Arts & Entertainment

Phil Hellmuth on Poker: Poker North of the Border

Canadians sure do love their poker!

Canadians sure do love their poker!

I played in the heads-up Canadian Open Poker Championship in mid-March.  Last year’s champion, Huck Seed, and my friends Gavin Smith and Brad Booth all told me that the tournament structure was terrific.  They thought the skill factor would be as high as they had ever seen in a heads-up event.

Still, I don’t play in many tournaments outside of the big ones these days.  So I told Kelly Kellner, founder of the Canadian Poker Tour, that if the Mayor of Calgary gave me the keys to the city, I’d come up and play.  Kellner called a few weeks later.  He told me about Calgary’s White Hat Ceremony for visiting dignitaries and celebrities.   Would that do?

Of course, I couldn’t resist that honor!

A local reporter told me that poker’s popularity in Canada can be traced back to a year-long NHL strike in 2004.  He said that Canadians couldn’t watch hockey so poker became the game of choice.  That doesn’t surprise me.  Canadian winters are so cold, what else are you going to do to entertain yourself?

The tournament, as advertised, did require a tremendous amount of skill.  There were only a handful of top pros in the field of 100 entrants but three of us made it to the Elite Eight as Jeff Madsen, Brad Booth, and I took the stage at noon in the fourth round.

I had my opponent, Benjamin LaBlond, down one match in a best of three format when things headed south.

With the blinds at $300/$600, I limped in with Q-Q on the button.  The flop came 10-8-4.  LaBlond checked, I bet $1,100, and he moved all-in.  I called and he flipped over 10-7 offsuit.

Now, let me put this in perspective:  It was 2:30 pm at the time and the next round didn’t start until 6:00 pm.  My plan was to take a nap then head to the gym if I won.  I was looking good to win this match and was feeling strong.

That’s not what happened, though.  The turn card was a seven and LaBlond won the pot.

Later in the match, I whittled LaBlond down to $4,000 when he again moved all-in, this time with Q-8.  I called with As-6s but LaBlond won that one too!  We battled it out for another two hours until LaBlond finally won the match.

In the deciding third match, I had a small chip advantage when we played this key hand.

I limped in with 9-8 and the flop was Ad-7d-5s.  LaBlond checked, I bet $600 into the $800 pot, and LaBlond called.  The turn card was the 2c and we both checked.  The river was the 10d and LaBlond bet out $1,300.

I had nothing but a busted straight draw but something just seemed wrong about his bet.  I was getting good reads on LaBlond and sensed that his bet reeked of weakness.  It was time for me to make a move.

I raised it up $1,900 more making it $3,200 to go.  LaBlond quickly folded, leaving me with a $14,000-to-$6,000 edge in chips.

The final hand came down when LaBlond moved all-in and I called with 9-9.  LaBlond showed pocket sixes.  Nevertheless, I had a bad feeling.  The first four cards were 10-5-3-A but a brutal six on the river gave the match to LaBlond.

Benjamin LaBlond went on to beat Brad Booth in the semis and Jeff Madsen in the finals to win the tournament.  You have to give LaBlond credit as he beat three tough pro players down the stretch to win it all.

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