clubs)

BLINDS 150k/300k


Phillips — CALL 300k — This was the beginning of some strange play by Phillips. I’m not sure why anyone would limp with AK in this situation. I’ve seen Mike Matusow try this a few times on High Stakes Poker — maybe Phillips watches the show — but that’s a totally different game. Matusow plays against the same players day in and day out, and you have to get creative there. MY THOUGHTS: It’s unclear what Phillips’ intention was here. If he is "slowplaying", AK is not the right hand to try that with; it’s unnecessarily tricky and can get you into some difficult situations. If he was hoping to see a cheap flop, that’s an error too — you don’t want to play a big multi-way pot with AK.

Demidov — RAISE to $1.025 Million — Now that’s the way big cards should be played!

Phillips — RE-RAISE to $3.5M — I wonder if Phillips intended to do this from the beginning, or made this decision on the spur of the moment. In any event, this is the "Limp re-raise" as it is called, and it often indicates AA or KK. MY THOUGHTS: Again, this is "fancy play syndrome" as Mike Caro calls it. We should also note that Phillips is engaging in a big pot, out of position, against the chip leader. That spells trouble in my book.

Demidov — RE-RAISE to $8.2M — I was quite surprised by this over-aggressive play by Demidov. I understand Demidov’s desire to maintain the initiative, but what hand range do you put Phillips on at this point? Do you really think Phillips would Limp re-raise with AJ? With a small pair? KQ? MY THOUGHTS: AQ is a hand one can easily go broken on. At best, Demidov can hope to be a coin flip at this point. Additionally, he too should be trying to avoid a big confrontation with the other chip leader. Finally, the faster all the chips go in the pot, the less the value of having position on your opponent. Demidov should have called. He clearly made the decision at this point to risk all his chips, presuming (correctly as it turns out) that Phillips would not be willing to risk all of his.

FLOP: Js Tc 8d

Both players are not entirely happy, yet not entirely upset, by this flop. They both have overcards, and a gutshot broadway draw. Demidov even has a backdoor flush draw.

Phillips — BET $4.5M — This was the critical mistake of the hand. Phillips makes a semi-bluff, but leaves himself with just enough chips for Demidov to raise him all-in and put him in a terrible situation (and that’s exactly what happened). MY THOUGHTS: When you’re on a semi-bluff, you want to be the one putting in the last bet, not your opponent. Let’s look at some of his other choices, which are all better than what Phillips did:

BET ALL-IN: With over 16 million in chips already in the pot, Phillips could have just gone all-in right here. This puts tremendous pressure on Demidov, and in the current situation, he couldn’t have called. Even if Phillips gets called, the situation may not be as terrible as it looks. For example, if Demidov has KK and calls, Phillips will still have 7 outs and nearly a 30% chance of winning.

CHECK-RAISE ALLIN: This is also another possibility. Demidov might check behind, in which case you get a free card, or you let Demidov make a smallish bet and come over the top of him. See why that result is so much better? (I suspect neither of these would have happened though, Demidov was going all-in no matter what).

CHECK (with the intention of folding): At least this should be considered, although it is a weak play given the pre-flop action. Demidov was willing to make a third raise pre-flop, perhaps he’s not going away. You missed the flop, if you quit now, you still have 15 million left. You probably should not call the 3rd raise pre-flop if you intended to do this on a missed flop.

Demidov — RAISE ALLIN (roughly $10M more) — you won’t catch me making this play personally, but it worked, and I wasn’t there, so I’m not going to criticize it. Given the action up to this point, I would have thought Demidov had very little fold equity, but maybe given Phillips’ bet Demidov felt that there were just enough chips left (and perhaps, Phillips had bet $4.5M with the intention of leaving himself enough chips to fold if raised). Maybe that was Demidov’s read. In any event, it worked, and Demidov won a huge pot.

So, to sum up, Demidov played this hand brilliantly, except for putting in the third raise pre-flop. If I had to sum up Phillips’ mistakes in one statement, it would be this: He played without a plan. He made each decision in a vacuum, without regards to having a whole-hand strategy. He lost 13 million chips on this hand, almost 60% of his stack, and didn’t even get to see the turn card.

Phillips was fortunate to get himself back together after this hand and still come in third. Demidov continued to play well and took second to Peter Eastgate, who, at 22, is the youngest WSOP Main Event Champion in history.