Daniel Negreanu recently told me, “Phil, I was absolutely embarrassed for you as I watched you play no-limit hold’em last week in the PPT (Professional Poker Tour) tournament. I think you’re too focused on all of the great business opportunities you have right now.” Um … OK, Daniel. It was a bit harsh, but I took it in the spirit it was intended. (“Phil — pull your head out and start playing no-limit hold’em the way you know how to play.”)
Speaking of playing some great poker, Daniel had a year for the record books. I will tell you a lot more about that when I finally get around to writing my “Champion of the Year” award column, in which I’ll announce that Daniel won the award and absolutely dominated poker’s biggest events in 2004. By the way, he also started 2005 very well with third-place finishes in the World Poker Tour event at the Jack Binion World Poker Open and the Professional Bola88 Poker Tour (PPT) event at the L.A. Poker Classic.
In any case, let’s take a closer look at my “embarrassing” play in the PPT event at the L.A. Poker Classic. The first hand I played, I raised to $1,400 to go with the Ahearts Qhearts from late position and was called by an amateur. After a flop of Aspades Jspades 4hearts, I checked, my opponent bet out $1,500, and I raised, making it $6,000 to go. My opponent called me fairly quickly.
The turn card was the 5spades. I checked again. On the flop, I felt that my opponent had a flush draw. Now, after I checked, he checked as quickly as I’ve ever seen anyone check. He nearly checked out of turn, before I had checked. What a tell! Now, I knew he had made a flush, right? I wish …
The river was the 8clubs, and I decided to bet out $4,000. Of course, if my opponent raised me here, I would have a very easy laydown. And he did just that, moving all in for another $8,100. It was bad enough that I had bet $4,000, so there was no way that I would “call off” another $8,100, an amount that would really hurt my chip standing and nearly cripple me. But suddenly, I called (my opponent had the Kspades Qspades — the nut flush). I guess I’m beginning to see what Daniel was talking about!
Next up, about 20 minutes later, I made it $1,400 to go with the Adiamonds Qdiamonds. I was called by Phi Nyguen, who is an excellent no-limit hold’em player. He and I have made it far together in many no-limit hold’em events over the last few years. The flop came down K-Q-9, I checked, and Phi checked.
Now, a 3 came off, and I bet out $2,100. Phi called, but I sensed that he had hit a set of threes — as he looked like he wanted to raise. A deuce came off on the river and I bet out a “defensive” $2,100. There was no way I could call any raise from Phi in this situation, right? (Sound familiar?) I had sensed he was strong on the previous round of betting, and I bet out to make sure I showed him I had something; my betting pattern had shown some strength.
Phi raised me $4,000, and for some strange reason I disregarded everything I had sensed and called him. He showed me the Jdiamonds 10diamonds; he had flopped a straight. At this point, I began to berate myself out loud; I don’t berate just my opponents! I said, “Phil, what are you thinking? You called off at least $16,000 in chips. You never would have called in these situations in the past. Stop playing like someone else, and start playing your game!”
Next up, while I was complaining about Phi calling my raise with the Jdiamonds 10diamonds, I raised to $1,400 with the Kdiamonds Jdiamonds. This time, Tom McEvoy called me with the 9spades 8spades, and the flop came down Khearts 8diamonds 6diamonds. I checked my top pair and flush draw to Tom, who sized me up and decided to bet my last $4,100. I called him instantly, and the 10diamonds came off on the turn to end that pot.
The very next hand, I picked up K-K and just called $400. Tom made it $1,600 to go, everyone else folded, and I moved all in. Tom beat me into the pot with his A-A, but at least he had only $4,000 or so. After all of the boardcards were dealt faceup and Tom was reaching to collect the pot, he said, “Now, that’s justice.” I thought to myself, “What? A-A over K-K is as unlucky as it gets; how is that justice? Was it justice because his 9-8 didn’t outdraw me in the last hand when I was a huge favorite all the way?”
In any case, I really do love Tom McEvoy, and for this reason his comment didn’t bother me too much; I know that he didn’t mean anything by it. However, if someone else had said that, I would have told the other pros to watch out for the guy and his bad etiquette. Tom is absolutely a first-class guy all the way (even if he did bust me out about an hour later).
How did Tom bust me? I moved all in for $6,000 with the Khearts 7hearts, and he called me with the Kspades Qspades. Daniel was right, as I’m embarrassed just writing this column about my PPT play!