Saturday, August 19, 2006

Random notes, and how to beat Phil Hellmuth

So, you're wondering what I have been up to and why I haven't posted here in so long.

Oh, you aren't. Well, here it comes anyway.

I haven't been playing as much as I used to, thanks to real life intruding on my poker playing time. But I've been in a few tournaments here and there, on line and some live freerolls. Since July 17, I have played in nine tournaments on line, mostly SNGs, and cashed in four of them. My best finish, money-wise, was 9th out of 62 in the DADI Re-buy tourney on July 26. That gave me a nice little bankroll boost. I had not played in a re-buy tourney before so I wasn't sure of the protocol, but when I saw people buying extra chips before the cards were in the air, I decided to put in my first re-buy up front too. Fortunately, I didn't have to re-buy again to keep up with the other players because I was able to build my stack the old fashioned way, i.e. with other players' chips. That was a fun tourney and I hope to play another DADI again soon. Meanwhile, my ring game play is in the red for the month, although I am just barely ahead for 2006. I should be doing better than this; virtually breaking even in my ring play tells me that I have leaks to find.

I have also played in a few APL tournaments and just recently joined the Bern league, another live amateur poker group which as far as I can tell is only here in Texas. The play in the two Bern games I have been to so far has been normal for free play games: some players who have a good idea what they are doing, some who haven't a clue, and most somewhere in between. I made the final table in my first Bern game and finished 6th; the next one I busted early. The nice thing about the Bern game here vs. the APL game I usually play in is that the venue is mostly non-smoking, whereas I always come home smelling like cigarette smoke when I get back from the APL games. I think I like the play better at the APL game, and they are better organized, so I'll have to see whether I want to spend more of my time at one or the other.

I also played in a fund-raising tourney for the Runway Theatre, a community theater that I have worked with here in Grapevine. Out of 36 entrants, I made it to 4th. Unfortunately, the only prize was for first, so all I got was a pat on the back from my theater friends who were cheering me on.

This past Wednesday night I watched the Professional Poker Tour event on the Travel Channel, where I saw Phil Hellmuth take two beats that put him on tilt. In analyzing what happened, I think I have stumbled upon the magic formula for defeating Phil in tournament play. Feel free to spread this around to anyone you like, except maybe the Brat himself. Not that he would believe what I am going to say.

OK, here it is.

How to Beat Phil Hellmuth


*Get lucky*

But actually, there is more to it than that. Here is what transpired at the table, as best I remember it, and how I came to my conclusion.

On one hand, Phil had AKo and raised preflop, about 3X BB. The player to his left, last name Kinney, had KQ of spades and called. Everyone else folded. Kinney didn't have a huge stack but wasn't one of the leaders either. Hellmuth had him covered.

Flop comes As-Js-X. With top pair, Phil bets, not too large, Kinney calls with the straight flush draw.

Turn: 4s, giving Kinney the nut flush. Phil checks; Kinney checks behind.

River: blank. Hellmuth has TPTK and bets it. Kinney reraises (he may have pushed, sorry my memory isn't better). Phil, talking out loud, says "All I can beat is AQ...." but after thinking about it he eventually calls. When he sees the flush, he is stunned. He mutters to himself, "You called my preflop raise with KQ..." shaking his head as if he can't believe someone would do that. This is the first stage of tilt for him.

A few hands later, Phil opens a pot with a preflop raise on AQ, and Phi Nguyen calls with JT of diamonds. Flop comes 9-Q-K rainbow. After several bets, raises and calls, and a board that doesn't help Hellmuth any further, he loses another big pot. Once again, he can't figure out why Nguyen called his preflop raise with those cards. Phil is on serious tilt after this.

My point about this is, it appears that Phil expects everyone he plays against to play the way he would. Phil is an excellent player and generally knows the right decisions to make in just about any situation. However, it is a weakness to expect others to do the same when trying to put them on hands. Maybe Phil would always fold KQ or JT suited to a preflop raise, and that's why he couldn't put his opponents on the hands that they had. Therefore he couldn't lay his hands down, since surely they couldn't have something that would beat him.

Mathematically, Kinney and Nguyen may have been making mistakes when they called those preflop raises. But strategically, their moves looked good (and the results were perfect). If you know your opponent will have a tough time putting you on a good hand, then your chances of maximizing your profits when you hit your hand are greatly increased. So Kinney and Nguyen both had what I will call good Implied Trapping Odds for their preflop bets, and in these cases they paid off. Nguyen may also have benefited somewhat from the tilt that Phil was on from the beat he took from Kinney.

I only hope that I can remember this strategy when I face Phil at a future tournament.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

WSOP Final Table live blogging by Dr. Pauly

I do have some poker posts swimming around in my brain, but until I get around to composing them, allow me to encourage you to visit the Tao of Poker site today (and every day), because Dr. Pauly will be providing live blog updates on the final table of this year's World Series of Poker Main Event. Pauly is the king of poker blogging, and his reports are always informative and entertaining. Be sure and stop by his site to get the latest news and gossip from the WSOP.