High Stakes Bluffing – Inside The Minds of Two Pros

Henri posted some good links today, the Phil Ivey vs Paul Jackson hand is pretty intense! Let’s break it down and see if we can get into the heads of these high-stakes players.

Opening moves

Preflop: Ivey completes, Jackson checks. This is going to happen often, both players just want to see a flop. We can narrow ranges a bit – they probably don’t have AK, AA type hands – but not much else.

Flop: JJ7r
Jackson checks, Ivey stabs 80k into ~180k, a little less than half pot.

As the narrator correctly points out, Ivey will be making this bet with a very wide range of hands, putting pressure on his shorter-stacked opponent.

First Blood

Jackson clearly can’t call his 65o, but he realizes Phil’s range is wide, so he takes a shot at the pot, raising to $170k hoping to take it down. Many opponents will give up their bluff here and yield the pot, so it’s a decent move. Unfortunately, his opponent is Phil Ivey.

Ivey thinks for a moment, and likely realizes that there are very few calling hands on this flop, so Jackson is forced into a “raise or fold” situation when he holds, say, K-hi or worse. Jackson’s checkraise could be pot-building with trips, but it could very well be a cheap bluff – Jackson’s raise is barely over a minraise!

I’ve Got It, Do You?

Ivey doesn’t buy that Jackson has trips just yet, so he puts out a “I’ve got trips – do you have trips?” raise to $320k. This is a nice raise size, it forces Jackson to call only $150k more, but it says “we’re getting all-in on the turn if you call,” so it essentially forces Jackson to decide for his whole stack.

The wheels are turning in Jackson’s head, too. He realizes what Phil did earlier – that if he actually had the J he probably wouldn’t play it so fast, and that Phil might have caught on that the flop check-raise was likely to be a bluff. Jackson essentially is saying “yup, I’ve got it” as he re-re-raises to $470k.

Jackson’s Mistake

Jackson clearly has game, and is not backing down from Ivey here in this pot. However, he made one critical mistake at this point.
Phil asks him “how much have you got left?”
Jackson counts it up, about $380k – but the pot is $1 million!

Phil’s thinking it over… asking himself questions like:

  • “why did he leave $380k behind?”
  • “does he want me to call or fold?”
  • “What does he think I have?”

A bad player might min-re-re-raise with the nuts to try and induce a call. However, Jackson is a savvy opponent, one who knows that if Ivey’s got a hand it doesn’t matter whether he bets that $380 now or on the turn, it’s going in regardless. Jackson realizes his mistake as he counts his chips and tells Ivey how few he has left. He’s thinking “damn, I should have gone all-in, I only have 380 left.”

The most likely hand that would min-re-re-raise 150k more, leaving 380 behind, is a seat-of-the-pants bluff. It wants to risk the minimum, and doesn’t care about remaining chips because he(Jackson) will fold to further action. If he actually had a Jack, he would have counted out his remaining stack before acting, realized his opponent was pot-committed, and pushed. Occasionally this will be a clever trap with a full house or trips, but most times huge hands will move all-in rather than making a tiny re-raise.

This is (somewhat) apparent as we analyze it away from the table, with the privilege of seeing both hole cards. It’s an absolutely incredible move by both players, their insight and awareness of the other’s thoughts and likely holdings make this a truly awesome hand.

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