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Phil Hellmuth On Matusow Exploits an Opponent's Tell

ESPN had to make a difficult decision when they aired the 2005 World Series of Poker Main Event. Should they televise the table featuring well-known pro Mike "The Mouth" Matusow and nine other unknowns or the one with Hall of Famers Phil Ivey and John Juanda, along with two other respected pros, Can Hua and Farzad "Freddy" Bonyadi?

Not surprisingly, ESPN chose the table with The Mouth.

Poker on television is all about entertainment. And although it's debatable whether Matusow will ever make it to the Hall of Fame, there's just no doubt about it, he's certainly entertaining to watch. You never know if he'll laugh or cry, needle another player to death, or do the famous Matusow blowup by giving away all of his chips in one fell swoop after several days of great play.

But despite Mike's eccentricities, never forget his good heart and the fact that he truly is a great player, with championships and millions of dollars of prize money to prove it.

Even though Ivey's table would feature much more advanced poker play, Mike's game simply would be more fun to watch. And much like professional wrestling, excitement and personality are the most appealing elements of televised poker.

Anyway, back to the tournament.

Matusow had deciphered a key tell on a fairly inexperienced brick-and-mortar player named Dustin Woolf. Though relatively new to the brick-and-mortar game, Woolf was a legend in the internet poker world, where he was better known by his handle -- Neverwin. Ironically, Neverwin had already won millions of dollars playing online poker.

Still, the difference between playing online poker and playing brick-and-mortar poker, face to face, is like night and day. Obviously, you don't have to disguise yourself online and you don't have to worry about revealing physical tells. After all, when you're in your den, it's just you and your computer. There's no one looking you in the eye when you're attempting a bluff.

Well, here's what Mike saw. When Woolf had a strong hand, he'd always throw his chips into the pot in a splashing sort of way -- imagine a stack of chips falling over when an opponent flings them into the pot. But when Woolf had a weak hand, he'd always say, "I raise," and then carefully place his chips in the pot.

Mike stored away that information, waiting until he had the opportunity to take full advantage of his opponent's tell.

Then it happened. A player called a $10,000 bet and so did Mike with Qh-Jh. Woolf hesitated for a moment, then declared a raise and carefully set a big stack of $80,000 chips into the pot.

Mike immediately recognized the weak tell and conjured up a plan. But rather than reraise immediately and take down the $100,000-plus pot, he decided to smooth-call and wait for his opponent to bluff once again on the flop.

The flop was a good one for Mike, K-10-4, giving him an open-ended straight draw. This time, Woolf bet out $250,000, saying, "I bet," and precisely placing his chips into the pot.

Feeling even more confident in his read, Mike decided to let Woolf bluff one more time and just called the bet. A six fell on the turn and Woolf checked. Now it was time for Mike to make his move - and he did, pushing all-in. No surprise, Woolf folded his hand lightning fast and Mike raked the $330,000 into his stack.

Let's see, that's $330,000 for Mike because he was perceptive enough to pick up a revealing tell on his opponent and was able to use his extraordinary poker skills to take full advantage of the situation.

No doubt about it, Matusow was the right choice for the TV table after all!


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