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Tom Dwan Poker Strategy

43,336 Views on 9/6/16

We all loved watching his unorthodox bluffs, preflop aggression and amazing game sense allowing him to dynamically shift gears and slow down when the situation called for it. Let's take a look at what made Durrrr's game so successful and entertaining to watch.

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Tom 'Durrrr' Dwan took the poker world by storm. Ever since he showed up in the fifth season  of High Stakes Poker he became the most talked about poker player in the world. Even today when we don't know much about his poker endeavors (or even whereabouts) Dwan's name still excites many players and fans of the game.

In the poker world that only just started its strategy enlightenment period after the dark (yet very profitable) ages of Party Poker circa 2006 Dwan was a shining beacon of ultra-aggressive light. We all loved watching his unorthodox bluffs, preflop aggression and amazing game sense allowing him to dynamically shift gears and slow down when the situation called for it.

Let's take a look at what made Durrrr's game so successful and entertaining to watch.

Aggressive Preflop Play

In this famous hand, Dwan showed how much space for preflop aggression there is in a deep stack live cash game context and how much pressure you can put on other player's ranges before the first community cards hit the board. While his hand selection might seem questionable (there are plenty of better hands than 86o that Durrrr isn't calling in this spot) we have to keep in mind the game format.

Since Tom had a very small number of hands to play in the High Stakes Poker, timing and table dynamics were a bit more important than perfect hand selection. Also, when you're the only guy at the table utilizing bluff 5bets when a large part of the field is oblivious to the concept suboptimal hand selection isn't a big deal. 

As for the post flop, Dwan plays it perfectly. He knows exactly where in his range he is and how strong Lederer's range likely is and therefore he realizes that the time for aggression is over especially considering stack to pot ratio. The fact that he has position allows Dwan to accurately assess the amount of showdown value he has and realize it by going to showdown.

Durrrr shows that he's capable of shifting gears, putting tremendous amounts of pressure on his opponents when it's +EV and slowing down when it's not. 

While Howard's reaction to Dwan's cards and line might seem funny to viewers (and/or satisfying depending on your post-black Friday feelings) it also showcases how far ahead of the game Dwan was at the time. 

Putting Pressure on Capped Ranges in High Stack to Pot Ratio Situations

Continuing with the theme of putting pressure on opponent's ranges we get this famous hand against Phil Ivey. Ivey was arguably the most aggressive player at that table aside from Dwan and the fact that he elected to flat call preflop makes his range already somewhat capped. He's obviously capable of doing that with overpairs especially considering the fact that the most aggressive player in the game is still behind him, but he certainly won't do that every time.

The fact that he decided to call Dwan's squeeze instead of back raising further reinforces the notion that his range might not be very premium pocket pair heavy (especially in the deep stack situation where back raising premiums makes a lot of sense).

The flop is extremely interesting. It hits both player's ranges fairly well (especially Ivey's) so it wouldn't make much sense for Dwan to go for the multi-street bluff... in your standard run of the mill 100bb game. In this particular situation's players were so deep that hand's that could bluff catch in 100bb spots can't really stand the heat Durrrr was about to dish out. Again like in the previous example hand Dwan's hand selection might not be perfect (no backdoor equity to fall back on), but when you're playing 15-20 hands an hour timing and table dynamics become much more important than hand selection. 

The river showcases how great both players are. Dwan had the discipline to go through with his initial gameplan and Ivey was probably one of a handful of players who at a time wouldn't release the hand immediately after seeing a bet.

Unfortunately, for him, he couldn't beat some better hands that Dwan might elect to turn into a bluff in this spot and he ultimately couldn't make "the sickest call of all time".

Leveraging Table Dynamics

In this particular spot, Dwan leverages the fact that this massive multiway pot combined with the extremely dry texture will keep everyone extremely honest. Even if we account for the context of live deep stack televised poker show and we assume players might play some 2x combos here that they wouldn't play otherwise, it's still relatively small part of any competent player's range simply because of how preflop equity works.

This is especially true for Barry who can't really have any monsters on this texture except for two combos of TT, 22 (Dwan is blocking TT and the board is blocking 22) and even though his flop continuation bet into seven people will be extremely honest Greenstein can't possibly feel amazing about his holding even in the best case scenario (AA). Dwan recognizes the lockdown board (no hand has good equity against the nuts and he's blocking the virtual nuts by holding Tx) and decides to be the only person in the room capable of dishonest play in the 8-way pot.

He realizes that he can fold out very strong hands with impunity which he later confirms by correctly stating who folded the best hand in this spot. Speaking of Eastgate, as the second to last caller preflop he was the most likely player to have 2x in his range (simply because the great odds he was offered preflop), but he was still very unlikely to have the nuts for all the reasons described above. With so few possible 'top of the range combos,' his range after flatting the flop was unnaturally skewed towards the medium strength hands and putting the pressure on the medium part of someone's range is one of the best things Dwan could do from the game theory point of view. 

Using Blockers

This is one of the lesser known hands Tom Dwan played (probably because he ended up losing it) but it showcases how you can make a great decision based on the board texture and blockers combined with villains betting patterns. 

On this particular flop texture, most players from couple years back couldn't possibly have a balanced check/raising range after flatting preflop. Dwan is blocking the Qx, KK is very unlikely given the preflop action and additionally, Dwan is blocking a lot of semi-bluff combinations. Lastly, it doesn't really make sense to check raise top pair for value (and again Dwan is blocking KQ and KJ).

All of that combined makes an aggressive player's range circa 2010 very likely unbalanced towards air combos which gave Durrrr a great opportunity to bluff catch with the medium part of his range.

That being said Feldman ended up having the rare top of the range combo which doesn't make Dwan's overall decision bad. 

Betsizing and Utilizing His Image

All the bluffs in the world can't help you if your value bet game is lacking and Dwan is perfectly aware of that. In this particular hand against Phil Helmuth, he purposefully chose betsizing that's consistent with his image. Since opponents already assume that Durrrr is polarized in this spot why not go for maximum value with the top of his range?

The flop check and moderately sized bet on the turn ensured that Hellmuth's range would be fairly wide. Turn bet is also great from the pot management standpoint allowing Dwan to put the maximum amount of pressure on Hellmuth's range. Adding to that the history Dwan had with Hellmuth and we get once spicy betting patterns cocktail. 

Phill's passive-aggressive reaction after the hand ended ("I knew he started with nothing" and repeating the "good hand" phrase more than once) is something that poker fans grew accustomed to over the years of following him, but it accidentally showcases another edge Dwan has over him and many other opponents with poor mindset.

Durrrr would behave in a completely different way if he was on the receiving end of that value bet.

Disciplined Folds

This is something that is almost always overlooked when we talk about Tom Dwan. Everyone get's excited about his aggressive preflop play and multi-barrel bluffs but very few people realize how good Dwan is at playing the folding game. Here's the thing, everyone can splash around and put pressure on other players, but without proper restraint and the ability to navigate through the hard spots when you're on the defensive splashing around can quickly leave you without a bankroll.

The video linked below is a true masterclass in folding. An example of an extremely bad short run during which Dwan managed to lose the minimum amount.

Many other players would get frustrated but Durrrr managed to make one disciplined lay down after another. It also goes to show that Dwan has a very strong mindset and he's able to think one hand at the time without falling for the gambler's fallacy and poisoning his thought process with emotions ("he can't possibly have it again!").

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Matt is predominantly a mental game and planning expert, with a terrific knowledge of science, meditation, practical methods of improvement and of course, a good level of poker skill! Look out for his strategy articles and follow him for hi ... Read More


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