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High Stakes Poker
The Winning Hand
by Phil Hellmuth

Never before has the phrase “high stakes poker” meant what it means in 2002. This year we had five poker tournaments that paid at least $390,000 for first place before the World Series of Poker (WSOP) even began! In 1999, we had one event that paid $320,000 for first before the WSOP. With the recent announcement of a $10,000 buy-in no limit Hold’em event at the Bellagio and new high stakes poker tournaments planned for the Hustler Club (publishing mogul Larry Flint’s L.A. cardroom), poker will have at least nine tourneys paying over $350,000 for first place in 2002! It looks like 2002 is the year to get hot in poker! You could win $3.5 million by winning the right two events this year! The WSOP main event will pay an estimated $2 million for first place with a $1 million prize for second, and the Poker Million will pay a guaranteed $1.5 million for first place. Win these two events and your making CEO money for nine days of work!

In the first high stakes event of the year, the World Poker Open held in Tunica, Mississippi at the Horseshoe Hotel and Casino (“Jack’s Place”), first place was a cool $500,000, with second place walking away with $250,000. The ESPN cameras shined brightly on the last two players left standing, Humberto Brenes of Costa Rica and Erik Seidel of Las Vegas (Erik was featured in the movie Rounders, together with Johnny Chan, for their duel in the 1988 WSOP). Both Erik and Humberto have at least three World Championship bracelets apiece, and they’re both used to winning in the spotlight.

With the antes at $3,000 a man and the blinds at $10,000–$20,000, the following hand came up: Humberto called the $10,000 with K of Diamonds-10 of Hearts, and Erik raised $50,000 with A of clubs-Q of clubs. Humberto called the $50,000 raise, and the flop came down K of spades-Q of spades-8 of clubs. Erik checked and Humberto said “I move all-in!” Since Erik had over $400,000 left, the bet covered him (it was $408,000 or so). Erik told me later he was thinking, “Humberto is playing great poker right now. He’s been moving all of his chips in quite frequently over the last two days—does he always have a strong hand when he does this? There’s about a 5% chance that he is bluffing. There’s a decent chance that he has a flush draw or a straight draw, in which case I’m the favorite to win this pot. There’s a good chance that he has me beat at this point as well with a pair of Kings. I don’t like the fact that he is up out of his seat dancing because he has always had a strong hand when he’s done this. However, he must know this as well, and maybe he is trying to give me a false signal of strength. Hmmm... I better call him!”

Erik did call and the hands were turned face up. Humberto was now a favorite to win with his Kings over Erik’s pair of Queens. Erik needed an Ace or a queen or two ‘running’ clubs for a flush. The fourth card was the J of spades, for a board of K of spades-Q of spades-J of spades-8 of hearts. Now Erik needed a 10 for a straight or a Queen for three Queens, otherwise Humberto would win the Championship. The last card was a 4, and Humberto Brenes became the World Poker Open Champion for 2002!

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