Sunday, March 21, 2010

Did Phil Hellmuth actually reveal the secret to his success?

It sounds like a tabloid headline for a supermarket poker and aliens paper, but I really do believe that recently Phil has revealed in 10 minutes more than he did in 5 DVDs and a book. Phil is currently working on his "Kinder and Gentler" image, and doing the dog & pony interview circuit starting on ESPN. I really, really enjoyed (and am somewhat obsessed with) his recent description of his meta-strategy.

I have to fill in some pieces from other interviews and his recent tournaments, but it flows like this.

Phil plays poker like a boxer. He is going to jab and jab and jab at you. As he does, he is playing solid, but always betting when you give up the lead in the pot. And he is applying that pressure, letting you escape, and then telling you he "had a hand". His famous image help here.

Now, when it does not work, he "marks you" and wants to "set you up". He is going to bet into you, but he is never going to get all-in without the goods. No elaborate bluffs, no Ace high hero calls. When you play back at him, he is going to fold and set up an image (in the past accompanied by verbal denial) that he can be pushed around. He does this because he wants to win a BIG pot against this type of player. And he is patient enough to set this up over the course of hours if necessary.

You can hear bit and pieces of this in recent WPT interviews. "I was only all-in once in the entire tournament." "That is what I do, I set him up to take a big pot from him." The knock-out roundhouse punch.

"Eh. So What? We all knew that." I hear you say. Yeah, maybe. But I find it riveting when combined with Phil defending himself vs. criticism that he is no longer great. "The young internet guys think after they are successful that their way is the right way. I've been playing 30 years and they really believe I don't know what I am doing?"

It's such a simply strategy and does not take into account Phil's tactical ability to read a player, but it certainly a solid strategy.

ok, enough of the Phil love fest. I am not writing this as an "ode to Phil". But I do really appreciate the overall power of this simple to recite strategy. Play poker like a boxer. Jab and find your opponents weakness. If its the jab, jab a lot. If it isn't the jab, look for an opportunity for a knock-out punch.

1 comment:

Jordan said...

Good stuff, Columbo. I've never heard that analogy before (poker and boxing) but it works really well. It actually sounds like a strategy I employ from time to time