Lion at the Lake: The 2004 Bellagio $15,000 WPT Event
I did play in the $1570 super satellite the day before the main event but it wasn't noteworthy other than my sitting at the same table as Noam Freedman, Avi Two-Cokes' brother, and the poker femme fatale Isabelle Mercier. I chipped up to about double my starting stack then lost a bunch of small pots and eventually lost a desperation all-in. I wandered out of the tournament area and found Annie Duke sitting at the video-poker bar with my buddy Jim "Krazy Kanuck" Worth. Annie gave me my entry slip for the main event and I was happy to see I got a table in the center of the room. The one thing I didn't like about playing at Bellagio, one of the most beautiful hotels in the world, was the constant stream of cigarette and cigar smoke that drifted into the tournament area from the casino floor and from players dashing outside the ropes for a quick puff between hands. Table 46 was about as far from the rail as you could get so I was happy. Annie asked me for advice on whether to split up a Pair of Kings on her five dollar bet in order to draw one card to a Royal Flush. Since the Pair of Kings only gave her $5 bet back and the Royal draw paid $4000 if it hit I advised her to go for it. She did and got bupkis. The house always won. I bid Annie and Kanuck adieu and rested up for the big one.
They got 376 people for this, the first $15,000 event in the World Poker Tour's history. I got to my table and found all too many familiar faces. As they filled in one by one the chorus of groans got louder and people passed by murmuring and shouting, "You're kidding!" Here was the table lineup: Seat one, Ted "Teddy Bear" Forrest, finalist at the first WPT championship and the guy who took most of my chips when he flopped a Full House to my Three Kings in the last $10k event here. Seat two, Jim "Krazy Kanuck" Worth, my friend and top Internet player specializing in slicing and dicing opponents heads-up. Seat three, Richard "Quiet Lion" Brodie (me). Seat four, Three-time WPT Champion Gus Hansen. Seat five, winner of the last WPT Championship $25k event Martin "The Knife" De Knijff. Seat six, WPT Champ "Magic" Antonio Esfandiari. Seat seven, Evelyn "Evy Babee" Ng. Seat eight, WSOP champ Scotty Nguyen. Only seat nine had an unknown, who gave his name only as "Barry" and spent the first half-hour arguing with the tournament officials over signing the TV release. Seat ten arrived late and we all groaned as yet another bracelet holder sat down: Huck Seed. It was a true rogues' gallery and the cameras buzzed around us all day long.
Most of us played pretty tight, with the exception of Evelyn and Barry, who were coming over the top quite a bit, Evelyn before the flop and Barry after. He snapped off one top player after the other and we were all looking to get some decent cards with which we could call his aggressive raises. I lost a few small pots but then chipped back up to just over the starting 30,000 at the first break. When we returned I found Ace-Nine of Spades on the big blind in a five-way pot. I decided not to exercise my option and the flop came Jack high with two Spades, giving me the nut Flush draw. I checked and no one bet so five players saw the turn, the Seven of Spades, making me the mortal nuts. I checked again, figuring one of these guys would have to try to pick up the pot. It was Barry in seat nine who bet 3000. It folded to me and I raised it to 8000. It folded to Barry and he moved all in. I quickly called and showed him my nuts. "How much do I owe you?" he said, turning over the King-Five of Spades and realizing he was drawing dead. It was a 64,000 pot and since he had me covered that was my new chip count. I had 62,300 at the break.
I was down to 55,000 and the blinds were 200/400 with a 50 ante when Kanuck made it 1500 to go in middle position. I saw Jack-Ten of Spades and called with it in position. Antonio called on the small blind and I flopped top Pair when it came Ten-Six-Trey with two Hearts. It checked to me and I bet 4000 into the 5350 pot. Antonio check-raised me to 14,000 and Kanuck mucked. This was a moment of truth. I knew Antonio was very aggressive and I thought it unlikely that he had check-raised with something like King-Ten. He either had Six-Six, Trey-Trey, or some kind of draw. Since it was much more likely he had a draw than a set and since I didn't know what kind of draw he was on, I put him all in for around 10,000 more. He had odds to call at that point and showed Five-Four for an open-ended Straight draw. "Time to get there," he said, but he didn't and he was out. I, meanwhile, was the table leader with 84,000.
Gus had lost every pot and was very short so I started bullying him a bit. I chipped up to 88,525 at the next break and eagerly called Shortstack to report that I owned the table. Gus finally busted out to Teddy Bear on a coin flip. Tom Jacobs took his seat and Ron Faltinsky replaced Antonio. I ended the day with 86,375, just shy of tripling up. I was 21st in chips going into day two with 231 players remaining. I felt good!
