December 22, 2004

Lion at the Lake: The 2004 Bellagio $15,000 WPT Event

Lion at the Lake: The 2004 Bellagio $15,000 WPT Event

Super nothing

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.

Rogues' Gallery

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!

Double Triple

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 QuiƱones 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.

December 19, 2004

I Like that Lake: 2004 Five-Diamond series at Bellagio

Pot's the limit

I got the word that in the future, all tournaments at Bellagio would be No-Limit Hold 'Em so these would be the last times I'd be playing Pot-Limit Hold 'Em or Omaha for a while here. Today's event was a small $1570 Pot-Limit Hold 'Em tourney with 245 entrants. I drew table 50, seat nine. John "JJ" Juanda, my friend and one of the most feared players in the world, was on my right, which was right where I wanted him. The only other one I recognized was Richard Tatalovich in seat one on my left, a tricky, experienced player. I doubled up quickly when I raised with pocket Aces and got called by Queen-Jack when the flop came Queen high. That got me to 5250 from my starting 3000 and a nice compliment from JJ, who said, "I couldn't have played it any better myself." Next I had pocket Kings in the small blind and I raised the pot against seven limpers. It folded to seat five, who reraised all in with his short stack. Seat six called but when I re-reraised all in he folded Ace-Queen. Seat five had pocket Eights and my cowboys held up, busting him and bringing me to 7500. Chris Bjorn took seat five and I dribbled down to 5900 by the break. I went card-dead for the next two hours. Finally I called one of JJ's frequent raises with King-Ten suited. The button and big blind called behind and the flop came King high. I check-called the flop, getting heads-up with the button. It checked down and I got outkicked when he showed King-Jack. I asked JJ if he could have played that one any better and he said yes. I was down to 725 and put it in with Ace-Nine but the button woke up with Ace-King and I was out of the contest 107th.


Next up was the $2080 No-Limit Hold 'Em event, which drew 358 players. I got table 45, seat three, with Layne "Back to Back" Flack on my left in seat four, Robert Williamson in seat six, Max "The Italian Pirate" Pescatori in seat eight and Mel Judah in seat ten. I won several small pots and chipped up to 5450 at the first break. When we got back I found AA on the small blind and busted seat one, bringing me to 9350. I ran into a set then won a coin-flip and had 8475 at the next break. I chipped up to exactly 10,000 when I moved in with pocket Queens on the small blind in response to seat one's late raise. Layne, who had me covered, moved in behind me and seat one folded. Layne turned over Big Slick, spiked an Ace on the flop, and I was out of the contest, finishing 122nd.


Two hundred ninety-one turned out for the $3100 No-Limit Hold 'Em event and I drew table 35, seat seven. Gerry Drehobl, winner of this year's WSOP $1000 event, was in seat one; Chris Hinchcliffe seat two; Stan Goldstein seat three; David "Devilfish" Ulliott seat five; Two-bracelet winner Scott Fischman seat six; Men "The Master" Nguyen seat nine; and Tom McEvoy seat ten. It was a pretty tough table. Gerry busted out quickly and was replaced by Pete Moore. I didn't hit much of anything until the 100/200 level when Men limped in second position and gave me a free flop on the big blind with Seven-Six offsuit. The flop came Ten-Nine-Eight, two Clubs and I decided to bet out with my Straight and hope he had an overpair or a set so he would raise and I could come over the top. I bet 400 and Men made it 1000. I put him on either a draw or an overpair so I moved all in because about two-thirds of the remaining cards in the deck would complete some kind of draw and I didn't know which ones to be scared of. He thought so long that someone called for the clock and he timed out, his hand automatically folded. He told me he had pocket Jacks and I told him I had Two Pair. One of us may have been telling the truth. I had 5375 at the break.

I played aggressively but lost every pot and was down to 2175 when Fischman opened in late position. I put him on a steal and moved in with Ace-Six offsuit, something I don't usually do but I thought I had the best hand in this case. He called with a real hand, though, pocket Sevens, and my Ace never came so I was out of the contest in 149th place, not making my customary top half of the field. Well, it paid the same as 145th.


I had been practicing Pot-Limit Omaha, a game that's pretty easy to play decently and even easier to play badly. Only 109 people entered the $2600 event, which I supposed was why Bellagio was eliminating it from their repertoire. I drew table 46, seat four. James Hoeppner had seat six; Joe "The Elegance" Beevers seat seven; World PLO Champion Ted Lawson seat eight; and one of the top PLO players in the world, Robert Williamson, in seat three. Robert arrived almost an hour late due to scheduling conflicts and Ted Lawson got knocked out shortly thereafter. I hardly played a hand but won a couple small pots to get to 5375 at the break, up from my starting 5000.

