Jonathan Little on How Hellmuth Shocked Negreanu in this High Stakes Duel Hand

Daniel Negreanu

I wanted to follow up last week’s column, in which I examined a big hand between Phil Hellmuth and Daniel Negreanu from Round 1 of their High Stakes Duel II match, with another clash between “Kid Poker” and the “Poker Brat.”

In this hand, Negreanu was visibly shocked with Hellmuth’s river decision when the latter rolled over his cards. When watching the live stream it was clear that Negreanu felt he had the best hand after Hellmuth decided to just call, but how wrong he was!

Do you think that Negreanu would have called a raise from Hellmuth on the river? Or do you think that Hellmuth could have squeezed more value by betting large? Let’s jump into it.

The blinds were 400/800 when Negreanu (58,700) min-raised to 1,600 and Hellmuth (41,300) looked down at the {k-Diamonds}{q-Clubs} in the big blind. Hellmuth can either three-bet or call and he should be using a mixed frequency when deciding which option to take. If your opponent is opening at a high frequency you should be incentivized to three-bet slightly more to punish their wider range.

Hellmuth took the passive line and just called to see a flop of {j-Diamonds}{5-Diamonds}{2-Diamonds}. Hellmuth checked the second-nut flush draw and Negreanu bet just 800. If Hellmuth were to raise and face a three-bet then he would be behind most of Negreanu’s range. Also, king-high does have a little showdown value meaning if you just call here, it checks down, and you miss, that’s ok because sometimes you end up winning the pot with king-high.

In general, when you have a draw and a marginal hand that has some showdown value you should look to play the hand more passively. Hellmuth did just call and the {8-Diamonds} turn gave him the flush.

When you are out of position and make a strong hand you want to keep your opponent betting with marginal hands or bluffs, so checking is ok. Hellmuth did check and Negreanu checked behind to see the {q-Diamonds} river put five diamonds on the board.

Jonathan Little Breaks down the hand.

In this spot, what would you do in Hellmuth’s shoes? The pot is 4,800 and you’re playing 50 big blinds deep. Would you check the flush? Would you bet small like 1,400? Bet medium like 3,200? Or go big, say 6,000?

This is a spot where I think you can go either way between a check with the intention of check-raising or using a larger bet size. If Negreanu has any flush better than the board, he’s likely going to call, and he may even call for the chop. Using a large bet size would put Negreanu in a tricky spot with his non-diamond hands but would also gain calls from most of Negreanu’s hands that do contain a diamond.

Before betting Hellmuth should consider what Negreanu believes his range to be when he uses a large bet size. It proved a moot point here as Hellmuth checked and Negreanu bet 2,400. If I were Hellmuth, I would generally only look to check-raise if Negreanu decided to use a small-to-medium bet size, which he did here. That’s because when Negreanu uses a small-to-medium bet size his range is usually going for some thinner value.

Negreanu should often bet with the {a-Diamonds} on the turn to start building a pot against Hellmuth’s weaker flushes. Furthermore, we can assume that Negreanu would follow up with a larger bet size on the river if he had the {a-Diamonds}.

Negreanu knows that Hellmuth plays on the tighter side so he would give a lot more respect to a check-raise and therefore it would be unlikely that he would three-bet him as a bluff.

Surprisingly, Hellmuth just called and beat Negreanu’s {10-Diamonds}{9-Hearts} flush. Would have Negreanu called a check-raise? Some people don’t think so, but we shall never know.

For a more thorough solver breakdown of this hand, check out my thoughts in the following video:

Jonathan Little is a professional poker player and author with over $7,000,000 in live tournament earnings. He writes a weekly educational blog and hosts a podcast at Sign up to learn poker from Jonathan for free at You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanLittle.

  • PokerNews Strategy: @JonathanLittle examines a big hand between @RealKidPoker & @phil_hellmuth.

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