Sunday, December 20, 2009

Hellmuthian schadenfreude

"Poker After Dark" was a big cash game this week. It contained a moment that caused me as much poker schadenfreude as I have ever felt when, as you can see above from the stills, Phil Hellmuth lost his stack to Phil Ivey in a massive cooler of a hand, with P.H. flopping top set and P.I. a straight. Nuts versus second nuts. [Edit: OK, 2nd nuts versus 3rd nuts, as some commenters have correctly pointed out.]

It's hard to see how anybody could get away from that set-up without going broke, so at least this time the loss wasn't because Hellmuth did anything particularly dumb. But he so richly deserves to lose just on the basis of being such an enormous embarrassment to the game of poker that I don't really care if he takes his licks through bad play or bad luck.

Of course, he could have controlled how he handled the loss. He could have chosen to be philosophical about it and determined to continue playing his A-game. Or he could have recognized that he wouldn't be able to play as well after such an incident, or simply decided that it wasn't going to be his night, and walked away from the game (that's my usual approach). But no. He put another $100,000 on the table and donked off much of it thrashing around with his arm cut off in a tank full of sharks. He swore. He blamed the dealer and asked to have her replaced.

The schadenfreudiest part, though, was that Daniel Negreau was booking him for this session, meaning that if Hellmuth walked away winner, Negreanu would have to pay Hellmuth an amount equal to the win, but if he finished loser, Hellmuth would have to pay Negreanu the amount of the loss. The arrangement effectively doubled the magnitude of any win or loss. So from my perspective it was the perfect time for Hellmuth to get kicked in the nads by the poker gods--because it cost him twice as much.

Both before and after the loss, Hellmuth repeatedly said that he wished he could get Negreanu to book him for many such sessions. But he seemed to tune out that Negreanu was practically jumping up and down to say, "I will!"--every night for the rest of his life. In fact, Negreanu was willing to put a multiplier on the deal: book for 2x, 3x, 5x, 10x, even 30x the amount of win or loss. He is, obviously supremely confident in his assessment that Hellmuth is a huge underdog in deep-stacked cash games against a lineup such as was featured in this show (Gun Hansen, Patrik Antonius, Tom Dwan, Ivey, and himself). Hellmuth's ego just won't let him hear what a deafening warning bell that judgment is.

Hellmuth obviously has an impressive record playing large-field tournaments against mostly amateur opponents. But in deep cash games against the small number of people who play the highest stakes spread day in and day out, he's a complete fish. Everybody at the table understood that fact thoroughly--except for one.

(I no longer remember who the commentator was, but during one tournament when Hellmuth was struggling against a table brimming with talent, it was noted that he is a great player against mediocre opponents, but a mediocre player against great opponents. Seems about right to me.)

I can't decide which "Rounder" quotation to close this with, since so many are applicable, so I guess I'll just list them all:

Teddy KGB: It hurts doesn't it? Your hopes dashed, your dreams down the toilet. And your fate is sitting right besides you.

Mike McDermott: [Narrating] But this isn't a gunfight. It's not about pride or ego. It's only about money.

Mike McDermott: It's immoral to let a sucker keep his money.

Mike McDermott: Are you satisfied now, Teddy? Because I can keep busting you up all night if you like.

Mike McDermott: Listen, here's the thing. If you can't spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker.


Willrr said...

Mike McDermott: [Narrating] But this isn't a gunfight. It's not about pride or ego. It's only about money.

I hate to point this out but above character then completely ignored this maxim and snap accepted a rematch in a game he should never be in solely on the basis of pride. His judgment was clearly clouded whereas KGB's wasn't further compounding this mistake.
Rounders is an entirely entertaining movie, finding poker lessons there may be a mistake.
= )

briggek8717 said...

"Nuts versus second nuts." Not to be a stickler, but it's actually 2nd nuts versus 3rd nuts. J8 would have been the nuts.

gadzooks64 said...

My favorite part was the round table discussion when Daniel shares his thoughts on Phil's cash game abilities (lack there of) in no uncertain words and reiterates his offer to crossbook him anytime against this field of players. Talk about adding insult to injury.

Anonymous said...

It was 2nd nuts vs. 3rd nuts

Anonymous said...

"... donked off much of it thrashing around with his arm cut off in a tank full of sharks."

That was a beautifully accurate description - Thanks! Did you see the Helmuth story Phil Ivey told on the Director's Cut? It was priceless.


Anonymous said...

Interestingly, Daniel admits he's not as good a no limit hold 'em player as many of the rest of these players, as he has concentrated on mixed games and doesn't have the hands in to compete, so he's clearly got his eyes open!