I drew table 49, seat seven for day two. It was a good table draw overall: I was the chip leader at the table and there were only two players I recognized: Mel Judah, a WPT champ, and Jimmy "Jimmy Jimmy" Cha, who had busted me at Borgata when hi hit a three-to-one dog flush draw against my top Set. However, they were directly to my left in seats eight (Mel) and nine (Jimmy) and I was concerned about Jimmy Jimmy since he was a very aggressive player. Early on I found pocket Fives in early position and limped in. Jimmy made it 4500 and it folded to me. I decided to put him to the test and made it 15,000 to go, not something I would ordinarily do with a low pair but I thought he might lay down something like Ace-Nine suited since a limp-reraise represents a big hand. Instead he moved all in for 16,300 more. At that point I was getting almost three-to-one pot odds to call. I suspected he had Ace-King and I called. He did in fact have Big Slick and didn't improve so he was out of the contest and I was up to 114,800. The table started filling in with good players: David "Plastique" Plastik took seat nine; John "JJ" Juanda seat four; and Mark "The Shark" Seif seat two. I had 111,300 at the break.
After Paris and Turning Stone, I decided I had to be willing to see flops with players like JJ and Erik "Rounders" Seidel who raised and reraised a lot preflop. So, along with the won't-be-bullied Javier Quiñones on my right, I kept JJ in check by calling him in position and mixing up my post-flop play, sometimes checking when I hit and betting when I missed. I won a couple pots from him and at the next break I was up to 153,000 and JJ was down to under 60,000.
When we got back from the break I saw another flop with JJ when he raised my big blind and I called with Nine-Seven. This time it came Queen-Nine-Seven, two Spades. I was hoping he had a piece of it so I checked, intending to check-raise on a board that looked like I might have a draw. Instead, he checked behind me and the Jack of Spades came. This time I bet and he called. I figured he had a Jack or a decent Spade. The river was a fourth Spade and I didn't have one. I had to bet to put him to the test with his middle Spade. I decided half his chips was enough so I bet 15,000. He stewed and finally said, "You better not have the Ace," and called, turning over King-Jack with the Jack of Spades. I don't know if he would have folded the Jack had I put him all in but it certainly would have been more uncomfortable for him to call with the Jack. I was down to 120,000 and had brought the most dangerous player at the table back up to 80,000.
JJ raised my blind again in short order but this time I had Ace-King offsuit and I made a small reraise, which is also what I would have done with a big pocket Pair. He thought for a long time and studied me while I looked off into space and tired to replay the Shana Hiatt Girls of Hawaiian Tropic video in my head from memory. Finally I heard his distinctive staccato precise enunciation: "I'm…all…in." I immediately called. "Do you have it?" he asked. I told him I had Ace-King and he turned over his trademark hand: JJ. The flop came King high and it was all over for JJ. I felt bad for knocking out my friend and ending his hopes of making Player of the Year, but you had to win all the chips if you wanted to win the tournament and the almost $1.8 million first prize. I was up to 210,000.
Men "The Master" Nguyen took seat four, nursing a Corona. I lost a coin flip with the short stack in seat six and was down to 155,000. Then seat three raised the 1000/2000 blinds with a 300 ante to 10,000. I decided the big raise meant he didn't want to see a flop so I called on the big blind with Five-Four offsuit. Lo and behold, the flop came Eight-Seven-Six, two Clubs, giving me the bottom end of a Straight. I checked and he bet 25,000, around the size of the pot. He had about 80,000 more so I declared, "I'm all in," thinking he would take a stand with his overpair. He deliberated for a long time and someone called the clock. It's quite rare for someone to call after letting the clock almost run out but call he did, turning over pocket Queens and drawing dead to a runner-runner Full House. The turn paired the six but the river was safe and I had busted another player, putting me up to 275,000. I finished the day with 262,200 the eighth most chips of the remaining 82 players. I had tripled up for the second straight day and was in excellent position to win this thing if my luck and skill held up.
Dinner was at Canal St. Grill, a local favorite steakhouse, with Chad Layne and Shawn "West Texas Man" Rice, both still in the running along with me. We had just a couple Grey Goose martinis, some yummy steak, and retired to our several domiciles to rest up for day three.
