• Protect Your Pocket Eights With A Raise

    Date: 2007.11.05 | Category: Hand Of The Week | By: Phil Hellmuth   

    I recently played on NBC’s “Poker after Dark.” I won the $120,000 first-place prize (which I detailed in my last column) in my first appearance of the 2008 season (next season’s shows are being filmed now). Now I was making my second appearance. Even though the show is six days long, five days of play and then a “director’s cut” on Saturday night; we film it in one five- or six-hour long session. In any case, my second show was entitled “The Bad Boys of Poker,” and featured Mike “The Mouth” Matusow, Gavin Smith, Bobby Bellande (the poker player from “Survivor”), Sean “The Sheik” Sheikhan, Sam Grizzle and I. One thing was for sure about this lineup: It was loud!

    Immediately, I lost a few pots and my chips dwindled down to around $15,000 from my $20,000 starting stack. I didn’t panic: The same thing had happened to me the day I won. I reasoned that I had plenty of time to come back as the blinds moved up super slowly for the first three hours (it was a great structure). I knew that patience would keep me alive and give me a good chance to thrive. About 45 minutes into the thing I caught my first break. The Sheik limped in for $200 (the blinds were $100-$200), Matusow made it $1,200 to go, and I made it $4,500 to go with K-K. Matusow then moved me all-in with his pocket nines, and I insta-called. Matusow took quite a bit of heat from the other players for his move; none of whom wanted me to have the chip lead. Sheik said, “Mike, you idiot, what were you doing doubling up Phil with pocket nines?” Bellande said, “Dude, we had Phil on the ropes, and now you made all of our lives more difficult!” The verbal barrage against Matusow continued for a while, but what do you expect from this bad boys’ show?

    In truth, Matusow berated his own play saying, “I don’t know what happened to me there. I know better than to play a big pot with Phil in that spot. I was thinking that I could take him out for only $14,000. I’m sorry, guys!” I agree with Matusow’s own assessment, he should have folded before the flop, or called the raise, but never moved all-in. He knows that I don’t want to risk my whole tournament with A-K that early as the blinds were only $100-$200. Thus he has to put me on a pocket pair bigger than nines, in fact he has to put me on a pair much bigger than nines.

    A few hours later, when we were five-handed, I played a hand in a very nontraditional way. With the blinds at $300-$600, I called with 8-8 on the button after the other two players folded. Smith called in the small blind with 5d-4d, and Bellande checked with A-2. The flop was A-8-3, and we all checked. The turn card was a five (A-8-3-5), Smith and Bellande checked again, and I bet out $1,200. Now Smith called, and Bellande raised it up to $3,500 to go (a $2,300 raise). I thought to myself, “Jackpot! Assuming that they do not have 4-2 for a straight, how do I get the most money out of this hand?” I opted to make it $6,000 to go (a $2,500 raise), then Smith folded and Bellande moved me all-in for my last $12,000 or so. I insta-called, and Bellande needed a four, and only a four, to win the pot on the last card. When no four hit, I had the chip lead.

    Let’s take a closer look at the play of this hand. Limping in with 8-8 on the button is a play that is not, and has not been used too often historically. The traditional way to play this hand is too raise it up about three times the big blind ($1,800 or so) before the flop. A raise protects your hand (giving you a better chance of winning with it), defines your hand and gives you a better chance to win a big pot. Limping in is dangerous in that the flop could come down 6-5-5, and now you’re set up to lose a lot with your eights. In this case, you’ve given your opponents a “free chance” to beat you out of a lot of chips. Raising it up gives you a great chance to win $900 (both blinds), and when you do lose to the 5-4 on the 6-5-5 flop, then you say, “I played that hand so bad! I should have won $900, and instead lost $4,000.” There is a reason that traditional tactics demand a raise here. Of course, I don’t always play by the book, and I ask myself, “Isn’t it true that I’m also giving my opponents the ‘free chance’ to lose more money to my eights?” Checking the flop was a sharp move for all of us, with Bellande and I worrying that we were so strong that we didn’t want to lose our opponent’s by making a bet. On the turn, I like Smith’s and Bellande’s checks, I like my bet, I like Smith’s call and I even like Bellande’s initial raise. Once I reraised, I hate Bellande’s all-in move. I have shown significant strength, and he should have folded.

    Traditional thinking is strong:
    A) Most of the time
    B) Can be wrong sometimes
    C) Should be examined and challenged
    D) All of the above

    Answer: D