And Now, the Finale
When I was invited to London to compete in the Premiership of Poker, I jumped at the chance to play.
The Premiership, an internationally broadcast competition, works like this: 12 world-class players play six six-player “heats” for points. The players with the highest-four point totals would advance to the six-player finale. The players with the middle four point totals would then play head’s-up matches, with two of them advancing to the six-player finale. In the six-player finale, each player would take their point total times 10,000 to determine the size of their chip stack.
Surprisingly, four of the five pre-tournament favorites; England’s David “Devilfish” Ulliot and Roland de Wolfe, Australia’s Tony G, and Russia’s Kiril Gerasimov finished in the bottom four. Both women in the 12-player field won their head’s-up matches to claim the final two spots in the finale; Vicky Coren beat English citizen Andy Black, and American Liz Liu beat American Kenna James. I won four heats, with one third and one sixth place finish, for 35 points. Thus, I began the finale with $350,000 in chips — as the chip leader — along with Coren ($200,000), Liu ($230,000), Germany’s Eddy Scharf ($310,000), Norway’s Juha Helppi ($270,000), and Englishman Ian Fraser ($260,000).
About 40 minutes into the finale, with the blinds at $1,000-$2,000, Helppi opened for $6,000 in late position. I called $4,000 more in the big blind with Jh-2h, and the flop was 7-4-2. I checked, Helppi bet out $10,000, and I called. The next card was a king, I checked, Helppi bet out $20,000, and I called. The last card was an ace, I checked, Helppi bet out $40,000, and I called. Helppi showed down A-7, and won the pot. OK, Phil, it may hurt, but let’s break down this hand.
First of all, Helppi made a standard raise of $6,000 before the flop, but I hate my call here. Why get involved with Jh-2h? I mean, I made it all the way to the chip lead by playing conservative poker, why change now? I like Helppi’s $10,000 bet on the flop, and I have no problem with my $10,000 call here. Helppi could have had A-K, or another hand like that; or he could have been bluffing. On the turn, I like Helppi’s $20,000 bet, and I do not mind my call here too much, although a raise would have been better. A raise would have allowed me to win the pot if Helppi was weak. On the end, I love Helppi’s big $40,000 bet, and I hate my call. I mean, I cannot beat any hand at all, only a pure bluff; and there are not many people in the world that would try to “Fire all three bullets” (bluff the flop, the turn, and the river) versus me. I think that I just lost it somehow, and this pot shocked me into playing a super conservative style of poker for the rest of the day.
In fact, from this point forward we all played a super conservative style of play, and it was four hours before we had our first all-in pot! I was really card dead, and super frustrated as I sat there for hours folding hands before the flop. Somehow though, the patience paid off, as we lost Fraser, Cohen, and then Liu. Then it happened. With the blinds at $15,000-$30,000, Scharf folded on the button and I looked down and found pocket kings. (At the 2006 WSOP (World Series of Poker) I had pocket kings with two players remaining, with the blinds at $15,000-$30,000 and my opponent then was — Helppi. I won a $2.2 million dollar pot with those kings, and went on to win my record-tying tenth bracelet.) Deja vu! Back then I opened for $80,000, and Helppi moved all-in. Naturally, this time I opened for the same $80,000, and Helppi called. The flop was A-J-8, I checked, and Helppi checked. I was not worried about Helppi having an ace. The next card was a seven. I checked again, Helppi bet $80,000, and I moved all-in for $190,000 total. Helppi called and rolled over 8-7 — for two pair — ouch. The last card was a three, and I was eliminated, finishing in third place.
It didn’t seem fair that I lost with K-K versus 8-7. Indeed, I was truly shocked that Helppi called the raise with 8-7 pre-flop, why defend with this hand? In fact, Helppi had an excellent chance of doubling me up. I do not regret checking on the flop, or on the turn, as it gave Helppi a chance to bluff me, or bet a weaker hand than mine. Since I didn’t win it all, I’m not happy that I skipped the NBC “Heads-Up Poker Championships,” now showing on NBC!
On the J-2 hand, Phil simply:
A) Lost his mind!
B) Played really bad.
C) Played like a donkey.
D) All of the above.