Tom “durrrr” Dwan is the guy that, once upon a time, everybody wanted to play like. He burst onto the scene as a fresh-faced teenager and set the world alight by tearing up the heads-up cash scene in a way that belied his years.
Looking back almost 15 years, the online game was still developing fast, and, if we’re honest, nobody really had much of a clue as to what we were doing. The game was ripe for the young blood to start coming through and take over.
What Kind of Player Is He?So what was it that made him special? In a way, much of his popularity can be put down to his extreme aggression coupled with fearlessness that was ahead of its time, but it would be unfair to label him as just pure aggro. There was also a modern sophistication about his game that came from not being afraid to think outside the box.
To get an idea about how to play like Tom Dwan we should take a look at a classic hand that he played back in the glory days of TV poker on the Full Tilt Poker Million Dollar Cash Game show.
In this hand young Dwan lines up against Phil Ivey, Phil Hellmuth, Chris Ferguson, and Patrik Antonius. This is, shall we say, as tough as it got in those years.
The game is $300/$600 but with a couple of straddles in there the blinds are effectively $1,200/$2,400—$240,000NL!
Dwan calls with Qh 8h, and is followed in by Ivey. Antonius raises in the small blind with As 9s to make it around $10,000 to call, and David Benyamine does so with Ad Js.
Dwan calls and Ivey follows him in with 9d 7c. The pot is already $51,800 and the flop is still not down.
The flop is Ks 8c 4d.
Antonius bets $34,000 and Benyamine folds. Dwan calls; Ivey folds.
The turn is the 5h and the pot is now $119,800.
Interestingly at this point in the action the commentators mention how both Dwan and Antonius are both down more than $250,000 in this session. Does this affect what happens in the rest of the hand here? Tough to say but we could be looking at a prime example of Tom Dwan’s ability to shut out fear when the decisions are for huge sums of money.
Antonius checks and Dwan checks behind with his second pair.
Now it looks like Antonius has given up on the pot. His bet on the flop into three players shows incredible strength so he knows Dwan has at least something. And when he checks the turn it makes it more likely that he doesn’t have anything strong. Unless, of course, he was going for a check raise.
The river is the 2d.
Antonius bet $82,000 making a pot of $201,800.
At the top level, this isn’t as straightforward as you might first think. Even though he checked the turn he could still be laying a trap. These unorthodox lines are what separated the great from the merely good back in those days.
Dwan has proven himself able to make big laydowns already in this session but the commentators mention he hasn’t made a big call yet. But that is exactly what he eventually does, making a final pot size of $283,800.
How to Play Like Tom DwanIt’s unlike that any of us will ever be as good at poker as Tom Dwan but we can incorporate some of his signature moves into our own game. We can try and digest the key differences in how he approaches poker.
Pre flop aggression: There’s no doubt that Dwan was one of the trailblazers when it comes to ramping up the level of aggression, particularly pre flop.
Of course, this is all a part of a balanced or exploitative strategy, but no more nitting it up. Learn to play without fear at least while the pot is small.
Unorthodox plays: Thinking outside the box is a Tom Dwan trademark. A big part of learning how to play poker well is understanding what the standard lines of the day are.
When you know what the balanced line and counterline is you will know what the exploitative line is. This is where Tom Dwan excels. He finds so many ways to increase the value he gets without using a standard line.
Use your image: One of the reasons Dwan gets paid off so often is because of his aggressive image. He has carefully crafted his image to plant a seed of doubt in his opponent’s mind where they so frequently assume he is bluffing.
The truth of the matter is that he isn’t as crazy as many people think. It’s all a function of timing. He has this sensitive feel as to when he needs to start ramping up his bluffing frequency.
Having a poker role model is a great way to improve your own game. The act of trying to emulate their moves will not come off every time but this is how we best learn.
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