Could be Better than a Great Threesome
Two of Them
By Andrew N.S. Glazer, "The Poker
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
When play began, the seats and chip positions were:
Seat Player Chip Total
|1 Mark Seif
|2 Daniel Negreanu
|3 Jay Heimowitz
|4 Alan Brodsky
|5 Tony Ma
|6 Mike Lesle
|7 Erik Seidel
|8 Curt Kohlberg
|9 Al Stonum
|10 Phil Hellmuth, Jr.
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
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
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.
We hit the break after hand #44, and the count was:
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
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
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
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
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
AND THE AWARD GOES TO
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
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:
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
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
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
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
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
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
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),
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
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
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,
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
"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.,
|2. Daniel Negreanu,
|3. Erik Seidel,
|4. Mike Lesle,
|5. Al Stonum,
|6. Jay Heimowitz,
|7. Curt Kohlberg,
|8. Alan Brodsky,
|9. Mark Seif,
|10. Hieu "Tony" Ma,
11th-12th, $13,320 each: Ivan Donaghy, Glynn Beebe.
13th-15th, $11,100 each: Louis Asmo, Pascal Perrault, John
16th-18th, $8,880 each: Andre Hidi, Julian Gardner, Barbara
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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