The table broke and I moved to table 47, again in seat four. Thor Hansen was in seat one; Tony Cousineau seat two; Barry "Spock" Greenstein seat three; Hendon Mobster Ross "Rocky" Boatman seat eight; and "Minneapolis" Jim Meehan seat nine. I missed every flop and was down to 4475 at the next break. Then, on the button, I was second to call one of Minneapolis Jim's frequent raises with Nine-Eight-Eight-Seven, the Nine suited. The big blind reraised and Minneapolis Jim and the original caller called, as did I for 1050 more. The flop came Ten-Nine-Eight rainbow, giving me bottom set on a very dangerous board. But the big blind bet the pot and then Jim raised all in. It folded to me and I made an easy call for my 3000 remaining chips into the 10,050 pot since neither of the others figured to have a higher set. I put Jim on Queen-Jack and the other guy on Ace-Ace, which was probably right since he folded. Jim turned over the cards I expected, giving me about a 40% chance to more than quadruple up, but the board didn't pair and I was out of the contest in 36th place—my customary finish in PLO tourneys.

Cannot Can Can

The next tourney was Pot-Limit Hold 'Em again, this time for $2600. Only 168 people entered and I drew table 42, seat five. There was only one player I recognized at the table but it was my nemesis Can Kim Hua. I told him my goal today was to win my first pot from him so I played every time he was in and finally won a tiny one, pumping my fists in triumph and screaming, "Jaaaaaaaa!" I was up three green chips to 5075 at the break. I chipped up to 5850 when they broke the table but they brought Can with me to table 48. I had seat two and Can seat eight. Ted Lawson was in seat four; Humberto Brenes seat six; "Magic" Antonio Esfandiari seat seven; and Allen Cunningham seat nine. This was a tough table and it was one of the last to break so I was trapped here for the duration. Can started right in on me by raising my big blind and I defended with pocket Treys. I flopped my set when it came Ace-Jack-Trey. I check-raised his 1000 to 2500 and he called. The turn was another Ace. I thought he must have an Ace and would have to call me so I moved all in, hoping he didn't have Ace-Jack. He called and turned over Ace-Seven. Unless the last Ace, a Jack, or a Seven came on the river I was going to double up but the ugly, ugly, Seven of Diamonds jumped out of the deck and squirted cider in my ear. I was out of the contest in 100th place even.

Another day, another $3000

The next event I played was another $3100 No-Limit Hold 'Em tourney, this one drawing an astounding 420 players. I drew table 31, seat four, and had "Kamikaze" Hon Le in seat one; French movie star and kindred high-stakes amateur Patrick Bruel, who had busted me at a prior final table here, in seat five, Gavin Smith, who did well in the Plaza Championship but whose Aces I had cracked to bust him on the Party cruise, in seat nine; and Foxwoods winner Tuan Le, a very aggressive player who busted me at my last final table, in seat ten. I played frisky but it didn't pay off early and I was down to 2775 when I found Ace-King of Clubs under the gun. I decided to limp with it so I had the option of reraising if one of the aggressive players raised. Gavin and Tuan called but the Kamizaze Kid made it 600. I moved in, it folded to him, and he called with Ace-Queen of Spades, making me a nice favorite. The flop came Jack-Ten-Deuce with two Spades, giving him 157 outs, but they didn't hit and I was back in business with 5500. I had Hon covered barely so he was out. But my old foe Can Kim Hua immediately came to take his place! I asked who he was juicing to make sure he got my table but he remained inscrutable. I won a couple small pots and was up to 7025 at the break.

The gorgeous Evelyn "Evy Babee" Ng sat down in seat two and when someone other than I busted Can he was replaced by Dan "Lucky Egg" Gordon, a fellow UltimateBet qualifier for the upcoming main event here. I fiddled and diddled and chipped up to 10,100 at the break. Charles Hiatt (no relation to Shana) in seat three limp-reraised me all in when I had Ace-King. I called and he turned over Queen-Jack, not a great hand for that move but he made a Pair and doubled through me. That brought me back to around my starting stack but I doubled up with pocket Jacks versus pocket Tens, all but assured of victory by a Jack-high flop. I was up to 13,000. With several inexperienced players at the table and the antes in I wanted to play a lot of pots so at the 300/600/50 level I limped under the gun with a very marginal hand, Ace-Jack offsuit. Evy Babee called and then Charles Hiatt moved all in for 3250 more. I didn't think Evy would call if I did and I thought it likely I had the best hand. Even if I didn't I was getting nearly two-to-one pot odds so I called. He turned over Ace-Eight offsuit. Of course he flopped an Eight and I was down to 9000. I had now doubled him up twice once as a two-to-one favorite and now as a five-to-two favorite. I checked my lucky lion coin to see if it was operating properly but didn't see anything obvious. I went to the break with 9925.

The blinds were now 400/800/75 and Evy had been raising a lot of pots with her big stack. I decided to reraise her all in with King-Queen suited and she called with Ace-Nine offsuit. I was only a slight underdog in this matchup with over 45% probability of winning but an Ace flopped and I was out of the contest in 121st place. I felt good about my play but got unlucky.

