What Could be Better than a Great Threesome…Two of Them
By Andrew N.S. Glazer, "The Poker Pundit"

I used to be accused of having a one track mind. Guilty as charged. You'll pardon me, then, if I use a title that evokes certain memories but actually has nothing to do with them. Despite that, this is one of the most precise poker titles I can imagine.

I'm being more than a bit vague, but what is life without adventure, and boy, did we have an adventure at the 2003 World Series of Poker $3,000 No-Limit Hold'em final table.

I've written more than 5,000 words about these adventures, but we've got a newsletter word limit, so I have chopped out a lot of analysis and color to make sure the raw poker highlights are here. We'll get you the full version later, on the casino.com/poker website.

When play began, the seats and chip positions were:

Seat Player Chip Total

1 Mark Seif $64,000
2 Daniel Negreanu $49,500
3 Jay Heimowitz $132,000
4 Alan Brodsky $70,000
5 Tony Ma $31,000
6 Mike Lesle $74,500
7 Erik Seidel $167,500
8 Curt Kohlberg $156,500
9 Al Stonum $64,000
10 Phil Hellmuth, Jr. $385,000

There were $1,194,000 in chips on the table. Starting antes were $500, with $1,500-3,000 blinds, but only a few minutes remained at this level. Final table action didn't begin until 4:40 pm, because 21 players had remained when play ceased last night.

To best follow the action, I suggest you draw a mock table with player positions, and cross players out as they get eliminated. Lesle drew the button, and on hand #1, Hellmuth limped in for 3k, Seif raised to 15k, and Ma moved his $30,500 all-in.

OH YEAH? TAKE THAT!

Seidel then raised 45k MORE. Hellmuth paused and then released. Seif looked like he'd been pole axed, and showed me 9-9 as he folded. Seidel turned over K-K; Ma showed J-J. The board came down 2-10-7-5-10, and Ma was gone.

If you think it was unlikely that a threesome would catch pocket pairs on the first hand, know that Hellmuth had folded 7-7, Negreanu 6-6, and three others 4-4, A-10 and A-K.

The adventure was just beginning.

Four hands later, Seif and Negreanu limped in from the blinds, and caught a 7h-2c-9h flop. Seif opened for 12k, and Negreanu moved all-in. With more than half of his starting stack already either gone or in the pot, Seif decided to call with 4h-5h, a flush draw.

Negreanu turned over 9s-Qh, top pair with a big heart (in more ways than one). Ac-Kc finished both the board and Mark Seif's day. It had taken 2.5 hours to eliminate 11 players for a final table, and 2.5 minutes to lose two more.

The antes remained at $500, but the blinds now increased to $2,000-4,000.

AN IMPORTANT CHIP SHIFT

On hand #14, Seidel opened for 14k from two off the button, Hellmuth made it 42k from the small blind (SB), and Seidel called. The flop came 8d-4h-9c; Hellmuth led out for 40k, and after a long, thoughtful pause, Seidel raised the minimum by making it 80k. Hellmuth let it go, and had lost a big pot to a dangerous foe.

Seidel took a few small pots, and on hand #23 he limped in with two others when Negreanu made it 40k. It wasn't a steal move: Negreanu had A-K. Seidel moved all-in, and the bet induced Negreanu to lay down that A-K, Seidel had a small chip lead.

That it was a great bet by Seidel was clear, but unless he held A-A or K-K (certainly a strong possibility with the limp-raise move), Negreanu was getting the right pot odds for a call.

Great players don't view a decent probability of a narrow pot odds edge as significant when it forces them to risk all their chips, though. Negreanu still had 100k after the laydown. With the slow-moving blind structure, Negreanu knew his last 100k was worth five times more than the 40k he was letting go, the apparent math notwithstanding.

