Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Poker Report and an Amusing Aside

Two words sum up last night’s poker: high variance. It was truly feast or famine night. I think there were more showdowns that ended with “Holy shit!” than ever before, as good hands got beat by great hands that were slow played time and time again. It started for me almost immediately with pocket kings on a flop of K99. I bet, everyone folds but one. Turn is a blank, I bet and get called. River is another blank, I bet and get raised. I call and he turns over 99 for four of a kind. Ouch. Huge hit that early in the night and I was down about $100.

I treaded water, a little gun shy at that point, for a while and then I caught a huge rush of cards. I remarked that we hadn’t seen a flush all night and everyone agreed and I look down to see A9 of spades on the button. Called around to me, I raise, and no one folds, so we’re 8 handed when the flop comes with 458 with two spades. Checked around, I bet, 4 people fold, 3 callers. Turn is a J of spades – beautiful. I bet, 2 drop and one calls me all the way to the river with a flopped straight. Back in the game. I think I won the next 6 or 7 pots in a row and suddenly I was up almost $250.

At this point, I had busted Jeff right out of the game, winning 3 or 4 big pots in a row against him and he’s bitching up a storm. He sits out of the game for a couple rounds then buys back in for $50 and all of a sudden he caught the wave of cards I had just finished. He must have won 7 or 8 hands in a row, a couple of them against me. I took AQ against his AK once and AK against his AA once and in about 15 minutes I went from $250 up to about $60 up. Treaded water the rest of the night and ended up $95 ahead. The good news is that I’m reasonably sure I’m the only player in the game conscious at the moment. I went to bed at midnight and when I woke up around 3 am they were all still playing. And this morning, 2 of the guys were crashed out in my living room. It suddenly occurs to me that perhaps the reason I’m a consistent winner in this game is not so much that I’m a better player but that I’m the only one who doesn’t drink and goes to bed at a reasonable hour. Which is fine by me.

As an aside, I dug this up out of the rec.gambling.poker archives from last year and I’m going to paste it here because I think it’s hilarious. It’s a story told by Paul Phillips about a World Poker Tour event at the Bicycle Club last fall, an event that he eventually finished 2nd in, but this story is from earlier in the tournament before the TV cameras were rolling. Paul is one of the funniest guys I know, and the story also involves two legends of poker, Phil Hellmuth and Johnny Chan. For those not familiar with the poker world, a bit of introduction is in order…

Phil Hellmuth is the John McEnroe of poker. Actually, he’s far worse than McEnroe. He behaves like a spoiled brat most of the time, and god forbid anyone should ever call him with a weaker hand and outdraw him to win, he’ll throw a tantrum. His behavior makes him a target for other players, who love to needle him (if you watched last year’s World Series of Poker coverage on ESPN, you saw Sam Grizzle going so far as to sing songs about Phil after beating him on a hand). He’s also one of the best poker players in the world, at least in no limit hold em tournament play. I think he has won 9 bracelets by winning World Series of Poker events.

Johnny Chan is simply one of the best and most feared poker players in the world. They call him the Orient Express and his table demeanor is intimidating as hell. He won back to back World Series of Poker championships, one of which was featured in the movie Rounders. Anyway, here’s the story, in Paul’s words:

So as I posted here before the tournament began (or maybe I just said it
in pokerstars chat, now I can’t remember) I was dearly hoping to be tabled
alongside hellmuth on the bike. For the final ninety minutes or so I got
my wish, after my table broke and I was moved into the five seat of his.
Huck Seed was in the one seat, Johnny Chan in the seven seat, Bobby Hoff in
the nine seat, and Phil in the eight seat. I immediately observed what a
great privilege it was to be at the same table as Phil and all his bracelets,
and of course things sort of took off from there.

I can’t remember nearly everything I said, though I think some documentary
filmmakers got a lot of it on tape. Suffice to say that I had most of the
table and all of the rail in stitches a lot of the time. Unfortunately it
got a little out of hand when Phil decided to try to fight back — I try
to do funny-mean but Phil just knows mean-mean, so the “fun tenor” of the
needling slipped away quite a bit. Plus I was absolutely exhausted after
the 7:15 PM start time when I hadn’t adjusted to the schedule, so I wasn’t
nearly as sharp as I’d like to have been.

I did quite enjoy that Phil’s main position in his mean-mean was that I
haven’t improved as a poker player in the four years or so that I’ve been
around, and lo and behold I went on to collect 450K from this tournament.
Not that I place much self-esteem in my ability as a poker player; I like
poker and I’m fairly good at it, but I have a good time win or lose, and
I’ve always been fine with letting my results speak for themselves (whatever
it is they want to say.)

One exchange I do remember quite well that sort of sums it up:

Phil: I just speak the truth. That’s all I do, is speak the truth.
Unlike haters like you.

[Yes, he actually called me a hater, just like online.]

Now we play a hand against each other. I raise with garbage, he calls
in the big blind and then checks the flop, I bluff him out — he flopped
bottom pair, ace kicker, with A2s. He shows his hand and folds.

