Tuesday, July 05, 2011

2011 WSOP, Day 35: I See What You Are Doing, But What Are You Thinking?

I'm not a mind reader“Poker used to be a gentleman’s game. Now they let any idiot play.”

So said Scott Seiver to Phil Hellmuth yesterday evening as Day 4 of Event No. 55, the $50,000 Poker Player’s Championship, was playing out. On the surface it might sound more like something Hellmuth would say than Seiver. But a little bit of context might help explain what was happening here.

When covering these events we tend to hear a lot of table talk. And in events such as the $50K Player’s Championship, when the field is made up of seasoned veterans and the best of the younger players, the chatter is often especially intriguing.

While it can be fun sometimes to report what players are saying at the tables, one has to be wary when doing so. A passing comment, taken out of context, can be highly misleading when reported. Often if I have any doubts about what was said or the speaker’s intended meaning, I’ll choose not to report comments as I don’t want to misrepresent anyone. And to be honest, even here I wasn’t completely sure about what Seiver might be getting at with his comment, although I did see enough of the action at the table and heard enough from others to get an idea what might be going on.

They were playing six-handed at the time, with Hellmuth, Seiver, and David Bach (who won the $50K H.O.R.S.E. event in 2009) sitting at one end of the table, and three young players, Alexandre Luneau, Steve Billirakis, and (I believe) Roman Yitzhaki sitting at the other. The dealer and two empty seats were positioned between the the two groups, and it was obvious that an interesting “old guard vs. young guns” dynamic had begun to develop at the table.

I came upon the end of one Omaha/8 hand in which Hellmuth lost to Billirakis. From late position, Billirakis had aggressively played Q-J-3-2 against Hellmuth who was in the blinds with A-K-x-x. Billirakis rivered a Broadway straight and Hellmuth called him off with top two pair, prompting Hellmuth to grumble some about the “young guys” and their play.

The talented Seiver is of course one of the young guys, too, still in his mid-twenties. But from his comments he appeared to be siding with Hellmuth, and kept referring to “those guys” at the other end of the table and their crazy play. Meanwhile David Bach sat silently between them, smiling underneath the brim of his leather “gunslinger” cowboy hat.

It struck me that Seiver was likely egging Hellmuth on, his joining him in the criticism of the players at the other end of the table forming part of a larger plan regarding Hellmuth. And, of course, there was something inherently funny about the idea that “any idiot” could (or would) lay down $50K to tangle with this stacked field in a mixed-game event. I felt like I was starting to understand what was happening here.

The table soon broke, at which point Seiver made another comment that seemed to support my read. “I do all of this work to get the table tilting and playing like sh!t,” Seiver said with a grin. “And now the table breaks.”

But Seiver’s work at the table had been interrupted. As had mine.

Hellmuth took his new seat card, then moved over to an empty chair at Matt Hawrilenko’s table. I watched Hawrilenko’s face as Hellmuth sat down a couple of seats to his right and couldn’t help noticing him smile. I thought about that infamous LHE session the two had played on UltimateBet a little over two years ago, the one in which Hawrilenko (“Hoss_TBF”) won so thoroughly that Hellmuth said in the chatbox he was going to ask UB security to review the session to ensure he wasn’t being cheated. (I wrote a little about that in a post here titled “I Am Irony Man.”)

Was Hawrilenko thinking of that -- or other encounters with Hellmuth -- when the Poker Brat took his seat? Who knows? There’s only so much one can see or know when standing by the table, watching players play hands against one another. Contexts shift and overlap, adding layers of meaning that one can’t possibly appreciate when simply jotting down flops, turns, and rivers.

Still, just like at the tables, it’s fun sometimes to speculate about what the people sitting there might be thinking.

While Hawrilenko did not make it through to today’s Day 4 of Event No. 55, both Hellmuth and Seiver did. In fact, both will be returning to big stacks today. Follow along over at PokerNews to see reports on what they and the other 27 players still alive in the event end up doing today.

But not on what they are thinking.

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