Ask Phil: Answers (Part 1)

Hey Guys,

I asked for some questions, and I got a whole bunch. If I don’t get to your question, I’m sorry.

I’ll keep responding over the coming days though, so hopefully I’ll get to a lot of them. I’ll be picking out the questions I think are more interesting first, and thinking about what you guys would prefer to hear answered.

Keep in mind that I’ll be much more likely to pick your questions quickly if they are more specific and interesting.

Mr. J asks:

1. Let’s say poker, in every way, shape, or form, became impossible for you to play (online poker banned across the world, casinos shut down, all other poker players simultaneously find other hobbies). What would you do? Not in a “how would you react” way but “what sort of projects would you take up, would you look for an actual job, etc.” way.

I’d have to do some soul searching. The two first things that came to mind were teaching and starting a business. Second two were writing a book or getting into finance. Hmmm.

Since I have no college degree, I can’t really teach. Something I’ve often thought about and would like to do would be to start an organization that offers all around tutoring and SAT tutoring to children who’s families can’t afford those advantages, as long as the kids show the desire to learn and work hard. I think it’s something I’d be good at, and I feel strongly that investing in education is one of the more worthwhile causes around.

This obviously wouldn’t be a money maker for me. I technically could stop trying to earn money, but I’d have to live a more modest lifestyle than I do now. Plus I also enjoy the challenge of success. So I’d need to do something alongside with that.

I guess starting businesses or getting into finance would be my main two options for earning a living. Writing a book or teaching in some way (like that above) are two things I’d like to do on the side. I’ve thought about both for a while, and have even started to write a little bit, but I just find myself to be so busy and burnt out from poker.

2. I give you magic sunglasses that let you see every player’s hand, but in return, you will have the nut low every time and will never win at showdown. You enter the Main Event and no one will catch on during this tournament. What is the probability you final table? Probability you get 2nd place?

Interesting. You’d be at a massive advantage on the first few days of the tournament. Hopefully you can build up a big enough stack to have some room later on. Actually, you’d do very well later on too. You can steal or resteal anytime everyone left to act has weak hands. You try to keep pots small when you can, so you can bluffraise or bet turns or rivers.
I think I’d be a large favorite (90%) to final table, and around 50% to make the top 2. Stacks are so short at the final table that it’ll be difficult to use my advantage, especially since I’ll lose every showdown. (I’m assuming you always have nut low by the river, not just when the money gets in)

3. Favorite books?

I don’t really read. Wish I did, but I get bored so quickly. I’m more of a TV guy.

4. Advice you would give yourself 5 years ago? 10 years ago?

Well, I’ve learned a lot about myself- the way I think, the way I’ll react to certain situations, things I can do to help myself when things aren’t going well. So I’d explain all of that to the old (young) me. Same thing for people in my life… who I can trust, who I should keep in my life, how I can help them.

The only general advice I’d give would be very cliche. Something along the lines of “Take more chances. You won’t regret things you do, only things you don’t do.” This is good/standard advice for anyone, but for me especially. Though it may not make sense, since I play nosebleeds (and have played underrolled even), I’m one of the most all around careful people I know. I’m the opposite of impulsive. I think for a long time before doing anything. I even will usually think through something before speaking out loud.

Mr. C asks:

i was wondering if you’d take us through your thought process on a hand from the last season of High Stakes Poker…between you and Phil Laak.

Phil Laak raises with 77 from the cut off

you 3-bet to 11,500 with 3s4s from the SB
Laak calls

Flop is 9s 4c 6h

you lead for 13,500
Laak raises rather quickly to 40,200
you tank for a bit then shove all in (144,000), Laak folds.

i’d love you analysis on this hand.

my take on the hand was you using Laak’s play against him. Laak is a tight player and loves to slow play big hands, especially post flop. Laak opened, called your 3-bet. then quickly 3-bet your lead post flop. i’m guessing you figured Laak would never play a monster like this, and knowing Laak’s tight nature – if you shipped it here – he’d lay down virtually all one-pair hands. obviously AA, KK and overpairs didnt really bother you too much.

you can view the hand here…
starting about 40 minutes in.

