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‘The Jerk’ Steve Martin plays in a charity event

by Phil Hellmuth |  Published: Dec 10, 2010


On Oct. 21, in Manhattan, I emceed a charity poker tournament for CHOP (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia), the number-one children’s hospital in the USA — Fortunately, we raised almost $1 million. Knowing that he was frequently in Manhattan, I invited global entertainment icon Steve Martin to play in the event. Martin is a great guy, and a very good poker player; he definitely takes the game seriously. In fact, for decades, he used to play in a regular poker game in Hollywood that was so tough to get into that A-list stars couldn’t wrangle an invite to it. It wasn’t that they played for a lot of money in this legendary game, but that Johnny Carson, the major studio heads, Martin, and famous directors populated the game.

The CHOP event began with 14 tables in action, and I announced that Martin was my pick to win it all. With four tables remaining and the blinds at 1,000-2,000, a player opened for 7,000. Two players called, and Martin called from the big blind with pocket eights. The flop was Q-Q-2, and Martin moved all in for 17,000. Two players folded, and then a rank amateur decided to call with J-10! Sadly, the turn was a jack; the river brought a 4, and Martin was eliminated.

Taking a little closer look at the hand, I love the way that Martin played it. His 7,000 call preflop was good, and his all-in bet for 17,000 was perfect. Of course, I was shocked that his opponent called him with J-10, and I can only imagine what I would have said if someone did that to me in a major tournament!

Before the tournament began, I gave Mr. Martin some pointers. There are two major differences between playing in a charity tournament and playing in a normal tournament or a cash game. First, the speed of play is different: In a cash game or a normal tournament, you can patiently wait for a good spot to put your chips into the pot; in a charity event, the blinds are raised every 20 minutes, so you are quickly forced to play some big pots with some marginal hands. Second, the type of players is different: In a cash game or a normal tournament, the players are oftentimes good players, with at least some experience; in a charity tournament, the players are very, shall we say, inexperienced. So, while I would play strong hands like A-K, A-Q, J-J, or 10-10 aggressively in a regular tournament, by raising or reraising, I would not play those hands aggressively in a charity tournament. The reason is, I know that in general, players in a charity tournament will call big bets with hands that they are not supposed to play; that is to say that inexperienced players will put tons of chips into the pot with hands that good players would never play — like the Q♦ J♦ (those suited paint cards look great to a beginner!). Thus, if I reraise in a charity tournament with, say, A-K, I can expect two, three, or even four callers! Whereas, when I reraise with A-K in a normal tournament, I oftentimes will take down the pot right then and there. So, in a charity tournament, I wait until after the flop before I put big chips into the pot. I limp in with A-K, and if I hit it, I put in some big chips. I limp in with J-J, and if it is still an overpair after the flop, I put in the bigger chips. ♠

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