Last train to Omaha

The final Omaha tourney at the Bellagio, for a while at least, was a $3100 event with 94 entrants. I drew table 49, seat two, and had no one there I recognized other than Ted Lawson on my left in seat three. Seat four quickly busted and Amir Vahedi came in to replace him. With Ace-Ace-x-x and one suited Ace on the button I got three-way action from Ted and seat nine. Seat nine got it all in with Two Pair but Ted wisely folded a set to save some chips on the river. I was up to 11,800 from my starting 6000. They broke the table and I went to table 45, seat four. Lawson followed me to seat six; the dangerous Scott Fischman had seat seven; Erik "Rounders" Seidel seat nine; and Billy Duarte quickly busted out of seat two to be replaced by Barry "Spock" Greenstein. In a seven-way unraised pot, I had King-King-Ten-Trey with the suited King of Clubs. The flop came Ace of Clubs-Queen-Eight of Clubs, giving me the nut Flush draw. Barry bet 1500. I called, hoping for more callers behind and putting Barry on Ace-Queen or Ace-Ace. The Seven of Clubs came on the turn, giving me the nuts. Barry checked to me and I moved in for 4500 into a pot with just over 5000 in it. He thought for a bit and then called with Ace-Ace-x-x, making him a three-to-one dog to fill up on the river, but the ugly, ugly Queen of Clubs came, giving Spock a Full House and sending me to the showers, out of the contest in 39th place.

Tomorrow was the super satellite but I had already won my entry into the main event so if I played it would just be for the cash.

December 10, 2004

Five-Something: December 2004 Bellagio Series

Five-Something: December 2004 Bellagio Series

Uneventful start

The ladies in the tournament-registration booth had finally learned my name so when I plunked down $2080 to enter event No. 1 in the current series at Bellagio they had the advantage of me: they knew my name but I didn't remember if this was the Five Diamond event or the Five Star event, two of the three annual tournament series held at the premier hotel-casino in Las Vegas, at least for another four months, when Wynn opened down the street. Arnie the Compmeister was in town and he had asked me to get (comped) tickets for the new Cirque du Soleil show at the MGM Grand, "Ka." I got the tickets but told him I might not make the show or dinner before because I was in a tournament.

There were 306 entrants in the first event. I drew table 55, seat three, and the only two people I recognized were Max "The Italian Pirate" Pescatori in seat one and a guy named Steve on my right in seat two. Steve was the one who had flopped a set of Nines in the big hand at my table in October when Tommy Franklin made a Straight on the river to knock out half the table including Paul "Pretty Boy" Phillips. With a table full of unknowns I sliced and diced, chipping up nicely, and then busted a maniac in seat eight when he moved in with Queens on my reraise with Kings. That put me up to 7250 from my starting 4000. Seats two and four busted and were replaced by Tommy Vu and Layne "Back to Back" Flack respectively. I got a free flop with Eight-Deuce of Hearts when seat six limped and the flop came King-Eight-Eight, giving me trips. I check-raised the limper and he moved in for about half what was already in the pot. I called and he turned over pocket Kings for the full house so I was drawing dead to the last Eight. It didn't come and I was back down to 4000. Layne tsk-tsked me and said I should have known he had the Kings. I said I wasn't that good.

They broke the table and moved me to 49, seat eight. Tony Cousineau was in seat four; young up-and-comer David Sternbaum was in seat six; Chad Layne was on my right in seat seven; Tony Ma on my left in seat nine; and Danish pro Claus Nielsen in seat ten. I won a small pot and was up to 5175 at the break. Things deteriorated from there and I was down to 1600 when, just as I looked at my cards to see Ace-King on the button, Claus on the big blind said, "Good time to steal." I thanked him for the advice, hemmed and hawed, and then put my chips in. Tony Ma quickly called with Ace-Seven and I was up over 3000. I treaded water by winning a few blinds and antes but finally Tony Ma got his revenge and busted me with Ace-Ten suited versus my Ace-Six on the button. He flopped a Ten and it was all over but the crying. I was out of the contest 91st.

I was out just in time to meet Shortstack and the Compmeister for dinner at the MGM. Arnie gave the thumbs-up to the Creole-spiced lobster at Emeril's. I had the yummy pecan-crusted Texas redfish with Emeril's signature barbecued shrimp to start. We washed it all down with the 1995 Kathryn Kennedy Cabernet Sauvignon, fruity but with an unexpectedly pronounced acid content. From there we went to Ka, where we were escorted to great seats in the lower center of the showroom. They were still working the bugs out of the performance but some of the effects were spectacular. I rated it as good as the other two Vegas Cirque shows I had seen, O and Mystere. As I sat enraptured by the dancing, flying, lights, and music, my mind kept drifting to pocket pairs and flopping sets. I couldn't wait for the next event.

November 23, 2004

On-Line Lion

Sixteen Dimes

I entered the UltimateBet satellite tonight for the upcoming $15,300 event at Bellagio and, lo and behold, I topped the field of 99 to win the entry plus $700 for travel expenses. The entry fee was $320 so I'm freerolling the main event next month. Everything went right tonight. I won most of my coin flips, cracked Aces, made my flush draws, and got the cards when it came down to heads-up play. Winning is nice.