Well, let me start by saying that my reasoning happened to be totally off. After the hand I laughed to myself at how lucky I was that I made the right play based on a totally wrong read.  I’d love to take all the credit for a sick read, but I can’t lie to you guys.  I’ll tell you what I was thinking.

Preflop is a semi-standard light 3bet against a late position opener, so I won’t go into that.

After betting flop and getting raised, I had to figure out how often I thought he’d fold to a shove. With my pair + backdoor flush/straight draws, I had over 20% equity against any 1 pair hand, and a teeny bit of equity against 2pr or sets. Obviously, with 20-25% equity at best when called, I need to be pretty confident he’ll fold if I was gonna shove.

So, the basic way I think it through is to start with all of the hands I expect him to play this way that will call my jam:

Sets: All sets play this way preflop, and I can definitely see him raising flop with them (though he would slowplay sometimes as well, so I have to discount some). Also, there are only 7 hand combos that make sets, given the 4s in my hand. Very rare.

2 Pair: Would he raise flop and call with 2 pair? Absolutely. But how often can he have two pair? I expected Phil to have a tightish calling range against my 3bet. So can he have 94s? No way. 96o, 64o? No way. Could he have 96s or 64s. I thought probably not, but maybe.

However, look at how many combos there are for those hands: 96dd, 96cc, 64dd. That’s it. 3 combos, IF he would even play it that way.

Overpairs: This was the hand I was most worried about, by far. I thought that Phil might slowplay some overpairs preflop, and get it in here, and there are far more combos of overpairs than sets/2pr. I discounted QQ, as I thought he’d 4bet that hand almost always. JJ and TT, he may not want to get all in with. AA and KK, he may want to slowplay. QQ might be strong enough to get in, but not strong enough to slowplay, in his mind.

Those were my guesses. So, 6 combos each for 4 hands = 24 combos, and I felt he was more likely to play these hands this way than the above two.

Top Pair: There are more than a handful of hands (handful of hands? weird image) that he’d call preflop which contain a 9. So I had to ask myself, “would he raise J9 on this flop?” I decided that he wouldn’t. This is where my read seems to have been off (since he raised 77, which I never would have expected).

I felt that he’d put me on strong overpairs, missed high cards, and lots of weak bluffs, some of which may have hit the 9. By the way, this is why I draw a distinction between TT and J9… with TT, I feel he’d get it in, knowing he’d stack all my 9s- and overpairs just have a different feel to them. Most people have too much confidence in an overpair and too little confidence in top pair. A9, and even K9/Q9 are much stronger than TT in his spot, but most people don’t treat it that way.

Anyways, point is, I felt he’d just call with his 9s and try to get to showdown, rather than treat them as a value hand, since they’d (perceivably) only get stacks in against the strong part of my range that has them beat.

This was the ultimate deciding factor for me. I thought he wouldn’t raise a hand weaker than TT or maybe A9 for value, and there were so few hands that met that requirement. I felt that even if he only occasionally bluffraised with KQ and QJ type hands (wayyy more combos), his bluffs would outweigh his value hands in terms of frequency. All-in!

As it played out, I assume he raised 77 because he thought he was likely to have the best hand, and he wanted to protect it.  He might have felt uncomfortable calling and facing a turn bet on almost any card.  Once I raised, he probably felt I had the strong end of my range (overpairs) or the weak end that hit a 9.  Very lucky for me.
 I wasn’t trying to bluff him off of a pair… only to make him fold his bluffs and protect my hand.

