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NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship — Round Three

Hellmuth vs. “Durrrr”

by Phil Hellmuth |  Published: Jul 01, 2009


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

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