November 22, 2004

Outfoxed: The 2004 Foxwoods WPT Event

Ho ho ho

At the suggestion of Avi "Two Cokes" Freedman I spent the next two days in a high-limit mixed game, a combination of Hold 'Em and Omaha Hi/Lo with a betting structure of $300/$600.  This game was referred to as "300/600 HO." There were acronyms for just about every combination of games and most of the big action tended to be in the mixed games. I did pretty well in this game, winning nicely on Friday and losing about half back on Saturday, although I still wasn't really sure I know how to play limit Hold 'Em. It was fun playing with all those big chips; that was for sure. Foxwoods was a rather unpleasant place to play, although like most modern card rooms there was no smoking allowed. The cocktail service typically took 10-15 minutes to retrieve an order. There were no comps to speak of and they had a no cell-phone policy, not just at the tables but anywhere in the poker room. I asked a floorperson about it and he said someone had used a camera phone to take pictures of the players and posted them on the Internet so they banned cell phones. I didn't bother to point out that anyone taking a picture would take it before they could yell at him and the people they were yelling at, talking on the phones, were not taking pictures. He went on to say they wanted to ban food from the poker room because it made a mess. Those darned customers, always making things inconvenient for the employees.


I left the game early on Friday to go to the Full Tilt Poker dinner they were putting on for the winners of their on-line satellites. One of the guys had bought in for $4.40 and made it all the way to the big event. We all wished him luck. Dinner was at the award-winning Boom restaurant in nearby Stonington, CT. The place was owned by Erik "Rounders" Seidel's sister-in-law and she rolled out the red carpet for the guests. I probably could have finagled an invitation from Full Tilt since many of my friends were affiliated with the site but I ended up going as Avi Two-Cokes' brother Noam's date. They brought around huge plates of delicious hors d'oeuvres and poured a yummy little California Cabernet, which I drank too much of so I was glad I had the day off tomorrow. Among the Tilters present were Erik, Andy "The Rock" Bloch, Howard "Bub" (The Professor) Lederer, John "JJ" Juanda, Phil Ivey, Allen Cunningham, Melissa Hayden, and Jennifer Harman. I was also pleased to meet Thomas "Raze It" Giorgi, one of the best players on Full Tilt.  The steak I had for the entrée was world class. I had come over on the bus but snuck into the VIP limo for the ride home.


I spent Saturday recovering from the wine while the first half of the 674 entrants played. My turn came Sunday. I drew table 10, seat eight. There was no one at the table I recognized but I just got no cards all day. Eventually former WSOP champ Huck Seed came and sat on my left but he busted out quickly. Finally I gambled on a pair of Nines in early position and called a reraise all in by an unpredictable player on the small blind. He had Jacks. I didn't improve and I was out of the contest early. I went up to the VIP lounge and found WPT finalists Matt Matros and Russell Rosenblum commiserating. We were all exhausted and about to leave when Erin Ness, the girl from Maxim magazine who got a lot of TV time in this year's World Series main event, walked in. All of a sudden everyone had plenty of energy and we hung around talking to Erin for a couple hours.


I had already booked my return flight for Monday in anticipation of busting out the first day. Andy "The Rock" Bloch busted soon after I did and we made plans to drive up to Boston together to catch our flights. We used some wampum to buy gas and headed up about four hours before flight time, leaving us plenty of room for error and traffic. It was a good thing, too, because the Neverlost, for some reason, took us through scenic Rhode Island surface streets instead of taking the Mass Pike. We saved $6.10 in tolls and got to the airport on time anyway.


The evening Alaska flight left punctually and I watched a couple movies on the digEplayer while downing scotch and soda. I enjoyed I, Robot, a Will Smith sci-fi flick only loosely based on Asimov's book of the same name. Then I watched Around the World in 80 Days, a children's adventure movie that I picked just because Jackie Chan was in it. Both movies entertained but didn't make my list of all-time greats.


Shortstack picked me up in the black T-Bird and whisked us back to Kirkland, home of Costco and us. My next tournament series was at Bellagio in December.


November 17, 2004

Lion in the woods: The Inaugural Professional Poker Tour event at Foxwoods


The Professional Poker Tour, a series of five $500,000 freerolls for top poker pros, was launching its first event just prior to the Foxwoods WPT tournament so I booked a nonstop on Alaska Airlines to Boston, rented a Hertz car with Neverlost, and set the controls for the heart of the Sun—Mohegan Sun. I had booked a room at Mohegan Sun, a somewhat nicer hotel and casino than Foxwoods, deciding the ten-minute commute through scenic New England countryside was worth it. I got a Sky Suite overlooking the Thames River, imported at great expense from England. All the rooms at both hotels had complimentary high-speed Internet access so I plugged in my Airport Express and got wireless throughout the suite. I drove over to Foxwoods to check out the action over there and then headed back to Mohegan to get a good night's sleep before the tournament.

We started with 134 players out of the 200 or so who qualified, many of the pros still in Monte Carlo for the event there. I drew table four, seat four, and as expected it was a rogue's gallery of scary opponents. Tony Cousineau has seat one; James Hoeppner seat two; Mirage WPT champ Eli Elezra seat three; the highly respected Lee Watkinson seat six; long-time pro Mickey Appleton seat seven; WPT commentator and long-time pro Mike Sexton seat eight; and WPT finalist Mohammed Ibraham seat nine. The seat to my left started empty, giving me a slight advantage as the vacant chip stack got blinded off.

