• Shak Fires the Third Bullet

    Date: 2008.04.07 | Category: Hand Of The Week | By: Phil Hellmuth   

    Last week, I watched NBC’s “Poker After Dark,” which featured Gus and the girls. That is, Gus Hansen, Clonie Gowen, Erica Schoenberg, Vanessa Rousso, J.J. Liu and Beth Shak. FYI: I like all six players, and they are well liked on the poker tour. Of course, a lot of beauty surrounded the table in this match (not Gus)! In “PAD,” the six players buy-in for $20,000, and first place is a winner-take-all prize of $120,000. “PAD” reminds me of the old days when I used to play primarily with great players — the same ones that regularly compete on the show now. These days, I’m not around the poker tour as much — until the World Series of Poker events begin — and I miss the guys and gals. I miss the witty banter, the big mood swings (OK, that’s just me), the intelligent conversations, the side bets, the high-stakes poker and the feel of competing against the best.

    In our hand of interest, with the blinds at $100 to $200, Shak opened for $600 under the gun with A-J off suit. Schoenberg called — in second position — with the 9c-8c, and everyone else folded. The flop was Q-Q-8, Shak bet out $1,200, and Schoenberg called. On the turn, a five hit: Shak bet out $2,500 quickly, and Schoenberg took her time before she called. On the river, a nine hit: Shak bet out $5,000 immediately, and Schoenberg studied a while before she finally sighed and folded her hand.

    Let’s break down this hand. Shak’s first-position opening bet of $600 was pretty standard. I do not like Schoenberg’s second-position call with 9c-8c, but it is not a bad call by any means. Most of the players on tour would call with her hand in this situation; after all, it only cost 3 percent ($600) of her remaining stack ($20,000) to make the call. Personally, I do not like the call for two reasons:

    1) Her position is poor. If any of the four remaining players reraise before the flop, she is then forced to fold her hand.
    2) Playing a hand like 9-8 often puts a lot of pressure on your reading ability. When it comes 10-8-2 (or Q-Q-8), you have to decide whether your hand is good or not.

    I like Shak’s $1,200 bet on the flop. It was aggressive, and gives her a chance to win the pot if A-J is the best hand, like when Schoenberg calls a raise with A-10, K-J or something similar. Also, it gives Shak a chance to win the pot with the worst hand, like when Schoenberg has a small pair, say, 3-3. Schoenberg’s $1,200 call was pretty standard and natural. On the turn, Shak stepped up her aggression. Her $2,500 bet was a pure bluff — Shak must have known that Schoenberg had the best hand. But Shak also assumed that Schoenberg wasn’t strong; that’s why she tried to bluff the pot away from Schoenberg.

    To me, Shak’s bet here was a good one. More often than not, I would just give up and check. I give Shak’s bet the nod because she was willing to fire the “third bullet” — the $5,000 third big bluff in one hand — on the river! Schoenberg’s $2,500 call on the turn was a good one. Shak’s $5,000 bet on the river, although a bit too hasty in my book, was a great one. Rarely do you see a player with the courage to bluff three times: Shak has guts! I do not mind Schoenberg’s fold on the river. After all, her choices were that Shak bluffed three times or she had a pocket pair over eights or the nine hit her (like when Shak has J-10 or A-9) or she had three queens. If Schoenberg had called the $5,000 bet on the river, I would give her a lot of credit; but I will not criticize her fold, which was the natural play to make.

    Over the years, much has been said about the ability to fire the mythical third bullet. The one thing that separated the late, great Stu Ungar from the rest of the poker impresarios, according to Mike Sexton, was Ungar’s ability to make three big bluffs in one hand.

    Most of us sane players are afraid to fire the third bullet. It really is a tough thing to do, when you almost know that you’re going to get called. Why risk chips in a hopeless situation? Why throw good money after bad? It wasn’t the World Series of Poker, but give Shak credit for being courageous. By the way, Shak (second) and Schoenberg (fourth) both made the final four in no-limit hold ’em tournaments at the 2007 WSOP with huge fields of at least 800 players.