Alan Brodsky hadn't lost any huge pots yet, but by hand #31, blinds, antes and various nicks and cuts left him with 18.5k. He shoved that in from early position. Seidel called and turned over 8-8, while Brodsky had only A-2. The board changed nothing, and 8-8 sent Brodsky out eighth.

IT'S HAPPENED TO MOST OF US…

Five hands later, Curt Kohlberg had one of those moments. He opened for 13k from the button, only to see Hellmuth make it a total of 31k from the SB. Kohlberg called.

The flop came Ks-3c-9h. Hellmuth opened for 14k, and Kohlberg moved his remaining 90k all-in. Hellmuth's instant call signaled trouble: he had started with K-K and flopped top set, while Kohlberg had only Q-J, only an inside straight draw.

When the 9c paired the board on the turn, even that faint hope was gone, and as Kohlberg stood up, Hellmuth almost comically grabbed Kohlberg's remaining stacks quickly, one at a time. Mine-mine-mine!

We hit the break after hand #44, and the count was:

Negreanu $125,500
Heimowitz $45,500
Lesle $73,000
Seidel $549,500
Stonum $69,000
Hellmuth $331,500

It was dinner break time, and I wasn't (yawn) feeling well. Mike Paulle volunteered to handle the next 90 minute level while I tried to recover. Mike's notes took me through hand #76; I rallied earlier than expected, and returned with about 35 minutes left in the level, $500 antes with $2,500-5,000 blinds.

THE WRONG SIX-PACK FOR THE "BUD MAN"

During my absence, Heimowitz, who owns not just a Budweiser distributorship but also six bracelets, went out sixth. On hand #45, he and Lesle limped in from the blinds, and each checked the 10c-7s-5c flop. The 5d hit the turn. Heimowitz checked, Lesle bet 6k, Heimowitz pushed 16k forward, and Lesle moved all-in. Heimowitz called, understandable when holding 5-6 for trips, but in big trouble when Lesle turned over a hand only the big blind (BB) could love, 5-J.

Hand #51 was notable, Paulle told me, because the Hellmuth raise to 16k from the button and subsequent fold to Seidel's big raise from the BB (Hellmuth showed A-10) was a pattern that dominated the action throughout my absence. Hellmuth kept opening with reasonable hands that couldn't handle a re-raise, and Seidel kept re-raising. "This man is running over me, it's scary," Hellmuth said.

Three hands later, Stonum moved his remaining 45k in from the button. Negreanu called fairly quickly from the BB, saying "I saw two paints" (jacks, queens or kings), and it turned out he had matching paints, J-J, for which Stonum's pocket eights were no match. The board changed nothing, and Stonum exited 5th.

When I returned at hand #77, the chips had shifted quite a bit:

Negreanu $230,000
Lesle $100,000
Seidel $734,000
Hellmuth $130,000

Hellmuth confirmed Paulle's notes when he asked tournament Co-Director Matt Savage for the microphone, and told the densely-packed crowd, "Erik has outplayed me something unbelievable, my hat's off to you." After handing the microphone back to Savage, Hellmuth added "That being said, I'm not giving up yet."

NOW THAT'S WHEN YOU CALL WITH A-K!

On hand #85, Negreanu opened for 20k, and Lesle pushed his roughly 80k all-in. Negreanu called instantly, and turned over Ad-Kd; Lesle showed As-Qh. Again the board missed all, and Lesle was fourth. Negreanu had demonstrated rather graphically the difference between calling for all your chips with A-K early in the final against a big stack and calling for a third of your stack late against a needy opponent.

We now had a rather remarkable threesome: Negreanu, Seidel, and Hellmuth for all the money, with the chip positions now roughly

Negreanu $300,000
Seidel $624,000
Hellmuth $140,000

Each of this threesome had already won a bracelet this year, which meant someone was guaranteed to win a second and become the FOURTH player to win two bracelets at the 2003 WSOP, an unmatched record.

AND THE AWARD GOES TO…WHO?!?