Foxwoods had ordered special playing cards for the tournament series but unfortunately someone lost sight of one of the important qualities of playing cards: you shouldn't be able to tell which card it is by looking at the back. These decks had large areas of solid red and black on the backs and the black especially got scuffed and marked almost instantaneously. When "Minneapolis" Jim Meehan moved into the seat to my left about an hour into the event, he ordered a shot and a beer and said, "On the first hand I saw the Ace of Hearts and the King of Diamonds. They're both marked on the back and I've memorized them. On the next hand I got the Ace of Diamonds and that one's marked too. Pretty soon I'll have the whole deck memorized. Now I don't care if you want to keep playing with them but I just thought you should know." We asked for a new deck. Meanwhile I got nothing and was down to 9625 at the first break and 7225 at the second break.

Mohammed got knocked out and was replaced briefly by Chip Jett, who also busted and was replaced by Chau Giang. Tony C busted as well but the chips weren't going to me as I continued getting a rare decent starting hand and no action on it when I did. Finally with the blinds 150/300 and a 50 ante, Minneapolis Jim, well into his fourth shot-and-beer at this table, opened under the gun for a tiny raise to 625. Eli called on the small blind and I called on the big with Ten-Seven of Clubs. The flop came Eight-Six-Four with two Clubs, giving me a monster draw. I decided to check-raise Minneapolis all in but he pre-empted me by moving in himself. Eli thought a long time then folded. I called immediately and was happy when Jim turned over Pocket Kings because I didn't want to see Ace-King of Clubs. I hit my Nine on the river and Jim went into a drunken tirade about how I could be happy he had Kings. A couple others at the table tried to tell him I was actually a favorite with my 15 outs but I knew he knew that and it was all an act. Jim was an attorney, had a mind for math, and figured to gain an advantage by pretending to be a drunken idiot. Not that he wasn't drunk, but he wasn't an idiot. I was back up to 9550, almost my starting stack. Erik "Rounders" Seidel took Tony C's seat one and I bullied him a little, going to the next break with 10,450. I was playing against the top players in the world and I was up 450!

Immediately after the break they broke our table and I moved to table eight, seat nine. Karina Jett, Chip's wife, had seat one; Hoyt Corkins seat two; Minh Nguyen seat four; the very feared John "JJ" Juanda seat five; Kenna James seat six; Lee Watkinson seat seven; and Farzad Bonyadi seat eight on my right. Farzad had raised the 300/600 blinds to 1800 in early position and I saw pocket Aces. I decided to take a chance and slow-play them, hoping one of the aggressive players such as Juanda would reraise, so I just called. Minh called on the button and the flop came Eight-Five-Trey rainbow, a pretty safe flop for me unless Minh had made a set. Farzad bet out 4500. I decided to put my remaining few chips in so I made it 7325. Minh reluctantly folded and Farzad very reluctantly called the few more chips with pocket Nines. Minh said he also had Nines so Farzad was dead to a runner-runner Straight, which didn't come—in fact I made a runner-runner wheel I didn't need—and my patience paid off as I was up to 18,000.

Two hands later they moved me to balance tables and sent me over to the featured table; however, the camera crew had gone home so no TV time for me tonight. I was in seat eight. Robert Turner was in seat nine; Chris Bigler seat one; Josh Arieh seat three; Joe Cassidy seat four; Brian Haveson seat five; 2002 WSOP Champ Robert Varkonyi seat six; and Hoyt Corkins seat seven. On the first hand I limped early with pocket Fours and Robert on my left moved all in. I decided he had a big pair and mucked. He showed Aces. I had 15,625 at the break.

With the camera crew gone they moved us en bloc to a more comfortable table. Kathy "Pokerkat:" Liebert took the empty seat two; Barry Shulman took seat four after Joe Cassidy busted; and when Robert Turner went broke on my left he was replaced by Marsha Waggoner. I went card dead again and got cut off on my steal attempts, getting down to 6600 when I reraised the bullying Josh Arieh all in with Ace-Eight of Diamonds, figuring to gamble with slightly the best of it as I knew he would call. He did and showed Jack-Four of Diamonds, making me almost a two-to-one favorite. The flush came and I was up to 18,000. Kathy Liebert busted and my nemesis Can Kim Hua came into Brian's seat five when he went broke. At the end of the day there were only 39 left out of the starting 134. I had 13,400, a profit to be sure but somewhat short-stacked against the average of 34,360. I would be coming out firing tomorrow.

Teddy Bear, Lion, and Dorothy

We had redrawn for seats last night. I drew table five, seat four. Jennifer Harman had seat one; Eli Elezra seat two; former WSOP champ Brad Dougherty seat three; Dewey Tomko seat five; Card Player publisher Barry Shulman seat six; John Phan seat eight; and Randy Holland seat nine. The very first hand, John Phan, with a big stack, raised my big blind and the short-stacked Brad Dougherty moved all in for more than I had. I looked down and saw Ace-Queen offsuit. With all the money in the pot I decided to call and try to triple or quadruple up; as long as nobody had Aces or Ace-King I was in OK shape. John mucked and Brad turned over the same hand as me. We chopped the pot and I was up to 18,000. John Phan lost a couple big pots and was out. Then I raised with Ace-Jack under the gun. Dewey moved all in for not much more and I called after it folded around to me. He had pocket Eights but my Ace flopped and Dewey was out. Robert Varkonyi came into the empty seat seven and Barry "Spock" Greenstein took seat eight. Barry moved in on my big blind and, having played with him in this situation before, when I saw Ace-Seven of Clubs I figured I was about even money and with the blinds and antes in the pot I called. He turned over King-Queen offsuit and somehow my brain froze because I thought I needed a pair to win the hand. I kept shouting, "Ace," and when none came, I patted the table but Barry was getting up and I realized I had won the hand. I apologized and saw Jennifer giving me a Mona Lisa smile. I said, "I don't know how I can be so smart and then be a complete space cadet in a situation like that." She said, "You're a poker player." The space cadet-poker player was now up to 41,000.