Mr. X asks:


First, thanks for taking questions. I am sure you will get a ton. I just turned pro. Cash game only. I am married. The wife has given me this wonderful opportunity to play cards.. do something I love for a living. How do I keep from letting her down? what I mean is.. I can feel deep in side that I am not making the right decisions at the table because I don’t want to take a big loss and have to tell the wife.

I know the rule is to make the right moves at the right time at the table. Always the best play regardless of chips. (for the most part). Let me say that she is nothing but supportive so its not a fear thing. I just want to succeed so badly that I can tell that I am not making the right play when needed.

First things first- Your marraige is more important than your poker career. I’m sure you know that, but remember to keep it in mind. It’s easy to be consumed by poker and how it’s going and what you should be doing differently. It’s easy to temporarily lose sight of the things that really matter.

You’re lucky that you have a wife who supports your love of the game. Many poker players have family, and especially significant others, who are not so comfortable with gambling as a profession. You should keep that in mind, especially when you are conflicted about poker related decisions that will impact your wife.

Since it’s something she’s seemingly gone out of her way to let you do, even if she’s a very kind-hearted person, it will be hard for her to avoid feeling extra resentment if you’re neglecting her or otherwise inconveniencing her because of poker. You want to avoid putting her through that, for her sake and for the sake of the marraige. (Seems like you’re already very worried about how things will impact her though)

Non poker players have an extremely difficult time understanding variance, and how powerful it can be. Our brains aren’t built to understand it. You should play around with this:

Take a look at how possible it is to run horribly, and show your wife. She needs to fully understand that the swings usually aren’t your fault, even the bad ones. She needs to be prepared for how bad it could get. She may even need this opportunity to change her mind about poker… you don’t want her figuring out 3 years from now how big the swings can get and regretting her decision.

Now, to your poker game!

It may help a little bit if you know your wife is mentally prepared for the swings. It still seems like you’ll have this problem- the fear of a big loss… the fear of disappointing your wife. It also seems like you know perfectly well what the problem is, and what you ‘should’ do (pull the trigger, make the best play).

I’ve tried to out-logic my emotions for years, and I it’s been a waste of time. I believe you have to work with and around your emotions.

Without knowing the games available to you, and your financial situation and goals, it’s hard to give specific advice (feel free to follow up with more details and questions). That said, it seems like the best fix would be to move down in stakes, where a big loss isn’t a big loss. I’d expect you to play your best here, and to be playing against worse players. Maybe those two factors combined will result in higher, or almost as high, yearly earnings with much much smaller swings. Remember, as your winrate goes up, swings get cut substantially + you’re playing smaller already, which reduces swings.

I think it’s always good advice to move down and play overrolled, but I think it’s especially perfect in your situation. Hopefully that’s a viable option for you. Good luck!

Mr. D asks:



1.Have you been asked to represent any online poker site such as Pokerstars or Fulltilt etc? If you have, why haven’t you signed with any? You are a top notch professional and have always had a clean reputation. I would surely think you would be a valuable representative of a company.

After winning a bracelet in 2008, I recieved an offer from FTP (I thought this over and don’t see why it would be a problem to reveal… I’d be more discrete with new offers from (more) existing companies). It was similar to what I understand their ‘standard’ deal was, which wasn’t worth very much to a nosebleed player like me. I declined.

In addition to the money not making a huge difference for me, and the potential for not being allowed to play on other sites (very costly), I was very confident in my game and my future. I had proven myself and had the respect of the high stakes online regulars, but I had no recognition outside of that. I felt that it was reasonably likely that my status would grow over the coming year(s).

A little while after the UB scandal, they offered me a deal. I likely wasn’t interested at any price, unless they could somehow magically satisfy me fully that things were completely different, and all of the people in power were no longer in power. I wanted to give them a chance and hear them out. Not that it mattered, but they offered me less than FTP had before (and my reputation and BR had grown a fair amount in the meantime). No thought or investigation required.

I have been asked to hear offers from some newer smaller sites, and I’ve declined to listen. Regardless of price, I decided I didn’t want to represent a site that I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting $500k on.