Shortly thereafter, Nolan Dalla asked the crowd to indicate how many were rooting for each player. First, he asked how many were cheering for Negreanu, and Daniel drew significant applause. Then he asked how many were rooting for Seidel, and Erik got a bit more. Finally, he asked how many were rooting for Hellmuth, and Phil was the winner by a wide margin.

I was rather stunned, and so was Hellmuth, because he asked for the mike again and said "That's the first time the majority of a crowd has ever been for me. Even Matt Savage said 'that's a first.'" After a brief pause, Hellmuth added "Oh, yeah, I forgot I got a lot of relatives in the crowd." It was a good comic addition, but Hellmuth hadn't imported a busload: his wife, mother and sister were the only family in the audience. Maybe acknowledging Seidel's play had helped.

I had to root for Phil; we're good friends…but it was impossible to root against either Negreanu or Seidel. I wanted a three-way tie, but that's not how this game is played.

Eleven hands into the Terrific Trio's entanglement, each limped in for 5k, and the flop came Qh-6c-Kd. Hellmuth and Negreanu checked, and Seidel bet 8k. Hellmuth thought a moment and moved all-in, a dramatic departure from his daylong tendency to underbet pots on the flop. Seidel thought long and hard, and counted out Hellmuth's chips. After the 8k required for the call was dragged into the middle, we learned that Hellmuth had pushed 99k more at a 32.5k pot.

ON THE COMEBACK TRAIL

Seidel finally called, showing Kc-10d, and Hellmuth turned over bottom two pair: Q-6. A nine hit the turn, giving Seidel outs to a king, a ten, or a jack, but a deuce hit the river, and Hellmuth had doubled through Seidel.

"Yes! Yes!" Hellmuth exclaimed. "Oh, I thought he was going to unroll me. I had a bad feeling he was going to get it." Negreanu, meanwhile, continued the comic relief he had (in usual form) provided. "Sorry, Phil, I had to root hard against you. I mean, it was a hundred dimes!" ($100,000, the pay scale jump Negreanu would have been guaranteed had Seidel knocked Hellmuth out.)

Hellmuth was still third in chips, but come Watson, the game's afoot.

THANK GOODNESS THE PIZZA REMAINED MYSTIC

A bit later, Hellmuth ran over to his wife Kathy, and crammed a big mouthful of pizza into his mouth. "Eatin' good, that's a boy, breakfast of champions," Negreanu said. Hellmuth started laughing so hard it appeared the unswallowed pizza was going to come flying out. Hellmuth managed to keep his mouth shut, with help from a firm clasp of his right hand, and after hand #107 ended, we had reached the break without any cheesy incidents.

With the antes moving to $1,000, and the blinds to $3,000-6,000, the $500 chips came off, and we got an accurate count:

Negreanu $303,000
Seidel $623,000
Hellmuth $268,000 (and plenty of carbohydrates)

On hand #120, Hellmuth made it 18k from the button, and Seidel, as his pattern had been throughout the day, decided to play along.

The flop came 10c-Qs-9d. Seidel check-called Hellmuth's 15k bet (note again the relatively small bet into a larger pot). The Qc hit the turn. Seidel checked, Hellmuth bet 20k, and Seidel raised 75k more. Hellmuth thought for a few moments and called. The 10d hit the river, making the board a very scary 10-Q-9-Q-10.

HUGE POT, SMALL BET, GOOD REASON

Seidel checked, and after a pause Hellmuth bet 40k into the huge pot; he had only 45k left after the bet. Seidel thought long and hard; if he'd had a straight, it was now in big danger; even pocket nines or ten-anything could be in trouble. Still, it was hard to pass up a chance for a shot at 302k for only 40k. Seidel finally called, and Hellmuth turned up pocket queens: he'd made quads on the turn.

Hellmuth suddenly had 387k, and his gain had been the leader's loss. The game was now relatively even.

