Poker After Dark returned with new episodes this week, and brought together a very interesting collection of players for a two-week cash game, with a minimum buy-in of $50,000. The lineup featured, in order of their seating positions, Chris Ferguson, Phil Hellmuth, Antonio Esfandiari, Brandon Adams, Todd Brunson and Mike Matusow.
Right from the start, Esfandiari tried to jack up the action by instituting the seven-deuce game that had led to so many huge pots in a previous season of High Stakes Poker. The game is a simple one, where every player at the table pays $500 to any player who shows a winning hand with seven-deuce. Ferguson, however, had never played this variation before, and being the game theory specialist that he is, refused to play. This led to a continual and unending stream of abuse for Ferguson, particularly from Matusow, who began referring to Ferguson as “the nit in seat 1.” Both Matusow and Esfandiari kept up the pressure, talking about how Ferguson was the richest man in poker (he is part-owner of Full Tilt Poker) and that they couldn’t believe how cheap he was. Ferguson took all the abuse with his usual aplomb and good humor, at one point stating that he didn’t think he could put so many players on tilt just by saying no.
The other main, side story of the table was the continuing war between Esfandiari and Phil Hellmuth, whom Esfandiari has just owned for a number of years, with the battle coming to a head in their most recent Poker After Dark encounter, when Hellmuth literally allowed himself to be anted out, as Esfandiari raised his blinds over and over again while Hellmuth waited for a hand. This time, the two were sitting right next to one another, with Esfandiari having position to Hellmuth’s left.
The first interesting hand came when Ferguson raised to $600 (blinds were $100-200 with a $25 ante) with pocket threes on the button. Hellmuth flat-called in the small blind with a pair of eights, but Esfandiari decided to put in a raise to $2,100 with K-J. However, Ferguson, who was to play quite a bit more loosely than most of the players expected from him, put in a re-raise to $6,100, and after Hellmuth took a major ration of grief from Matusow for taking a lot of time to make a decision, going so far as to walk away from the table to get his sunglasses, he folded, and so did Esfandiari.
The first potentially big hand of the week started with Ferguson raising to $500 with , which Adams called on the button with and Matusow also called in the big blind with . The flop promised fireworks, as the gave both Ferguson and Adams huge flushes. Ferguson bet out $1,100, and Adams, with Matusow still to act behind him, just called. Matusow folded, and the two remaining players saw a turn of the . With the fourth flush card on the board, Ferguson tried to control the size of the pot by checking, and Adams bet $2,500, which Ferguson called. The river did not bring Ferguson his one out ( for the straight flush), but was the instead. Ferguson checked again, and Adams, not quite certain how best to bet-size, decided to at least collect something, and bet $1,000, which Ferguson called. All the players marveled at how close Ferguson had come to being stacked.
Next came what turned out to be the largest pot of the week, which occurred during a round of live straddles, with Matusow the $400 straddler on this hand. Esfandiari raised to $1,125 on the button with Q-J and Matusow just called with A-J. When the flop came J-7-A, Matusow checked and Esfandiari bet out $1,800. Matusow quickly raised to $5,000, trying to put out a reverse tell to confuse Esfandiari, who called the bet. When the came on the turn, giving Esfandiari a weaker two pair, Matusow bet $5,000 into the $12,700 in the middle, only to have Esfandiari raise to $15,500, which Matusow called. With a pot of $43,700, the was the river card. Matusow checked, but Esfandiari bet $12,000. Matusow thought long and hard, but finally made the call, and won the $67,700 pot.
A number of times during the week, Ferguson took advantage of Esfandiari’s aggressive style, as Esfandiari tried to push the usually-tight Ferguson off hands both pre and post-flop. On one hand, Ferguson raised to $600 with A-Q, only to have Esfandiari re-raise to $2,500 with K-J. But Ferguson raised it once more, to $6,100 and Esfandiari folded. On another one, Ferguson raised to $600 with , only to see Hellmuth (7-7), Esfandiari (button with Q-9) and Brunson (big blind with K-J) make the call. The flop was 9-J-2, with two diamonds. When Ferguson opened for $1,600 after a check from Brunson, Hellmuth folded, but Esfandiari raised to $5,300 with middle pair. Brunson then folded what was actually the best hand at that point, but Ferguson made a big re-raise to $18,600, and Esfandiari folded to the pressure.
Hellmuth and Esfandiari went at it a few times, with Hellmuth getting slightly the better of it when he took a fairly sizeable pot off Esfandiari with top pair, top kicker against Esfandiari’s weaker kicker. Hellmuth’s strategy was to continually call and try and trap Esfandiari into mistakes, but his overall passive play was not making him much money.
The seven-deuce argument finally saw Ferguson agree to play the game for $200, rather than $500, but the others refused for anything less than $300, which Ferguson wouldn’t agree to. And that led to the most enjoyable hand of the week: Matusow raised to $625 with , only to have Ferguson re-raise to $2,000 with, you guessed it, ! Ferguson had hoped to take it down right there, and show the hand in all good humor, but Matusow wound up calling. The flop of 10-A-Q, with two hearts, gave Matusow a stranglehold on the hand, and he checked. Ferguson bet $2,500, and Matusow just called. When the came on the turn, Matusow checked again and Ferguson fired a second bullet, this time $6,000, which Matusow called once again. Now, the fell on the river, giving Matusow two pair, and he checked a third time. Ferguson, sensing the opportunity to represent a rivered straight, kept the pressure on by firing out a bet of $12,000. Matusow, whose read had Ferguson with a jack, or even a pair of jacks, wound up folding. Ferguson showed the bluff, saying “I really like playing this deuce-seven game!”
The players will re-draw for seats next week for the second half of the game, which figures to have even more action. See you then!
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