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World Series of Poker Day Five - Part I

A surprising fold

by Phil Hellmuth |  Published: Nov 30, 2008


I've been writing a series of columns, each one featuring a hand and the way things went during a given day in the World Series of Poker main event. I've been covering one day per column, but so much crazy stuff happened on day five that it will take two columns to cover it all.

One controversial incident occurred late on day five, and I almost drew an official penalty (a one-round penalty would make me sit out nine hands) for my conduct. A penalty would have cost me 72,000 in chips (9 x 3,000 per hand ante + 15,000 small blind + 30,000 big blind), and the fact that the penalty was overturned has caused quite a stir in the poker world. This will be the in-depth subject of my next column.

On day five, Brandon Cantu was on my immediate right. I knew that Cantu had a reputation of playing every hand (one nickname of Cantu's is "Any Two"), and of being superaggressive. However, I was shocked to observe that he raised almost every single pot! Over the years, I have watched many players employ that tactic. Most of them, like Daniel Negreanu or Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi, eventually gave it up. The reason they slowed down is that it is hard to win tournaments by playing that aggressively all the time. It is a good gear to have, but even Stu Ungar had trouble winning consistently by using that gear, although he did amazingly well over the years. I played a fair bit with Ungar, and he used a slow, patient gear when the time was right, and that gear worked well with his legendary hyperaggressive mode. There was no slowdown with Cantu, and I was card-dead for a while, so he made my life tough. Finally, Cantu raised my small blind - from the button - and I called with the J 8. The flop was A Q 2, and I checked. Cantu bet 75 percent of the pot, and I called him. The turn was a jack, and I checked. Now, Cantu bet 110,000, and I called. The river was the 2, I checked, and Cantu moved me all in for 155,000. I called immediately with my flush. He announced, "Nothing," and mucked his hand. I was back in business! The big question is whether or not I would have called him (a world-class call) if a non-flush card, like the 6, hit on the river.

About an hour later, I raised from early position with the Q 7, and immediately thought to myself, "Why did you do that?" I was called by two players, and the flop was 6 5 4. I checked, one player behind me checked, and the remaining player bet 80,000. I called, and then the player to my left announced, "I'm all in." After studying for a full minute, the other player folded, and I had a big decision to make. There was 340,000 in the pot, and the raise was 290,000 more. I had 380,000 in chips, so I would have about 90,000 left if I called and missed. The pot was laying me more than 2-1, and I knew that I was less than a 2-1 underdog to win the pot - even if my opponent had a set. After three minutes, I folded my hand faceup, and the criticism of my fold was resounding. One player at my table cleverly stated, "There would have been speed marks between my stack and the pot!" Indeed, I believe that most players in the world should make that call. I mean, I had open-ended straight and flush draws, plus the queen may have been an out, and the pot was laying me more than 2-1.

My analysis: I checked the flop, sensing that the opponent on my left had flopped a set, and I was hoping to check-call one bet. If I hit, I had some great options. If the board paired, I could get away. If both opponents checked, I would get a free card. After my opponent moved all in, I studied him for a while and decided that he not only had a set, but probably had top set (three sixes). Thinking that I didn't want to play a pot for most of my chips as an underdog, even with the math in my favor, I folded. I reasoned that I could run my remaining 380,000 in chips up to 1 million risk-free, but if I called and lost, it would be a near-crippling blow. So, I folded my hand faceup, to the surprise and criticism of many players.

Epilogue: First, my opponent later told me that he did indeed have three sixes; second, I did run my chips up, risk-free, to 1.6 million. In my next column, I'll discuss the controversial penalty being overturned.