Arts & Entertainment

Phil Hellmuth on Poker: Dodging Bullets with Big Slick at WSOP

The next generation of professional poker players has arrived and they’ve cut their teeth playing online poker.

These young guns have talent, heart and great analytical skills. They’ve played a ton of hands before they’ve reached their early-twenties. That’s because an hour of online poker (playing four tables at a time!) equates to at least ten hours playing brick and mortar hands.


Some of these internet wizards play way too aggressively in live no-limit Hold’em tournaments and that can make it challenging for established pros. Ultra-aggressive players have a knack of making otherwise sound players commit huge stacks of chips with relatively weak hands, like A-Q.

In a $5,000 buy-in no limit Hold’em event at the 2009 WSOP, I found myself at a table full of internet players. With the blinds at $100/$200, I opened for $400 with As-Qs and the player behind me made it $1,700 to go.

I folded my hand face up and my opponent showed me A-J offsuit. No problem, I don’t mind losing $700 and I don’t mind being bluffed.

The same guy came over the top against me a few minutes later. Again I folded and again he showed me a bluff.

I knew I’d eventually get the chance to make a move against this player. Two hours later, it happened.

With the blinds at $200/$400, Ivan Demidov opened for $1,300 and I called on the button with Ac-Kc. I called instead of making a standard reraise because I was looking to trap Mr. Aggressive who was playing behind me.

Sure enough, Mr. Aggressive raised it up to $5,500. The trap was set!

Demidov folded. I glanced at my opponent’s chip stack; I had $22,000 in chips to his $15,000. Perfect! I had him covered so I couldn’t go broke in this hand.

Like a perfectly scripted movie, all I had to do was play my part. I’d simply shove all-in and win the pot uncontested. Or perhaps Mr. Aggressive would call my bet with a pair or even with A-Q!

It was prudent, however, to study Mr. Aggressive for a moment just in case he had a hand like A-A or K-K. If he did, I’d presumably be able to sense it and would somehow be able to fold my hand. Yeah, right.

I became worried. I couldn’t help it; I smelled pocket aces or kings. But what was I to do? This hand was scripted and I was keenly aware that my part was to move all-in.

Look, I was playing against a super-aggressive player who had bluffed me twice before but this time I had him beautifully trapped. What was I to do?

I continued to study the hand searching for any excuse or reason to move all-in. Finally, I decided to go with my instincts.

“Boys, I know you’d all move all-in with this hand right now, but I’m crazy,” I said. “I think I may have to fold. What do you think?”

The player to the left of Mr. Aggressive told me to fold, and that’s what I did, laying down Ac-Kc face up. At the very same time, Mr. Aggressive shouted, “Don’t tell Phil to fold!”

And that’s when I knew that, indeed, he had pocket aces or kings!

He had shown his bluffs previously but this time he screamed at the guy on his left while folding his own hand face down. I definitely had dodged a bullet.

I didn’t win the tournament or even make the money. But I did make a great laydown, one that very few players in the world would have been able to make.


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