Phil Hellmuth’s big small balls

What is the secret to Phil Hellmuth’s poker tournament success? If you were the most successful NL Holdem poker tournament player would you tell others the secret of your success?

Phil Hellmuth not only tells other poker players the secret of your success he does it for free!

There are 3 main ways to win a poker tournament or strategies to play poker tournaments. The first is the easiest when the deck keeps hitting you in the face and you can not help but win the tournament as you hit nearly every hand, draw and out. The second is the uber aggressive strategy that a lot of players are now learning, winning through fold equity, 3 betting and constantly try to double up the stack. The third is versions of small ball strategy, employed successfully by Daniel Negraneu and Phil Helmuth.

Phil Hellmuth’s version of small ball strategy is very simple yet that may hide how simple but powerful it is. I understood it but it took me years to actually work out what it really meant. But knowledge is not enough as it is a strategy that requires a lot of discipline, a certain attitude and you need big small balls.

phil hellmuths small ball strategy success for poker tournaments

Phil Hellmuth tries to not go allins if he can possibly help it our avoid it. Phil Hellmuth will even fold what he knows is the better hand if there is a good chance he may lose the hand to a draw and all or most of his stack is at risk. In today’s ultra aggressive mind set this seems a guaranteed way to lose poker tournaments. After all you are folding +EV situations, the best hand and in poker you are meant to try to get your chips in when you are ahead.

How Phil Hellmuth’s small ball strategy work is that the more times you are allin for your poker tournament life, the more times you are at risk. This seems very obvious but what it means is folding a hand if there is a good risk you could lose the hand and be knocked out, or, and this is a very skillful part, avoiding getting into allins situations by your betting amounts that either stopping the action before you get allins or make your opponent react in a way that you do not need to call, as you know you are now beaten in the hand.

small ball tournament strategy allen cunningham

A great example of this small ball strategy variation where you are also avoiding the risk of allins was shown by Allen Cunningham during Day 5 of the 2011 WSOP Main Event on the featured table. He folded Ace 9 on one flop with two other players with an Ace on the board.

But the best example was in the hand above where Allen Cunningham folded to a largish bet and said he was woosing out. But he was not risking any more of his stack when he had an OK hand with some outs but he could also have been way behind and any more chips would make him get futher pot committed.

You must be in it to win it. That is the real secret to Phil Hellmuth’s small ball poker tournament strategy. If you do use it then you will find what big balls it takes to fold those hands when everyone else and everything else is screaming at you that you can not fold.


Zak ‘PenFold’ Vella – Our expert of all things Maltese and Italian. One of the main people responsible for opening up the Italian market and bringing the joys of Enetpoker Network to the rest of the world. For which one day Zak will be knighted. Also known in the Content writing business as ‘Mr Google Translate’ as he can speak and write in more languages than it can.