Phil Hellmuth on Math, Good Reads and Lay Downs

I recently played the $5,000 buy-in North American Poker Tour event at the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino in Las Vegas. It was great to see so many entrants, plus ESPN2, turn out for the inaugural NAPT events in the Bahamas and in Vegas. I got involved in an interesting hand only a few hours into the poker tournament. Let me set the stage, though, before I discuss the hand.

An unknown player – let's call him Player A — was raising a lot of pots. In an earlier hand against me, he raised under the gun making it $1,600 to go, and I made a bad read and reraised to $5,000 with the Jd-5d. He made the call.

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The flop came 6d-5h-4c and we both checked. The turn was the 7h. He bet $6,000 and I called. The river was a king and we both checked.

When he showed down his pocket nines, I realized that I had made a mistake. I could have won that pot with a raise on the turn. I sensed his weakness. I should have relied on my instincts and made a move.

Okay, so exactly three deals later, I played this hand against the same guy.

I opened for $1,600 with Qs-Qc and he raised to $4,500. I just knew that he had pocket aces. I could feel it. I stared at him, looking for some confirmation. I kept coming back to the same conclusion: He had A-A.

I briefly considered folding right there. I thought that it would be a pretty weak fold, though, against a guy that was playing more hands than anyone else at the table. I called $2,900 more in order to see the flop.

The flop came 10s-5s-4d. I checked and he bet $4,500.

I got the same feeling that I was up against pocket rockets. I counted down my chips and realized that I only had $15,000 left. Could I really lay down this hand? Nope. Not against this guy.

I called over to my buddy, Daniel Negreanu, who was standing nearby. I told him that I used to be able to fold this type of hand when I sensed my opponent had pocket aces, but lately I'd been a bit off my top form.

That's when I announced, “I'm all-in.”

Player A snap-called my all-in bet and I knew I was in trouble. He showed me what I had sensed: two red aces.

From a mathematical perspective, I was destined to go broke on this hand. Consider that Player A had been playing a ton of hands, that I had just mixed it up with him (and lost) three hands earlier, that I didn't have a lot of chips to start with, and that the flop looked great for my hand.

But poker isn't just about math; it's about reading your opponents, too. In my twenty five years playing poker, I've consistently been able to get away from strong hands that other great poker players would have gone broke with. Remember, it was me who laid down a great hand on ESPN and famously said, “I can dodge bullets, baby!”

All-star lay downs are all about reading your opponents, trusting your instincts, and then making the right move. One or two great lay downs per tournament will give you a few extra lives while a few well-timed bluffs will give you a ton of extra chips.

I always try to look for the positives in any situation so here's my bottom line: I made a great read. I knew that Player A had pocket aces. The next time I get that same strong read, I'll go with my instincts and make another legendary lay down!

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