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Paul Phillips vs. Phil Hellmuth - Round Two of the National Heads-Up Poker Championship

by Phil Hellmuth |  Published: Sep 01, 2005


In my last column, I discussed NBC's National Heads-Up Poker Championship, which featured 60 of the top poker players in the world and a few celebrities. With an NCAA basketball tournament "bracket" type of structure, 64 players started and 32 survived round one, which is where this column begins. After beating Men Nguyen in round one, I was staring down Paul Phillips in round two.

I was expecting Paul to play very aggressively (betting and raising a ton), and that was fine with me. I already had a standard counterstrategy and was ready to implement it. I would let him do all the bidding when I had a strong hand. I would trap him like a fox in a chicken coop by checking all of my strong hands to him.

We sat down at the main television table, and Paul came out playing slowly and conservatively, like most of the great players do when they play against me. OK, that was fine, too. I like to play slowly myself, and the match turned out to be quite civil and not too over-the-top - except for a small outburst or two from me.

I found that I had a strong read on Paul: I knew when he was bluffing, but I assumed that he knew when I was bluffing, as well. So, I picked my spots, with a little bluff here and there. I knew he wouldn't let me bluff him too much.

A key hand came up when I called from the button with the A8. The flop came down 765, and Paul bet out about $2,500 into the $2,500 pot. At this point, I was down to about $21,000 of my original $40,000. With my ace high and open-end straight draw, I considered calling his $2,500 and raising $7,500, or moving all in. It looked like I could win if the turn or the river produced any of three aces, four fours, or four nines - and it was still possible that ace high was the best hand. I also thought it would be tough for Paul to call a big raise in this spot unless he had a very strong hand. Despite the compelling argument for me to raise, my gut told me that Paul would call a raise and that he had me beat. So, in the end, I decided to just call his $2,500 bet and see what the next card was.

The turn was my dream card, the 4- for a board of 7654- which gave me an 8-high straight, and also an ace-high flush draw. Now, Paul checked, and I had to decide what to do. I felt that I had to bet something, but the question was, how much? If I bet too much, he might fold; if I bet too little, I risked winning too small a pot or having him call to draw to a full house (if he had two pair).Finally, I bet $4,000, and Paul called me relatively quickly. When the safe-looking 10

hit the river, he checked and I decided that I had to make a bigger bet this time. Thus, I bet $10,000 into a $15,500 pot. Paul said, "I think you have me beat, but I feel like I have to call with my 7-high straight." He called and showed me his 6-3, for the 7-high straight. This hand turned the match around for me, and a little while later, I advanced to the Sweet 16.

Part I of this series can be found at