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Can Phil Ivey Be Bullied? An Excerpt From Poker Book How Can He Fold?

The Poker Guys Break Down Huge Hands From Poker History



It is the bubble of the $250,000 buy-in Super High Roller at the 2014 Aussie Millions, one of the biggest bubbles in poker history. The blinds are 20,000-40,000.


Isaac Haxton, widely considered one of the best poker minds around, raises to 95,000 in early position with ADiamond Suit 10Spade Suit. He started the hand with 3.5 million chips (88 big blinds). Phil Ivey, perhaps the best all around poker player in the world, calls out of the big blind with ASpade Suit 2Spade Suit. He started the hand with 2.1 million chips (53 big blinds).

Phil checks, and Isaac bets 160,000. Phil calls.

JONATHAN: A lot of players would choose to raise a pair and a flush draw on the flop. It might be hard for Phil to get significant action if he improves to a flush, trips, or aces up without putting more money in now.

GRANT: That’s true, but at least he has a hand that he can win with some of the time without improving. He might feel like he doesn’t need to create any fold equity to be profitable.

JONATHAN: Yeah, having showdown value is a big deal. Phil doesn’t need to turn his hand into a bluff here.

GRANT: That said, it wouldn’t be terrible to get more chips in with such a monstrous hand. It’s possible that the bubble is looming large in Phil’s head and he doesn’t want to flip against an over-pair as the shorter stack in the hand.

JONATHAN: Yeah, I agree, most the hands that Isaac would be willing to get it in with on this flop are over-pairs, and they have about 50 percent equity against Phil’s hand.

GRANT: Some of Isaac’s hands will have significantly more equity (such as A-A and sets), some will have significantly less (such as the king high flush draw). It all comes out to roughly even and Phil may not be willing to take that gamble on a $500,000 bubble.

JONATHAN: Neither would I.

GRANT: What we are neglecting to mention, however, is that Isaac does not necessarily have to have a hand he is willing to go with. As we see, he doesn’t. If Phil were to raise, he would win a significant pot without having to improve or hero call later.

Phil checks, and Isaac bets 500,000. Phil tanks, then folds.

GRANT: Well, somehow that worked.

JONATHAN: Isaac was clearly targeting one pair or a draw, but he couldn’t have been targeting one pair and a combo draw. But still, it got through.

GRANT: Yeah… how did it get through? Why did it get through? Should it have gotten through?

JONATHAN: Phil must believe he has no fold equity if he moves all-in, and he’s not willing to call for almost one-third of his stack.

GRANT: Yeah, and fold equity would be a huge deal if Phil moved in here. Although he did pick up an additional draw on the turn, his equity against what Isaac is representing (over-pairs and sets) decreased because there is only one card to come.

JONATHAN: If this hand took place two hours before the bubble, there’s no way Phil would take this line.

GRANT: Let’s not overlook Isaac’s brilliance here. He used sizing to intimidate a great player at the right time. Most players in Isaac’s position are either going to shut down on the turn or bet a more normal amount, like 300,000. Isaac realized that betting nearly pot would both look strong and make Phil feel like his options were limited at a critical time.

JONATHAN: The bet also carries with it an implied threat: ‘I’m probably moving you all-in on the river.’ And there is no way Phil is calling with just a pair of deuces if he doesn’t improve.

GRANT: This is just great situational awareness from Isaac. This play probably wouldn’t have worked at any other point in the tournament, and I doubt he would have made it at those times.


Despite this fold, Phil went on to win this event for $3.6 million. Isaac was the runner-up for $2.5 million.


• Even the steeliest, coolest poker player in the world can be bullied on the bubble.
• Big drawing hands often play better as a raise than a call on the flop.
• Isaac betting big on the turn was likely the difference between getting Phil to fold or not.

This article is an excerpt from the book How Can He Fold??? Incredible Poker Hands Broken Down Decision By Decision by Grant Denison and Jonathan Levy. Also known as The Poker Guys, Denison and Levy are the hosts of The Breakdown Poker Podcast and multiple YouTube video series.

With a mixture of technical analysis, witty banter, and straight up arguing, poker pros Denison and Levy discuss some of the most notorious poker hands ever played. They don’t just tell you what happened, they examine, and often fight, about the decisions each player makes. Infamous poker hands get dissected in bite size chapters that entertain and enlighten. The book is available at and on Amazon.