It was the biggest match in the history of High Stakes Duel; both players stumped up $800,000 in cash with the hopes of taking home a mammoth $1.6 million. But in the end, Jason Koon came out on top - and, in all honesty, he made it look effortless.
Many in the poker community have doubted Phil’s ability to keep up with the brightest minds of this generation, but his 9-1 record in this event will tell you otherwise. Koon was respectful of Phil in the pre-match interview, talking up his achievements in the poker world, particularly in heads-up events.
This is a very different tactic to the other players we’ve seen, most of whom have declared their intention to “crush” Phil in a format that many people think he isn’t suited to. It seems as though this was a conscious decision not to get caught up in the battle of egos that usually happens when Phil is at the table; Jason was content to sit tight and play his own game.
Jason wasn’t the only one who came in with a different strategy than usual, as Phil started the match in a much more aggressive manner than we were used to seeing. Rather than limping every hand from the button, we actually saw Phil raise hands - something we’re not used to seeing in these events!
While his strategy of raising from the button didn’t last long, we saw what many people consider to be Phil’s fatal weakness in these games, and what Daniel Negreanu calls his “zoom zoom” mode. Phil is a feel player. He doesn’t consider things like math or ranges when making his decisions; he goes off pure vibes.
Sometimes that can make you look like a genius, but sometimes it can make you look like a complete amateur. Contrary to what people may think of Phil, he’s not scared to get in the streets and mix it up, and that’s exactly what we saw early on with his Q6o hand. Phil limped Q6o on the button with blinds at 1.5K/2.5K, and Jason raised to 10.5K with black aces.
For many people, this would be the end of the hand, but Phil decided to get aggressive and 3bet to 32K. Jason put in the 4bet to 120K, as you would expect, and you’re thinking that at this point, Phil is just gonna let it go - but no! He 5bets it to 260K! Jason obviously moves all-in, and Phil folds, losing over a quarter of his stack in a situation where all he should have lost was 2.5K.
While Phil would eventually get those chips back, this remained the theme of the night. That being said, don’t think that Jason had the win handed to him on a silver platter; he was working for it and pulling off some great bluffs.
One of the best examples was in a limped pot, where Phil limped 82o, and Jason checked J9o in the big blind. The flop came AQTr, and Jason check-called a bet of 55% pot from Phil. The turn was the Jc, giving Jason a pair and Phil a straight draw. Both players checked, and the river was the 9s, giving Jason two pair and Phil a straight. However, it’s important to note that any king would make a higher straight.
Jason led out for a min bet of 4K, Phil instantly bumped it up to 9.5K, and after a short consideration, Jason made it 30K, repping the king! Phil snap folded, giving Jason the pot and what was surely a great boost to his confidence.
It was clear at this point that Jason had the upper hand, and Phil had to do something to get back into the game. However, for reasons that only he will know, he decided that the best way to win back his chips was to start 3betting absolute garbage, knowing that he’d have to play out of position against one of the best in the game.
This was best exemplified when Jason opened JTo to 12K with blinds at 2.5K/5K, and Phil decided to 3bet 74o to 36K. You read that right; he 3bet 74o against Jason Koon! Jason called, and they saw a flop of Jd8d6c. Phil checked, and Jason played it tricky by checking back too.
The turn was the Tc, putting two flush draws on the board. It also gave Jason two pair, and Phil a double gutter. Phil bet 62K into 72K, and Jason again decided to play it slow and just call. The 7d brought four to a straight and three to a flush, but Phil couldn’t pull the trigger on a bluff, and Jason happily checked back with his two pair to win a huge pot, along with a 3-1 chip advantage.
This loss had Phil talking to himself as he often does at the table, complaining about the quality of his opponent’s hand - seemingly forgetting that he 3bet the hand with 74o. Certainly a case of pot meets kettle if there ever was one!
To give Phil the benefit of the doubt, Jason did seem to have the run of the cards as the match progressed. He had strong hands in the majority of the big pots they played together, and some of those decisions would certainly have been harder if he had missed the flop.
That being said, there was an air of calmness and control that we haven’t really seen from any of Phil’s challengers in this format. Once Jason amassed his comfortable lead, he never looked like letting it go.
He just kept whittling down Phil’s stack with every hand played, seemingly making all the right moves at all the right times. It wasn’t long until he had an over 10-1 chip advantage, and you could sense that the end was near for the former Main Event champ.
An example of how well Jason ran in the big spots, the two played a hand where Phil limped the button with Kh2h at 3K/6K, Jason raised it to 24K with 6d4d, and Phil called. The flop came JJJ, Jason bet 60% pot and Phil snap-called. The turn was a queen, and both players checked before a four on the river gave Jason a full house. Jason bet around ⅓ pot on the river, Hellmuth called, and was disgusted when he saw he got rivered.
That turned out to be the penultimate hand, as the very next hand Jason raised from the button with Q8o, and Phil 3bet AKo off of 17bb effective. Jason thought about it for a few seconds before putting Phil all in. Phil obviously snapped him off, which meant Jason had a 33% chance of winning the $1.6 million right there and then.
The flop was queen-high, giving Jason top pair, but Phil also flopped a gutshot, giving him four more outs. However, unfortunately for him, both the turn and river were bricks, giving Jason Koon the victory and the $1.6 million in prize money.
Time will tell whether or not Hellmuth will exercise his option for a rematch; as the last challenger, he has “first dibs” on playing Jason if he wishes, but after such a comprehensive beat down, there may be some doubt creeping into his mind. Having doubts is the last thing you’d want if you were to take the rematch, as according to High Stakes Duel rules, the stakes will be doubled, meaning that both players will have to pony up $1.6 million to play.
If Phil declines the rematch, players from around the world have 30 days to challenge Jason. If there is a challenger during that time, Jason must accept and play for a prize pool of $3.2 million; otherwise, he’s free to take the money. There have been rumours that if Phil decides not to play, online crushers such as Linus Loeliger and Wictor Malinowski are waiting in the wings to see if their online heads-up success will carry over.
Either way, I’m sure that, like us, you’re all hoping that someone challenges Jason - I mean, who doesn’t want to see a heads-up match for $3.2 million? As soon as a potential challenger is confirmed, we’ll be here to give you the lowdown on the biggest televised heads-up match.
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