Eli was having trouble pronouncing Brad Dougherty's name and kept calling him "Dorothy." Finally I asked if he was needling him or really couldn't pronounce his name. Eli said he really thought that was how it was pronounced. I turned to Brad and said, "If you're not lucky, that nickname will stick."

I took a small pot from Varkonyi and with 48,000 chips I was now above average for the first time since the tournament started. Then Jennifer, short stacked, moved in on my big blind from the cutoff. I had Queen-Jack offsuit and decided three-to-two pot odds were good enough to call with the range of hands she might have. She had Ace-King, which wasn't too bad for me, making me a two-to-one dog, and the flop came Ace-Queen-Jack, putting me ahead. But she turned a Ten for the Straight and an unneeded Ace came on the river and I had doubled up a dangerous player. I had 33,800 at the break.

Phi Nguyen came in to seat five and they decided to move us en bloc to the featured table. That meant hanging out with Kay Han, the Shana Hiatt of the PPT. Kay was extremely friendly and personable and a good choice for someone whose job it was to interview players who've just lost their shot at half a million bucks. They miked us up, told us how to use the hole-card cameras and we were underway. Barry Shulman, who was down to the felt, was second to act when he moved in for less than three times the big blind. Since it wasn't much more to call, I did, with Seven-Five offsuit. Barry had King-Eight but I made a pair and he was out of the contest. Ted "Teddy Bear" Forrest took his seat and Dan Heimiller took seat eight. They moved Brad "Dorothy" to balance the tables and I was down to 23,600 at the break.

I had only 20,800 when with 18 players left we redrew for seats. I got the non-featured table, seat five, with Teddy Bear in seat one, Thor Hansen in seat two, Casey Kastle in seat three, John "JJ" Juanda in seat four, Dan Heimiller in seat six, Brad Dougherty in seat seven, "Action" Dan Harrington in seat eight, and Jennifer Harman in seat nine. I was down to 18,200 when we colored up the black chips. They moved Dan Heimiller to the featured table for balancing. I won some blinds and antes and by the dinner break I was up to 28,000.

I had dinner in the very mediocre buffet with Hoyt, Shawn "West Texas Man" Rice, Aaron "Iowa" Loew, and a couple others. It killed me to pay $13.99 for it. Your best bet for having dinner at Foxwoods was to drive to Mohegan Sun.

When we got back I was looking for opportunities to come over the top of Ted Forrest, playing his big stack aggressively as he should. I called one raise on the big blind and moved in when I got a piece of the flop. He folded and that brought me up to 46,000. You didn't have to win too many pots at this level to get chips. Then, with 38,000, Casey Kastle made it 8000 to go. I called with King-Queen offsuit on the button, hoping to see a flop with position on him, but Action Dan moved all in on the big blind. Casey took a few minutes and then folded. I started talking to Dan, trying to get a read on him, but then I said, "There's no way I'm ever going to get a tell from you, is there?" I figured it was equally likely he was making a move or he had a big hand. I was in big trouble against Aces or Kings and not too happy with Ace-King or Queens. Finally I decided that since I was getting no callers when I was moving in that I would wait for a better spot and I folded.

I was down to 22,000 when Teddy Bear raised my small blind and I saw Ace-Jack. I figured I had him beat and pushed in, but Dorothy moved in right behind me. Ted took a little time and then folded and Brad turned over pocket Tens. With my overcards I had a 43% chance of winning the pot, which now had 62,000 in it, but alas, my cards didn't come and I had to surrender to Dorothy. I was out of the contest in 12th place, my best finish ever in a televised event but only the top six got paid.

Immediately after I busted out, Ron Rose noticed that with the cheap paper cards Foxwoods was using players could see the reflections of the card faces in the illuminated Plexiglas around the rim of the featured table. The crew spent two hours sanding it down before they continued but I just went back to the Mohegan and crashed. The main event was in two days.

October 27, 2004

Festa Famine: The Third Annual Festa al Lago Series at Bellagio

A Good Start

Bellagio was hosting the third annual "Festa al Lago" series and I wasn't quite sure how I could have attended three annual events when I'd only been playing poker a year and four months but I flew down to Vegas anyway in an attempt to boost my Player of the Year standings. The first event was a $1060 No-Limit Hold 'Em tournament that drew a whopping 367 entrants. I drew table 44, seat nine. The only familiar face was Tommy Vu in seat four. I played a lot of hands but won few pots and was down from the starting 2000 to 1100 at the first break. Things improved, though, and I worked my way up to 6300 by winning a lot of small pots and winning some coin flips with short stacks. I doubled through Asher Derai, a top tournament pro, when seat eight opened for 1200 of his 3200 and I smooth-called with pocket Queens. Asher moved all in with a big stack. Seat eight folded and I called. Asher showed Ace-Queen suited but got no help and I won the nice pot, bringing me up to 19,500. With that many chips I started bullying and worked my way up to 30,300 at the next break. I bled off a little but then someone picked the wrong time to take a stand against me and came over the top with pocket Eights. Unfortunately for him I had Rockets and busted one more player. I had 33,600 when it came time to race off the green chips, although it wasn't much of a race as only one player at the table had any. With 36 remaining we redrew for seats and I got table 46, seat nine. I won a few small pots and had 48,500 at the dinner break.


