Arts & Entertainment

Phil Hellmuth On Poker: National Heads-Up Poker Championship — Round Two

Welcome back to my inside look at the 2009 National Heads-Up Poker Championships, televised every Sunday on NBC.

In my previous column I wrote about a hand that I won against Mike Sexton in my first round match; I got lucky on that one. That set up my second round match against an amateur from Detroit, Michigan named Jeffrey Ishbia.

I wasn’t about to overlook any player in the field so I gave Ishbia my full respect. It was difficult, however, not to look ahead as I knew that if I won, my next opponent would likely be Tom “Durr” Dwan. That was the contest the entire poker world wanted so badly to see in the Sweet Sixteen.

You see, Dwan and I faced off in the first round of last year’s Championship. On the third hand, we each put our entire $20,000 stacks all-in with my pocket aces against his pocket tens. Dwan hit a ten on the turn and took me out.

That beat triggered my familiar Poker Brat routine. I started to whine, bemoaning my bad luck, and told Dwan how poorly he had played his hand.

My behavior caused quite a stir in online poker chat rooms where the then 21-year-old Dwan was viewed as nothing less than a hero, and for good reason. The kid has won more than $10 million playing online poker!

I was determined not to take any chances against Ishbia. I didn’t want to play a huge pot against him where he might get lucky and win the entire match in one hand, like Durr did the year before. Instead, my plan was to play small ball poker. I’d protect my hands when I thought I was ahead to lessen the odds that I’d get outdrawn.

Why take a three-to-one edge in one huge pot? I’d prefer to play smaller pots with the best hand and wait until I had the nuts and Ishbia had a strong hand so that he’d pay me off. I’d rely on my reading ability to pick up some chips by calling Ishbia when he was weak and bluffing him out when I could.

Early in the match, with the blinds at $300/$600, I picked up Q-Q. Ishbia limped in on the button and I raised it up $900 more to go from the big blind. Ishbia called.

The flop came Qh-8c-3h. I checked, Ishbia bet $2,000, and I made it $6,000 to go. Ishbia called again.

The Js came on the turn.

I was fairly sure that Ishbia was drawing dead on the flop. I didn’t think he had a flush draw and there was no way he’d gamble $6,000 on an inside straight draw. He could have been drawing live with the jack on board; maybe he had a nine and needed a ten for a straight, or conversely, had a ten in his hand and was looking for a nine.

I would have bet a lot less, or even checked, against a top professional in order to maximize the amount of money that I could win. But against an amateur like Ishbia, I opted to protect my hand because I felt like I had a big edge.

So, I bet a whopping $12,000. I figured if Ishbia called, I’d push all my chips in on the river anyway, no matter what that card was. As it turned out, Ishbia folded and I went on to win the match.

By the way, Dwan won his match, too. The stage is set for Hellmuth vs. Dwan II – The Rematch. Stay tuned!

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