Arts & Entertainment

Phil Hellmuth On Poker: Pot Odds and Team Poker

I played in a $1,500 buy-in Team Poker tournament at Caesar’s Palace last week. You might ask why someone like me who is famous for skipping major poker tournaments would end up playing in a smalltime $500 per player event.


Well, Dr. Jerry Buss, the owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, asked me and Mike “The Mouth” Matusow to form a three-man team with him. I thought it would be a good team and a fun event so I signed on to play. I even chose some cool black and yellow jerseys for us to wear.

For those who think my ego is too inflated, I have to apologize for our team’s name – The Favorites. Hey, any team that I’m on should be the favorites, right?

As it turned out, another team actually chose Hellmuth Busters as their name. No matter, I’m a good sport and proved it by autographing the back of each of their jerseys.

Tournament points were awarded based on how a team’s top two players finished. Sadly for us, Jerry went out early, Matusow finished in 140th place, and we were eliminated from the team portion of the prize pool. Still, the individual first place prize was $25,000 so there was no harm playing hard to the finish, as I did in this particular hand.

With blinds at $1,500/$3,000 plus a $500 ante, I opened in early position for $7,500 with Js-9s. Then, my friend Beth Shak moved all-in from the small blind.

I counted my stack and appraised the situation. I had $18,000 chips remaining and there was $41,000 in the pot. I was getting almost 2 ½ -to-1 odds to make the call; pretty decent pot odds.

I was less than a 2-to1 underdog against two over cards, like A-Q, A-K, or K-Q, was even money against a pair of eights or lower, and was a 2 ½ -to-1underdog against pocket nines or tens. I was only in truly bad shape, at least a 5-to-1 underdog, against pocket aces, kings, queens or jacks.

I did the math and could make a solid pot odds case to make the call, but I didn’t.

I almost called solely because the tournament was so small. It reminded me of the line from “The Shawshank Redemption,” it was time “to get busy living, or get busy dying.”

Then I considered that I could wait and get my last $18,000 into the pot as a true favorite. That’s when I decided to battle until the end. I could actually win the whole ball of wax by playing another five or six hours of solid poker.

So, I folded.

Players talk about pot odds all the time, especially when they try to justify a call that they made. Whenever I hear this line of reasoning, though, I can’t help but wonder if they properly thought through the consequences of their call.

Couldn’t they simply fold their hand even though they were getting reasonable pot odds to make the call? Couldn’t they wait for a better situation, one where they might be a big favorite to win the pot?

Sure, I had the pot odds to call with my Js-9s. But instead of committing all my chips, I waited patiently for a better situation. And only one round later, I was able to shove in all my chips with pocket kings to win a pot worth $50,000.

I sure felt great about not taking those pot odds with the Js-9s!

Look, for some players, pot odds should guide your decision making. But for those players who aspire to reach the next level in poker, think long and hard about this dilemma – and then fold your hand!


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