Four hands later, Seidel made it 24k from the SB. Hellmuth called. The flop came 10c-Kh-9d; Seidel bet 30k and Hellmuth called instantly. The turn produced the irrelevant-looking 5h, and Seidel didn't fool around: he pushed 95k into the pot, and again Hellmuth called instantly. That's one of the differences between the great and the good: you can't flat call that big a bet instantly unless you've already figured out all permutations.

Another useless-looking card, the 6c, hit the river, and both players checked. Hellmuth turned over K-J, top pair-fair kicker and a gutshot straight draw that hadn't materialized…but a read that had been dead on.

FROM WORST TO FIRST

Seidel couldn't beat K-J, and in five hands Hellmuth had moved from a poor third to a strong first. A few hands later, I estimated the chips at

Negreanu $280,000
Seidel $330,000
Hellmuth $584,000

Most of the pots stayed small for a while, but Seidel grabbed a not-so-small 50k from Hellmuth twice and then the same from Negreanu on #145, and without any huge confrontations had moved up to 450k, retaking the lead from Hellmuth, at 424k, with Negreanu right in there at 320k.

Hand #159 brought us an almost-huge confrontation. Hellmuth limped in from the button and all three looked at the 5c-Qs-Kh flop. Negreanu bet 10k, and Seidel called. The turn brought the Ah, and Negreanu check-called Seidel's 25k wager. A harmless 6d hit the river, and Negreanu check-called Seidel's 45k bet.

Seidel turned over A-10, but Negreanu showed K-6, and suddenly that river six didn't seem harmless. Seidel needed a deep breath after that one; who could blame him? The 181k pot propelled Negreanu into second place, and Seidel was now third. When we hit the break after hand #179, the chip count was

Negreanu $339,000
Seidel $146,000
Hellmuth $709,000

The antes remained at 1k, while the blinds moved to $4,000-8,000. It would only cost 15k to sit out a three-hand round, or viewed another way, 5k per hand.

PATIENCE, YOUNG SKYWALKER

At that level, even Seidel could still afford to be patient, and he was until he picked up a big hand on #192. Negreanu limped in from the SB, but Seidel raised it to a total of 24k from the BB. Negreanu moved all-in, and Seidel took an understandable stand with Jh-Jc.

Neither player looked comfortable when Negreanu turned over Ah-Qs. Nothing higher than a nine ever hit the board, though, and Seidel had doubled through Negreanu, who had to ship 115k to Seidel, who was back in action with 233k.

We went through another relatively long stretch of small and non-dramatic action, but when we hit hand #210, Hellmuth either decided to change gears (he had been cautious with his huge stack, instead of using it to pound his opponents into submission) or started to find hands, because he grew far more active and started accumulating small pots. By hand #230, he had almost 800k, with Negreanu at 300k and Seidel at 100k.

Seidel had fallen to 65k by hand #236, and pushed it all-in from the button. Hellmuth paused: Seidel was clearly making a stand, and he couldn't be allowed to grab 15k every hand for even a short stretch; who could tell when a hand better than Ah-6s would come, and at least if it got beat now, Seidel's double-though wouldn't be gargantuan. Hellmuth finally decided to call with the hand. Seidel turned over Hellmuth's favorite hand (because he'd won the 1989 World Championship with it), 9c-9s.

THE BLACK NINES RETURN

Two black nines were still good to Hellmuth, but in a different way. An ace hit the flop, and Erik Seidel, the great player-great guy, the former big chip leader who by Hellmuth's own admission had outplayed Hellmuth for a long stretch, was out third.

Negreanu had exactly 300k and Hellmuth 894k as the heads-up battle began. Hand #1 was #237 overall, but I'll start renumbering from here.

Heads-up, the small blind goes on the button (SBB) and acts first before the flop but second after the flop.

Negreanu made it 25k from the SBB, and Hellmuth moved all-in. Negreanu mucked, and all the "privileged railbirds" agreed that the bet had been "a statement." We weren't going to play "wear 'em down" poker. It was going to be big bet poker.

