Whatever else you can say about Phil Hellmuth, he is always guaranteed to provide entertainment at a high-stakes cash game, as you wait for the almost inevitable train wreck to take place, along with a good dose of bad table behavior. This week’s PokerStars Big Game featured Hellmuth in Seat Six, along with, in order of position, Loose Cannon Andre Capella, Dani Stern, Prahlad Friedman, Eugene Katchalov and Daniel Negreanu. Capella was by far the oldest Loose Cannon (staked to $100,000 by PokerStars, and needing to turn a profit to walk away with any money) thus far, at 76 years young. His life history as a race-car driver and part-time gold miner was a fascinating one, but his early life “need for speed” did not at all translate into a fast style of poker play.
With Hellmuth in the house, co-hosts Chris Rose and Joe Stapleton were armed with literally dozens of barbs to aim at the Poker Brat throughout the week. When the players were discussing what professions they would likely be in if they weren’t poker players, Stapleton chimed in for a silent Hellmuth “How about sommelier? He’d still do nothing but wine (whine)!” And later, after Stern asked if Hellmuth always wore a hat to disguise a lack of hair, only to have Hellmuth reveal a very full mane, Stapleton contributed “I can dodge baldness, baby!”
Despite the steady stream of jibes fired his way, and Negreanu’s constant attacks on Hellmuth for being a nit (an excessively tight player), Hellmuth actually radically altered his usually tight style, and was one of the most aggressive players at the table for most of the week, freely three-betting, refusing to fold to other’s three-bets, and continuing to play over half the time against continuation bets on the flop. It turned what figured to be an already unpredictable game into even more of a minefield for everyone.
Capella really had no chance at all against this group of professionals. Unlike some of the previous Loose Cannons, Capella never varied from a very weak-tight style, limping with most of his hands, and making such small raises and bets that his opponents were constantly priced in until they ran him down. In addition, the cards weren’t running his way either, and it was just a matter of time before he busted. Half his stack disappeared when Hellmuth sickly hit running eights on the turn and river for three of a kind against Capella’s pocket jacks (Hellmuth had J-8 and was just playing the hand to see if he could steal it late before he hit his miracles).
Much of the rest of Capella’s stake went to Negreanu when Negreanu hit a tiny pair on the flop against him, and Capella never bet enough to push Negreanu off the hand. He finally went home when Stern turned two pair against him when both flopped top pair, with Capella holding the better kicker. Although these hands might suggest that Capella was just a victim of bad luck, he simply didn’t have the skill set to compete in this company, and he almost certainly would have busted some other time during the week. After he exited, Jason Mercier took his seat for the rest of the play.
Meanwhile, the real action at the table usually went through Dani Stern, Eugene Katchalov, and Phil Hellmuth. Katchalov got off to an early lead, and Stern was down over $60,000, when, after a lengthy series of smaller pots, Katchalov, with Stern straddling, raised to $3,000 with . Stern made it $10,200 with (these types of play were the norm for almost all the players this week, making for very exciting high-wire play), and Katchalov called. The flop was A-Q-8, with one diamond. With $21,600 already in the pot, Stern bet $14,000 and Katchalov called. The deadly came on the turn, giving Stern a full house and Katchalov the (useless) nut flush draw. Stern made it $31,000 this time, and Katchalov called once again. With $111,600 in the middle, the two saw a river of the . Stern went all-in for his last $64,900, and while Katchalov ruminated, the other players ran over to hostess Amanda Leatherman to speculate on the hand (this was the first time this had happened in the six weeks the show was on the air, but not the last time it was to occur this week). Katchalov finally found the proper laydown.
Hellmuth had been cruising along, using his new aggression to great advantage, as, for the first part of the week, the other players respected his usual tight table image and folded better hands to Hellmuth’s numerous bets and raises at various points in the hands. However, in typical Hellmuth style, he managed to give all his profits back and then some when he flopped top two pair with J-9, but couldn’t get away from it when Stern called his post-flop raise and then hit an open-ended straight on the turn. While Hellmuth’s fortunes took a hit, Stern had gone from down over $60,000 to a profit of over $150,000 after these two huge pots. After this hand, Hellmuth and Stern got into a nasty fight, with Stern refusing to back down from Helllmuth’s bullying. This hand was the turning point for the week, as it pushed Hellmuth to the verge of tilt, where he was to remain through the rest of the game’s twists and turns.