I’ve been in talks a few times with potential start ups, some which have since launched, and some which never took off. I was extremely careful and picky (probably to the point of seeming very unreasonable), and nothing ever came of it.

I’m not against representing a poker site, but I’ve never received a meaningful offer. I’d rep a site if I believed in it and the price was right. (Not that I would audit the company first or that you should be positive a site is safe just because I or another pro signs with them. I fully believed in and would have signed with FTP for the right price.)

Anyways, nowadays, there aren’t many large deals being thrown around, especially for Americans. If and when the legal situation in the US changes, I’d hope to get some good offers.

2. Why did you choose to relocate to Vancouver? New York is pretty close to the border and you chose to move all the way to the west coast instead of choosing somewhere closer to home like Toronto.

Yeah… weird choice I made. I wouldn’t say I relocated. I kind’ve split time between Vegas, Vancouver, NY, and Maryland (where my family is)

1) I thought I’d travel back and forth from Vancouver to Vegas all the time. This didn’t exactly happen.

2) I heard nothing but great things about Vancouver. After spending time here, I agree with them.

3) I have a good amount of poker friends in Toronto, and more that went there after Black Friday. I didn’t know anyone in Vancouver. This was exciting to me because I wanted to do my own thing, to meet non-poker people and not just live in an extension of what WSOP time is for me. This didn’t totally happen, as I only hang out with a few good poker friends here so far. I still have been able to be very productive since I have fewer social obligations (and options) than I ever have.

3. Maybe talk about how many WSOP events your going to play this summer.

I’m very much on the fence about this. I’ve started to appreciate live poker more, so it may actually be fun to play a bunch of WSOP events. The cash games should be great, but you play 25 hands an hour, so I don’t feel I’d be missing out on a ton if I just skipped most of them.

I think I’ll just play it by ear. I tend to end up doing that anyways, even if I make a plan.

4. Any thoughts on the 1 drop? Or buying pieces of anybody playing in it?

I think it looks awesome. I may or may not play myself. I may or may not buy pieces. We’ll see.

5. Why does stars only have table limits up to 200/400 for big bet games NLH and PLO. Why dont they have any tables higher than that? And why are heads up tables only 50/100? What advantages do they see in not having any 300/600+ etc.

It’s bad for a poker site when players go broke. If they could, I bet many poker sites would stick with 5/10 or 10/20 as the highest stakes game. Weaker players (and even some strong ones) go broke to easily playing that big.

The sites benefit if we all just pass our money back and forth and continue playing as many hands as possible. (Same reason some sites don’t have or have waited on HU tables… too large of a disadvantage for the weaker players)

I’m thankful that the sites have all gone the route of offering bigger games.

The financial value of games 50/100 and higher for the sites lies solely in their ability to entertain, in my opinion. People watch and follow the high stakes action. Those people deposit and play on the site. Free publicity on sites like HSDB, people talking about the games, etc. Even with the recent rake increases, I don’t think they make much money at all directly from the games I play in.


Thanks for the questions, guys! There are many more that I’ll get to, assuming you guys want to hear them. Please keep them coming to  As I added to my last post:

I’d much prefer to address problems/questions more specific to you (especially outside of or only peripherally related to poker), or specific questions about me or perhaps parts of my game or thought process that haven’t been talked about.

In addition to more questions, feedback is always appreciated… even when I don’t get a chance to respond.

Take care.


A Couple of Hands

Hey Guys,

I know you’ve had high expectations of me after my two long blog posts on my first day.  I’ve been at the tables almost nonstop since then.  The nature of higher stakes cash games is such that sometimes I’ll have plenty of free time, and other times I’ll have none.  I guess that’s my preemptive apology/excuse for the next time I’m gone a while.

