December 16, 2003

It's a Lot Nicer than Downtown: The 2003 Bellagio Five Diamond World Poker Championship

I flop the nuts

With Shortstack on a secret mission in Toronto, I flew back to Vegas solo for the main event, a $10,200 buy-in four-day No-Limit Hold 'Em extravaganza at Bellagio. I arrived the day before to find Jim "Krazy Kanuck" Worth doing well in the satellite and Erik "Rounders" Seidel on his way to winning the Pot-Limit Omaha championship. Jim unfortunately ran into cold cards and got eliminated before he could win a seat to the big event so he flew home, not wanting to overplay his bankroll by buying into the expensive longshot – a more fiscally prudent plan than many of the 314 entrants who needed to borrow money for their shot at the $1.1 million first prize. Well, they were probably more fiscally prudent than whoever lent them the money.


Jack McClelland announced a record prize pool for a WPT event but he was incorrect since Bellagio takes an additional 3% out of all prize pools in lieu of tips so the Foxwoods tourney with 313 people actually had a bigger prize pool. But if anyone was planning to tip $90,000 Bellagio's got 'em covered. I actually like having the staff paid from the entry fees and think tipping casino employees, who possibly have the power to cheat for or against certain players, is unethical and should be illegal. They should just come right out and tell you it's really a $9700+500 buy-in, not $10,000+200.


The tourney started only a half-hour late and I got table 48, seat 3, with David Grey, who finished eighth at this year's World Series of Poker, to my right and Allen Cunningham, who finished third in last year's WPT event in Paris, two seats to my left. There was no one else I recognized, which was good. Two players were quickly eliminated by the two pros and filling their seats were Vegas legend Bob Stupak and World Poker Tour founder Lyle Berman, who despite possible appearances of impropriety plays in all the events himself.


Since we were starting with 20,000 in chips and the blinds were 50-100 I decided I was going to play a lot of small pairs and suited connectors early and try to trap someone with a big hand. I limped in with Seven-Six of Spades on the button and got called by the small blind with Allen checking on the big. The flop came King-Seven-Six, two clubs. Seat three bet out 300 and Allen raised it to 1800. I couldn't figure out what he had. It was possible but unlikely that he had a Set of Sixes or Sevens, the only two left in the deck; he could have a Flush draw with a pair or with a Straight draw; it was even possible he limped with Jacks or Queens, or even Kings and flopped top Set. I decided to call and see what he did on Fourth Street. An Ace came and Allen bet out 4000. Now there were even more hands he could have that could beat me: Ace-Seven, Ace-Six. He very likely could have nothing, seeing how I sweated out the call on the Flop. I said, "I can't believe I'm laying this down," and decided not to take the risk with my bottom two pair. I just didn't think he'd bluff off a quarter of his stack so early in the tournament against an unknown player. Possibly I got off cheap for 1900 chips. The very next hand he limped with Ace-King so he was capable of disguising a big hand.


The play was conservative for the first couple levels but then a hand came with six limpers and the flop came Ace-Ace-Trey, two diamonds. David Gray bet out and the short stack to my left went all in for a few chips more. Lyle Berman called and so did David. The Turn came Ten of Diamonds so now there were all kinds of possibilities. Three Aces could be beaten by a Flush, which could be beaten by a Full House. David bet and Lyle put him all in which he quickly called. The three players turned over their hands: Seat 4 had pocket Threes for a Full House. David had an Ace and the last Three for a bigger Full House. But Lyle turned over Ace-Ten for the mortal nuts. David could only hope for one of the last two Tens to hit the River and split the pot but it didn't and Lyle had eliminated two players.


Two hands later I limped in with Six-Four of Diamonds and Seat 9, a big good-looking  European man with a pony tail, checked on the big blind. The flop came Five-Trey-Deuce, two Clubs. I had flopped the nut Straight but was vulnerable to a flush draw. I didn't think it was likely he had two clubs and our stacks were much bigger than the pot so I just bet the size of the pot, 400. He made a big raise back at me! I pretended to think for a minute and then pushed all in and he beat me into the pot. I turned over my hand and his face fell as he showed me Ace-Four offsuit for the baby Straight. He had no Club so his only hope was a Six to split the pot, which didn't come. I doubled up to 34,250 and he was almost out.


This was my best early result yet in a big tourney. I watched as Phil Hellmuth, Jr., held onto a very short stack for hours before finally getting knocked out. Andy Bloch walked by and said to hurry up and lose so we could have dinner at a decent hour. Howard Lederer continued his cold streak and got out early but I was sitting on a nice stack.


Lyle eliminated a couple more players with more nuts and a kid came in and sat at Seat 8 across from me. He immediately lost most of his stack doubling up another player and the very next hand he said, "Let's try this again." He bet out and I saw Ace-King on the Big Blind so I put him all in. He called with a Pair of Sixes and they held up so I was down to 30,000. A few hands later I raised in middle position, again with Ace-King. The same guy reraised me. I had an odd feeling that he had a very strong hand but I didn't trust it. I should have. I reraised him all in and he turned over Aces, which also held up. Now I was down to 22,000.


