The stars were all gone, as were most of the fans who had filled the stands in the mini-arena where the final table was being staged. Heads up was between Adam Hourani and Phil Galfond, a couple of online pros. Couldn’t have been more different from that crazy final table for my last event, the $1,500 Pot-Limit Omaha event (No. 19) in which Jamie Pickering began raising pot (and cups of beer) without looking at his cards. This one tediously dragged on for several sedate hours, with Galfond enjoying a huge chip lead for most of the battle. Not terribly compelling, although there was one hand in there near the end that totally mystified me.
Hourani had been playing very tightly most of the night, which was one reason why he made it to heads up. Also why heads up was lasting so long, as he kept folding hands and only occasionally check-raising pot whenever he’d connected with the flop. Galfond thus would nickel-and-dime Hourani down, Hourani would get part of it back, then the chipping away would start anew.
Finally we had reached a point where Galfond had about 5 million to Hourani’s 1.2 million. Galfond raised to 200,000 before the flop (from the small blind/button) and Hourani called. The flop came and both checked. The turn was the . Hourani bet 250,000 and Galfond called fairly quickly. Then the river brought the . Hourani thought for a little bit, then pushed a stack of green 25,000 chips forward -- a bet of 475,000.
Galfond took a long time to respond, perhaps as much as five minutes. Enough time for me to speculate with Change100 what each player had. I’d pegged a couple of hands earlier in the evening. There was one where Kirill Gerasimov had raised pot preflop from out of position and Hourani had called. The flop brought a king and Gerasimov immediately grimaced, then bet about half the pot. Hourani then came over the top, and when Gerasimov didn’t react right away, it seemed pretty clear he had A-A-x-x and Hourani K-K-x-x. And it turned out that was the case.
Not a very hard hand to call, but I’d nevertheless started to develop a little hubris about knowing what players were holding. So in a whisper I offered my ideas to Change here. I figured Hourani for the club flush, as he’d seemed to have liked that turn card. Betting out of position there without a flush (or at least a set) seemed out of character for Hourani. I read the river bet, then, as representing his belief (or hope) that Galfond didn’t make a boat. And when Galfond didn’t respond right away, I didn’t think he had a boat either. Rather, I thought he might have two pair and perhaps a smaller flush, or maybe even a queen and was wondering whether trips were good here.
In any event, I thought Hourani was somewhat strong and Galfond perhaps moderately so. Definitely thought each had made decent hands here.
Galfond finally did make the call, and showed A-10-8-7. No queen, no clubs. Just that pair of tens. And Hourani mucked! “Really no clubs?” I asked the tourney director/announcer afterwards. (From our location, we were relying on him to report the cards.) “Nope, just the tens -- pure bluff,” he replied, referring to Hourani’s bet. “All he could beat,” I said, shaking my head.
Of course, by that point they’d played over a hundred hands of heads up, so Galfond clearly saw something that told him Hourani was betting with air. (Definitely humbling for yrs truly, how off I was with my reads.) That hand knocked Hourani down to his last 450,000, and it was over soon after that.
One other semi-interesting tidbit from last night involving the Poker Brat. Hellmuth had come in on the short stack and nursed it long enough to limp to eighth place. So while he was around for a couple of hours, he wasn’t terribly animated during the time he was there (relatively speaking), as he had to focus more of his energy on finding a spot to double up and get back into a position where he could compete.
There was one odd moment, though, when he got up and strutted around, peacock-like, saying something about “playing above the rim” and being like Tiger Woods hitting “three straight 30-foot putts” or the like. I think he was referring to the fact that he’d managed to stay alive for three-and-a-half levels with practically no chips.
Suddenly I realized amid the chatter that Hellmuth was looking in my direction, addressing this applesauce directly to me. I was sitting there on press row, behind my laptop with the “PokerNews” sticker I’d slapped on it earlier in the Series. And Hellmuth was hoping, I believe, that these lines would find their way into our coverage.
The fact was, what he was saying didn’t really fit that well into the narrative of the final table, and neither Change nor I had any inclination to include his little self-directed encomium in the blog. We’d given him plenty of play during the first two days of the tourney, and there was a lot else to write about last night than to pass along more “Hellmuthisms” (as Change dubbed ’em previously).
I thought about it afterwards. Hellmuth’s playing style -- a mostly-tight, cautious approach that is all about minimizing risk and carefully picking his spots -- couldn’t be more different from his approach to self-promotion, which involves throwing as much out there as possible and hoping something lands. When it comes to playing the media, it’s like he’s playing every single hand, often bluffing with little or nothing.
Has worked out well for him, so I can’t say I begrudge him for it. Doesn’t always, though. Sometimes the media doesn’t respond the way Hellmuth wants them to, letting him run ’em over and have his way.
A little like what Galfond demonstrated when he called Hourani’s bluff, I suppose. From time to time you are gonna run into those who refuse to lay down.