Four hands passed without any big bets, but the action heated up halfway through #6. Hellmuth limped in from the SBB and we looked at a 2h-8h-Qc flop. Both players checked.

The 5h hit the turn, and Negreanu checked again. Hellmuth bet 30k, and when Negreanu made it 130k, it looked like Hellmuth had fallen for the old "I'm weak, I'm weak, please bet into me so I can crush you" play.

HEY, WAIT, YOU'RE NOT COOPERATING

Hellmuth didn't look all that crushed, though. He asked Negreanu how much he had left, and after Daniel counted out 117k, Hellmuth decided to move all-in.

Negreanu looked much like someone who had been challenged to a duel with the classic glove slap, except this glove had been a knight's armored leather and steel gauntlet.

"I'm dead, but I gotta call," Daniel said resignedly, turning over the Q-8 that had given him top two pair on the limp-in flop. If Negreanu had KNOWN he was dead, he probably would have let the hand go; 117k isn't a lot, not when your opponent has ten times that much, but funny things can happen in no-limit. It was at least possible that Hellmuth had some other two pair, or possibly even A-Q with the ace of hearts, for top pair-nut flush draw.

That was where most of Negreanu's hopes lay, although even if Hellmuth did have a set or a flush, he'd still have four outs.

Hellmuth turned over 4h-3h for a flush, and four outs it was for Negreanu, with only one card to come. The seven of clubs gave the title to Hellmuth, and made him the player to emerge with his second bracelet of the Series.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

I tried a little misdirection on you with that business about the first hand being a threesome of pairs, because the only poker threesome that could outdo a final three of Seidel, Negreanu and Hellmuth was the threesome Hellmuth had created at the top of the bracelet list.

Doyle Brunson reached nine bracelets early in this series, and Johnny Chan's two got him to that lofty plateau as well. With this win, Hellmuth made it a three-way tie at the top, 9-9-9.

Those who know only the supremely confident Hellmuth might have been surprised at his reaction in the aftermath. "I can't believe I won," he said. "I could have given up so early. Erik kept coming over the top of me. He raised so much I decided to give up raising his blind until I had about $800,000. I said to myself just be patient, just wait for the nuts, and that Q-6 hand turned it around."

Hellmuth often has dreams or premonitions before final tables, not always about him winning, but he didn't have any dreams last night.

"I just felt blessed," he said. "I realized I have so much to be thankful for, a great family, my own health, my family's health, my book is doing well on Amazon, I just realized I had so much going well in my life, I shouldn't whine. I said to myself 'If you complain tomorrow, you should quit poker.' Actually, I came close a few times, but I never went into any of those big whines that I've done in the past."

If the $3,000 No-Limit Hold'em Championship was merely the overture for the $10,000 No-Limit Hold'em World Championship that begins Monday, I can't wait for the opera.

Final Official Results, $3,000 No-Limit Hold'em
398 entrants, prize pool $1,110,420

1. Phil Hellmuth, Jr., $410,860
2. Daniel Negreanu, $210,980
3. Erik Seidel, $105,480
4. Mike Lesle, $66,720
5. Al Stonum, $49,960
6. Jay Heimowitz, $38,860
7. Curt Kohlberg, $27,760
8. Alan Brodsky, $22,200
9. Mark Seif, $17,760
10. Hieu "Tony" Ma, $13,320

 

11th-12th, $13,320 each: Ivan Donaghy, Glynn Beebe.
13th-15th, $11,100 each: Louis Asmo, Pascal Perrault, John Fullerton.
16th-18th, $8,880 each: Andre Hidi, Julian Gardner, Barbara Laux.
19th-27th, $6,660 each: Richard Salzman, Keith Hawkins, Michael Comer, Doc Barry, Fred Berger, Herman Zango, Tony Cousineau, Billy Baxter, Jimmy Cha.

 

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