Phil: I don’t think you can beat the deuces but I’ll let you bluff me
out one time. Nice hand.

Johnny [talking to me]: Was it really a nice hand?
Paul: Phil only speaks the truth, so it MUST have been a nice hand!!

This had Johnny laughing like a maniac for some reason. Laughing and
pointing at Phil, definitely enjoying every minute of this. But Phil
considers Johnny a friend and one of the few people who rival his ability
in poker, so this was a crushing blow for him.

Phil: You too, Johnny? You too?
Johnny: Stop talking to me Phil! I’m talking to my friend Paul here.

Shortly after this Phil decides to call the floor on me. He starts making
a big production of how he needs a floorman. Finally the floor comes over
and Phil demands that something be done to me for insulting him, even though
his hands are FAR from clean. The poor floorwoman just stands there kind
of nodding and wondering what the hell he expects her to do.

When she is obviously not going to give me a penalty or anything, Phil
starts berating her for not giving him the respect he deserves. It was
really quite a scene. Finally our table broke for the last few minutes
of the day, and I heard phil gave a bunch of his chips away at the table
he got moved to. He also did a huge all-in overbet against me before
the flop during the needling session, which he almost never does, so I’m
confident it was getting to him.

Hope you enjoyed that story. As an aside to the aside, you simply have to read Hellmuth’s post-WSOP column in Card Player Magazine. Want to hear a little whining? Well this one’s for you then:

Here is a taste of my WSOP run in 2004; brace yourself for some bad beats. On day one, I just seem to lose pot after pot, and I’m down to $4,175 at the first break. I’m almost in tears as I call my parents, but they pump me up, and I come out smoking after the break and get back to $10,000.

Want a little arrogance and haughtiness? Here ya go:

On the sixth hand of day two, I raise with K-10 to $1,500, and get called by two players…The flop comes down 10d 3c 2s, and I bet out $1,200. The next player now makes it $5,000 to go, John folds, and I count my opponent down (he has $8,000 more). I decide that I have the best hand, and that I’m just going to call the $3,800 raise. Why not let him bluff off all of his money?

The next card off is the Qs, I check, and my opponent checks. The last card is the 4h, for a 10d 3c 2s Qs 4h board, and I bet out a mere $800. My opponent calls me, and I say, “Tens,” whereupon he flips over the Q 9. What the heck is going on here? This guy was going to bluff me, Phil Hellmuth, on the sixth hand of the day? Uh-uh, this was not going to happen, but then he hits the miracle queen, and wins only $800 more from there? Que pasa? A $15,000 pot lost just like that!

Want some ridiculous rationalizations for bad decisions? Oh, do we have a perfect example for you. Look at this spectacular example of how to pretend you did the right thing when the truth is you got outplayed:

It is now announced that they will break my table, and I’m dealt Q-Q under the gun. I make it $1,800 to go, and now I’m freaking out thinking I’m going to lose this pot to K-K. Everyone folds to the big blind, who is the guy who beat me with Q-9 earlier in the day. He moves all in for my whole $18,000. Finally, I fold my hand faceup, and he shows me A-K.

The very next hand, at a different table now, I’m still talking about throwing away pocket queens when I pick up pocket queens again and open for $1,800. Incredibly, the big blind moves me all in! This time, I feel that my opponent has J-J or worse, but I still fold my hand faceup. The big blind shows 7-7. I don’t mind this at all. After all, I could have gone out if he hit a 7. Besides that, who in WSOP history will ever lay down Q-Q in back-to-back hands for a single reraise?

That’s right. He has the lead in both hands, lays down pocket queens in both hands, the second time to a far smaller pocket pair making him a huge favorite to win the pot, but that’s okay because, after all, the guy might have hit his three of a kind. As the kid in American Beauty says, never underestimate the power of denial. But wait, he’s not done whining yet:

Now, near the end, I actually did have tears in my eyes behind my fine mirrored Oakleys, so no one could see them. Why had all of this garbage happened to me? Are you kidding me? Is this even remotely fair? At the break, my parents had finally arrived in town to console me and pump me up.

Someone needs a shrink. Or maybe a pacifier, a blankie and a nap.

Follow-up: Perry Friedman, of the infamous Tiltboys, started this hilarious thread in the poker newsgroup, If Shaq were Phil Hellmuth Jr:

We’d be hearing now about how the Lakers lost beause Detroit played
so badly.

Then we’d hear something like:

“I had three oppportunities to dunk, but I was able to see into the soul
of the defenders and I knew I was going to get blocked, and I made a
brilliant decision to pass the ball… I knew if they kept playing me
that way, I’d get my opportunities to score.”

James Monroe adds:

Shaq: “I actually had tears in my eyes at halftime, until I called my parents and my mommy pumped me up.”

Hysterical. Hellmuth is such an easy target because his behavior is so ridiculous, but the fact that he’s so fucking egotistical makes you want to pour it on.