November 18, 2003

Who’s Your Little Pequot? The 2003 Foxwoods World Poker Finals

A Seattle Yankee in Chief Pequot’s Court

Next stop on the World Poker Tour was in Connecticut so Shortstack and I took the morning flight to Boston on Alaska Airlines. We got seats 1D and F and waited while two separate mechanical problems caused a 90-minute delay. The flight attendant broke from Alaska’s no-preflight-drink policy and broke out the coffee while we waited interminably on the ramp. Finally we took off into the crisp Seattle air for points east. First Class customers got breakfast, a small fruit plate followed by a choice of apple crepe or omelet. We both took the lower-carb omelet but it turned out to be laced with tortilla strips so Shortstack, who is on a diet but doesn’t need to be, picked hers out while I, who ought to be but am not, ate mine. After breakfast they passed out the new solid-state digEplayer movie viewers, which had a choice of 10 movies, several sitcoms, and various informational slides. I chose The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a historical fantasy thriller starring Sean Connery, but quickly fired up Lionfish and started playing games while I listened to the movie’s sound effects in my Bose noise-canceling headset. Shortstack watched Down with Love, which I had already seen and liked. The flight attendant’s initiative seemed to end with the preflight drinks and she sat and read for most of the flight until it was time to pass out a small cheese plate before landing. We landed the same 90 minutes late we took off in Boston, my home town.


The Hertz bus was waiting for us and took us to the Lincoln LS we had rented. It was a bit small for my taste but not a bad car although I preferred the Volvo S80 they rented for the same price. We set the Neverlost for Foxwoods but just to be sure I asked the guard at the car-lot exit for directions. I had forgotten never to ask a New Englander for directions because we are incapable of saying the words “I don’t know.” First he said, “Oh shuwah, Foxwoods, right. That’s in Connecticut. Whatta ya gonna do, take the Mass Pike oah whut? Hey Al!” He ducked inside the booth and had a short discussion. “Whatta ya gonna do, take 93 oah whut?” I said I was hoping he’d tell us. We decided to trust the Neverlost, which apparently didn’t know how to get us out of the Hertz lot but once we were in the Sumner Tunnel we were fine. With the flight delay we had missed rush-hour traffic and 90 minutes and two States later we saw the gleaming castle rising up out of the Connecticut countryside. We headed for the Grand Pequot Tower. “Who’s your little Pequot?” Shortstack sang to me. The valet took the Lincoln and we checked in at the very nice VIP reception area. The receptionist had a bowl of rocks on her desk. All the other desks had bowls of candy. I leapt to a conclusion. “Are those rocks candy?” I asked. “Yeah.” “You mean you can eat them?” “Yeah.” I picked one up. It sure felt like a rock. “So this rock is candy?” I asked. “Yeah.” “Can I eat one?” “Theyah for our customahs,” she said with a shrug. I still didn’t feel invited but I picked out a nice flat spotted one and popped it into my mouth, being careful not to break any teeth. It turned out to be candy-covered chocolate. Things were not what they seemed here at the reservation. We got our room keys and asked her to make a dinner reservation for us at the steakhouse on the reservation.


They had put us in a nice corner suite so we unpacked and headed down for dinner. The service and décor at the Cedars steakhouse were unremarkable but we had a nice Caesar salad, a very good filet mignon, and a brilliant Tanqueray Ten martini. We signed the bill, under $100, to the room, intending to use Wampum to pay later. Here in the land of the Pequot you earned Wampum from your casino play. We planned to earn heap big Wampum, especially if I got knocked out of the tournament early.


I bought in for the big event tomorrow, $10,000 of hard-earned cash plus a $200 entry fee, and we gambled a little before bed. When we returned to the room we found an enormous gift basket, a cheese plate, crackers, two bottles of wine, and one of those seafood platters on ice that they charge $89 for in a steakhouse. I ate a lobster claw and Shortstack put the rest of the crab and lobster in the fridge so it wouldn’t go bad in case the ice melted overnight.


The big event

The tournament started at noon so we had time to gamble a little and get breakfast in the Veranda Café before it started. I had drawn table one, right by the front door. When I got there no one I recognized was seated but there were two empty seats. The first was taken by no one I recognized and when the tournament started with seat five empty I could only assume it was for my constant companion Phil Hellmuth, Jr. Imagine my surprise, then, when the late arrival was not a tall young Californian but a short Asian man from Houston, Texas: Johnny Chan, winner of back-to-back World Championships and immortalized in the movie Rounders as the world’s greatest poker player.