The antes were getting bigger so I tried opening with more marginal hands in late position but each time I did I got reraised by Allen Cunningham. He either thought he had me completely under his control or it was just a coincidence that he had hands every time I did. Then the pony tail guy raised my Big Blind. I put him on a steal so I reraised him all in with King-Queen offsuit. He called with a Pair of Tens, which held up, and now I was down to 7500 and the blinds were up to 300-600 with a 50 ante. I asked Seat 8 if he'd be willing to double me up a couple times. When it folded to me I saw Ace-Queen suited and moved all in. Seat 8 asked me if I wanted action. I shrugged existentially. He called with pocket Jacks but a Queen hit the flop and I doubled up.


Bob Stupak had blinded off most of his chips and had started moving all in a couple times a round. He got caught early this time and was replaced by a fidgety gambler-looking type who raised the pot every single time it folded around to him. After a few rounds of this I played back at him with Ace-Eight for my 14,000 remaining chips. My timing was bad: this time he had Ace-King. No eight came so I was out of the contest.


I called Andy and said it was dinnertime but he was having appetizers with producers and starlets so we decided to wait till 9 p.m. and include Erik. Erik finished the day with what must have been close to the chip lead. He, Andy, young Indonesian star John Juanda and I had dinner at the Artistes steakhouse at Paris. They made a mean bone-in filet and we washed it down with a bottle of 1996 Pichon-Longueville. When I got back to the room, Krazy Kanuck messaged me and asked what my plans were for tomorrow. I replied, "Learn how to play poker."


December 9, 2003

The Stakes Increase: Bellagio $2500 No-Limit Hold 'Em Tourney

Surindar Dorothy

Having packed Shortstack's parents safely away on Carnival's new non-smoking cruise ship, fondly dubbed the Ventilation, we flew back to Sin City for the second of three No-Limit Hold 'Em tournaments in Bellagio's Five-Diamond World Poker Classic. Having played like a moron in the first one, a $1500 buy-in, my goal here was to play smart, take my time, and see if I could read people to make good decisions on whether to hold 'em or fold 'em. Having signed up the night before I showed up around 11 and had a buffet brunch with on-line star Jim "Krazy Kanuck" Worth, Aruba champ Erik "E-Dog" Lindgren, and his friend Josh, whom it turned out I had played against on PartyPoker without knowing it. We ate light so as not to slow down our brains for the tourney.


I got seat seven at table 40 and brought my reading glasses with me to help me distinguish 4's from A's. We started with 5000 chips, twice the dollar value of our buy-in. Two empty seats were to my left, which usually indicated pros, and to my right was Mel Judah, winner of the big event at the Bicycle club earlier this year to be broadcast on the World Poker Tour show in the spring. He played extremely tight in the early going so he wasn't much of a factor for me yet. Arriving a few minutes late in the empty seats to my left were the famous Bob Stupak, who built the Stratosphere hotel, and the very dangerous Surindar Sunar, who was at my table at the Sands. Across the table were Steve, a doctor who was playing a lot of pots with hands like King-Jack offsuit, and a nice lady with a foreign accent who smiled apologetically whenever she won a pot. Since those two were playing almost every pot I decided to wait until I had a powerful hand to beat them with. Soon enough I saw two black Kings and made a small raise in early position. It folded around to the nice lady, who called, and the Flop came Queen-Queen-Six.  I bet out the size of the pot, 700, and she re-raised me, only she didn't re-raise me enough so the dealer made her put in the minimum raise, making it 1400. I looked into her soul and I couldn't think of a thing she could possibly have except a Queen. "You have a Queen?" I asked, and she gave me a Mona Lisa smile. I mucked the cowboys and she proudly showed me the Queen of Clubs. I had lost 20% of my stack but that was probably the least I could have lost with that hand so I felt OK.


I got Ace-King a couple times and the nice lady called me. Both times the Flop came Jack high, she bet, and I folded. One time she showed me the Jack; the other time she may have been bluffing but all I had was overcards so I didn't see a reason to push it. Then I got a Pair of Jacks in the hole in early position. I made a small raise and got re-raised by a Chinese gentleman wearing logo apparel from a California card room. I looked into his soul and decided he had me beat, especially since it was his first re-raise of the day and he was experienced enough to know I was playing tight. He showed me the same black Kings I had lost my first 1000 with. "Nice hand," I said.


By now I was down to 3600 chips when I saw two red Aces on the button. I raised and Surindar called. The flop came Ace-Eight-Four rainbow, giving me a Set of Aces. I tried to remain calm as I pondered. Since Surindar was very aggressive, when he checked I decided to represent a bluff by betting the pot emphatically. "Seven hundred!" I said, slamming the chips down in front of me. He didn't bite and I took the small pot. Perhaps I should have slow-played it, the traditional course of action when flopping a Set of Aces.


