I F*cked Up is a PocketFives series where the game’s best tell stories of where they got it wrong. Mistakes happen every day in poker and let these players be the first to tell you it happens to everyone.
Blair Hinkle attained his $4 million in live tournament earnings through a menu of first-place finishes. When Hinkle makes it deep, he usually finishes the job.
That wasn’t the case early in Hinkle’s career. In only his second career live tournament, a 22-year-old Hinkle was one of the chip leaders with two tables left in the 2008 L.A. Poker Classic. Seated between Phil Hellmuth and Phil Ivey, Hinkle fell trap to the “Ivey Factor” and punted to the legend himself.
An admitted “live fish” at this stage, Hinkle misplayed a hand against Ivey that led to Ivey winning his first career WPT title.
“I was running really good, coming off some huge online scores and playing super aggressive,” Hinkle said coming into the event. “It was working out. Coming into Day 5, there’s 16 left and I’m one of the chip leaders sandwiched in between Hellmuth and Ivey. Needless to say, I was pretty amped up because being a poker fan, seated between those two guys I was excited coming into the day.”
Hinkle clashed with Ivey during play and then found himself in an awkward spot. Familiar with stories of players dumping stacks to Ivey, Hinkle soon became one of his “victims.”
The hand opened with Hellmuth raising the hijack and Hinkle calling the cutoff with . Ivey three-bet the button and Hellmuth did his Hellmuth bit before folding, according to Hinkle.
“I’m thinking that Ivey is obviously squeezing here. He’s the best in the world, he’s trying to push me around.”
Hinkle wasn’t adept at figuring out how many chips a player had behind and wound up four-betting for 60% of Ivey’s stack. A trap laid by Hinkle the night before played into his decision to come back over the top but he misinterpreted Ivey’s knowledge of his game.
“The previous night, I had gotten a ton of chips where I flat called Nam Le’s open with aces. Somebody else shoved all-in and that’s how I jumped up to one of the chip leaders. In the back of my mind, I’m thinking maybe Ivey saw that. Obviously, he didn’t see that. Maybe I can pretend I have aces again. I decide to put in the four-bet and he goes all-in and I say ‘Oh shit what did I get myself into.'”
Effectively forced to call because of the math of the spot, Hinkle did and Ivey showed him pocket kings. Hinkle flopped a flush draw, turned an open-ended straight draw, but bricked the river and sent most of his stack to Ivey.
Devastated by the hand, Hinkle busted in 11th place when a spot at the final table could have been his. Hinkle used the loss to learn two things about live poker that paid dividends right away and long-term.
“At the time, I wasn’t used to counting stacks. Online, it’s right there,” Hinkle said. “Later on, I realized when I started to get respect in the poker world that some people come into it wanting to battle with you as I won some tournaments. I guess, later on, I started to realize after seeing so many hand histories that and during that tournament, why people just punt these stacks to Ivey. People get so amped up with someone to play with them and respect their game but you just go for it without considering that the really good players have hands too.”
As Hinkle’s career has advanced, he started to realize when other players wanted to battle with him. That extra sense led Hinkle to pick up added value in places such as Council Bluffs, where he owns four WSOP Circuit rings.
“I feel like I’ve had some stacks punted to me. I feel like that was the biggest lesson,” Hinkle said. “I’ve played with [Ivey] a few more times where it’s a similar thing. He’s not doing anything crazy at the table yet, I watched someone do what I did. A good example is in Council Bluffs is people respect what I’ve done. I can pick out which player is ready to play with the best. I think ‘what would Ivey do?’ They’re ready to battle, let’s go to war.”
Hinkle learned plenty from his encounter with Ivey and earned a piece of respect from the Hall of Famer. A few weeks later, Ivey offered Hinkle a backing deal. The terms of the deal never materialized but Hinkle gained confidence from Ivey being impressed by his play.
“It was a pretty crazy start to the poker career. It seems like a blur now.”