Day of ironies
Shana was there for day three, positively glowing under the camera lights as she taped spots for the TV show we were all making. I drew table 33, seat four, and once again managed to avoid most of the top players. Paul Zimbler a European pro, was in seat six; Men The Master, seat seven; Tom Jacobs, seat eight; Vellaisamy Senthilkumar, seat nine; and Erik "123" Sagstrom, seat two. I had never played against the 21-year-old Erik123 before but his reputation preceded him and he lived up to it. Starting shortstacked, he got lucky with Men the Master and busted Men with pocket Kings against Jacks. Humberto Brenes took Men's seat. Then Erik called a raise by Tom Jacobs on his big blind and raised and reraised the flop, forcing Tom to lay down and then showing the useless Seven of Diamonds while raking in the pot. Tom took exception to Erik rubbing it in but in his cherubic innocence he simply turned to me and said, "Surely I must be allowed to show I am capable of a bluff?" I assured Tom Erik didn't mean anything personal but it's tough to get bluffed out of a huge pot like that and be down to the felt so late in the tournament. I then got Tom's last chips when I opened with Ace-Ten suited and he moved in on me with King-Queen offsuit. I won a small pot from Senthilkumar, who's getting a nickname next time I see him, like it or not, and I was up to 339,000.
My luck turned south then and I lost a nice pot to seat one with a Jack-high flush to his King-high flush. They broke the table and I moved to table 51, seat eight. Mark "The Shark" Seif was in seat one; Jennifer Harman, seat five; and Hasan Habib in seat seven. Once again I had only two top pros at the table. As the last time we met, I immediately doubled up Jen when she beat my top Pair with bottom two in an unraised pot. "Is it my destiny always to double you up, Jen?" I asked as I made the call. There was no answer but the sound of chips sliding away from me. That brought me down to 215,000. I won a small pot and was back up to 238,000 at the break.
Right after the break the 51st person was eliminated and we were all in the money, guaranteed at least $21,000 each. The short stacks who had been hanging on started moving all in every hand and it was the perfect time for me to limp with pocket Aces under the gun. Only nobody raised and I ended up four handed in an unraised pot. The flop, though, was pretty good for me: Seven-Six-Trey, all Clubs and I had the Ace of Clubs. The small blind led out 15,000 and had about 125,000 more. With the Overpair and nut Flush draw I moved all in, not wanting to be moved off the hand by a bigger bet on the turn if another Club didn't come. He called with, ironically, Five-Four offsuit for a Straight, the same hand I had won all the chips with yesterday. No Club came and I was down to 95,000. I had 77,000 left when we redrew tables with 45 left.
My new table was 52, seat two. James Van Alstyne, winner of the Ultimate Poker Challenge at the Plaza, was on my left in seat three with a nice stack of 450,000; Paul Zimbler, seat four; David "Devilfish" Ulliott, seat five; Jeff Lisandro, seat seven; Humberto Brenes, seat eight; Eric Weiner, with about 500,000, in seat nine; and Barny Boatman, the voice of Late Night Poker, was in seat one on my right with a short stack. Devilfish was saying something in his Yorkshire tongue but as usual I couldn't understand a word out of his mouth. When I complained he started speaking in perfect James Bond English. "That's great!" I said. "Why don't you always talk like that?" He said something in reply but I had no idea what it was.
I got pocket Fives under the gun and pushed in. Eric in seat nine called with Ace-King but Presto held up and I was back up to 159,000. At the break I had 146,000 and a bit of breathing room. They raced off the 500 chips and the smallest chip we were using was now 1000. I won a few rounds of blinds and antes and was about even at 137,000 when they redrew for tables with 36 people left. My table-draw luck, as well as my card luck, now ran out. I got table 49, seat three. On my left were Ted "Teddy Bear" Forrest in seat four; Hasan Habib, seat five; Howard "Bub" (The Professor) Lederer, seat six; and Johnny "Orient Express" Chan around the corner in seat nine. On my right in seat two was Raymond Davis, an unpredictable, aggressive player. I treaded water and was down to 124,000 at the break.
When we came back I found pocket Jacks in third position. I decided to limp with it so that I could move in over the top if one of the aggressive players raised. The button called and then Johnny Chan overbet the pot with a 50,000 raise. I moved in with hopes that I had him beat but he was probably the tightest player at the table and I had to fade the eight-to-one against someone having Queens, Kings or Aces. He did have Kings and called and my miracle Jack didn't come so I was out of the contest. The Orient Express got me and I went out with JJ's trademark hand, same as him. I finished 33rd, winning $27,227, my biggest cash yet. Since it only cost me $320 to buy into the satellite it was almost all profit.
Tagging along with JJ, I crashed Mike Sexton's holiday party along with Andy "The Rock" Bloch and his girlfriend Jen. Mike put on quite a shindig and many of the TV pros were there including Phil "Unabomber" Laak and his girlfriend, movie star Jennifer Tilly, whom I remembered from the erotic thriller Bound and who sure didn't look a year older than me. I resisted the temptation to ask Phil if he had any nude pictures of his girlfriend and instead focused on seeing how much Dom Perignon I could drink. Someone must have eventually taken me back to the hotel.
Happy holidays to all my friends and readers. My next event will be the $10,000 World Series of Poker Circuit tournament at Harrah's Atlantic City in mid-January.