I probably will go to bed soon and try to wake up for tomorrow’s games, but I didn’t wanna leave you hanging for too long, so I’ve decided to share a hand with you that I think some may find non-standard.  For some, maybe it is standard, but perhaps for the wrong reasons:


Poker Stars $50/$100 Pot Limit Omaha Hi $20 Ante – 3 players

DeucesCracked Poker Videos Hand History Converter

BB: $10165.50

BTN: $21627.00

Hero (SB): $11465.00

Pre Flop: ($210.00) Hero is SB with K of diamonds 7 of clubs J of clubs K of clubs

BTN raises to $300, Hero calls $250,

Both players are strong players, though their tendencies differ.  The button opens fairly wide in late position, but I feel that calling the first time around with my KKJ7cc plays a little bit better for many reasons, even though I’m certainly well ahead of his range here.

Looking at my options facing the initial raise:

1) I can 3bet

The + side is that I’ll be well ahead of the button’s range, and he’ll often call with a hand that mine dominates.

The – side(s):

-The button is a strong player, and he has position on me.  Although my hand is strong, I don’t think I’m making a ton of money playing a 3bet pot OOP to him.  He will do a good amount of floating/bluffraising/slowplaying/etc. to make my life hard.

-BOTH the button and the BB are capable of 4betting light.  They both, of course, will also 4bet AAxx.  With my particular hand, I would be in an extremely tough spot facing a 4bet from either player, and this is a reasonably likely possibility.  If they were both so reckless that I could count on a 4bet, it would be a different story:  I just 3bet and happily jam over their 4bet, but I think they both have very “good” and balanced 4betting ranges in this spot.

Basically, I view 3betting as:  Best case, I’m HU oop with slightly the better hand against a very strong player.  Worst case, I face a 4bet and hate my life.  I either fold the best hand too often, or get it in with 30% equity too often.  The fact that I have specifically KK in this spot makes their 4betting tendencies a big problem for me.

2) I can call:

The – side of calling is that I don’t get more money in against the buttons loose opening range.  If you want to look at it more meta: I don’t punish his loose opening strategy, and I “let him get away with” stealing light.  I’m not super worried about this, as I still have plenty of hands in my 3bet range (as does the BB).

The + side of calling is that I have a hand that plays very well in a single raised pot, both HU or 3way.  Sure, I have a hand that could be a profitable 3bet, but that doesn’t mean that a call isn’t as or more profitable.  There’s still plenty of value in playing this hand for one bet.

Another benefit is…

BB raises to $1260, BTN calls $960,

The BB has a wide 3betting range here vs. a button open and SB call (both not very strong ranges, so he’s right to have a wide 3b range).

I now find myself in another interesting spot where I have some options.  This is where I think my opinion differs from many of my opponents.

I have the ability to re-pot here and get in about half of our stacks with a reasonable equity advantage.  This might not be true against some other opponents, but I believe that the Button has AAxx less than 2% of the time (and still has a good chunk of his stealing range hands), and the BB has a range of, I’d guess maybe 20%ish of hands, slightly less probably.  Against those ranges I have:

Not bad at all.  

The problem that I see with 4betting is that I’m pushing a very small edge in a spot where I think I can find a bigger one.  (I should point out, that if I 4bet, BB calls, and button folds, that would be very good result for me as well)

When I 4bet with this hand, I’m going to be pushing a very small equity edge preflop, and essentially no playability edge postflop.  What I mean by that is, my opponents aren’t going to be making more mistakes than I am postflop.  For instance, it looks a lot like I could have AAxx when I 4bet.  However, if the flop comes A87r, and one of them has AKT3, they aren’t folding with 1/3 PSB left.

This is how I like to analyze decisions on all streets between forcing the money in now or waiting till later:  First, do I have an equity edge or fold equity?  Second, who is going to have the advantage on future streets?

In this case, I’d say that I have a small equity edge with very little fold equity.  I’d say that the Button has the slight playability advantage, followed by me, and then the BB, who will have to face my flop shove with the Button yet to act behind him.

