• Losing, and Winning, in the ‘Big Game’

    Date: 2006.02.20 | Category: Hand Of The Week | By: Phil Hellmuth   

    In October and November I began making forays into the “Big Game” at the Bellagio, a high-stakes affair seemingly always in progress. The first four of these occasions I won almost $500,000 without a single loss. Then, in December, I played three more times over a weekend and lost $176,000. After arriving in Vegas that Friday night, I should have gone straight to bed, but instead lost $80,000. Saturday, still tired and off my game, I lost another $43,000, and finally, on Sunday, I risked all the remaining cash I had in town, about $53,000 or so, and lost that. My thinking on risking the last $53,000 was that I didn’t want to have a losing trip in the Big Game! Tough weekend, but it was fun. And bad as it was, it didn’t wipe out the $500,000 I had won earlier.

    Playing in a poker game where you can win or lose that much in one night is always exciting, but I especially enjoyed the camaraderie with some of the people I used to play high-limit poker with back in the 1990s. Great players like Johnny Chan, Jennifer Harmon Traniello, Doyle Brunson, David “Chip” Reese, Gus Hansen, Chau Giang, Eli Ezra, and Barry Greenstein. That weekend I did manage to win a few pots, one of them a big Hold ’em hand vs. Traniello.

    First, let me tell you a little about Jennifer. She is the best woman poker player on the planet right now, although Annie Duke — when she focuses on the game — can challenge her for that title. But beyond that, Traniello is one of the best all-around poker players in the world — man or woman. In the last few years, she famously beat Andy Beal for $9 million in one day; she has won two World Series of Poker (WSOP) titles; and if that’s not enough, she has also made several World Poker Tour final tables. Traniello has proven that she has the rare combination of poker skills necessary to compete successfully in both the big-time poker tournaments and the high-limit side games. She also plays in the Big Game almost every day, and has earned the respect of all the great players in that game. No less authorities than Brunson and Chan feel that she is “one of the best all-around poker players in the world.”

    The Big Game is a $2,000-$4,000 limit “mixed game,” meaning that you play more than one discipline — usually at least six different brands of poker like Seven Card stud, and Omaha eight or better — by rotating from one brand to the next. It was during the Hold ’em part of the mix that I looked down at pocket kings and made it $4,000 to go in late position. Traniello made it $6,000 to go from the small blind with her pocket aces, and I called. I merely called her reraise — instead of raising it again — to disguise the strength of my hand. Why make it $8,000 to go and alert Traniello that I had a huge hand? Instead, I would play the hand hard later on. The flop was K-4-4, giving me a full house. Traniello bet $2,000, I raised it to $4,000 to go, and she just called me.

    The next card (fourth street) was an eight, Traniello checked, I bet $4,000, and she called the bet. The last card (the river) was a five, Traniello checked again, and I bet $4,000. She then raised it up, making it $8,000 to go, I reraised it, making it $12,000 to go, and she called. Speaking of slow-playing a hand! Traniello had waited until the river to raise me, opting merely to call my raise on the flop and call my bet on fourth street. She had played the hand in a very unorthodox way, disguising the strength of her hand all the way to the river. Most players, holding her aces, would have raised it up on fourth street.

    In fact, I was lucky to win this pot, for it was just another case of aces versus kings where the kings won the pot. On this hand, either one of us would have lost about the same amount of money with the pocket aces, or won about the same with the pocket kings. But Traniello’s creativity during this hand shows me some flexibility and skill. It shows me that she is not locked into the traditional patterns of high-stakes poker. She can play!

    A “mixed game” is:
    A) a poker game filled with good and bad players
    B) a game where you play more than one brand of poker
    C) a series of side bets at a poker table
    D) none of the above

    Answer: B