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Premier League Poker

A clash with Vicky Coren

by Phil Hellmuth |  Published: Apr 09, 2008


For 12 days in early February, I was in London playing in Premier League Poker. This one-of-a-kind event features 12 known players who are playing in six heats, six players per heat, for points. The top four point earners advance to the six-player finals, the middle four point earners play heads up for the other two seats, and the bottom four point earners are "relegated" (a common word in European sports, meaning something like "sent down to the minors"). The players receive nine points for first place, five points for second, three points for third, two points for fourth, one point for fifth, and zero for sixth place. This year, you needed 18 points to advance to the heads-up portion, and only 21 points to make the top four. With 20 points given per heat, getting 18 is almost too easy, right? Alas, not for me. I was well on my way to breaking a record, but the wrong kind of record: the lowest points total ever! In the end, I had scored an abysmal eight points. At least I avoided tying the record low of seven points. The players this year were: Roland De Wolfe, Andy Black, Eddie Scharf, Ian Frazer, Juha Helppi, Dave "Devil Fish" Ulliott, Tony G, Annie Duke, Marcel Luske, Vicky Coren, Alex Kravchenko, and me.

After four heats, I had a total of five points, and I needed a first or a second to remain a contender. The following hand came up in my fifth heat, with the blinds at 1,000-2,000. In late position, I raised it to 7,000 to go with the 5 2, Coren called from the button, and the flop was K-6-3, giving me a straight draw. I checked while announcing, "Vicky, I'm calling whatever you bet!" Coren, it seemed to me, looked very nervous as she bet 12,000. I called, the turn was a deuce, giving me a pair, and we both checked. The river was a queen, I checked, and Coren bet 16,000. I called, and she showed me A-Q.

Let's take a closer look at this hand. My preflop raise with the 5 2 was a little bit loose for my taste. A raise here is marginal, and if not a raise, I would prefer folding. Coren's preflop call with A-Q is natural for her, but some would argue that a reraise – perhaps to 24,000 – would have been better. On the flop, my check was OK, but a bet would have been OK, too. I had checked on the flop in order to use my reading abilities on Coren. Her 12,000 bet on the flop was fine, but I would like to have seen her bet 17,000 into the 17,000 pot, because throughout her heats, she had bet the size of the pot when she was strong. Her 12,000 bet – less than the size of the pot – seemed to me to be a tell that she was weak. Besides, she had stumbled a bit and seemed nervous and weak (more tells; Coren might want to work on bluffing more smoothly). My call on the flop was weak, for a few reasons. First, if I thought Coren was strong, folding my hand would have been the right move. Second, if I thought she was weak, a call was marginal. Finally, if I thought she was weak, a raise would have been the best move. Of course, I thought she was weak, owing both to her gestures (she stumbled a bit as she bet) and the undersized 12,000 bet. Thus, I should have raised it right then and there, and presumably I would have won the pot. On the turn, my check was OK, but a bet also would have been OK. The case for checking is this: My check enables me to win extra money if Coren bluffs again, and if I do have the best hand, it is pretty unlikely that she will outdraw me; finally, a check enables me to lose less money if I choose to change my read to Coren being strong. The case for betting is this: Coren wouldn't dare try to bluff me again, and checking gives her a chance to hit a winning card "for free." Ironically, if anything other than a 5, a 4, or a deuce had hit on the turn, I would have made a bet and won the pot. So, in effect, it was improving my hand that caused me to lose the pot!

On the river, I like my check, and I love Coren's 16,000 bet. It was a nice bet, because it suggested that she had me on a pocket pair like 10-10, 9-9, or something similar. It didn't look like she thought I had a king, because I had checked on the flop, the turn, and the river. My call on the river was natural. I mean, I thought she had been weak on both the flop and the turn, and I pretty much knew she didn't have a king (she would have bet more money on the flop) or a pocket pair between Q-Q and 7-7, because it wasn't in her game to value-bet a hand like that. She had to have either nothing or exactly a queen, and that's what she had – a queen.