Phil Hellmuth’s Q4o Call Against Alex Foxen – Villain or Genius?

2 years ago

This was the Final Table of Event #9, the $25,000 buy-in. Phil 3bet for around a third of his stack with Q♦4♥ in the Big Blind against Foxen’s Button open with 9♠9♦, then faced a 4bet for all of it and went into the tank, finally making the call.

Numerous people are slamming Hellmuth for the play, as well as pointing out how wild he’d have been about it if the tables were turned! This is a fascinating spot since we have almost all the information we need to make a perfect assessment of it. So let’s get into it.

We have the payouts, the exact number of players remaining, and the exact stacks at the time of the hand. Hellmuth started the hand with 950,000 chips, and with blinds of 30k / 60k with a bb ante of 60k, he 3bet from the BB to 350k over an open from Foxen. The commentator says “absolutely nobody is putting the rest of the money in” when Foxen comes over the top with a 4bet and Hellmuth has 540k left to call into a pot of 1,330,000.

Now, in terms of pot odds, some commentators on Twitter have argued that Hellmuth’s call is fine, given that he’s potentially against quite a wide range and needs only just over 29% equity here to turn a small profit in terms of chip equity.

However, as we all know, in tournaments chip equity is not king, it’s not even a thing, and even in the middle stages there are subtle effects involving the payouts (and the rake, near the start) which pull our calculations away from cEV (chip equity value).

So, if we run this one through an ICM solver, such as the eminent Holdem Resources Calculator which I’ll be using today, we should be able to find out if there is any merit in Phil’s call here with Q♦4♥ against Foxen’s 4bet setting him in. It is obviously a spot with some ICM implications, being in the money and on a money jump, 5 players remaining.

We should be able to get an idea of how wide Foxen’s range would need to be, before Hellmuth’s call becomes profitable, and go from there.

Another pretty relevant factor here for Phil is that whilst Foxen is the chip leader (and arguably playing more aggressively as a result), there is one smaller stack vs. Phil, Nakamura sitting on 765,000 chips. This means that Phil must be a little tighter in calling off than he would be otherwise, since he may be able to outlast Nakamura without the double-up.

Now, let’s crunch it. We’re not going to question Phil’s initial move of 3betting such a raggy queen short-stacked here (though it is surely questionable), but just consider whether the final call-off was justified given the spot he’d got himself into by that point.

Let’s assume that Foxen is bullying here and opening very wide, say 63% of hands. That includes stuff as weak as 94s and 32s, Q8o and J8o. Let’s further assume that Hellmuth is flatting sometimes with AA to trap, and KK, and that otherwise he will be flatting some suited hands not good enough to shove, and be pretty polarized in his sized 3-betting, since he can certainly shove quite a few mid-strength hands here from the Big Blind with just 15bbs himself in stack.

I’m going to assume that Phil is using this sizing with just around 5% of hands, and mixing some monsters like Aces which he would otherwise flat, along with some bluffs with exactly this kind of hand, and perhaps hands weak in his suited flatting range such as T5s (these being the hands we might expect him to fold to a shove!).

Let’s finally look at what Foxen should be shoving over this range. If we’re right that Hellmuth, thinking Foxen is wide here, is mixing in extra bluffs and doing this with perhaps only 2% of value hands, Foxen could in fact shove incredibly wide here, up to 54%. Even then the call with Q4o would be losing money in ICM, though Hellmuth would be justified calling off some of his Kx bluffs as shown below.

Phil Helmuth Q4o call range against Alex Foxen

Against a much more likely (but still very aggro) range of 42% shoves from Foxen, Hellmuth should really only call here with his value hands for the most part. Either way, Q4o is too weak.

In conclusion, even if he feels priced in, it’s hard to construct ranges which will demonstrate that Hellmuth should make the call here. It’s just not quite a good enough price to hero-call off with such a weak holding.

This time around, it seems the great white wizard simply couldn’t find that fold. He did manage to conjure up a Queen on the flop, however, so happy times! Hellmuth wound up finishing in second place for $315k, losing to Erik Seidel who pocketed $472.5k for the victory. Foxen finished third, for $220.5k.

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