Ike Haxton is sometimes referred to as the "Harry Potter of the poker world". He earned that name not only due to his looks but also because of the fact that there's indeed something magical about his game. At first glance Haxton's resume might not look that impressive, he has no WSOP bracelets, EPT and WPT titles to his name, but he final tabled all of those prestigious tournaments and if we combine that with his impressive high roller results we get more than $13,000,000 in tournament winnings, which earned Ike the place in the top 30 on the all-time money list.
Haxton is also an accomplished cash game player. He was one of the main players who popularized the idea of game theory (to the point that Ike's 'GTO Dream Machine' became a meme of sorts), he's also a genuinely good guy who cares about the long-term health of poker ecosystem and is willing to sacrifice some business opportunities for his beliefs.
Meet Isaac Haxton
This hand happened early in Haxton's career but it manages to remain one of the absolute highlights of it even after all these years. First of all, the hand was played in the head's up of a major tournament which already made the stakes much higher than in most other context and when we add to that two players with the levels of aggression way ahead of their times we get a really spicy concoction. We'd think that this set-up couldn't be improved further but one look at luscious locks of Haxton waving freely in the air quickly proves us wrong.
The preflop started in a fairly increase manner with a limp by Ryan followed by a check from Haxton. The flop containing two high cards was most likely the main reason for what ensued later in the hand. When we discuss the big hands from the annals of poker history. one of the common theme connecting many of them is a board texture that doesn't go well with player's preflop action. What I mean by that, is that while it's very easy to represent a wide variety of strong hands on an AQx board when you open raised from UTG in a 6-max game, it's much harder to tell the same convincing story when you completed the small blind in a head's up match. It was still not unreasonable for Ryan to bet the flop but, the seed of doubt was already planted in the mind of any perceptive observer, Ike Haxton most certainly included.
After Isaac floated the flop, we got a fairly uneventful turn, but it's important to point out that King was another card that shouldn't really hit either player's range given their preflop action and the fact that Ryan didn't continue his aggression on the card that should hit his flop betting range made him severely capped in this spot. Ike correctly recognized that and made a very good bluff on the river, however, Ryan wasn't done with the hand and made a really bold move by going over the top.
Spell Slinging with the Magician
Turns out that going over the top in bit pots might be Haxton's favorite thing to do in poker. He's also good at picking up on slight inconsistencies in his opponent's ranges even when they are considerably harder to spot than in the example that we've discussed before. Taking a bet/3bet flop line after a preflop 3bet on a 78x board with a flush draw might be risky against many players, but there are two major factors why it proved to be a great play in the context of PokerStars Big Game.
First of all, Antonio Esfandiari is a very tight player, to begin with, and given the format of the show (recreational player in the game) he was even more likely to remove from his range the hands that aren't good at making top pair type hands. In other words, Esfandiari should be somewhat broadway heavy in this spot and Ike was also blocking some number of draws with his king of hearts.
Winning the Battle and the War
Any high roller tournament pro worth his salt should be good at reading table dynamics and using his stack to put maximum pressure on his opponents. This is doubly true for an exceptional player like Haxton and he shows that off perfectly in this hand against Mike "Timex" McDonald.
The flop play in this example was especially important. Haxton went for a relatively modest raise in order to set his stack up perfectly for a slight overbet on the turn, putting tremendous pressure on his accomplished opponent with a solid amount of equity in case anything went wrong.
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