Thoughts on a Controversial Hand from Poker After Dark

Having reported on nearly a dozen tournaments for PokerNews, it is rare that a hand catches my attention. I’ve seen pretty much every situation, or so I thought before I watched Poker After Dark the other week and saw a hand develop between Phil Hellmuth and Mike  “The Mouth” Matusow in the $100,000 Cash Game. What transpired left me dumbfounded and in shock, leading me to question whether or not such play has a place in poker.

The hand in question began when Peter Jetten opened for $1,400 with {Ad}{Kc} and received a call from Hellmuth’s {As}{Ks} on the button. Matusow then looked down at {Jc}{Js} in the small blind and three-bet to $5,300, which Jetten called. “Time for me to jump out the window boys,” Hellmuth exclaimed before four-betting to $18,000. Matusow, who explained earlier in the week that he was opening up his game, announced a five-bet to $53,300.

Jetten reluctantly folded, while Hellmuth anxiously counted down his stack. After some posturing, the “Poker Brat” moved all-in for $88,600 total. Matusow made the call and suddenly there was a $183,200 pot on the line. Needless to say, a flip for nearly $200K was exciting poker, and no doubt what viewers were hoping for. Unfortunately, that excitement was cut short and the $200K pot wiped from existence.

“What do you want to do here?” Matusow asked his opponent. “Wanna run it twice? You wanna play for real? It’s a big f***k’in pot, what do you want to do?” While Hellmuth was off on one of his patented rants, it became obvious that Matusow was nervous concerning the amount of  money on the line. Eventually Hellmuth sat back down and asked Matusow what he wanted to do. “I say we put $10,000 apiece in and run it,” Matusow responded.

Excuse me?

It was at this point where I found myself shaking my head in disbelief. I’ve no problem with running it multiple times, but to take back money and play for 1/10th of the pot was something I had never witnessed. Why even create a pot that big in the first place if you’re not willing to play for it? Hell, why even play in the game? As it happened, Matusow was a 54 percent favorite to win the hand. In addition, he must have known that Jetten folded a strong hand, quite possibly one containing either an ace or king. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why he would want to take his money back? What astonished me even more was the fact that the producers let it happen.

After some negotiating and bickering back and forth, the duo decided to leave just $21,600 in the pot and watched as the board ran out {Jd}{3h}{9c}{Ah}{Qd}.

I’ll admit, when the $100,000 Cash Game week first began, I was pretty excited. The lineup was quite different than the usual players like Tom “durrrr” DwanPatrik AntoniusPhil Laak, and Phil Ivey. The new lineup featured famous players who were known for their tournament prowess but took a risk by venturing into the cash-game realm. I was really looking forward to seeing these new players in action, and I was entertained early on by the likes Jean-Robert BellandeChris Ferguson, and Michal Mizrachi. However, any enthusiasm I had quickly evaporated after watching the aforementioned hand.

Now I won’t go so far as to say Hellmuth and Matusow were colluding; clearly they’re friends and were just looking to remove the gamble. Also, Matusow was kind enough to ask Jetten, who had money invested in the hand, if he had a problem with it. I can tell you that if I were in Jetten’s shoes, I’d have a problem with it. Perhaps Jetten is more generous than I since he allowed his opponents to take their money back. In the post-match roundtable, Jetten expressed his thoughts to hostess Leeann Tweeden:

“I don’t have any problems with what [Matusow’s] saying, I just didn’t think Mike made a very good decision because I don’t think it’s really a coin flip. Once I’ve put in $5,000, you gotta start thinking that, you know, ace-king might have a couple of its outs killed. You might end up being a bigger favorite . . . If you’re 55 percent, I know you don’t want to be a sicko and get all your money in, but you know, it’s poker. I would have gambled personally.”

Truth be told, I understand why Hellmuth and Matusow made the decision that they did, although I doubt it was respected by viewers. In the same post-match roundtable, Matusow explained:

“Basically the play of the hand was what the public got to see, and I thought that was a really pretty amazing play on probably both of our parts, and once the money’s there, I have no problems playing for $20,000 and taking the rest out on a coin flip. Some of these guys that they watch play, they’re worth $50 million, $20 million, or $10 million. $100,000 is a lot of money to me . . . $100,000 means something to me now. Four years ago it didn’t mean crap, and the bottom line is, when you get sick of going broke in your lifetime and money means something to you a little but more, you respect it a little bit more, and I just felt that was a spot against one of my good friends that always gets beaten to death on these TV shows, it was a good spot for us to play for a small pot. That’s all.”

In other words, Hellmuth and Matusow were nits and wanted to nit it up. Fair enough, that’s what nits do and I get that. What I don’t understand is why the PAD producers would ever allow this to happen. If players wish to reduce variance, then they should be able to run it as many times as they want, I’m fine with that, but to have viewers become “invested” in a pot and suddenly take it away without closure, which is essentially what happened, well, that is just ridiculous and bad for TV. Secondly, if you want an entertaining show, be sure to find players who are willing to mix it up and have the proper bankroll to play a high-stakes game, otherwise all you’re producing is a show as exciting as Face the Ace (Both shows are produced by the same people by the way).

As the roundtable wound down, Ferguson gave his two cents and stated that he wasn’t surprised with what transpired as reducing the pot is common practice in high-stakes cash games. While that may be true (I don’t play in high-stakes cash games), it was certainly unprecedented on television and, in my opinion, has no place in games designed for entertainment value. I don’t know if PAD will be back on the air given the events of Black Friday, but if it is ever resurrected, I hope the producers spend my two cents wisely.