Arts & Entertainment

Phil Hellmuth on Poker: Pro Tennis Players Love Their Texas Hold’em

Watching this year’s US Open got me thinking about a poker game that I played last year with a couple of big-time American tennis pros.

The top tennis players on tour and their coaches and trainers regularly play poker tournaments every week. These are low stakes affairs where little other than personal pride is on the line. But, man, do these tennis pros play a mean game of poker!

Last year, the pro tennis circuit rolled into San Jose for the SAP Open. Among the competitors were top-ranked US pros Andy Roddick and James Blake. At the time, they were ranked fourth and sixth in the world, respectively.

We were just a few miles away from my home so we decided to get together for some spread limit Hold’em poker at Bay 101, Northern California’s home of the WPT in San Jose.

Spread limit Hold’em is similar to no limit Hold ’em with one exception – the maximum bet permitted in any betting round is $200. The blinds were set at $3-5 and the buy-in was capped at $200.

In an early hand, I made it $25 to go with Ah-10d and Blake called with pocket tens.

The flop came 10s-7s-6h. I fired out $40, Blake min-raised to $80, and I moved him all-in for $140. I thought I was probably behind but what else could I do with my last $140, especially after having led out with a $40 bet?

I could still beat any pair of tens, nines, eights, or a flush draw, right?  No such luck as Blake’s set of tens crushed me.

An hour later, I made it $25 to go with As-3h. Three players called and Blake called from the big blind.

The flop came Ac-8h-5h. Blake checked and I bet $40. Everyone folded but Blake who raised it to $80.

I thought about what kind of hand he could have had. He was in the big blind so he could have had a drawing hand or maybe a weak ace like mine. I decided to move him all-in for $180. He called immediately; that’s always a bad sign.

I told him I had an ace. He had an ace, too, but with a queen kicker that paired the board when the dealer turned another queen on fourth street.

That was a bad play on my part. I should have folded my A-3 before the flop just like the book says. I also could have folded on the flop after Blake raised it up to $80.

Then there was our final encounter when Blake opened for $25 and I called from the big blind with 9d-8c.

The flop came Qd-Qc-Jd. I checked, Blake bet $30, and I called.

The turn card was the 8d. I had a pair of eights, a straight draw, a flush draw, and a straight flush draw. I bet $40 and Blake called.

The river was the Ks. I checked and Blake instantly moved all-in for his last $105.

I thought about it for a while and concluded that he had A-10 to make his straight.

“Go ahead and show me your bluff,” I said as I mucked my hand. He did.

The entire table erupted in laughter when he opened up his Ah-7h. Not only did Blake bust me twice before, he just bluffed me out of a pot.

Hey, I know the guy went to Harvard and I know he’s a superb tennis player but this is my game!  Way to go, James Blake, that was a match you deserved to win.

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