After dinner we quickly got down to 27, meaning we had made the money! We redrew once again and I got table 47, seat seven. World Champion Carlos Mortensen had seat nine. I traded a few chips back and forth with Carlos but he got busted by "Syracuse" Chris Tsiprailidis. With the blinds and antes rising and no cards coming my way my stack quickly dwindled. When we finally got down to nine I had only 14,000 left but both Syracuse Chris and Phil Siegel had even less. We would return tomorrow for the final table. It was 2:30 a.m.


I slept as well as I could but ended up getting less than six hours. When we resumed, the blinds were 2000/4000 with a 1000 ante. One player had already been eliminated when on the third hand it folded to me and I saw King-Queen offsuit. I shoved my remaining 12,000 in and got a call from both blinds: Tuan Le in the small and Michel Abecassis in the big. The flop came Deuce-Deuce-Trey. They checked and the turn brought a Four. Now there were two Clubs and two Diamonds on the board. Tuan bet 30,000 into the dry side pot and I figured I was sunk. Michel reraised all in. Tuan called and turned over Six-Five for a Straight. Michel had Ten-Four and what he was doing in the pot I couldn't tell you. I was drawing dead and, as tournament director Jack McClelland said, "Michel needs to catch a Four or a Deuce and Richard needs to catch…a bus home." I was out of the contest in eighth place, cashing for a big $6,610 and catapulting me into the top 1000 in the standings.


Familiar Faces

I missed event two, a $1570 buy-in, because of my five minutes of play at the final table of event one. Event three was a $2080 buy-in No-Limit Hold 'Em tourney with 155 entrants. I drew table 40, seat three, and this time there were plenty of familiar faces at my table. Meng La had seat five; Billy Baxter seat seven; Chris Hinchcliffe seat eight; "Action" Dan Harrington seat nine, and Magic (his real name) Epstein on my right in seat two. I didn't want to be at a table with any of these tough players let alone all of them. I played one big pot where I got outkicked with Trip Tens, seat six's Nine beating my Eight kicker. I was down to 1000 from my starting 4000 when they broke the table.


The new table wasn't much better. I got table 32, seat three. John Nguyen had seat seven, Chip Jett had seat eight, Jennifer Harman seat nine, Jim Miller seat 10, and Kenna James seat two on my right. I doubled through Jim Miller on a coin flip and had an unimpressive 1550 at the break. I pushed in again with King-Queen and fared better than last night, doubling through John Nguyen when a King came to beat his Ace-Nine suited.  The third time was the curse, though, when John called my last 1350 and beat my Ace-Five of hearts with pocket Eights. I was out in 102nd place.


Presto Magic

Today's event was a $2600 buy-in with 134 entrants. I started at table 45, the one used as the final table, and the only familiar faces were two Nguyens, Van and Scotty, both excellent players. I won a few pots early and then I limped in early position with pocket Eights. Seat five also limped and the big blind checked. The flop came Jack-Five-Four rainbow and it checked around. The turn was another Five and I figured my Eights were good so I bet them and seat five called. At that point I wasn't putting another dime into the pot except the river was an Eight, giving me a Full House. I bet the size of the pot and seat five reraised the minimum. That was usually a warning sign but I had a huge and unexpected hand so I wasn't too worried. I figured he probably didn't have Jacks or he would have raised preflop so I put him on slow-playing pocket Fours or something like Six-Five. I move in and he calls. "You're not going to be happy," he says, and before he showed it I knew he was going to turn over Presto for Four Fives. I had him well covered so I was actually only slightly below my starting stack of 5000. They broke the table just a couple hands too late.


My new assignment was table 33, seat nine. Kenna James was once again on my right and Sammy Farha, famous for dangling an unlit cigarette between his lips while finishing second in the 2003 World Series to Chris Moneymaker, had seat three. I won a preflop all-in with Aces against Ace-Queen and that brought me up to 8800. Sammy busted out, as did his replacement, and then a short-stacked Erik Seidel sat down in the unlucky seat. As for me, I lost every pot after that and eventually lost a desperation all-in to finish 58th.

Up and Down

The series reset back to $1060 and attendance rose back to 328. I got a table full of strangers, table 32 seat three, and worked my stack up to 6300 before losing a bunch of pots and going back down to 2425 at the break. The blinds increased and I eventually lost a coin flip with Ace-Queen of Hearts to pocket Sixes. I was out 143rd.

