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Men Nuyen Vs. Phil Helmuth

by Phil Hellmuth |  Published: Aug 01, 2005


Welcome to televised poker in a new and exciting format. Throughout the month of May, NBC is broadcasting the National Heads-Up Poker Championship. This was a $20,000 buy-in event featuring heads-up matches between the world's best poker players. The format was unique: Players competed in an NCAA-like tournament ("losers go home") that yielded a "Sweet 16," an "Elite Eight," and a "Final Four." The first show aired on Sunday, May 1, the second on May 7 (as a lead-in to the Kentucky Derby), and the third on May 8. Upcoming shows will air on May 15, May 21 (the lead-in for the Preakness), and May 22 (the final match). The field of 64 players featured 60 of the best poker players in the world and a few celebrities and luminaries.

Heads-up no-limit hold'em is a very different game. Reading abilities are at a premium, and some of the matches showcased stunning clashes in style. For my first-round opponent, I drew Men Nuyen. Men has five World Series of Poker bracelets, has won the Card Player "Player of the Year" award, and is tough as nails. The veterans knew it would be a tough match, but all of the young guns thought I would win easily. The veterans knew what they were talking about; you do not look past Nguyen.

My strategy was simple: I would let Men dictate the pace of play, and then try to find a way to take advantage of weaknesses within his play. If he played very aggressively (raised lots of pots), I would sit back and let him do my bidding when I was strong. If he folded a lot, I would bluff a bit more. Mainly, though, I would trust my reading abilities. If I thought he was strong in a particular hand, I would fold, or at least choose to play a smaller pot with him. But if I thought he was weak, I would try to build a big pot against him.

Men and I battled back and forth, with neither of us raising too much before the flop – which tends to happen when I play the best players in the world heads up. One interesting hand came up when I called before the flop with the 7 6, and Men checked with the 5 5. The flop was 9-8-4 rainbow, and we both checked. The turn was my dream card, the 5. Men checked his set of fives, and I bet $800 into the $1,600 pot with my straight. Now, unbelievably, Men just called me! The last card was a deuce, and Men checked yet again. I bet $2,500 into the $3,200 pot, and Men studied awhile and just called again. My hat is off to him for losing the absolute minimum on this hand. Anyone else in the world would have raised with their set of fives at some point, so all I can say is, "Well played, Men." In the final hand of our match, Men raised to $6,000 to go with the A 6, and I moved him all in for his last $7,000 ($13,000 total) with my A-Q. That hand, more than a 2.5-to-1 favorite, held up for me when the final board showed 5-5-4-8-10. I was one match away from the Sweet 16.