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Rewind: Dan Harrington's Gutsy Squeeze Play At The 2004 Main Event Final Table

by Greg Raymer |  Published: May 31, 2023


In 2019, I published FossilMan’s Winning Tournament Strategies, a 42-chapter book covering all of the basic concepts behind being a winning tournament player, as well as many of the more advanced strategies.

For my next book, I will go through several dozen notable hands I have played over my career and break down each decision along the way. Although not yet finished, I thought it would be fun to provide excerpts of some of those hands here for Card Player readers.

In this hand, we take a look back nearly two decades ago to the 2004 WSOP main event final table. We are seven-handed, with the blinds now at 40,000-80,000 with a 10,000 ante. (Remember the days before the big blind ante?)

Josh Arieh is under-the-gun with KHeart Suit 9Spade Suit and raises to 225,000. Al Krux folds, and I call with AClub Suit 2Club Suit. Matt Dean folds, and then Dan Harrington, on the button holding just 6Heart Suit 2Diamond Suit, goes all-in for 1,200,000. The blinds, Josh, and I all fold.

With the benefit of a 2023 perspective, Josh probably should not be raising UTG with K-9 offsuit, even in a seven-handed game. Folding would be the better choice. Your long-term average number of hands to play in a seven-handed game is about 25%. Of course, that is a long-term average, and ignores factors such as your stack size relative to the blinds or table, and a multitude of other factors.

Even if you were correct to play 30% or more of your hands, on average, you are playing a lot less than this from UTG. You want to play more hands in late positions, and you end up playing more hands when in the blinds, especially the big blind, since you are already partially invested.

Even if Josh believes he can play more hands than GTO strategy would indicate, he still needs to be tighter than this in early position. If you are playing 25% of your hands in total, you are probably only going to be playing about 10% of the hands you are dealt UTG. K-9 offsuit is barely in the top 23% of all hands, which makes this a clear fold.

My call with A-2 suited was also a mistake, and I should have folded. This hand doesn’t rank any better than K-9 offsuit, though it does play better, since it can at least make the nut flush. It is harder for K-9 offsuit to make a hand where it is happy to get all-in.

Although I am in later position than Josh, and have the chip lead, the pot has been raised. I am putting myself in harm’s way here since I will often lose extra chips when the board comes ace high. I can’t just automatically fold when I flop top pair, that would be too tight. However, when I do flop top pair, I am either going to lose, get very lucky to catch two pair and beat a better ace, or I am picking off a bluff.

It is so rare that I flop two pair or a flush that much of the value of this hand is my ability to use it to bluff out better hands that aren’t too strong. Even as the big stack, I was wrong to play the hand.

Now that we’re done with the obvious stuff, let’s get to the really interesting part of this hand, which is the raise by Poker Hall of Famer and two-time bracelet winner Dan Harrington.

He only has 6-2 offsuit. Certainly, folding would be the normal and correct decision for him to make. Given that, why would Dan choose to raise all-in, and risk being eliminated from the biggest tournament of the year?

Dan had found himself the perfect spot to execute the squeeze play.

The squeeze play happens when a player raises, another player(s) calls, and then the squeezer reraises with a hand they do not believe to be the best hand. Or, at least, they do not believe it will be the best hand if they get called. What distinguishes this play from a typical light three-bet is the presence of the caller in-between.

You will likely be presented with squeeze opportunities reasonably often. How do you know when it is a good time to go for it, and when you should abstain?

The most important factor is the likelihood that both (or all) players will fold. There must be some reasonable basis for you to believe this will happen. If the player who made the first raise is very tight, then they are more likely to have a premium hand, and therefore presumably less likely to fold. If the first raiser is loose and very sticky, then even though they might have raised with a marginal hand, they are going to be more likely to call as well. Similarly, if the caller(s) is very sticky and/or very tight, then they are not as likely to fold for the same reasons.

What you want to look for is a first raise by a player who has a very wide range. They are smart and aware enough to know you will usually have a strong hand. And they are also aware that the player in-between might also have a strong hand.

The pressure from you, and the added threat of the caller(s), is enough to pressure them into folding unless they have a premium hand.

You also need the in-between caller(s) to be somebody who is unlikely to have a premium hand. If any of these players is a calling station, do NOT try the squeeze play.

Here, Dan had a perfect storm for the squeeze play, recognized it, and wasn’t afraid to pull it off, even with his tournament life on the line at the televised final table of the main event.

He knew Josh’s range was extremely wide, even from under-the-gun. He knew I likely would have three-bet with a premium hand. And he knew Josh and I were very likely to fold without a monster.

But don’t forget your image!

What really made this play work was Dan’s super-tight image. I am sure Dan surprised a lot of people with this play when they watched it later on TV.

Have fun, play smart, and look for those squeeze opportunities! ♠

Greg Raymer is the 2004 WSOP world champion, winner of numerous major titles, and has more than $7 million in earnings. He is the author of “FossilMan’s Winning Tournament Strategies,” available from D&B Publishing, Amazon, and other retailers. He is sponsored by Blue Shark Optics, YouStake, and ShareMyPair. To contact Greg please tweet at him using @FossilMan or go to