Tom Dwan’s Aces Up vs a Chinese Billionaire (Analysis)

Perhaps the most infamous young poker player of the modern era, Tom Dwan blew away casual poker fans with his loose-aggressive strategy on televised high stakes cash games from 2008-2011.
Then he went from hero to villain in the eyes of many as he has neglected to finish his 50,000 hand “durrrr challenge” — which he issued — against Dan ‘Jungleman’ Cates.
Around 2015, Dwan disappeared from the public poker scene completely, focusing instead on high stakes private games in Asia, and many wondered if he’d ever return. To quote one YouTube commenter:


Thursday January 01, 1970

I like how nowadays Tom Dwan is like a mythical creature like bigfoot or the lochness monster.


Thursday January 01, 1970

Luckily for us, the Triton Poker Series has brought Dwan and his game back into the public eye!
Today’s hand analysis doesn’t feature one of his crazy bluffs. Instead, he flops a big hand and tries to get max value vs. a Chinese billionaire. Let’s dive in.
Preflop
This hand takes place at a Triton Series high roller cash game. The blinds are 1,000,000/2,000,000 Korean won (KRW) with a 2,000,000 KRW big blind ante. That’s roughly $900/$1,800 in USD, which we’ll use from here on out to simplify things.
To start the hand it folds to Tom Dwan who opens to $5,400 with A♣ 4♣ UTG+2. The action folds to Yu Liang in the SB who calls with T♥ T♦. The BB calls as well with 9♣ 5♣.
The effective stack size is around $358,000 (199 big blinds).


Thursday January 01, 1970

Preflop Analysis

Tom Dwan’s open-raise is standard. Suited aces are excellent hands with which to raise, even in early position, because they play well postflop and have good equity and removal.
Yu Liang’s spot is close between 3-betting or calling. Using a mixed strategy between the two options is fine, but 3-betting should usually be the higher frequency play.
3-betting has a number of upsides:

It gives you the opportunity to take it down preflop. This is especially beneficial when you’re in the small blind and will be out of position the entire hand.
It denies the big blind from seeing a cheap flop and possibly out flopping you. Pocket tens play better heads up than multiway, and if the BB has a hand like QJo you’d much rather have them fold than see a flop.
It forces the initial raiser to put more money in the pot when you are likely ahead. If Tom Dwan has a hand like 99, 98s, or A4s, he will probably call the 3-bet and be at a significant equity disadvantage.

Now, if the open raiser is, for example, an old man drinking coffee that’s known for playing tight, calling is definitely preferable. Pocket tens don’t do nearly as well against a very tight range.
But this open raiser is as far away from that stereotype as you can be. Against someone like Tom Dwan, 3-betting becomes a lot better. His range is so much wider 3-betting makes him have to either fold preflop or call with a significant equity disadvantage, both which are good for you.
To see how TT is doing, I put it in Equilab and ran it against a reasonable open raising range:
TT has 62.31% equity vs. a UTG+2 RFI Range
As you can see it’s doing very well. When considering re-raising preflop, however, you also want to look at how it’s doing vs. the part of Dwan’s range that will call. Here, you can see how TT does versus both a tight and loose 3-bet calling range:
TT has 62.93% equity vs. a tighter UTG+2 player’s 3-bet call range TT 64.19% equity vs. a looser UTG+2 player’s 3-bet call range
Note: Dwan may not play his range exactly like this (he may 4-bet QQ, for example) but these calculations serve as a fine estimate.
With all these factors considered, you should mainly 3-bet TT in this spot, but calling is fine as well. Playing defensively is rarely a bad idea when you’re playing with very deep stacks. Keep in mind that with shorter effective stacks — say, 100 big blinds — 3-betting would be even better.
The big blind’s decision to defend is close. He’s getting 4 to 1 on his money, which means he needs to realize at least 20% equity to call profitably. Against the UTG+1 and SB ranges recommended in the Upswing Lab, 95s has 22.73% equity. It will be pretty tough for him to realize 90% of his equity out of position with such a marginal hand, so folding is likely a better option than calling.
(Learn more about equity realization here.)
That said, the big blind could justify a call if his opponents were weak player who may make large mistakes. Against someone like Tom Dwan, who will apply a lot of pressure postflop, folding becomes better. Either way, it’s close enough you can’t fault the big blind for getting in there.

Flop
The pot is $18,000 and the flop is 8♣ 4♦ A♠. Both blinds check, Tom Dwan bets $9,000, Yu Liang calls, and the BB folds.

