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."