In this hand, Doug Lee raises with K2 and Pham calls in position with TJ. The flop comes KQ9, with Pham flopping the straight. Pham checks and Lee bets. Pham calls. The turn comes a blank. Pham checks and Doug Lee goes all in and it’s all over.
The interesting thing about the hand is Pham’s talking during the hand. He basically goads Lee into putting in his money in a spot that I think most good players would have sensed that there was a trap a’brewing. It’s very probable that Pham wouldn’t do this against other players; maybe he knew Doug Lee well enough to know how Lee would be affected by his chatter. I don’t know Pham’s style. I just think he made it fairly apparent (though not to Doug) that he had a very good hand.
An oft-repeated bit of advice, rightfully so, is this: Watch out for the player who’s giving a speech. This definitely applies here. First you have Pham giving a speech about how much of a gamble he’s making by calling Lee’s raise. He makes it known to Lee that he thinks Lee is on tilt, since Lee just lost a big pot the hand before. Telling Lee this, he then says he’s going to call because he “plays to win”, meaning he’s willing to gamble in order to put himself in a position to win the tournament. This is supposed to set it up in Lee’s mind that Pham is playing a less-than-average hand, and set up that Pham himself does not believe Lee has a good hand.
Before they see a flop, Pham also says that he believes “whatever the flop comes, you’re gonna move me in.” This statement leads to the rest of Pham’s talk.
Pham could be acting and talking this way with a wide range of cards before the flop, but I think it’s how he follows up this talk on the flop, once his hand is defined, that starts to really tell us something important.
When the flop comes, Pham checks and Lee bets. Pham immediately expresses displeasure with this, at the 1:27 point. He says, in semi-disgust, “I knew it. Flop come whatever, you’re gonna bet.” This kind of speech should set off alarm bells for everyone who’s played poekr. When your opponent gives a speech about how unhappy they are with being bet into, you should know that this is unlikely to be true. Of course, players will switch it up occasionally and actually be weak. But in this case, Pham calls the bet after saying this. When someone tries to complain about your bet and then calls your bet, that should set off additional alarms.
(Admittedly, occasionally, some players are capable of doing this kind of thing; but the point is that there is no upside to acting in such a way with a weak hand. This is mainly because most people are so unobservant about this stuff, and it will be unknown how they will interpret this complicated act. Also, if a player is smart enough to try something so complicated, he’s probably smart enough to know he should just be quiet in such a situation, which makes this kind of act most likely to just be a straight-forward weak-means-strong tell from most people.)
Before Pham calls the flop, Doug follows up with another stereotypical strong-means-weak tell, saying “I’ve got the best hand. I’ll show you.” In this context, it’s a ridiculous statement, just because he has no idea what Pham has. To take it at a superficial interpretation, Lee’s stating he believes he has the best hand and he wants Pham to fold. He’s basically repping something like AK or AA or a set, but it’s very unlikely Lee (or any player) would ever say that statement with a strong hand, especially after Pham has communicated how weak he is, because they’d probably want a call. Again, this is all based on the fact that most players don’t get too verbally tricky in spots like this, because most players have no clue how their trickiness will be interpreted.
Pham then says in a macho way, while calling, “I’m gonna see your best hand.” Another statement meant to communicate that Pham has only a moderately strong hand but doesn’t believe Lee has a hand and intends to call Lee down. In Lee’s mind, Pham probably has something like QJ, and Lee thinks Pham is trying to slow him down from betting the turn with his macho, “I’m gonna call” attitude.
Pham calls the flop bet, which should shut down Lee completely. It should be obvious that Pham is pretending to be weak. Why else would he basically tell Lee he was weak?
The turn comes, and Pham puts the finishing touch on his act by telling Lee, “Go head and bet” in a daring way. This was a good statement by Pham, and I think it’s his best psychological manipulation in this video. He’s using some second-level manipulation at this point, because he’s acting strong (in telling Lee he’s going to call him down and also in telling Lee to bet) in order for Lee to perceive him as weak. It works, and Lee decides Pham has a pair with a straight draw and must go all in to get him off of it.
