The “angle shot of all angle shots” that wasn’t an angle shot, I suppose it will always be referred to as an angle shot (unethical play), though it wasn’t. One of the greatest, and best-played IMHO, hands of all time.

There are many lessons about poker to be learned from this epic hand, but the most important one from a technical perspective is that, when someone asks you if you’ve looked at your cards, regardless of whether that person (or people) are in the hand or not, you are under no obligation to tell them the truth, if you feel that their lack of having paid attention to you when you did look at your cards might be advantageous. In poker, there is no “floor person” who can come and determine that, yes, you did look at your cards; in fact, there is no rule that you have to look at your cards at all. The lack of such rules exists for a reason. Poker is unlike many games in that, in addition to lying, the observation of opponents and their physical actions, as well as the ability to ignore distractions, at the table is critical. Good poker players can do it, and they never have an excuse when they don’t.

The whole point to a straddle, and especially to double straddles, is to put more money into the pot before you even know what your cards are. That is the only rule that is involved in the “did you look at your cards?” question, and that question was answered when the dealer permitted Tony’s straddle. Of course Tony should have protected the impression that he’d never looked at his cards after he’d shoved into Hellmuth’s pot bet, if all of a sudden everyone wanted to know. Why does anyone think Hellmuth decided to pot in the first place? He was playing properly into Tony’s double straddle. What Hellmuth didn’t do, unfortunately, was pay attention to Tony the entire time. But, Tony did nothing out of the ordinary; he even looked at his cards when it was his turn to act. Of course, he could have looked at them at any time once he’d been dealt them after he’d declared his double straddle, but he didn’t. This made his act of looking at his hand only more standard and predictable, and not less (not sneaky). Let me guess: He was using that time to observe other players looking at their cards.

Another extremely important lesson, from an ethics perspective, is that, if you are not in the hand, then you should NEVER press a player who is in the hand, for information. This is why Tony slides his cards over to Hachem during the gameplay; he is desperately trying to get Hachem to stop discussing whether or not he’d looked at them. When Hachem saw Tony’s perfectly-concealed AKs, he got the hint, and barely spoke again. But simply Hachem knowing the hand put it in more danger, as now there were two people at the table Hellmuth could grill. And, Hachem was not the only person turning whether Tony had looked at his hand into a “thing”: Tilly, in fact, started it; Hachem followed, followed by Hellmuth, and the Pokerstars hosts. Tony was having to dodge danger from all sides, and he never did anything wrong during the actual gameplay. What he did after the gameplay is also hotly debated, although I, personally, think he’d earned the right to vent his conflicted emotions (winning a big pot on TV with AKs in a double straddle while being relentlessly accused of unethical play by Hellmuth, and even “filthy” action later, by Pokerstars). These are serious allegations IMO. Tony G, though I have no affiliation with him and know him only from TV, seems to be a cool person who is entertaining and positive at the table; has succeeded in business; can lose gracefully (re: cooler with Vanessa Rousseau); and who gives to charity. I do believe that Pokerstars and Hellmuth, if they have not done so already, owe him a public apology, as well as some professional clarity, regarding this hand.

What was “filthy” was Hellmuth accepting Tony’s loan, and then throwing it back at him. What was “filthy” was Hellmuth commenting that “if Tony G needed the money that badly that he had to cheat, blah blah.” What was “filthy” was accepting multiple runs, and then continuing to complain when none of them hit. I have been a tournament director for scholastic chess, and THAT is the kind of behavior that gets parents called, and players banned. Just saying.

At the end of the day, this was not an angle shot, but a trap. Tony responded artfully and legally to his unexpectedly hostile environment, over which he had no control. When Tilly innocently (but inappropriately) asked him if he’d looked at his cards, a chain of circumstances was set off that Tony needed to optimally deal with. The fact, though, is that even without everyone else’s inappropriate expressed curiosity, Hellmuth would have probably asked Tony if he’d looked at his cards, to which Tony would have responded with something that should not have been fully trusted anyway. This is effectively exactly what had occurred just moments before, when the situation was reversed, and Tony asked Hellmuth if he’d looked at his cards. Hellmuth responded, essentially, “maybe, maybe not” (a friendly non-answer to the probe). Since both of them were now heads-up, Hellmuth might have tried to extract the information from Tony on his own, which in some environments would have been legal. In a typical casino, however, serious players would not have tolerated Tilly’s and Hachem’s outside commentary, and the dealer would have immediately stopped it as well. But, this was TV.