Back at the World Poker Tour's Bay 101 Shooting Star tournament final table, with the blinds at $10,000/$20,000, I managed to get $800,000 into the poker pot before the flop with pocket queens. At the time, there were six players remaining with $870,000 in prize money going to the winner but only $120,000 to the next one out. Here's how the hand played out.
I limped in with my big pocket pair from the small blind. My opponent, a kid in the big blind, raised it up $55,000 into the $50,000 pot and I reraised an additional $200,000. No more slow playing this hand for me. My big over-raise sent a strong message, right? Pot over, send the chips to me.
Nope, the kid moves all-in for $800,000. I quickly call and he turns over Ac-Jc.
Are you kidding me? The kid had been playing with me for two days; he knew that I never played a big pot. I suddenly ship $255,000 into a smallish pot and he thinks his A-J is good? Come on, that's the world's easiest laydown!
The flop came K-6-5 and a ten hit on the turn. The kid could only beat me with one of three aces or one of two queens on the river to win the pot. I was so close to the chip lead — just one card away. I'd been playing so well that I deserved the win.
And the river card was . . . an ace!
I sat stunned for almost a minute. Surely the “Old Phil” would have told the kid what the score really was. That Phil would have given the kid a lecture about what a horrendous move he had just made, and how he wasn't even in the same Zip code skill-wise as him.
It didn't happen, though. Instead, I was the perfect gentleman, but that loss really was a huge test for me.
I slowly rose from my chair, shook everyone's hand at the final table, and I wished them good luck. And then I lost it. Overcome with emotion, I walked to a dimly lit corner and literally fell to my hands and knees. Another minute later, I realized that the cameras were probably still focused on me. Though I wanted to stay down and lick my wounds, I knew I had to act like a man and get up and do my exit interview.
I signed a non-stop stream of autographs while waiting for my payout until I was called back to the stage by tournament director Matt Savage.
“Phil Hellmuth, please come back to the final table area,” said Savage. Great, I thought, this is the Shooting Star tournament and now I have to sign a T-shirt for the kid that knocked me out — the same kid who actually told me just an hour earlier that he was a better player than me.
I somehow managed to put a smile on my face. I told myself to stop whining and act like the poker champion that I am. Well, as I entered the room, the crowd greeted me with a standing ovation. I signed the T-shirt, “Good luck, Phil Hellmuth Jr.”, and then received yet another warm round of applause. I felt as if the poker world was truly embracing me.
As far as the hand is concerned, some internet posters referred to it as a cooler but I completely disagree. A cooler would have been pocket kings against my pocket queens. But that's really beside the point.