I'm backing Phil for the big one


3 months ago I was from the school of poker that loved to see Phil Hellmuth lose, carefully edited television coverage (and occasional childishness from the Brat) made us all believe that we could go to Vegas and beat Phil and put him on tilt.

Then I interviewed him a couple of months back and……well, nothing had really changed much. He was a very nice guy but he still managed to tell me he was the greatest player of all time before I had asked him much, I still thought he wasn’t as good as he thinks he is.

I’m not sure exactly what it is that’s changed, I certainly hope its not to do with the fact that I have his phone number in my mobile, but I really want him to destroy the WSOP this year. The introduction of so many stud/razz/Omaha/hi lo games this year seems a cynical way to ensure a pro gets a bracelet and to an extent the hold’em events are ‘expected’ to be won by nobodies.

Maybe by doing so well so far in the huge NLHE fields in some way has restored my faith in the pro vs the field. Perhaps its because its nice to see somebody I’ve heard of at the final tables and that makes poker a more enjoyable spectator sport. If Phil could win another bracelet or maybe make the final of the big one then surely this is can be our ‘for’ argument in the is poker a game of skill argument that we all have at times. That a pro can win the main event before and after he poker boom and that it doesnt matter that there is 100 or 10,000 players, as long as you beat your table.

He would of course, be unbearable if he actually won the big one, but maybe poker needs that? Moneymaker, Raymer and Gold all seem to have been one hit wonders and although Joe Hachem has proved his is a genuine champion of the sport; perhaps we need the Poker Brat to raise the bar for the large field generation of poker.

Phil is 7-1 to place higher in the main event than any previous champion; I think that is the safest bet to take this year at the series.

The Saver - The worst business decision in poker

While 95% of the poker population are already in Vegas I humbly made my way to a local poker festival in my home town of Sheffield. In all honesty it was a pretty poorly organised affair but a very nice bunch of people to play with. It also helped that I made it to the final 3 and we did an equal three way chop of the prize money. We then proceeded to play for the trophy and I went out the very next hand. I don’t normally do deals and always want to play for the win, but I was a significant short stack at the time and the deal worked out perfectly for me.

One deal which I wasn’t pleased about occurred a few hours before, when we were down to 11 players. With 10 places being paid and a number of very short stacks, everybody wanted to agree to a ‘saver’; a deal whereby the price of the original buy-in is taken from the top end of the prizepool and given back to whomever goes out on the ‘bubble’. I did not agree to this and it didn’t win me any friends.

“You obviously don’t make many finals” one guy told me

“You always do a deal” another one said.

“Is it fair that someone gets all this way and gets nothing?” was another comment.

I don’t actually have any objection to the £200 entry being taken from the prizepool, my objection was down to the fact that the bubble is one of the most significant and profitable part of any tournament. During this time I was raising every hand at my table and everyone was looking at me daggers:

“What are you doing?” they were asking “this is not the time to be bullying, we are nearly at the final” – I actually thought I was going to be chased out of the casino.

I had a healthy stack and the bubble was the time to turn it into a monster. Many players do not play optimally on the bubble when they know they can fold their way to the money and there is a hell of a lot of dead money to be picked up. The fact that everyone was objecting to my bullying and there not being a saver only spurred me on to do it more, because it was obvious I would get away with it.

I was in Ireland last month having a Guinness fuelled chat about this very situation with well known players Mick McCloskey and Matt Tyler, we all said the same thing, that the ‘saver’ is the worse business decision in poker. We all agreed that if you are the chip leader on the table during a bubble and a short stack goes all in on your big blind and you have aces, you should still fold. The reason being is the small amount of chips you get from shorty is nothing in comparison to the pot after pot you can take from the medium stacks at the table who are desperate to fold their way to the money.

The players were telling me that the saver speeds the game up towards the final table because the action is looser, which is true, but that is not what I wanted at all, I would have been happy for an hour long bubble because of the potential pots I could have scooped along the way.