Most of the players at the table, including me, were pretty conservative, but there was an older fellow in seat two who was playing just about every pot, winning lots of small ones and losing the big ones. I desperately wanted to get into a pot with him and make a hand. When I limped in on the button with Jack-Ten of hearts (Vince Van Patten’s favorite hand) he checked his blind and the flop came Seven-Seven-King, two Hearts. He checked and I checked for the free card. A Heart came on the turn. He bet 200 and I raised 500. He called. I didn’t know what to put him on since he pretty much stayed in any pot unless the bet was too big. I thought it unlikely he had a higher flush but there was always the possibility he had a Full House. The River was a blank and he checked again. I thought I had him beat so I bet the most I thought he would call, 1000. He called. “I have a Flush,” I said, and humbly showed my hand. He turned over a 7 for trips and grumbled about how he kept getting into trouble slow-playing. I wished I had bet more. He probably would have called any amount with that hand.


I lost about a quarter of my stack overplaying an Ace-Queen when the board showed an Ace but my opponent flopped a Set of Fours. An Ace came on the River and I thought I was either a moron for calling his reraise on the flop or lucky not to have lost more—-probably both. My inexperience showed. I won a bunch back with a strong raise on the river with a weak Ace against the player to my right in seat eight, a scar-faced black man wearing a huge jewel-encrusted gold pendant, three enormous gold and diamond rings, a mink coat and matching mink baseball cap—the style of clothing sometimes described as “pimped out.” He won it back and more, though, when I foolishly bluffed all in with a Pair of Nines on a flop of Q-7-3 when he was holding Q-7. No way he would lay that down and I was now down to 6600.


Johnny Chan had hardly played a hand all this time. “Johnny,” I said, “I can see your discipline and experience working as you play very conservatively in the early rounds, looking for your opportunity to make a move.” “Nah, I’m just sleepy,” he said.


The table broke and I got moved to table 19. Still no Phil Hellmuth, Jr., but champion pro Kathy Liebert was there and the mustachioed guy to my left had a world o’ chips. The blinds were still low so I didn’t panic but I knew I needed to get some chips pretty soon. Playing with Phil Hellmuth, Jr., had taught me a good way to get chips: wait until one of the loose-aggressive players such as Phil tried to steal my blind and then reraise him. Kathy wasn’t quite as loose as Phil but she did raise more often that she was likely to get good hands so when I found myself with any decent hand I reraised her and she folded.  She didn’t seem too happy that I had discovered this tactic and she tried several Hellmuth-style conversational ploys in an effort, I supposed, to throw me off my game. Little did she know that I hadn’t much of a game to throw off. In any case, 10 years as a high-school baseball umpire and basketball referee had inured me to most taunts. Finally she pouted. It was an excellent pout and I told her so. We reached an uneasy truce and she started stealing someone else’s blinds.


Alex, a young Russian, sat down to my right and immediately started raising most pots, Hellmuth-style. When finally the table folded around to him on the small blind and he merely called I knew he either had something like Seven-Deuce offsuit or a pair of Aces because with any reasonable hand he would have tried to steal my blind. I had King-Eight offsuit so I just checked. The flop came Nine-Eight-Eight, giving me trips. Alex made a small bet and I made a small raise, thinking he would think I was thinking he was trying to steal and I was trying to re-steal. He called. The turn was a blank and Alex put me all in. “I call,” I said instantly. “Det’s not what I wanted to khear,” he said in his Teddy KGB accent. I showed him my K-8 and he turned over a Nine-Deuce of Spades. He needed one of two Nines on the river. They didn’t come and all of a sudden I had 24,000 chips.


Seat nine got knocked out and Johnny Chan popped back in to take his place. We still didn’t play a pot together, which was fine with me.  What wasn’t fine was that I got no decent hands for about two hours. I didn’t try to steal, which was probably a mistake because when I finally got Ace-King in late position the blinds immediately folded. You respect a guy who plays one hand in two hours. But I had lost half my stack to the blinds and antes and by the end of the day was down to 12,200. Johnny was in worse shape, though: on the last hand he doubled up the guy to my left, who had been slow-playing a Pair of Aces, and finished with only 8500. It was 12:30 a.m. and we went to bed.

75 left


We had breakfast in one of the many VIP lounges scattered throughout Foxwoods. The spread in these lounges surpassed anything in Vegas for variety although perhaps not quality. They were essentially a full buffet with open bar and one location even had omelets made to order.


