• Hot Streak Freezes With a Cooler

    Date: 2005.11.28 | Category: Hand Of The Week | By: Phil Hellmuth   

    Last time, I talked about the Tournament of Champions (TOC) and mentioned that the chip leaders after both Day 1 and Day 2 were me, Mike “the Mouth” Matusow, and Hoyt “Cowboy” Corkins, in that order. By the way, having the same three players leading for two days is a rare and remarkable occurrence. I also mentioned that poker legends Johnny Chan (finished 12th) and Doyle Brunson (finished 10th) were both eliminated just shy of the final table. With a first place prize of $1 million and $1 million to be split amongst the other final table members, first place would be sweet! Especially for me, seeing that I finished second in the 2004 TOC to Annie Duke.

    For the first 70 minutes of the final table, I played just two hands, winning one of them. Patience was key for me, for this was not a table I could easily run over (these guys wouldn’t let me raise a lot of pots just to steal the antes and blinds). After all, I had Corkins on my left, along with European star Tony Bloom and a good young Internet player named Brandon Adams at the table as well. Still, my stack had shrunk only from $281,000 to $270,000 or so.

    During that stretch, I was willing to let the other players battle it out for “table captain” (the one who takes charge of the action), and Matusow was happy to lead the charge. He was up, and he was down; he was the short stack, and he was chip leader; but there I sat, undeterred, taking the brunt of his aggressive verbal abuse. But when Mike crossed the verbal abuse line — I knew it was coming — I called the floor man and had him warned. One more outburst would be a devastating 20-minute penalty — where he would be forced to leave the table and fold every hand, even though he would be posting the blinds and antes. I know Matusow has a good heart, and his insults were far too obvious to affect me — I’ve been through it before too many times. I was here for one reason, to win; I was the Rock of Gibraltar.

    Corkins, on the other hand, was verbally silent and too aggressive, and played that way, especially when at last it came down to Matusow, Corkins and me. Yes, he overplayed his hands way too many times, but it never seemed to knock him out. So let’s give him some credit: he was reading very well, he was playing to his strengths, and he’s a great bluffer who constantly puts people to the test. So I didn’t mind. I let him play, and simply waited for him to bluff off all his chips to Matusow or me.

    One hand, when Matusow was on the ropes with only $120,000 remaining, Corkins moved all-in with the 5c-4c from the small blind. Matusow called with A-6 in the big blind, and won the pot. This really ticked me off! We had Matusow down and desperate after seven hours of play and Corkins gives him the best hand and doubles him up.

    For three straight days, I was lucky enough never to be all-in. That’s the way I try to play, but a good measure of luck helped me pull this off, too. I’m not sure that anyone has ever won a major tournament without being all-in and called even once. But now, I had a chance to do exactly that.

    Finally, after letting Corkins bluff me out and waiting for a nice situation to come up, the moment came. Corkins raised on the button, and I moved him all-in with my A-Q. Finally! But he called me instantly and flipped over pocket aces (the board came down K-Q-4-7-6). I sat there stunned; my perfect game plan had come down to a cooler (a hand in which one person, though holding fantastic cards, is forced to lose a bunch of chips to an opponent). I had given myself the maximum chance to win the event. I could have won it all at 10 p.m., 11 p.m. or midnight, but I’d never had the right situation come up.

    I still had $250,000 in chips — out of $1.1 million — but my stamina and laser-like focus were wearing thin. Not long afterward, I was all-in myself, with J-J, for the first time in three days of play (it was now 12:15 a.m.). Ten minutes later, I was all-in again, with 10c-8c, and Corkins called me with K-5 off suit, and busted me. One of the best performances of my life, whilst watching these guys move all-in and survive multiple times, and I was the one out in third.
    No one in this country remembers third place, and even though I should have been happy to win $350,000, I felt gloomy. It is all about the skins on the wall, and I’m missing this TOC one. One of the best performances of my life, and no one will even know it. (By the way, Mike eliminated Hoyt an hour later to win the title.)

    A cooler is:
    A) A place to store beer in the summer.
    B) A super-unlucky, almost inescapable hand.
    C) A good way to win.
    D) A good way to lose.

    Answer: D