Where I and the rest of the field differed was they were thinking only of the guaranteed return they were getting, whereas I was thinking about the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place prize pool. I wasn’t interested in getting another £150 back on my buy-in I was looking ahead to figures with another zero on the end and wanted to build my stack to get to play for those prizes. In the end it was causing such a stir that I caved in and agreed to the saver, which in retrospect worked ok for me because it helped us make a deal which worked out in my favour later on.

It was actually a really nice little tournament and despite not making many friends on the bubble the final table couldn’t have been more fun. A really friendly bunch of people and maybe that was why they were so keen to introduce the saver. It’s a very close knit poker community in Sheffield and maybe I should pay heed to the way in which they were all looking out for each other rather than keeping all eyes on the big prize.

I’m still never agreeing to another saver again though.

OK Donk! You and me heads-up


One of the many things that online poker has introduced to the world that rarely happens (rarely, it does happen) is the challenging to heads-up matches from people you have rubbed up the wrong way. In poker, this has become a modern form of duelling, you suck out on somebody and enrage them to the point that they challenge you to a heads-up match, usually for stakes larger than the game you are in.

I had this happen to me today, I limped with pocket aces into a guy whose blind I had been stealing constantly, I knew he was due to take a stand against me, he shoves all-in with ace-ten and I call and bust him from the SNG. “I’m waiting in a $200 HU match for you, come on you p ussy, me and you know d ick, you scared?” etc etc etc. I’m not sure why he was so annoyed at me for beating him with the best hand but he stuck around for the rest of a lengthy Sit and Go berating me.

This rarely happens in casinos, largely because A) Heads-up games are not available most of the time and B) You can actually see each other, I assume most of these angry people are short, Napoleon complex, and wouldn’t dare challenge a bigger man to a heads-up match in case he suggests they just go for an honest punch-up instead. I elected not to join him, partially because I was on a bubble in the SNG and also because I found it funny that he wouldn’t leave my table and was enjoying disappointing him. The question is, should I have gone into the match?

Now, ego is no reason to go into these games, I felt I had no need to prove myself and if you readily accept these challenges to prove yourself then you will never be playing your ‘A’ game. Is it potentially a profitable game?

If you are well versed in heads-up matches, then it is a definite yes, if someone you have already bested challenges you to a game you excel in then you surely will come out on top most of the time. If not then it simply isn’t worth it.

A good reason the take the challenge is that your opponent is definitely on tilt, I’ve only met one person who actually plays better when they are angry so unless its that guy then you are going to get them mano vs mano when they are not 100%, the best possible time to get heads-up.

If, like me, you are at a crucial stage in another game, as you likely will be because of the initial challenge, then you have to weigh up the expected value of the game you are in compared to the heads-up match on offer, the chances are the game you are in will be more profitable because you will have this players chips and the prizes on offer will be more than the doubling of your money a HU match offers.

If the match in question is at a stake higher than you are bankrolled for (and they often will be as is the nature of the challenge) then you certainly must not take the offer, even if you do win this is not a long term profitable strategy – playing above your bankroll in an emotional tear up is a recipe for disaster.

So the next time you are childishly challenged to a heads-up game, swallow your pride and simply ask yourself – is this profitable?

If all else fails, insult their mother.

Swallowing a grenade

Losing $1500 in two hands sucks. Losing $1500 when you are sat watching a DVD (Fantastic Four) with your girlfriend and you are pretending that you are not playing online poker is devastating. The temptation to throw my laptop across the living room is hard enough when I am alone so keeping it under tabs when in company is very very, well, painful. It felt like I'd swallowed a grenade. I excused myself to go to the toilet and just sat there looking for something I could punch that wouldn't make a noise. I couldn't find anything and somehow managed to contain my rage til the following mornings very early session on the punchbag at my gym.

Although I would take that experience again over watching the latest Pirates of the Caribbean film again, that was 3 hours I'm not getting back.
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