After a highly entertaining two hours of coverage of Day 2A of the 2009 Main Event last week, featuring Jason Alexander and Greg Raymer doing their best poker vaudevillian act, ESPN turned tonight to Day 2B. Due to the lopsided registration of the four Day Ones, there were more players remaining for the second of the Day Twos. Would this provide ESPN with more good hands to choose from, or just confuse the issue and make it harder to craft a good telecast? Let’s see how it played out…..
It was clear from the beginning of the show that the network’s focus was going to be on Phil Hellmuth. While Hellmuth had been held up to a fair amount of ridicule from Norman Chad for his entrance as Caesar on Day One, it was clear that he came to play on Day Two. In the past few years, most of Hellmuth’s exposure on television showed him playing largely premium hands, and often folding to strong re-raises when he didn’t hold the nuts. On Day Two of the Main Event, he came out with a very different starting strategy. On the very first hand of the day, he raised to 1,500 with , and when Ben Sprengers, who was to tangle with Hellmuth many times during the telecast, popped it to 5,200 with just an off-suit 6-5, Hellmuth called! The flop was J-5-6, with the 5 and 6 being clubs. Sprengers bet out 4,100 with his two pair, and Phil raised all-in with his straight flush draw! Sprengers called, and Hellmuth survived the coin flip by hitting his flush on the turn and avoiding another 5 or 6 on the river.
Soon after, Sprengers bet 1,300 with , Hector Lopez, in the small blind, called with and Hellmuth called in the big blind with 8-4 offsuit! The flop of 5-6-7 had two hearts. Sprengers bet 2,800, Lopez put in a raise, which Hellmuth and Sprengers both called. The turn brought the , and Lopez wound up raising Hellmuth all-in with absolutely nothing. Hellmuth showed his straight and eliminated Lopez.
Later on, Hellmuth channeled his inner Gus Hansen with a raise to 1,500 under the gun with . Todd “dan druff” Witteles, who was one of the players who helped uncover the superuser scandal on Ultimate Bet, Hellmuth’s online site, called with pocket threes, as did Matt Calhoun with A-10 offsuit. The flop brought 2-3-8, with two hearts. There were two checks to Witteles, who bet 3,000, which Hellmuth called. Phil then hit his flush when the fell on the turn, and Witteles wound up all-in with his set, which didn’t improve on the river.
Meanwhile, one of the funniest moments of the night came after Scotty Nguyen’s elimination hand. The player who knocked him out, Brandon Lee, said after the hand that he had bet that Scotty would outlast Phil Ivey in the Main Event, so his knockout of the Poker Prince had actually COST him about $200!
Over at the second table, we were treated to a number of hands featuring last year’s November Nine participant, Dennis Phillips, Michael “the Grinder” Mizrachi, and Maria “Maridu” Mayrinck. Early on, Phillips made a loose turn call with a flush draw against Mizrachi’s trips, only to hit his flush on the river. The Grinder made the good read and the good laydown to Phillips’ river bet. Later, we saw Mizrachi’s exit hand, when his straight flush draw failed to connect against Kelly Slay’s top pair. During the telecast, we saw Mayrinck have trouble figuring out Phillips’ varying betting strategies with pocket aces, to which she lost two hands against Phillips.
Back at the feature table, which commentator Chad was calling the “Phil and Ben show,” Hellmuth and Sprengers got into a raising war, when Hellmuth raised to 1,800 with pocket queens, only to have Sprengers re-raise to 5,600 with K-9 offsuit. When Hellmuth made it 10,000, Sprengers raised once again to 26,000. Hellmuth then went all-in, and Sprengers folded. Hellmuth made it very clear that he was not afraid to be eliminated, and that he was going to continue to go with his reads, which to this point had been spot on.
The teaser for the second hour suggested that we would not only see Hellmuth in the second hour, but also Phil Ivey, who had only been briefly viewed in the first hour. Unfortunately, with Ivey still on an outer table, we only got glimpses of how he put together his big stack. Early in the hour, he called an all-in from another player whose stack size was only slightly smaller. Ivey’s pocket kings held up against Big Slick, and he vaulted up among the chip leaders, where he remained for the rest of Day Two.
The Phil and Ben show got cancelled after Sprengers’ two pair was rivered by a better two pair by Matt Calhoun, and then pocket queens beat his A-K. However, Hellmuth found a new foil sitting just to his left in Daniel Vorbeck. Hellmuth continued his somewhat unpredictable play with a 3x raise to 1,800 with under the gun. When Vorbeck re-raised to 6,600 with pocket queens, Hellmuth called, and both saw a flop of 8-A-A, with two diamonds. After both players checked, and the fell on the turn, Hellmuth bluffed the ace by over betting the pot with a 19,000 stab at the existing 15,300, saying he had over bet, “just in case you have the red queens.” Despite Hellmuth’s perfect read, Vorbeck called, and the river saw Hellmuth shut it down, as Vorbeck checked it down and took the pot.
Overall, this was a night for Phil Hellmuth to show why he has won 11 bracelets in no limit hold’em during his illustrious career. While he justifiably takes quite a lot of abuse for some of his over-the-top showmanship and his “Poker Brat” persona, tonight reminded everyone watching just why he has been one of the best no limit tournament players in history for so long.
Next week: Day Three. I’ll see you there!
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