Given those things, I can be sure that a 4bet is “profitable” in that it’s better than outright folding my hand.  However, I think that calling has a lot of value that many people may overlook.

When I call here, I still am getting SOME money in good (just not as much).  But what’s very important, in my opinion, is that I have a ton of playability postflop.  

1) My hand is one that flops well very often.  

2) Most of the time that my hand suffers a huge equity loss against their ranges is when an Ace flops.  This is extremely easy for me to identify (just look to see if there’s an Ace on the board), and play accordingly.  I call this having good “visibility,” which will allow me to make very good decisions postflop.

3) Even though I’m first to act, I actually have the BEST position of all three of us.  

Very often, I’ll check, and the BB will cbet with a lot of his range.  Now the Button is forced to make a decision (for his stack, usually), and I get to wait and see what he does.  If the button folds, I can breakdown the BBs preflop range, estimate how often he’d cbet that particular board, and make an informed decision.  If the button shoves, I can get away from a lot of marginal hands, or reship with my monster hands.

OR, the BB will check behind, indicating a weak range, the button will then bet a (likely) polarized range, and I still have a very good grasp of their ranges.

Looking at it from their perspectives, it should be obvious that the button will be in an awful spot on the flop – facing a cbet with me behind him.  If you think about it, the BB is also in a pretty tough spot, deciding if he should cbet into two, knowing that if he doesn’t, he’ll give his hand strength away as weak (usually), and that the button is still behind him to take advantage of that.

Because of all that, I believe that calling is a better option than 4betting, even though we are “leaving” money on the table with the best of it.


Hero calls $960


As it turns out in this actual hand, everything came together perfectly for me.  I flopped a very strong draw, the BB cbet, forcing the button into a VERY tough spot with his weak draw, and I was able to reship behind with way the best of it:

Flop: ($3840.00) 3 of clubs A of clubs T of hearts (3 players)

Hero checks, BB bets $3200, BTN raises to $13439, Hero calls $10185 all in, BB calls $5685.50 all in

Turn: ($33095.50) A of hearts (3 players – 2 are all in)

River: ($33095.50) 3 of hearts (3 players – 2 are all in)

Final Pot: $33095.50

BB shows 4 of diamonds Q of clubs J of diamonds 8 of clubs (a pair of Aces)

BTN shows 6 of clubs 5 of clubs 4 of clubs 7 of spades (a pair of Aces)

Hero shows K of diamonds 7 of clubs J of clubs K of clubs (two pair, Aces and Kings)

Hero wins $2599.00

Hero wins $30495.50

(Rake: $1.00)


Aaaaaand for my second hand, I’ll just whine:


Poker Stars $50/$100 Pot Limit Omaha Hi $20 Ante – 2 players

DeucesCracked Poker Videos Hand History Converter

Isildur1 (BB): $64780.00

Hero (BTN/SB): $51263.00

Pre Flop: ($190.00) Hero is BTN/SB with 6 of spades 4 of spades 2 of clubs 4 of diamonds

Hero raises to $300, Isildur1 raises to $940, Hero calls $640

Flop: ($1920.00) 4 of hearts 9 of spades 3 of diamonds (2 players)

Isildur1 bets $1400, Hero raises to $4350, Isildur1 calls $2950

Turn: ($10620.00) T of diamonds (2 players)

Isildur1 checks, Hero bets $7850, Isildur1 raises to $34169.50, Hero raises to $45953 all in, Isildur1 calls $11783.50

River: ($102526.00) Q of hearts (2 players – 1 is all in)

Final Pot: $102526.00

Isildur1 shows 8 of spades J of hearts J of clubs 7 of clubs (a straight, Eight to Queen)

Hero shows 6 of spades 4 of spades 2 of clubs 4 of diamonds (three of a kind, Fours)

Isildur1 wins $102525.50

(Rake: $0.50)


Take care, guys.