I give Pham props for the act as a whole, although I felt he laid it on a bit thick when he was basically crying about Doug’s flop bet. All-in-all, Pham’s strategy was one that could only work against a certain level of player. It’s not something you would attempt against a very inexperienced player, because they just wouldn’t get what you were trying to do. And it’s definitely not something I think Pham would try to pull on someone very experienced because it’s too likely they’d see right through it. So I’m giving credit to Pham because I think he knew his man and knew how to push his buttons.
Also, in all fairness, I should point out that it’s possible Pham had been talking like this in other hands leading up to this one, and Lee had reason, based on previous experience, that Pham was weak here. Or it’s possible that Pham had been talking in such a way that Lee just decided to ignore Pham’s talk and play as if the talk didn’t matter. This is making me want to seek out the entire footage of that event and see if I can get some history on the play leading up to this hand.
The real test of how well Pham’s manipulation worked would have been if Doug Lee had absolutely nothing. If Pham had goaded Lee into betting the turn all-in with a pure bluff this hand would be epic indeed. As it is, it’s understandable at least that Lee thought he had the best hand. (The other complication is that I can’t tell how pot-committed Lee was because they don’t have the chip stacks, but just judging from the amount of chips I can see, I’m pretty sure it was a significant push by Lee.)
So, what’s the main thing to be taken from this hand? I think it’s simply this: When your opponent makes speeches about the hand in progress, you should beware. When they make excuses about why they’re giving action – “I don’t think you have anything.” “I think you’re on a draw so I’m gonna call you.” “I’m on tilt so I’m gonna push all in.” – you should beware. When they are attempting to change your perception of their image, ask yourself, “What are they trying to get me to think about their strength?”
In the case of verbally tricky players, you might have a difficult time finding a logical point of reference for their actions or statements. In that case, just remember that in general the more someone’s lips are flapping, the stronger they are. Someone with a strong hand will be more likely to get fancy with the verbal manipulation, like Pham did here, while someone with a weak hand will typically not want to risk giving away something.
Some interesting physical things to notice about this clip. I don’t know how meaningful these are because I haven’t correlated them with other video of these players. At the 1:20 mark, Lee makes a bet with a forceful little slamming of his chips, which could be a stereotypical strong-means-weak sign.
At the 1:34 point, when Lee says “I got the best hand, I’ll show you,” he’s got a little smug smile on his face that, in most players, will usually point to weakness. The fact that he has top pair and could actually have the best hand makes him comfortable enough to try to verbally convince Pham to lay it down. I’m pretty sure that if Lee hadn’t hit his hand at all he would keep quiet, but he’s gained a little confidence and knows he could easily have the best hand. You’ll often see people give physical signs of weakness and yet still engage in a little table talk in an attempt to get their opponents out; these are often players who have hit their hand somewhat, but not very hard, and who have just enough confidence to engage in a tiny amount of chat.
Lee then makes an attempt to look nonchalant and breathes one deep breath and plays with his chips. But he looks nervous, with the little smile pasted on his face. In some players for who I’ve determined this tell to be accurate, a smile like this is enough for me to bluff them. But as I’ve said, Lee could smile like this often for all I know.
At the 1:50 point, Lee makes a stressed face, pressing his lips together briefly. (Edit – As a commenter noticed, I had originally mistakenly referred to this as a microexpression, although microexpressions are only a fraction of a second long. The commenter put it a good way: that this was a relatively unguarded moment by Lee that expressed his anxiety.)
Oh – I should also state that I don’t approve of the whole Doug Lee bashing. I’ve enjoyed the thread as much as anyone, but when you’ve got people who’ve never met Lee going up to him and being rude to him just because of something they’ve read online, that’s pretty despicable. Anyone who would base their opinion of someone off of things they’ve read in an online forum is deserving of the Toolbox award way more than Mr. Doug Lee. Anyone who would actually insult Doug Lee in person based on things they’ve read online is probably deserving of a punch in the face.