ESPN Poker Club makes an impact at Camp Hellmuth

Updated: August 25, 2005, 11:28 AM ET
By Andrew Feldman | ESPN.com

Note: This is Andrew Feldman's follow-up to the article he wrote on poker fantasy camps. His article on WPT Boot Camp can be found here. Additionally Gene Wojciechowski's article summarized the first two days of the camp.

"Thanks, Joe," Phil Hellmuth says as he folds his hand.

I sat in Seat 2 of the feature table, dazed and wondering what I gave away. I didn't move. I didn't think I acted too quickly or that my bet on the river was inadequate. I didn't blink an eye.

Hellmuth grabs the microphone and begins his explanation to the entire tournament field before I can rake in the chips.

"Joe, you said this morning, when someone's eyes dilate, they see something they like," Hellmuth said. "When that seven hit the river, his eyes dilated. Thanks, Joe."

Oh man.

What the heck was that, Andrew?!? Go get some sunglasses!

I couldn't believe it. I stood up and yelled out, "Thanks, Joe," receiving modest laughter.

Yeah, thanks a lot, Mr. FBI. You cost me another $900 in chips

Hellmuth had a perfect read on me. The seven on the river, which incidentally was a huge suckout, gave me a full house, sevens over eights.

The four ESPN Poker Club winners spend a lot of time with Phil this weekend. From left to right, Brian Smet, Steve Barker, Noemi Augstin, Phil Hellmuth, Brett McCauley
Phil flips over his pocket nines just to show that he had me beat the entire time. He was walking the dog, and I was the little chihuahua.

Wow. He really is good. Guess that's why it was called Camp Hellmuth. The four-day, three-night adventure at Caesars Palace was filled with instruction from poker greats such as Hellmuth, John Bonetti, T.J. Cloutier, Thomas Keller, and Antonio Esfandiari, who gave participants (including myself) the extra insight needed to improve their games. The camp also included Joe Navarro, a former FBI agent and an expert on reading body language, who taught me one costly lesson.

Although each of the seminars was interesting and informative, none compared to Navarro's lecture on reading people. One word: amazing. Even Hellmuth and Cloutier took notes during it!

I wish they hadn't.

Thanks to Navarro, Sarah Shullman, another participant, is now aware of what she needs to do to prevent giving information away.

"From a female perspective, it was a great opportunity … to learn from the great Joe Navarro about how to correct the body movements, routinely seen in women, that signal a weak hand," she said.

Navarro's presentation was great, and if you are interested in getting a good read on someone, I would advise you to go find his next lecture.

Another interesting lecture was Esfandiari's on playing aggressively. He discussed positional raising and re-raising that has helped him win WPT titles and multiple final-table appearances. His lessons were implemented by some players during the tournaments that followed. Some were successful; some were not. But as Esfandiari and every other pro said, you need to keep practicing.

After all the lessons, it was time to play. Accompanying me for the ride were the four winners of the ESPN Poker Club online promotion, who won their seats to Camp Hellmuth in June. Brett McCauley, Brian Smet, Steve Barker and Noemi "Gege" Agustin had been waiting for months for this opportunity, and they made the most of it.

Although I was the representative of the ESPN Poker Club, by the end of the weekend, nobody could forget the exploits of Agustin, who was playing in her first live tournament.

"I was very nervous when I got to the table since it was the first time that I played with a real dealer at a casino," Agustin said.

The nerves took control early on, when she took a couple of bad beats that left her short-stacked after the first half hour. But then everything turned around. She doubled up, again, and again, and again! She couldn't lose a pot, and nobody wanted to play her.

Every time she would enter a pot, Hellmuth would say, "Here comes Gege!"

"Coming into this weekend, everyone is always telling me that I can play poker, but in my mind, I didn't have enough confidence," she said. "After this weekend, I think I am starting to believe that there is no way that I could have done so well in all those tournaments by being lucky."

Yeah, and her cracking my K-K with her 8-8 was skill. The 8-8 is now known as "The Gege" -- she had the hand three times, and hit a set each time.

Nobody wanted to mess with Noemi "Gege" Agustin at the final table of the Camp Hellmuth tournament.
At least I gave my chips to someone who could use them well. In the first tournament, Agustin finished ninth out of 160 players, while I had a respectable 15th place. In the second one, the other players at the final table bought her out. They were afraid of her! They knew not to mess with the ESPN Poker Club.

For the weekend, Agustin made $1,600. Not a bad freeroll at all.

The other freerollers had great weekend, as well, with each of them taking a little something from camp.

Although he busted out 25th in the main tournament, McCauley, playing for his family -- his wife, Amanda, and his future daughter, Bailey -- was able to take down the most prestigious tournament, the private ESPN Poker Club tournament. After busting me while holding on to the death hand (J-J), McCauley took control of the table and earned the respect of his peers.

"The FBI guy was the best … but the entire weekend was awesome," McCauley said. "I definitely know that I can play poker, but the way Gege played this weekend was phenomenal; my hat is off to her."

Barker, a police officer from Louisiana who took second in the ESPN Poker Club tournament, never found his groove at the tables, but he learned more than he could imagine.

"I took away from the camp that Phil Hellmuth is a great guy, a family person, and more worried about his family than any cards on the table," he said. "It was amazing to just sit there and talk to these guys like they are real people and not professionals."

In the ultimate sign of respect to all police officers, Hellmuth decided to give Barker a pair of Oakley Thumps.

"It was very touching and very respectful," Barker said.

Smet, on his first trip to Vegas, had a great time and brought back a shirt for his mom that was autographed by all the pros at the camp.

"She thought it was awesome and was very, very happy with it."

Although he didn't cash in either tournament, he loved the weekend experience.

"I thought it was pretty cool meeting some of the pros and especially Joe (Navarro), the FBI agent. I really learned a lot from his lecture."

Camp Hellmuth was quite an experience for everyone who attended. The pros were easily accessible and seemed to be having as good a time as the campers. Be sure to look out for Camp Hellmuth 2 and your chance to win from the ESPN Poker Club in November.

Andrew Feldman is the ESPN Poker Club's columnist, producer and tournament director. To contact Andrew, e-mail andrew.j.feldman@espn3.com .

Andrew Feldman is ESPN.com's Poker Editor. He is the host of the Poker Edge Podcast and co-host of ESPN Inside Deal. Andrew has covered the poker industry for ESPN since 2004.

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