• Hello, Old Friend

    Date: 2008.03.24 | Category: Hand Of The Week | By: Phil Hellmuth   

    In early March, on the heels of the NBC Heads-Up tournament, Calgary hosted the Canadian National Heads-Up Championship. Many of the top poker players were there, including Huck Seed, Joe Hachem, Antonio Esfandiari, Phil Laak, Jennifer Tilly, Mel Judah and Greg Mueller. When it came time for the finals, Seed took on Brad Booth — someone I have called the “best unknown poker player in the world.” Seed, an old friend, has been making a nice comeback of late. Only a few days before Seed made the finals in Calgary, he qualified for the semifinals in the NBC Heads-Up, losing his match to Andy Bloch.

    Before his fall from the pinnacle of the poker world, Seed was considered a perennial favorite to win the World Series of Poker in the late 1990s. In player polls of that era, Seed always ranked in the top three in no-limit hold ’em. Yet most of the world doesn’t know Huckleberry Seed. His timing was bad — he hit his funk when poker really hit television.

    Indeed, many of us have been waiting for Seed to make a huge comeback and reclaim his spot near the top. I watched Seed’s NBC Heads-Up final-four match from the stands, and I thought the day would belong to him. When he lost, I told him, “Darn it. I thought this was going to be your moment. I thought you would complete your comeback today.” Seed said, “It’s OK, Phil. I’m on my way back, that’s for sure.” Little did we know that Seed’s resurrection would occur less than a week later.

    In the Canadian finals, Seed faced a determined Booth, who is capable of playing a superfast and super-aggressive game. That style can be difficult to combat, especially if you’re not making very many hands. Still, Seed expected Booth to use this hyper strategy, and he was determined to trap him. So, in the first match in a best-of-three format, with the blinds at $25 to $50 and $10,000 in starting chips, Seed called $25 more on the button with J-J. Booth raised it up $150 more, and Seed called. The flop was 7-3-2, Booth bet out $300 and Seed called. The turn card was a six, Booth bet out $800 and Seed called. The river was a five, Booth bet out $2,000 and Seed called. Booth flipped up J-9, and Seed showed his J-J — and collected a nice pot. About 30 minutes later, Seed called with Q-Q and let Booth bluff all three streets one more time.

    The long-term effect of trapping an opponent like Booth is that it causes him to bluff less often and makes playing against him more manageable. Of course, the best thing about trapping someone is the fact that you end up winning a bunch of chips you wouldn’t have ordinarily won. If Seed had reraised Booth with his J-J or his Q-Q, Booth most likely would have folded his hand and Seed wouldn’t have won anything.

    By slow playing his J-J and Q-Q, Seed used Booth’s aggressiveness against him, and he won the maximum number of chips. The downside to slow playing is that you’ll occasionally lose a big pot; for instance, when someone takes the 5d-4d against your pocket queens and turns it into two pair or a straight. If slow playing always worked, everyone would do it. Still, it is a great tactic to combat super-aggressive players.

    The last hand of the first match came down like this: With the blinds at $200 to $400, Booth had $2,300 in chips and called on the button with J-7. Seed checked with 8-3, and the flop was K-3-3. Seed checked, Booth bet out $400 and Seed made it $800 to go. Booth then moved all-in for his last $1,100, and Seed called and won the first match.

    Seed told me, “I had three threes, and I wanted it to look as if I was bluffing, so I raised it up a small amount. Booth fell for it that time.” I like Seed’s idea here. To call $400 would look strong, and to move all-in might induce a fold. But the minimum raise — $400 — worked perfectly. Seed later told me, “The match began with Booth bluffing off with jack high and ended with Booth bluffing off with jack high.”

    I’m happy to see my friend Huck Seed is back!