Masterclass: Phil Ivey Reads Souls

By Donovan Panone | July 22, 2009

Situation: Head’s up at the Monte Carlo millions vs. Paul Jackson
Blinds: 12K/24K + 4K ante
Stacks: Phil has about a 4-1 chip lead.  Jackson has roughly $1 million in chips.

In this hand, we will play as if we are Phil Ivey. The big disclaimer here is that a hand like this does not come around very often. Analyzing it after the fact really doesn’t do it justice since it is based very heavily on Phil’s read on his opponent. But it is still a great example of putting your opponent on a hand, sensing weakness and trusting your instincts. It should also be noted that prior to this hand, Phil overheard Paul telling a friend that he was not going to let Phil push him around.


Jackson limps in with 5d6s, Ivey raises $60K more with qh8h and Jackson calls.

Analysis: Since this is head’s up play it’s a little harder to put each opponent on a hand without having been there to see the history between the players.  However, we can make some generalizations based on optimum head’s up strategy and what we know about our reads so far. As Ivey, we are raising about 3.5x the big blind.  Based on our 4-1 chip lead, we want to continue to put pressure on our opponent and since our opponent just limped in we could do this with a wide range of hands. Jackson calls after a brief pause so now we can assign his range to hands that weren’t strong enough to raise, but those he wanted to see a flop with. It is certainly possible that Jackson could be varying his betting pattenrs by limping with an Ace or some other big hand, but based on the chip counts it is more likely that he wanted to see the flop for cheap. Let’s put Jackson’s range as low-to-mid suited and unsuited connectors, one and two gapers 56-JT, Q2-Q8s, K2-K8 suited and off-suit (though he more than likely raises with a King). Based on hand strength and the need to build his stack, he probably raises all pairs Q9-QJ, K9-KQ and Ax.

The Flop:


The pot is now $176K. Phil makes a continuation bet of $80K and after contemplating for a while, Jackson raises to $170K. Ivey now re-raises to $320K and Jackson comes back over the top for $150K more. Ivey goes all-in and leaves Jackson no other choice but to fold.

Analysis: After Ivey’s continuation bet, Jackson is making a little over the minimum raise. On other flops this might be the sign of a strong hand because it’s deceiving, but in this case the board is showing a pair of Jacks making trips non-concealed. If he did have a Jack, he wouldn’t want Ivey to know it so he could maximize his winnings. He would he have more likely just called since he knows Ivey is capable of firing a second bullet on the turn. It’s certainly possible Jackson could have a Jack and is protecting against the flush draw, but if that was the case he would raise more so that Ivey didn’t have the odds to call. Also, there are only a couple of hands that would have not raised pre-flop and also called the raise pre-flop (J8, J9 and JT).

So what hands can we put him on? He could have a 7 and he’s trying to see where he’s at. Maybe he limped with a big pair like QQ-AA and he’s afraid of the Jack? He could also be on a pure bluff. But, you can’t completely discount the possibility of some 4th level thinking going on and him actually having a Jack and raising to make Ivey think he didn’t have one.

So after Jackson’s first raise to $170K, Ivey re-raises to $320K for two purposes: One is because he doesn’t believe Jackson and he wants him to fold and the other is to gain more information about the strength of Jackson’s hand.

Jackson now raises the minimum again, only $150K more. While the concept of Jackson raising back here is scary, the size of his raise actually makes it less believable that he has a Jack. Also, his raise size is curious. If he really had a Jack here, why is he raising the minimum now that Ivey is showing strength? He only has $530K behind before the raise. If he had a Jack, wouldn’t he just call the raise and hope Ivey puts him all in on the turn? OR, he should think at this point that Ivey has a hand that can call an all-in with and could shove all-in. So basically, he’s raising an amount that leaves him chips if Ivey should come back over the top.

Let’s also look at physical poker tells. Ivey asks Jackson how much he has left. While he answers, he swallows big and keeps his hand over his mouth. He’s definitely nervous here. We’ve gotta remember also, Phil overheard Paul Jackson on the break say he wasn’t going to let Phil push him around. Not that this is a cut & dry hand, but once you factor everything together, Ivey makes a great read and comes to the logical conclusion that Jackson can’t call off his remaining chips without a Jack in his hand.

By Donovan Panone

Donovan started playing poker in 2004 and is an experienced tournament and cash game player who has a passion for teaching and helping others improve their game.


One Response to “Masterclass: Phil Ivey Reads Souls”

  1. MPT
    July 22, 2009 at 7:38 am

    This is great play and I like the balls shown by BOTH players. Ivey of course is the king though. Neat analysis!

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