Flop Analysis

Both players in the blinds make standard checks over to the preflop raiser.
Tom Dwan has a clear value bet with his flopped aces up. When you flop a strong hand you should heavily lean towards fast-playing to start building the pot.
There are times when it can be good to check back and try to trap with a strong hand (see: When Should You Slow-Play a Strong Hand?). If Tom had pocket aces on this board, for example, trapping would make sense because it is less vulnerable and blocks more of his opponents Ax hands.
Yu Liang certainly isn’t happy about it, but he can’t fold yet. He’s still ahead of all the missed broadway hands and suited connectors with which Dwan will c-bet. Folding TT against a single, half pot c-bet, on a board with only 1 over, would be far too weak and exploitable.
The big blind whiffed and has an easy fold.

Turn
The pot is $36,000 and the turn is the 3♥ making the board 8♣ 4♦ A♠ 3♥. Yu Liang checks, Tom bets $23,000, and Yu Liang calls.

Turn Analysis

Dwan’s aces up are still very strong on this board, so he should continue to bet for value.
This is where Yu Liang starts to fall off the rails. He should just fold his tens here. Dwan could be double barrel bluffing with a hand like QJ or 65s, but he also has a ton of top pairs in his range (AK-AT).
Meanwhile, Liang’s range contains many hands with more equity than TT. He could have called with any of the suited Ax preflop and many of the stronger offsuit Ax.
He could also have hands like 98s, which is actually preferable to TT on this turn because it has 3 extra outs to improve while beating the same range of hands. TT also blocks some of Dwan’s most likely no-equity bluffs, such as QTs or JTs. (These suited broadway hands are good no-equity bluffs because they block Liang’s strongest possible Ax combos, namely AT-AQ.)
Overall Yu should have just folded his TT here, but to be fair to him, it is possible he’s ahead of a hand like 65s or one of the few remaining JTs-type combos. To the river!

River
The pot is now $82,000 and the river is the 6♣ making the final board 8♣ 4♦ A♠ 3♥ 6♣. Yu Liang checks, Dwan bets $80,000, and Yu Liang makes the call.

River Analysis

Again Dwan has a clear value bet on the river with his aces up, so the only discussion is about the size. He chooses to use a full pot size bet, which makes a lot of sense. Using a large size polarizes his range and allows him to bluff more often than if he used a smaller size. For more on this concept, read the “Tailoring Your Bluff-to-Value Ratio” section below.
Yiang’s turn call was ambitious, but somewhat excusable. This river call is downright lunacy. Both players’ ranges have narrowed further, meaning TT is very close to the bottom of Yiang’s range. Combine this with the factors from the turn and it’s clear that Yiang has an easy fold vs. this large river bet.
Tailoring Your Bluff-to-Value Ratio Based on Bet Size
The theoretically optimal bluff-to-value ratio in a spot depends on your opponent’s pot odds to call, which depends on your bet size.
For example, when using a full pot-sized bet on the river, your opponent is getting 2 to 1 on his call, meaning he has to be good more than 33% of the time to make his call profitable. This means you should use a 1 to 2 bluff-to-value ratio to make him indifferent between calling or folding.
Compare this to if you use a 50% pot-sized bet. Your opponent would then get 3 to 1 on his call, which means he has to win more than 25% of the time to make his call profitable. In that case, you have to use a 1 to 3 bluff-to-value ratio to make him indifferent.
So, using a pot-sized bet allows you to bluff more often than using a 50% pot-sized bet. When you’re able to profitably bluff with more hands, your entire range gains expected value.
From a game theory standpoint, when you make your opponent indifferent to calling or folding, you win the pot in the long run. For more on this important and somewhat confusing subject check out this incredible Doug Polk video.

Takeaways
This hand illuminates a couple of interesting poker concepts.
The first is the value of knowing your image. Humans are results-oriented creatures, and sometimes your opponent’s perception of you will make them do crazy things. Tom Dwan certainly has an aggressive image, and it may have been the factor that allowed him to get maximum value with his aces up. Or maybe Yiang just really doesn’t like folding — it’s hard to say.
The second is how to approach spots where you may be getting bluffed. The trick here is to have a sound strategy, understand what part of your range that you need to be calling with, and trust your range work.
If you resort to guessing whether your opponent has it or not, or calling because you don’t want to be bluffed, you are setting yourself up for failure.
Which player would you like to see us analyze here on the Upswing Blog? More Tom Dwan, or someone else? Let us know below.
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