Arts & Entertainment

Phil Hellmuth on Poker: Win the War, Not All of the Battles

Now that we’re in the midst of the 2009 World Series of Poker, I find it useful to reflect back on memorable hands from past WSOP tournaments to help me play my best.

Now that we’re in the midst of the 2009 World Series of Poker, I find it useful to reflect back on memorable hands from past WSOP tournaments to help me play my best.

This particular hand occurred way back in 2003.  Poker pros Freddy Deeb and Marcel Luske had been really working me, bluffing me out of hands a combined 17 times in a single event.  Yes, they outplayed me many times that day but their wins were relatively unimportant battles – really just a bunch of small pots.

My plan was to win the war.  I knew I couldn’t win all the battles.

Look, most players can’t stand to be outplayed by an opponent’s bluff.  Quite honestly, though, it doesn’t bother me that much.  Here’s why.

My primary game is to put my chips into the pot only when I’m super-strong.  I tend to fold a lot of hands while waiting around for those strong hands to come.  By folding often, I give other players the false impression that I’m a weak player – a player who can be easily bluffed.  Trust me; I’m not a weak player.

It’s a simple strategy, really:  Wait for strong hands to come without losing too many chips, then double up when the goods are finally dealt.

Very few players want to go home wondering if they’ve folded the best hand.  They feel humiliated when they’re bluffed out of a pot. As a result, these players make calls with marginal hands that put their entire tournament at risk.

That’s just not my game, at least not my preferred game.  But sometimes you’ve got to change it up.

Later that same year, at the World Poker Tour Doyle Brunson Classic, I faced off against Freddie Deeb once again.  This time, though, I wasn’t in the mood to let him run his bluffs against me.

With the blinds at $100/$200, Deeb and another player called and I raised it to $1,200 to go with K-J.  The big blind and the first player called.  Deeb then reraised it $4,000 more.

I had $12,450 chips remaining. If I moved all-in, Deeb would certainly call.  The obvious move would be to fold my hand.  I mean, why toss in $14,000 with only K-J when the blinds were only $100 and $200?

Because my instincts were screaming that Deeb was bluffing!  I was determined not to let that happen again so I decided to move all-in.

The other players folded but Freddy called me with K-9 and I had him dominated. I made the correct decision and won the pot when the board ultimately showed all low cards.

Later in the tournament, a similar hand played out.  With the blinds at $300/$600 plus a $75 ante, Deeb opened for $1,800 and I called on the button with 10s-9s.

The flop came Js-7s-2c and Deeb bet $4,000.  I had two options: call the bet or move all-in for $35,000.

Most pros like to raise in this situation but my tendency is to call.  I’m just not comfortable risking my tournament life on a draw, even if it is a straight flush draw.

But once again, I sensed that Freddy was holding a weak hand.  I thought I could probably win the pot by moving all-in on my semi-bluff.

I pulled the trigger and made the big reraise.  Deeb folded, showing 6d-4d.

I continued to play this reckless style but it eventually caught up to me on the second day; playing marginal hands like 10-9 and K-J usually will.  Sure, you can win some battles with these hands but too often you’ll end up losing the war.

 

Learn more about Phil Hellmuth and Poker Brat poker merchandise at www.philhellmuth.com.

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