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NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship — Round Three

Hellmuth vs. “Durrrr”

by Phil Hellmuth |  Published: Jul 01, 2009

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After winning my first-round match in the NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship against Mike Sexton — when my A-J was lucky to beat his Q-Q — then beating Jeffrey Ishbia in the second round, I found myself in the “Sweet 16,” facing 22-year-old Internet poker sensation Tom “Durrrr” Dwan. Durrrr has enormous talent and potential, and he may eventually become the best poker player in the world.

22-12 Tom Dwan
I knew that this match would have the poker world’s full attention. I mean, not only was it a little bit of old school versus new school, but some considered it a grudge match. After all, I was facing the man who eliminated me in the first round of the 2008 NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship when his 10-10 beat my A-A on the third hand. After I lost that hand, I was still in shock over being eliminated so early in my first match with the best possible hand, and I went into “Poker Brat” mode; I went off on Durrrr and the way that he had played his 10-10! After that, I cannot tell you how many people asked me if Durrrr and I had played a rematch yet. The poker world had been talking about a rematch, hoping for a rematch, and even demanding a rematch on poker forums around the world!

To my great surprise, Durrrr came out playing slow, almost never raising or reraising before the flop. I mean, he is known far and wide for his super-aggressive and fast style of play: He normally raises and reraises like a crazy man. I’m the one who comes out playing a slow, controlled game while I observe my opponent and his tactics, and then I try to come up with an effective strategy against whatever tactics my opponent is using. So, the fast and furious match that everyone was expecting turned into a slow “small-ball” match. Sure, I was ready with well-planned countertactics against a fast-playing Durrrr, but a slow-playing Durrrr also was fine with me, as it was more of a standard match for me. I mean, usually when I play a great player heads up, it is a slow match, and this was no exception, at least for the first hour.

After an hour, I had a nice lead of 105,000 in chips to Durrrr’s 55,000, when he shifted into his fast-play gear. I noticed this, and my countertactic to his fast play was all about making good reads. If Durrrr raised or reraised with a weak hand and I had a weak hand, I would put in the last raise, which hopefully would force him to fold his weak hand right then and there. If he raised or reraised with a weak hand and I had an extremely strong hand, I would slow-play it — letting him have the last raise and bluff off some chips to me.

With the blinds at 1,000-2,000, I opened for 6,000 with the 6Spade Suit 3Spade Suit, and Durrrr made it 15,400 to go. As I watched him go through the motions of raising, I felt some serious weakness in him, and decided that in this match, I had to follow my instincts if I wanted to win. Thus, within 20 seconds of his raise, I announced, “I’m all in.” This was a “go for it” type of move. I mean, if I was wrong and Durrrr had a strong hand, I would be a huge underdog in the hand and would potentially hand him a 110,000 to 50,000 chip lead!

After I moved all in, Durrrr folded his hand fairly quickly, and I felt great. I had trusted my instincts and made a big move, and was right. As a result, I picked up about 15,000 and now held a 120,000 to 40,000 chip lead. Many players would have shown that hand to gloat or to put their opponent on tilt, but I respect Durrrr, and I believed that showing him a bluff would give him a “free read” on me. I mean, if I showed it, he might try a similar move, but if I didn’t show it, he would most likely think that I had a strong hand, and that would be the end of it.

I went on to defeat Durrrr when I won an interesting hand that I will discuss in a few columns. Meanwhile, my next opponent would be another young superstar, Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier, in the “Elite Eight.” Spade Suit

Learn more about Phil by going to his website, www.PhilHellmuth.com, and visit his webstore at www.PokerBrat.com.