Phil’s Charity Tournament
I guess everyone who’s been watching the Katrina TV coverage is as shaken up as I am. To do something about it, I decided to host a charity poker tournament at UltimateBet.com (UB) for the Red Cross Hurricane Relief Fund last weekend. With a $300 buy-in, $150 of that going to charity, and UB matching all donations, and with 1994 World Champion Russ Hamilton and I matching up to $10,000 each in donations, I asked a few of my celebrity friends to give us some special prize packages.
So there were tennis great Andy Roddick and me giving back-to-back hour-long lessons (he in tennis and me in poker) in Austin — a nice first prize. Then we had “Hollywood Home Poker Game” with “That 70s Show” stars Laura Preppon and Danny Masterson, “Malcolm in the Middle” star Chris Masterson, and poker legend Johnny Chan giving lessons to the stars and to our contest winner during the game; “Lunch with Troy Aikman” in Dallas; lunch with actress Jennifer Tilly, and with poker stars Phil “The Unabomber” Laak and Antonio Esfandiari in Los Angeles; two press-box passes with ESPN color commentator and UCLA Rose Bowl quarterback David Norrie; a golf lesson with golf great Corey Pavin in San Diego; lunch with poker great Annie Duke in Los Angeles; a one-hour poker lesson with poker great T.J. Cloutier in Dallas; and another one-hour poker lesson with Esfandiari. To all of you “Stars,” your donations are deeply appreciated — they really made the event special!
With all of those great names, I was hoping to raise more money, but we did collect more than $75,000 for the Red Cross during the event, and we had 68 players in the main event.
I had reason to observe the final table of our tournament with great interest — after all, “Shamanbear” (my own mother, Lynn Hellmuth) and poker great John Bonetti were at the table. I noticed that Shamanbear kept calling bets rather than raising it up when she entered the pot. I was shouting at my computer screen, “Stop calling bets, Mom! Raise it up, don’t call.” Obviously, I didn’t like her calling tactics. (Bonetti, by the way, wasn’t doing ANY calling.)
With the blinds at $1,500-$3,000 and $300-a-player ante, Shamanbear should have been raising it up. And really, her style isn’t all that bad. The reason I would rather see her — or anyone else — raise it up in this situation is that in most cases a raise at that point causes everyone else to fold before the flop, allowing you to steal the blinds and antes, which total $6,000 (5 times $300, plus $1,500 plus $3,000) per hand in a five-handed game. Making a raise thus gives you an excellent chance to grab that $6,000 without any risk at all. Whereas, if you call before the flop, you risk losing the pot when the blinds out-flop you, or bluff you out.
On the other hand, if you call before the flop with a relatively strong hand (like K-Q) and hit something good (like a flop of Q-9-4), then you will usually have the best hand, and may win a big pot (when, for example, your opponent has a pair of queens or nines). So in theory, you can risk a small amount of chips before the flop with a call, and then win big when you hit your hand later. The problem is that you do not hit many hands in Texas Hold ‘Em! So you end up spending a lot of moneymaking calls, waiting to hit your hand, instead of taking a pot risk free with a raise before the flop.
In Shamanbear’s case, she was fortunate and hit a few of her hands, and then won some nice pots. In one notable hand, she just called the $3,000 bet with 3c-3h, and the flop came down 10h-8c-3s. Now the small blind moved all-in for $12,000 with Kd-9d, and she called with her three threes and a 95-percent-plus chance of winning the pot (the K-9 hand could only win if it hit running straight cards like J-Q). In this case, if Shamanbear had raised before the flop, then she most likely would have won the pot right then and there. Instead, her call let an opponent into the pot, and she wound up busting him when he bluffed all of his chips.
The dilemma remains: call with your decent hands at the final table, or raise it up with them? I choose raising it up, since that gives you the best chance to win the pot, and winning those blinds and antes (“drizzle” as Bonetti calls them) adds up fast. In fact, Bonetti won enough drizzle over the years to build several big log cabins!
I am really proud of my mom for making it to the final table — I, UB name “PhilHellmuth,” finished in 53rd place and Bonetti finished in fifth place. Of course, she turned around and gave half of her second-prize winnings to the Red Cross.
A.) the blinds and antes
B.) what you try to win with a raise
C.) pots that add up to really big money quickly
D.) all of the above