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World Poker Tour Championship; then busy, busy, busy!

by Phil Hellmuth |  Published: Apr 28, '10

Posted: April 28, 2010 11:54 AM

On Sunday, April 18 I was following the WPT Championships online, and trying to decide when I should show up to play.  Sunday was Day One, but the players were allowed to begin on Day Two up until 5:00 pm with a fresh $100,000 stack of chips; no penalty for coming in late.  Initially my thinking was that I wanted to go in at 6:00 pm or so and play the last level of Day One for a couple of reasons: first, in order to get in the flow and to get thinking about tactics and strategies; second, to avoid a bad table draw when a bunch of great players came in late together at 5:00 pm on Day Two.  But suddenly it occurred to me that if I played on Day One, then I would have to get up early on Day Two (10:45 am) in order to make it from the Golden Nugget to the Bellagio on time.  So I switched my thinking and decided to skip Day One altogether and sleep in on Day Two, and show up feeling completely fresh.

I knew that I had a great chance to make it deep.  I mean, the last event I played in was the WPT at the Bay 101, and I finished sixth when I took a bad beat for the chip lead (more above on that!).  It bummed me out that I had to wait so long to play in another tournament!  I wanted to play the NAPT at Mohegun Sun, but I had scheduling conflicts.  On Monday I made my way to the Bellagio and began to play at around 2:45 pm.  I came in too hot.  Early on, someone opened for $3,000 under the gun, the very next two players called, and Kathy Leibert made it $12,000 to go.  I sat there thinking that the guy under the gun had nothing 100%, and that Leibert picked up on that as well.  Thus she was making a move, and I would make a bigger move with A-10 out of the big blind.  So I made it $50,000 to go and everyone folded, except Leibert, who moved all in for $68,000; whoops!  I called, she showed down pocket kings, I lost and felt like an idiot.  $68,000 with A-10 off suit, yuck!!  Fortunately, I picked up K-K vs J-J for my last $22,000 two hands later and doubled up.  A few hours later I limped with A-A in the small blind, and the guy in the big blind raised it $2,500 more.  I tried to look weak and act fairly quickly as I made it $10,000 to go, and he went for it!  He slid me all in for my last $47,000 with A-J off suit, yum yum! 

Here is an article about an exciting hand that came up on Day Two:

                                                     Lucky Ace for Phil

At the WPT (World Poker Tour) Championship last week I had a real shot to win the whole thing, but you wouldn't have known that if you entered the room late on Day Two in the middle of the following hand.  With the blinds at $1,200- $2,400, I opened for $6,500 under the gun (in first position) with A-A, and two players called, including the always tough Kathy Leibert.  The flop came down 9c-7s-3d, and I bet $12,000.  Player One folded, and Leibert then made it $30,000.  I was sitting on around $96,000 when the hand began, and now I had to make a decision.  There was no flush draw possible, I felt that there was no way that Leibert had a straight draw, so that I either had her crushed because she had one pair or a bluff, or she had me crushed with a set: with 9-9, 7-7, or 3-3 in the hole.  If I folded now, then I would have almost $80,000 left going into Day Three (there was only ten minutes left before we finished playing for the day).  I ruminated on the fact that there were so many other hands that I could beat.  And after a moment, I shoved, and Leibert snap called (a bad sign!), and then she showed down 7-7!  Ouch, bye bye Philly boy.  When the turn was a six, I didn't even bother looking at the river card.  Instead I turned my attention to my friend Howard Lederer to tell him that I was indeed about to be busted out of the tournament.  Only a few minutes earlier I claimed to Lederer that me going busted in the next twelve minutes was an impossibility!  When I heard my tablemates react with a, "Wow!"  I turned to see that the ace of clubs was lying out there as the river card!  [Phil sit back down kid!]

How did I play this hand?  I like the $6,500 raise pre-flop, any bet 2.5xBB (times the big blind) to 4xBB is OK.  I like the $12,000 bet into about $22,000 on the flop, any bet over 50% of the pot is OK with me, although some would argue that a check here makes sense (to trap your opponents), while others would argue that making a larger bet makes sense (to protect your hand).  I love Leibert's $30,000 bet.  And she made it quickly, so that I didn't think that there was any way that she had a set.   Well played Kathy, you certainly fooled me!  Before I look at my all in move, let me give you a little history.  Earlier in the day, someone had raised it up to $3,000 under the gun, then the next two players called, and then Leibert made it $12,000 to go.  I had a strong read that the player under the gun had nothing, and I thought that Leibert picked up on that as well.  Thus I made it $50,000 to go from the big blind with A-10, and Leibert moved all in for $68,000.  I called [What a horrible play I made here to put in 68 big blinds before the flop with A-10!], and she showed down K-K and won the pot.  Because of that reckless play, I thought that Leibert may have raised it up with a pocket pair like 10-10, 8-8, 6-6, or 5-5, or perhaps with A-9 suited, or maybe she was just trying to bluff me.  So I have no problem with my all in move on the flop with A-A, given the history.  Without that history, 80% of the time I would have to go with pocket aces right then and there anyway, because of my stack size, and the size of the pot.  Occasionally I may be able to fold the A-A when I have a "Sick read" of some sort, and I smell that my opponent has a set.