In a hand that typified the levels of thinking that were taking place within this group, Hellmuth raised pre-flop with . Seeing that Hellmuth was raising lots of hands, Mercier then made it $11,500 with K-Q on the button. However, Stern, being aware both that Hellmuth was consistently making moves like that AND that Mercier would likely have picked up on it and could have made a light 3-bet in position, decided to 4-bet OUT OF POSITION to $26,000 with !!!!! The other two players folded, and Stern’s rampage continued.
Going into the last day of play, with chip stacks all over the map, the players agreed to play the straddle consistently, insuring even bigger pots. With Stern leading the way with almost a $200,000 profit, he raised to $3,000 with pocket kings. Hellmuth, up $18,000, made it $9,000 with pocket queens. As each had made these types of bets with a remarkable range of hands all week, there was no reason for Stern to tip off his hand with a four-bet, and he just called. The flop was J-8-K. Hellmuth checked, and Stern bet $11,000 into the $19,200 pot. Hellmuth called, and another jack came on the turn. This time, Stern bet $30,000, and Hellmuth quickly called again. The fell on the river, and Stern put Hellmuth all-in for his last $60,000 or so (the pot already had $101,200 in it). Hellmuth went into a “Why do I even come here?” speech, and while Hellmuth agonized over whether Stern could be bluffing him, the other players raced over to Amanda, with all of them agreeing that there was a 0% chance that Stern was bluffing, Mercier called Hellmuth’s hand exactly, and Negreanu agreed with him. Negreanu stated that Hellmuth badly wanted to call, because if he were to be right, “He’ll feel like Superman.” Hellmuth kept trying to talk himself into making the call, but finally folded, leading to the inevitable muttering about his hands never holding up (never mind that he was behind from step one of the hand), and beginning a typical Hellmuthian death spiral.
Hellmuth went further into the hole in a hand against Mercier. Hellmuth called in the big blind with and Mercier checked his straddle with 4-3 offsuit. The flop of 4-5-K brought a bet of $1,200 from Mercier and an immediate check-raise to $4,000 from Hellmuth. Mercier made the call. The turn was the , and Hellmuth fired out another $8,000, which Mercier called once again. Hellmuth shut it down when the river brought the . Mercier checked behind, and Hellmuth was left furious, muttering “the bad players call with bottom pair,” earning the wrath and ridicule of the rest of the table, since Mercier is, of course, one of the best players in the world.
After Hellmuth made another terrible call on the river with just ace-high against Katchalov’s turned flush, he decided to put on the double straddle, also announcing that he would “ship it weak.” Mercier limped for $1,600 with , and was followed into the pot by Katchalov with and Negreanu (6-5 offsuit). Hellmuth decided just to check his option with 9-5, and the four saw a flop of 7-9-4. Katchalov, with top pair, bet $3,200. Negreanu then made it $10,200, and Hellmuth went all-in for his last $31,300, which got Katchalov to fold a better hand. However, Negreanu decided that the odds he was getting were too good to fold, and made the call. Hellmuth decided he only wanted to run it one time, and Negreanu then turned the straight with the on the turn. The on the river didn’t give Hellmuth the card he needed to chop the pot, and Hellmuth was felted once again in a televised high-stakes cash game.
Stern, despite playing a lot fewer hands on the last evening, was still the big winner, with a profit of $185,000. He was followed by Katchalov (+56,200) and Mercier (+44,000). Negreanu lost $19,300 and Friedman, who never really got much traction in the game, was down $67,800. Hellmuth and Capella both lost their $100,000 buy-ins. Once again, The Big Game continued to impress as a highly entertaining high-stakes cash game.
See you next week!