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Dancing with JC Tran

JC Tran is truly a great poker player. In fact, I'd call him a natural-born Texas Hold'em player. He's a two-time WSOP bracelet winner and was the World Poker Tour Season Five Player of the Year.

In my opinion, there just aren't that many Hold'em players of his caliber among the top professionals in the world today. Don't get me wrong, there are a bunch of natural talents in the game today, but many of those specialize in other games, like Seven Card Stud or Pot Limit Omaha. For some reason, Texas Hold'em just doesn't come that easy to those other guys.

JC and I were playing in the Premiere League IV playoff tournament in Las Vegas last week. We were facing off against each other in our second heat when this sick hand came up.

With six players remaining and the blinds at $3,000/$6,000, JC limped in with 5s-4s. Two other players folded and I made it $30,000 to go with 10-2 offsuit from the small blind.

Let me digress for a moment. It's important to note that there had been some recent playing history between JC and me.

First, I had reraised JC four times with absolutely nothing within the prior twenty minutes and never once showed a single bluff. Second, JC had reraised me only a few minutes earlier. Third, I had raised or reraised eight out of the last ten hands that were dealt. And fourth, JC and I both started this hand with around $300,000 in chips.

Okay, back to the hand.

JC called my raise with his 5s-4s and the flop came Ad-9h-2s. I bet $35,000 and JC called.

The 7h fell on the turn and I bet out $48,000. JC, following through with his bluff, calmly counted out a big raise to $109,000.

I paused for a while, considering all my options. I was thinking that there were no draws on the flop so he probably had me beat. I also had a vague feeling that he could have had a hand like J-10, in which case I had him beat, but I couldn't beat any sort of real hand. One more thing, he had another $150,000 remaining in his stack.

My conclusion: I had to either move all-in or fold. I decided to fold.

Believe it or not, I don't really mind the way I played this hand although it could be argued that a more conservative approach would have been better. When I busted out in sixth place and received a mere three points in the league standings, I certainly had to reconsider my super-aggressive play.

I could have easily ramped down my aggression and cruised into at least a fifth place finish but that's not what I decided to do.

I like my $35,000 bet on the flop and I like my $48,000 bet on the turn. The turn bet should have forced JC to fold - it would have worked against 97% of the players in the world, but not JC. I give him a ton of credit for his strong play in this hand. No wonder he's the defending Premiere League Champion.

If I had thought that JC was capable of making such an aggressive raise at the end, perhaps I would have made the super-hero move and shoved all-in over the top which would have forced JC to fold his hand. Now that would have been an amazing personal highlight reel play!

The fact is, either JC or I could have won this hand. It was just a matter of who blinked first -- and this time it was me!

-Phil Hellmuth


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