I had drawn the seat next to Chris “Jesus” Ferguson to start day two. He was the only big name at the table and I was the shortest stack although there were three others with only a little more than me. Blinds had been raised to 600/1200 with a 200 ante so my 12,200 would only last a bit over three rounds. The button started at my seat so I would get a full round before I had to pay the blind. On the second hand the kid under the gun went all in. Everybody folded to Mike, a big guy wearing the style of goatee now referred to as “the Moneymaker,” who looked up in surprise and said, “I call!” he flipped over a Pair of Kings and the guy making the move with two Sixes was soon walking back to Houston. Two hands later it was folded to me. I saw Ace-Eight offsuit and I thought I’d go for a steal so I raised it to 4000. It folded around to Big Mike and he reraised me all in. I thought for a good two minutes. Was he using his image from his last win to re-steal from me? Did he figure I was weak and was reraising me with a weak Ace, in which case I was a big favorite, or a low pair, in which case I was almost even? If he had another big pair or a high Ace I was a dog, but not unbearably so. Ultimately I figured if I folded I was in pretty sad shape so I called and watched with dismay as he turned over Ace-King. After four minutes of day two I was out of the contest in 72nd place out of 313. It was my best finish so far in the World Poker Tour and a steady improvement. I stuck my head in a bucket of ice water for an hour or so and thought about how I could play better.


When I recovered we had an excellent dinner at Fox Harbor, the seafood-and-steak restaurant in the Grand Pequot Tower. Shortstack had her favorite Bouillabaisse while I had a filet mignon. Appetizers were yummy, a smoked-seafood platter for Shortstack and a pot of clams and mussels for me. We got the 1999 Nickel & Nickel John C. Sullinger estate Cabernet, one of the most exciting of the new mid-priced California single-vineyard cabs. We signed it to the room.


Sunday off

Since last year it had taken until 8 a.m. Sunday morning to play down to the final six, Foxwoods had scheduled a day off on Sunday with the final table to be played at noon Monday. We took it easy, chowing down periodically on the great spreads at the many VIP lounges scattered throughout Foxwoods. We had dinner with Rafe “Tiltboy” Furst and last year’s Aruba WPT pro-division champ Phil Gordon at Paragon, a world-class gourmet room perched atop the Grand Pequot Tower. They were all out of roast Pequot so Shortstack and I shared an excellent Caesar salad and chateaubriand for two. Phil told us the exciting news that he would be co-hosting Celebrity Poker Showdown, a new poker show Tuesday nights on the Bravo cable channel and we promised to watch. We ordered the Nickel & Nickel Sullinger again and the waitress was nice enough to run down to Fox Harbor to find a bottle of ’99. Andy Bloch joined us for dessert, which as a rule I don’t eat but they had a frozen espresso soufflé so I ordered just one. Phil wanted to play roshambo for the bill but I wasn’t about to get suckered into a match with these world-class players so I just offered to pay the bill if they got the tip. I figured there was a 50-50 chance the casino would pick it up and that was better than my chance of beating those guys at roshambo.


I don’t know, Alaska

I wanted to look for Shana because in Aruba we had kind of said we’d see each other here but Shortstack wanted to get an early start so we powwowed with the casino hosts over the wampum needed to pay our bill and checked out. We set the Neverlost on the Lincoln for the Chestnut Hill Mall just outside of Boston so Shortstack could visit Bloomingdale’s while I found a Starbucks and used the T/Mobile hotspot to connect to the Internet. We had our traditional lunch at Legal Sea Foods—I tried the fabulous lobster roll while Shortstack had Cajun-style salmon—and allowed an hour for the rush-hour drive to the airport but what with the Ted Williams Tunnel and all it only took 20 minutes. Once again the Neverlost couldn’t navigate to the Hertz lot but we followed the signs and zipped in no problem.  We used the kiosk to check in at Alaska and used the far security checkpoint because the close one had no First Class line. One pleasant and one unpleasant woman let us into the US Airways club with our Alaska Board Room card and we used the low-speed dialup and munched on the party mix while waiting for the 5:00 delivery of plastic-wrapped cheese bites.


The 737-700 may have been the same airplane as the one that got us here and we had the same seats, 1D and F, and the same flight attendant who seemed more interested in reading the National Enquirer than refilling our glasses during the six-and-a-half-hour flight. The digEplayers had the same program as before so this time we watched the remake of Solaris, like the original a murky sci-fi emotional poem only this time with George Clooney incongruously inserted as the lead, and X2, a weak contrived sequel to X-Men highlighted by Patrick Stewart and lots of cute mutant girls. We circled Seattle for a half-hour before landing, making this perhaps the longest domestic flight we’d ever taken. It was driving rain in Seattle but we got Lioncar out of hock and drove the 20 minutes home to find the windstorm had blown a dead Alder tree straight across our driveway. Fortunately it was rotten and had smashed to pieces, much like my poker game, and together we cleared the way to get in the house for a short night’s rest. Next stop: Showdown at the Sands.


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