I really enjoy hanging out with Chris "Jesus" Ferguson and Fabiola, Howard Lederer, John Juanda, Erik Seidel, and Andy Bloch, and I managed to have a nice dinner with all of them that night after we finished playing at "Sensi" at the Bellagio.  On Tuesday at noon (Day Three) I began play with around $200,000 in chips.  I proceeded to run my chips up to around $600,000 or so, before I started to have a late meltdown.  As I somewhat needlessly went through chips, I found myself playing the following hand (here is a half written Hand of the Week):

                                        Pretty Lady Bails Phil Out!

At the WPT (World Poker Tour) Championship event last week, I hit a key ace (I talked about that in my last column) to propel me on to Day Three.  After a long spirited battle on Day Three, with 20 minutes left to go in the day, I finally played an enormous pot.  The blinds were $3,000-$6,000 and JJ Liu opened for $18,000 immediately to my right (I was in the cutoff).  I called with Q-Q, the player on the button called, and then from the big blind Andrew Lichtenberg made it $50,000 more to go.  Liu folded, I smooth called again, and the button folded.  The flop was 6-5-4, Lichtenberg bet $75,000, and I called.  The turn card was a jack, and Lichtenberg moved all in for $161,000.  Decision time, decision time!  I counted down my chips, and found that I had only about $175,000, so this was a decision for my tournament life (almost).  Finally, I called.  Lichtenberg showed down K-K, and before I had a chance to utter a single word, the dealer burned and turned a queen.  Bam!  What a card for me!

How did I play this hand?  Well, I smooth called Liu's $18,000 raise for two reasons: first, I wanted the loose and aggressive played on the button to enter the pot, or to reraise it; and second, I felt like a little disguise here was a good thing vs Liu, who I had covered.  I love the big blinds $50,000 raise.  It was not the size of the pot, but why drive everyone out of the pot?  My call was pretty standard, unless I had some sort of "Sick read," which I obviously didn't have in this case.  On the fop I love Lichtenberg's $75,000 bet.  An all in move would have probably convinced me to fold my hand, and he didn't want me folding pocket queens, pocket jacks, or pocket tens in this spot.  Lichtenberg's $161,000 all in bet was perfect.  As to my call; it was a little weak, but it was still bordering OK.  These days there a lot of crazy internet players out there that are making wild unsubstantiated bluffs, and that is another reason that I just called all the way through this hand: I was trapping baby.  And I could beat some hands that it may have been natural for Lichtenberg to bet like: 10-10, 9-9, 8-8, 7-7, 3-3, 2-2, A-K, A-Q, A-8, A-7, A-6, A-5, A-4, A-3, 8-7, 8-6, and 5-4.  On the other hand, one of the hands that I could beat was pocket jacks, and now I couldn't beat that anymore due to the jack on the turn.

After winning this huge hand, I started playing every single pot and ran my chips up to like $800,000.  This night, even though we were done at 8:30 pm, I opted to head back to my room and order in, and relax.  I knew that I would need all of my energy to make it through Day Four.

On Wednesday I played like a madman!  I was raising tons of pots, reraising a few pots, and defending from the blinds.  I was up and down, and down and up.  I hit $1.5 million, before my fast play put me down to like $1 million.  Finally, I won a key pot or two and when the Day Four ended I had $1.37 million in chips.  We ended early because we hit 18 players (18 players got paid) at like 6:00 pm.  On this day Faraz Jaka (who is a very talented young player) became the talk of the tournament after he 5 bet it with 9-3 off suit vs A-A for $1 million apiece.  That alone was the talk of the tournament, but then he actually won the pot!  9-8-3 was the flop!  Since we finished early, I opted to go for a workout, and I called my wife to make sure that she flew in the next day where we would play down to the final 10.  I told her previously that she had to come down for a visit if I made it through the day!

