Arts & Entertainment

Phil Hellmuth: Playing Against Top Poker Pros

As the 2009 WSOP Main Event continues to work down to the November Nine final table, in this column, I look back at a memorable hand played in the 2006 Main Event between top pro Allen Cunningham and eventual winner Jamie Gold.

Only five players remained in the tournament with Gold the chip leader at $44.7 million chips and Cunningham in third place with $13.7 million.

Blinds were at $150,000/$300,000 when Cunningham opened with a raise to $900,000 with Ac-10c. Gold called on the button with 8s-8d and Paul Wasicka called from the big blind with Js-10h.

The flop came Ah-8c-2s; a dream flop for Gold but a nightmare for Cunningham. Wasicka checked, Cunningham bet $1 million, Gold called, and Wasicka folded.

Gold tried to trap Cunningham by merely calling Allen’s bet on the flop – a solid, advanced play. He could have raised here, too, about $1.5 million or so. That would have forced Cunningham to call if he had an ace, or possibly move all-in if he had A-K, A-Q, A-8 or A-2.

Jamie’s call, though, was probably the better play.

The turn card was the 6d. Cunningham checked and Gold responded with a very quick check.

I hate Gold’s check in this spot. He should have bet something small, like $1 or $2 million. That way, Cunningham has to call if he has an ace, or maybe he gets crazy and decides to shove all-in. A small bet in this situation gives Cunningham the opportunity to make a mistake by raising whether he has a strong hand or not, and that’s good for Gold.

I don’t like Gold’s quick check behind Cunningham. To most amateur players, that move signals weakness. But to a top pro like Cunningham, an instant check reeks of strength. It’s too suspicious when a player checks that fast, especially when there are no draws on the board.

The river card was the 2h. Cunningham bet $2 million. Almost immediately, Gold declared a raise, stood up and pushed all-in. “Gotcha,” said Gold, to which Cunningham replied, “Yeah, I guess you do.”

And with that, Allen Cunningham folded his hand.

Why did Cunningham fold his relatively strong hand so quickly? Because Gold made several other glaring mistakes in the last round of betting in addition to that faulty quick check on the turn. Let me explain.

First, Gold announced his raise way too fast. Second, his raise was way too big. Third, he jumped out of his seat way too excitedly. Fourth, he flat-out told Cunningham that he had him beat. And finally, he tried to goad Cunningham into making a call – a move that only an amateur with strength would attempt.

Cunningham wouldn’t bite. He recognized all of these signs, picked up on all of Gold’s tells, and folded his hand instantly.

Here are a couple of tips you should consider when playing a powerful hand.

  • Don’t raise it up too fast, especially on the river. It’s a sure sign of strength.


  • Don’t raise it up too much. Instead, figure out a raise that your opponent is more likely to call.
  • Don’t give away free information. Any card sharp will recognize an all-in move coupled with a leap from your chair as a sign of strength.
  • Don’t tell a skilled player the truth about your hand. It’s too easy for pros to get a read on you when you open your mouth, and even easier when you’re telling the truth!
  • Don’t issue boastful challenges. Top players know that amateurs make those kinds of statements only when they’re super-strong.

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