Untitled Document Hard poker truth: You can reach the last couple tables of a no-limit hold ’em tournament by playing tight, but you have no chance to win without being able to bluff.

Next hard poker truth: Your stack needs to be at least five times the big blind to make it work. Anything less and you look desperate, so somebody will call you, which means your best chance to bluff is when you have a bully stack.

Perfect example is the one you see advertised on the Travel Channel for the World Poker Tour – the one about an $80,000 bet on the river that is a stone bluff.

Paul Phillips, the terrific and quirky pro who seems to favor orange- or magenta-colored hair, had a monster chip lead at the final table of the 2003 L.A. Poker Classic and was open-raising all the time.

In this hand, he open-raised with J-2 of clubs. In the big blind, Phil Laak, called the "Unabomber" for his hoodie-and-sunglasses attire, called with pocket 5s.

The flop comes A-Q-7.

"The three cards completely missed me, except I had a flush draw," Phillips said. "He comes out betting, but he underbets the pot. This is his normal thing after he calls or raises from the blind. I know Phil’s style. He could have anything here.

"Because I have position, I could just call and try to take it away later in the hand."

The turn is a blank. Laak checked. Phillips probably could take the pot here with a bet, but because he has position, he could wait and perhaps pound Laak if a club falls on the river.

But the river comes another blank. Laak checked again. With a busted flush draw and a mere J-high, Phillips can win only by betting enough to make Laak fold. Laak had about $140,000. Phillips bet $80,000.

"A lot of people, if they’re going to bluff, will move all in," Phillips said. "But I don’t want to give him all $140,000. This is finding his folding number.

"In his mind, he doesn’t want to check-call unless he really thinks he’s got a winner. If he’s wrong, now he’s completely desperate. Whereas he’s still OK if he gives this hand up. Meanwhile, I limit my loss."

Laak thought for a long time, then folded. Surprisingly, Phillips showed the bluff.

"I thought it would be amusing because the crowd was really loud and rowdy," Phillips said. "But also, I just wanted to serve notice to the table not to play pots against me. I wanted to advertise that if you play a pot against me, you really are risking your whole tournament."


Big blind: A forced bet posted by the player two seats to the left of the dealer button. It is equal to the minimum bet required to play in that round. The player one seat to the left of the dealer button posts the small blind, which is half the big blind.

Open-raise: To come into the pot with the first bet that also increases the stakes.

(Steve Rosenbloom is a sports columnist for the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at srosenbloom@tribune.com.)

© 2005, Chicago Tribune.

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.