On Day Five (Thursday) I ran my chips up to over $2 million, and then I kinda just sat there playing super tight.  Players were busting quickly because Faraz was gambling with them and pushing the pace.  Whereas Faraz may have pushed the pace too much, I pushed the pace too little!  There is a time and a place for super tight, but I did not come over the top one time bluffing, and rarely came over the top at all for our brief five hour session.  I did have a horrible hand come up with 11 players left where I had Kh-Qh in the BB, and Eric Baldwin opened from UTG.  I called, flop As-Js-10s I check called, turn 3c, and I put in $915,000 drawing dead to his 9s-8s.  Bad luck, yes: but poor play on my part as well.  I ended the Day Five with $839,000.  And Faraz, who had over $4 million at one point, did not make the final 10, even though $4 million would have been the chip leadSince we were done early my wife and I went to the Golden Nugget where we sat in the sun and after that we hung out next to one of the "Fire pits" by the swimming pool.  Man was that relaxing!  Then we hit "Red Sushi" at the Nugget, and we took a nap.  Afterwards we watched the movie "Nine," which we give "Thumbs up."

Day Six (Friday) I began by playing way way too tight.  I anteed down to around $440,000 and then, finally I opened my first pot, with 6-5 off suit--and won.  The next hand I actually had A-J and opened again and won.  Then I picked up J-J and opened for $100,000. Nikolay Evdakof made it $250,000 to go, everyone else folded, and I pondered my decision.  Evdakof's raise was a relatively small one and it reeked of strength; it looked like A-A, K-K, Q-Q, or A-K.  I decided to take a flop.  The flop was Q-9-8, I checked, and Evdakof moved me all in for my last $364,000 (he only had $400,000 total himself).  I could only beat 10-10 or A-K, but eventually I decided to call.  The turn was a 6, but the river was a jack!  Wow, I was back in business!  I stepped up my aggression and soon I had over $2 million.  When we hit seven handed, Billy Baxter was all in with Ac-Ks vs Shawn Buchanan's 8-8, Jc-10c-4c-3c, and if Buchanan's hand held up, then I would have been in the final six with $2 million in chips, but the river was the seven of clubs for Billy to make the nut flush.  There were more all ins, and everyone kept surviving until it happened.  Eric Baldwin opened for $200,000, and I made it $600,000 to go.  I hadn't reraised more than a couple of times in two straight days of play, so obviously Baldwin knew I had a hand, right?  Well, I'm not sure.  Baldy asked for a count, and I told him that I had $2.5 million.  Baldy had just moved his stack in pre-flop with J-J and doubled up, so now he had $3.2 million.  After only 45 seconds, he moved all in!  Now I had been watching him for days, and Baldy always slow plays his aces, and if he doesn't, then he studies forever whenever he has them (in the old days you always knew who had aces because they studied so long!).  I thought that he may have had aces, but I knew that my reads were not on the last two days.  So I did not have a strong read.  Still logic told me he had to have A-A, or K-K, or A-K.  I didn't think Q-Q; I mean why take that chance against someone playing as tight as I was?  Surely he knew I hadn't been coming over the top much, right?  I decided to fold.  I would never fold online, and not in most tournaments either.  But note that at the WPT final table in LA at the Commerce, Ivey showed me A-A vs my Ad-Kd for roughly $2 million, and I remembered that.  Also, I felt like I could run my last $1.9 million up.  But Baldy may have been making a move.  It would be a little crazy for him to try a move there, especially considering how tight I was playing, and the fact that I am so dangerous.  I do have an effect on people where they give me their chips (they think I am weaker than I am), and maybe that's what Baldy was doing (he thought I was weak and made a move).  If so, then he was lucky we were at the WPT Championship event final table, and lucky that I was playing my "B game."  But give Baldy credit, he played really well for the few days that we played together.

After that pot, the next two raises I made, I was reraised.  And then I shut down for way way too long.  I anteed my chips off, and I let Buchanan run me over: I promise that Buchanan will never, ever, ever run me over again, if I have to call him with 9-8 off suit, I will do it!  There were a few more all ins, but eventually I moved all in with K-10 and finished seventh.  And there went the dream of winning the WPT Championships, ouch!  I mean, winning this one event really is a dream to me, and so is winning the WSOP main event, and the WSOPE main event.  But I will be back, and not just next year and next decade.  I will be back, win or lose, for many decades to try to achieve this dream (win the WPT Championship), and I will never ever give up!  One thing that I did not know was that if I had won this event, then I would have been "WPT Player of the Year!"  Scary, considering how bad a year I had in 2009
Strangely, my wife and I felt like I had won.  I mean, I was depressed and all, but somehow it seems like I won big!  Maybe I was supposed to call Baldwin with A-K (or the A-Q I folded against him), and have the chip lead.  Maybe it is just an energy that surrounds me that I found again, and that I am now tapped into.  Maybe it is the Feng Shui redo we had, that has completely changed the energy in our house.  Maybe I am on track to win two or three WSOP bracelets this year.  Maybe I am hungry to play the game I love with a hunger that I haven't known for years: but I won, I know I won!!

Learn more about Phil at and visit his web store at

Learn more about Phil by going to his website, and visit his Web store at

Any views or opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the ownership or management of
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