I tried something new the day of the $25,000 buy-in World Poker Tour Championship (WPT) event. Rather than sleep in on Day 1, I went to the MGM Grand at 11 a.m. to film the finale for Bravo's "Top Chef" (I was a judge). Afterwards, I went to the gym, and made my customarily late entrance to a Championship poker event - a near-record three hours late.
In this tournament, we started with $50,000 in chips and the blinds were raised very slowly, so that I had over $47,000 in chips when I sat down. The trade-off for the $3,000 chip sacrifice was that I was feeling refreshed, and, of course, I had eaten some very delicious food. Being distracted in this way seemed to suit me well, and I started off on a winning note. Before long, I had accumulated $30,000 in chips, and I was off to a nice start.
I would like to tell you that it was smooth sailing for the rest of the day (we played until 9 p.m.), but the following two hands tell a different story. At around 7:30 p.m., I picked up pocket aces, and decided to play a big pot. Too often lately, I have been playing small pots with pocket aces or pocket kings, and this has been hurting my chances of winning. It's important to play some big pots, at least a few of them per day. With the blinds at $300-$600, and a $75 a player ante, Player A made it $2,100 to go. I decided to make my move, and I reraised it to $7,000 to go, throwing my chips into the pot with the same mannerisms, and same "splash" of the chips that I had used the last time I was caught bluffing. I was sending Player A a false tell of weakness, even though I had the strongest possible hand.
Player A called the $7,000 bet, the flop came down J-10-3, Player A checked, and I bet out $10,000. This was my biggest bet of the day. After a full minute, Player A raised $10,000, and I, knowing full well that Player A had about $45,000 left, moved all-in. Player A called instantly, which is always a bad sign, and showed me pocket 10s. Player A had flopped three 10s! I had finally decided to play a huge pot, with pocket aces no less, and Played A showed me trips, ouch. The next card was a king, and the last card was a nine, so that if I had played my hand slow, and just called his raise before the flop, I would have saved a lot of money (because the final board was four cards to a straight J-10-3-K-9). Do I regret my play here' No, I was trying to play a big pot with pocket aces and it was tough luck that I ran into three 10s.
Pot No. 2 came up about 10 minutes later. A player opened for $2,000 with A-10, I called with 10-10, and Roy Thung called from the small blind. The flop was 6-3-2, Thung checked, the original raiser checked, and now I bet out $4,000 with my pocket 10s. Thung raised it up, making it $6,000 more to call, and the original raiser folded his hand. What to do! Should I fold, should I call $6,000 more, or should I move all-in for $25,000 total?
I began to study Thung, and it occurred to me that I didn't think that he had pocket jacks or pocket queens, and I felt like he would have reraised with pocket kings or pocket aces before the flop. Thus, he had either flopped trips, or he had a pocket pair I could beat. Also, the thought that he may have been bluffing, or that he may have had A-6 in his hand, crossed my mind.
Finally, I moved all-in and Thung called me instantly. Another instant call, another 'uh oh' moment, and Thung did indeed have me beat - he showed me his pocket deuces, which made three of a kind. I had made a bad read; thinking that Thung was weak when he was actually super strong. And now I was in a world of hurt. I couldn't hit two flush cards or two straight cards to win this pot. No, I needed a 10, and unknown to me, the original raiser had folded a 10. Luckily for me, the turn card was the last miracle 10! I figure that I was over a 20-to-1 shot to hit a 10 (44-to-1 plus 43-to-1). Fortunately for me, I won the hand, and ended day one with $82,000 in chips.
If you're curious as to where I stand in this WPT Championship tournament at the moment you're reading this, check out CardPlayer.com for live updates. By the way, the tournament ends on Monday, April 24.
- Phil Hellmuth is a nine-time World Series of Poker champion and the author of "Play Poker like the Pros" and "Bad Beats and Lucky Draws" (both published by HarperCollins).