One round later, once again on the button, I raised Surindar's blind with Ace-King offsuit. He called and the Flop came King-Eight-Six, two Diamonds. He checked and I once again bet the pot. This time he re-raised me all in, perhaps starting to smell a rat. I thought about the five tournaments I had recently lost with Ace-King but I looked into his soul and decided he was bluffing and if he had flopped a Set, so be it. "I call," I said, and flipped over my hand. "Nice call," he said, and showed Nine-Eight offsuit. He had five outs and they didn't hit so I doubled up to 6250.


The blinds went up and Bob Stupak, having lost a few pots, was down under 2000 chips. He was moving all in frequently, which he did with any ace or pair, and getting some back. I saw pocket Queens on the small blind, made it 700, and Bob reraised me all in. I forgot to look into his soul and called right away, thinking he just had an Ace overcard on me, but he in fact had two of them and I was once again down to 3000.


The guy to Surindar's left had busted out to Steve with a bad all-in reraise and a bad call that hit the river. An Italian-looking gentleman replaced him and when I found Ace-Queen of Spades in late position I bet a third of my remaining chips, 900. The Italian gentleman reraised me all in. I looked into his soul and decided he was weak so I called for my remaining chips. He turned over Ace-Jack suited, making me a big favorite, but a Jack came on the flop and I was out of the contest, finishing 159 out of 297. "Good game," I said, and hung out with superstar Andy Bloch, who was out in the first five minutes, until dinnertime. We wandered over to watch Phil Hellmuth, Jr., make an amazing recovery from 2600 chips to around 70,000. I wondered if I could learn to duplicate his skill.


Dinner was at Aqua with Andy and Rounders co-star Erik Seidel, who showed up five minutes after we had left him with 35,000 chips but got eliminated on a horrendous bad beat of pocket Kings to Vinnie Vinh's Queen-Ten when he flopped two pair after all the money was in. Howard Lederer passed, showing his iron discipline in his daily workouts that help make him one of the most telegenic of the poker stars. Dinner was good, washed down with a bottle of 1989 Pichon-Loungueville Bordeaux. I bid the two world-class pros farewell and told them I'd see them next week at the big event.


December 1, 2003

Bellagio been berry berry good to me

But not this time

Bellagio scheduled a series of high-stakes tournaments during the slowest time of the year, the first half of December, so I decided to make three separate trips down to Vegas to play in the three No-Limit Hold 'Em events. The first was a $1500 buy-in event on Dec. 1. I registered the night before, a good thing because the line the next morning was cantankerous. Shortstack and I had dinner with our buddy Jim "Krazy Kanuck" Worth at Aqua.  We ordered the seven-course feast and a bottle of the 1999 Harlan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, which they had to steal from Picasso. The dinner was awesome as was the company.


I got assigned to table 33 seat 8, a good table for Shortstack to watch me. The tournament started 90 minutes late because of computer problems. There were no world-famous players at the table but the woman to my left was Olivia, the wife of a friend of a girl I grew up with. Small world. Many of the usual suspects were there: Erik Seidel, Chip Jett, Johnny Chan, and David "Devilfish" Ulliott were all thankfully assigned to tables other that mine. Phil Hellmuth, Jr., was nowhere in site but my table was full without him.


When we finally started I drew the big blind and the sunglassed kid in seat 1 raised the 50 blind to 200. It folded to me and I saw a Pair of Aces, Pocket Rockets, American Airlines. I made it 700. He thought awhile and then put in 250. The dealer told him the raise was 500 and he took it out but I said, "I believe that's a call." House rules at Bellagio stated that if you put in half the bet it was considered a call and you had to put in the other half. The dealer offered to get a floor decision and I assented but the kid in seat 1 said, "Fine, I call," and put in 500. The flop came Q-9-6, two Spades. I hoped he didn't hit a Set and moved all in. He folded and I won the first pot of the day.


I won Olivia's blind a couple of times as she folded every hand, playing conservatively in the early going, and then I found Ace-King of Diamonds in early position. I made it 175 and it folded to seat 3 who moved all in. AK suited is my favorite hand for calling all in and I would still have 1500 chips left if I lost so I called. He turned over Jacks and although the flop came two Diamonds the Jacks held up and I lost. I had had visions of being the chip leader but instead I was down to half my starting stack.


Soon after that debacle, I limped in with Seven-Eight of Spades and the flop came 8-6-3, two Spades. I bet 175 and it folded around to my right where an experienced player named Mike called. The Turn was the Nine of Hearts and he checked it to me. Now with a Straight draw and a Flush draw, I bet 325. He reraised me all in, another 1200 or so. I had seen him go all in on a straight draw earlier so I knew he was capable of a semi-bluff with a hand like A-7. I figured I had 13 outs even if he had already made the Straight with a 7-5 and 20 if he hadn't. The pot odds were about right at 2-1 so I gambled and called. He turned over one of the worst hands for me, Jack-9 of Spades, meaning I had only 11 outs: two Eights, three Sevens, four Tens and four Fives. The River was a Jack and I was out of the contest.