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Memorable Hands From The Poker Player’s Championship

by Kevin Haney |  Published: Nov 15, 2023

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During the boom, poker was on television all the time. The World Poker Tour (Travel Channel), High Stakes Poker (Game Show Network), Celebrity Poker Showdown (Bravo), National Heads-Up Poker Championship (NBC), Poker after Dark (NBC), and the World Series of Poker (ESPN) bombarded fans from quite unsuspecting places. Back then you couldn’t get away from it, but nowadays it can be a struggle to get your fix.

PokerGO is one of the few entities out there producing new content. It brought back High Stakes Poker and has greatly expanded its coverage of the WSOP. Some are angered that it resides behind a “pay wall,” but that is just simply a reality of our new streaming society. The bottom line is that it is great for the game to have its own dedicated channel, and it should be supported by the community.

And for mixed-game enthusiasts, things are better than ever. The $50,000 Poker Players Championship is the biggest mixed tournament all year and PokerGO produced start-to-finish coverage of the final three days including Brian Rast’s third win in the event.
It goes without saying that having over 20 hours of footage to sift through provides a ton of entertainment and opportunities for learning.

Kristopher Tong (1,360,000) vs. Dzmitry Urbanovich (640,000)
Triple Draw: 30,000-60,000 limits (15,000-30,000 blinds)

When this hand played out on day 3 it was starting to get late in the tournament, but still not very close to the money. Earlier friendly table talk between Kristopher and Dzmitry suggested that they knew each other and may have had some history, which possibly played a role in how the hand ultimately went down.

Tong (hijack) opened 2-2-5-10-K and was three-bet by Urbanovich (button) holding a premium one-card draw 2-3-5-7-A. Tong called the re-raise, drew three, and immediately made the nuts 7-5-4-3-2! Dzmitry paired his three, and made the somewhat mandatory chuckle after getting check-raised by a player who had taken three cards.

On the second draw, Dzmitry paired again, this time the deuce. However, instead of just calling he opted to raise the turn; an aggressive, but viable play to present a problem for Kristofer should he hold a hand that he might have been tempted to break.
Unfortunately for him that wasn’t the case here and he called after getting re-popped.
Now here’s where things really got interesting. Dzmitry doesn’t draw, but instead chose to pat behind, clearly not giving up on winning the hand through sheer aggression.

As you may surmise, it didn’t work out, so what can we say about this hand? It should be obvious why Dzmitry is such a feared player demonstrating the creativity to make a move that the vast majority of us wouldn’t even consider.

Dzmitry was probably influenced by the pairs that he caught, which in most cases will reduce the probability that Tong held the powerhouse he was representing. However, the deuce was actually a bad card for him to catch since Kristopher had originally opened from the hijack and drew three; so he almost certainly had a deuce already. And since it’s a card that his opponent didn’t need, Dzmitry’s catch might as well have been another ace.

Another potential issue is that Dzmitry turned a premium draw into a bluff, foregoing the possibility of making the no. 1 and no. 3 strongest hands in the game. We are not always presented with the most optimal situation, but the play would have been more timely had he instead held 2-5-6-7 and had paired sixes along the way.

It’s a subtle but important distinction, because when Kristopher isn’t fooling around, drawing to the 2-3-5-7 may present an opportunity for Dzmitry to cooler his opponent.
Conversely, the times Kristopher is indeed very strong, the 2-5-6-7 is more likely to be drawing to a tie or even dead. A turn three-betting value range is often very condensed, some players might not even put in this action with their best eight lows.

In addition, pairing sixes, as opposed to other cards such as the deuces and sevens, makes it more likely your opponent is holding a hand that you want him to have. For example, a turn raise is more likely to get 9-7-4-3-2 to break than 9-6-4-3-2. Or perhaps after the first draw he made trip sevens (e.g. 2-7-7-7-10), and decided to turn his hand into a bluff.

However, if you think your opponent is capable of holding a complete bust you have the luxury of drawing to your hand and then simply clicking call on the river with most of your final holdings. All in all, a very entertaining hand, and we have all been there when a big move doesn’t quite work out as we had hoped.

Phil Hellmuth (485,000) vs. Ray Dehkharghani (1,525,000)
Pot-Limit Omaha: 10,000-15,000 with a 15,000 big blind ante

At this stage of the tournament the players are on the “soft bubble,” 17 are left and only 15 will get paid. No one wants to go bust here, particularly Phil Hellmuth, who started the hand as one of the shorter stacks.

Seven-handed Phil opened to 55,000 from first position with ADiamond Suit KHeart Suit QClub Suit 2Club Suit. Not a powerhouse holding but Phil’s early open commands respect, and when holding an ace blocker it’s less likely he will bump into a pair of aces and get three-bet.

The action folded around to Dehkharghani (aka Ray D.) in the big blind who decided to defend with 5Spade Suit 4Spade Suit 3Heart Suit 2Heart Suit. You’re also not going to find this holding in any listing of top PLO hands, but he probably made the call due to attractive pot odds and sneaky live double-suited cards.

The flop came down 2Spade Suit JDiamond Suit 4Diamond Suit and both players checked. The turn was the KDiamond Suit giving Hellmuth two pair along with the useful ADiamond Suit blocker to the nuts. On the turn, Ray check-called Phil’s 55,000 wager into the 135,000 pot. The bet wasn’t that large, Ray had two pair and an open-ended straight draw, and Phil probably would have bet many of his flush draws on the flop.

In their esteemed wisdom, the Poker Gods delivered the 2Diamond Suit on the river giving both players a full house. Ray checked, Phil bet 60,000 into the 235,000 pot, and after at least a minute of deliberation, Ray decided to raise pot putting Phil to a decision for his tournament life. This caught Phil off-guard and it rocketed the Poker Brat out of his chair.

After a few minutes in the tank Hellmuth ended up folding, driving the commentators crazy. Hellmuth shocked the table by divulging that he folded a full house, but given the play of the hand and the circumstances, it appears correct to have done so.

Ray is going to defend many more combinations containing K-K and J-J than he is with those including 2-4, and probably would have played them in the same manner. In addition, when Phil holds the AClub Suit it further limits the holdings he can possibly beat.

This just seems like a freak of a hand where Ray just happened to give action with a “low-bag” holding because it was double-suited and possibly only called on the turn because he also held a straight draw. Then on the river I assume he decided to put Phil in for his remaining $315,000 since he couldn’t get re-raised, and Phil might call with an ace high flush. My guess is that if Phil had slightly more chips he would have just called.

Hellmuth seemingly just got caught up in a perfect storm outlier of a hand and made the results-oriented incorrect fold, which probably would have saved his tournament life the vast majority of the time. Phil was on the outer table when information about the hand was relayed to the other table, and everyone enjoyed a hearty laugh. However, they might have simply found humor in the particular situation and not thought his fold was terrible.

Kevin Haney is a former actuary but left the corporate job to focus on his passions for poker and fitness. The certified personal trainer owned a gym in New Jersey, but has since moved to Las Vegas. He started playing the game back in 2003, and particularly enjoys taking new players interested in mixed games under his wing and quickly making them proficient in all variants. Learn more or just say hello with an email to haneyk612@gmail.com.