Friday, March 12, 2010

5 Things I Learned From Watching Phil Hellmuth Play Poker at the Bay 101 WPT

5 Things I Learned From Watching Phil Hellmuth Play Poker at the Bay 101 WPT

hellmuth at wsop 2006Image via Wikipedia

The Bay 101 Shooting Stars event had a webcast where you could watch the action live. The camera was fixed and you got to see play at only one table. Overall, it was excellent! If you are a poker club and want to attract more players to your tournaments, this is a great way to do it.

Daniel was the at the featured table on Day 1a, while Phil was at the featured table for the last three days.

I spent a lot of time watching Phil play poker and spotted a few trends in his play. One caveat: you don't get to see hole cards or the community cards. Yesterday, they added a second shot that tried to show the viewer the community cards, but frankly, it was difficult to see.

Giving these limitations, here is my learning from watching the action.

5 Things I Learned From Watching Phil Hellmuth:

1. Players willingly revealed their hole cards to Phil way too often.

At the start of the event, Phil would ask a player what they had. Almost all of the players would not reply.

So Phil started to show his cards to loosen things up. And it worked. I have never witnessed so much sharing at a poker table. I am convinced Phil was getting more information on his opponents than they were getting on him.

A similar thing happened on Day 1a with Daniel Negreanu. But since the players like Daniel, he would just have to ask a player what they had, and often, the player would just tell him! Were all these players lying? Maybe. But, I don't think so.'s tough to lie when you actually show your hand! It was amazing to me. Do these players think Daniel and Phil are going to be their new best friends?

2. Phil often says he has a "good" or a "stronger" hand than the other players.

It was funny how often Phil would say "I had a hand" after the hand had ended. He would sometimes even say what it was to his opponent (or show one or both cards.)

By doing this table talk, my impression is the following:
  • Phil added the perception of strength to every hand he got from the dealer.
  • Phil loosened up his opponents to make it acceptable to share information/hole cards.
  • Phil got his opponents to like him more.
At one point Phil even mentioned how his opponents always tell him how likable he is in person, unlike the way he is shown on TV.

3. Phil was the more aggressive and intimidating player at his table.

Phil raised pre-flop more often than his opponents. His opponents did not want to tangle with Phil, so he would steadily build his stack.

4. Phil played his opponents rather than his own cards.

Clearly, almost every time an opponent checked, Phil would take it as a sign of weakness and bet. Phil was great at playing his opponents whether in position or out of position.

Here is a typical sequence when Phil was in position:

Player A raises pre-flop. Phil calls. It goes heads-up to the flop.
Player A make a c-bet. Phil calls.
Player A checks the turn. Phil bets. Player A takes longer time than usual to decide his play before he mucks.

Here is a typical sequence when Phil was out of position:

Player A raises pre-flop. Phil calls on the big blind. It goes heads-up to the flop.
Phil checks. Player A make a c-bet. Phil calls.
Phil checks the turn. Player A checks the turn.
Phil bets on the river. Player A takes longer time than usual to decide his play before he mucks.

Was Phil floating all these times? I don't know if he had a big hand or not. But, if he had a big hand every time he said he did, than he was playing with a different deck of cards than everyone else:-)

It was like Phil was playing at a higher level of poker--and frankly, I think he was doing just that!

5. Phil was more cautious against the professional players.

When the tables got down to 6 players, Phil was playing against better opponents and a few pros. He was more cautious in his play. And, of course, the pots were going to be a lot bigger with the bigger blinds.

The one additional move he used more often was the pre-flop re-raise against an aggressive player. Phil would identify his aggressive opponent and allow him to win a few hands heads-up with pre-flop folds. However, eventually Phil would re-raise the aggressive players pre-flop, and take down a nice sized pot.


Phil has been playing great against his weaker opponents. He has also gotten lucky a few times where he found pocket Q's vrs pocket 10's, and a boat against a straight. Fact: You gotta be lucky to win a poker tournament.

It will be interesting to see how things go for Phil at the final table. Right now he is in second place in chips.

Since I play in the Bay Area, I think the local players were at a disadvantage in that we do not have much experience in tournaments with this kind of structure or this level of competition.
I believe that the longer rounds and more starting chips gave the local players a false sense of security; that is, you can just wait a lot longer for big cards. Watching Phil and Daniel play poker I can tell you that is not the case if you want to win.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


MicroRoller said...

Sometimes I think people get so excited to be playing a big hand against a poker celeb like PH or DN and they start thinking about what a great story to tell when they get home.

They get so excited thinking about describing the hand to their buddies they wind up talking about it at the table.

It's easy to make good reads on your opponents when they basically just come out and tell you.

They both do a very good job of exploiting this weakness in their opponents.

Anonymous said...

Both your insight and analysis were great. I learned a lot reading this. I watched the days with Phil via UStream, too. Thanks.

Mitchell Cogert said...


What's Your Poker IQ?