Sammy and Me

Today's contest was for $1570 and attracted 234 players. I got table 41, seat three. Top pro Tony Cousineau had seat eight. Early on I got Aces in middle position and Tony called my raise to 125 on the big blind. The flop came three Queens. We checked the flop and Tony called my 200 on the turn. I check-called 300 more on the river and Tony of course turned over Ace-Queen for quads, the second time in the series my Full House lost to Four of a Kind. I was happy only to lose 625 on the hand. Later I got a free flop with Queen-Seven on the big blind. The flop came Queen-Queen-Ace and I doubled up against someone overplaying an Ace. Fred Berger came and sat in seat seven and when seat one busted it was David "The Dragon" Pham who took the spot. I had exactly 4000 at the break, up from 3000 to start.


With the blinds now at 100/200 I limped under the gun with pocket Jacks. David The Dragon pushed in all his chips in the small blind and I called. He turned over Eight-Five of Hearts, a decided dog to my Overpair, and I busted him, bringing me up to 7025. I made a good call with Ace-Queen of Hearts against a short stack moving in with King-Jack but he won the decision and I was down to 2825 at the next break.


Gavin Smith and Sammy Farha sat down and Gavin immediately moved all in on me. I called with Ace-Jack and he turned over Presto but its magic didn't work and I doubled up. Then Allen "Double OJ" Kessler sat down in seat seven. I didn't get to play a hand with him, though, as Sammy was raising almost every pot and I chose the wrong time to come over the top with King-Nine. He studied for a long time, trying to engage me in conversation while I mentally replayed Shana Hiatt attaching her wireless mike to her bikini top in Aruba last year. "I know you have a big hand, Richard," Sammy said, "but I'm gonna pay to see it." He called and turned over pocket Tens, showing genuine surprise when I turned over my one overcard. "Richard!" Sammy said. "King-Nine?" My King came on the river but it made him a Straight to beat me and I was out of the contest 39th. So close and yet so far. If they paid for making the final 25% I'd be way ahead.


Limping to ruin

We were back up to $2080 for today's contest with an impressive 219 entrants. I drew table 40, seat six and recognized Dr. Scott "River Otter" Aigner in seat four and Dustin Sitar, who always wore a green visor, in seat two. I doubled up right away when I limped late in a multiway pot with Ace-Jack and the flop came Ace-Ace-Jack. Otter busted soon after and I had 6075 at the first break, up from the starting 4000. I busted the short stack in seat one with Presto against his Ace-Ten and got back up to 7500 when Thor Hansen and Melissa Hayden sat down in seats one and five. I bullied a bit and got up to 9450 when they broke the table and I moved to table 44, seat six. This was a nice table full of strangers except for the shaved-headed guy on my left who I recognized but whose name I didn't know. I limped under the gun with pocket Tens and he limped behind me. The short stack on the small blind shoved all in and I thought about what to do, the most attractive choices being calling and raising. Finally I decided to move all in myself, hoping the guy on my left would lay down overcards. Turned out he had pocket Aces, though, and the small blind's King-Queen and my Tens were toast. I was out in 77th place.


Spidey sense

The stakes went up to $2600 for the penultimate warm-up event. I drew table 33, seat one, in spitting distance of our favorite celebrity poker player, Tobey "Spiderman" Maguire in seat three. Tom McCormick sat between Tobey and me in seat two. David "Harpo" Levy, with whom I had tangled quite a bit, had seat four. Rollo Johnson was in seat six and Minh Nguyen was in seat eight. I completed the small blind with Eight-Seven offsuit in a family pot and the flop came Nine-Six-Five, two Hearts. I check-raised seat five and he called. The turn paired the Five, meaning if he had flopped a Set he now had a Full House and if he had Presto he now had quads. I bet 2500 and he called. I was frightened. Very frightened. The river brought the Jack of Hearts, so now if he had been on a Flush draw he just made it. I checked and he turned over Nine-Seven of Diamonds. This questionable play by seat five cost him almost all his chips and brought me up to 10,000 from my starting 5000.


WPT champ Ron Rose sat down in seat seven and then Spidey raised under the gun. Rollo called and I saw pocket Kings on the small blind and made it 1300. Spidey thought a bit and called, as did Rollo. The flop came Ace-Queen-Five and we checked around The turn was a Six. I checked and Tobey bet 2000. Rollo mucked and I went into the tank. I turned on my Spidey-sense and decided he had pocket Aces. I reluctantly mucked as Harpo chided me, "Pocket Kings no good!" I was down to 5575 at the break.


When we got back I reraised Ron Rose's early opener all in with Ace-King of Hearts and he called with yet another Pair of Aces. This time I escaped, though, when the board made a Straight to split the pot. Ron complained that I never gave him enough respect. "It's your loose image," I said. "What loose image?" he cried.


Harpo lost most of his chips to Tobey and then I finished him off with Ten-Ten against Nine-Nine. He stood up and told a friend, shrugging, "Spiderman got me." I had 7250, which was blinded down to 6450 at the break. They broke our table and I went to table 40, seat eight for five minutes then got moved to table 43, seat nine for balancing. Thor Hansen was in seat three, Young Phan in seat six, and Ralph Levine, one of the friendliest guys on the tour, in seat 10. Three of us went all in before the flop, myself and one other with Ace-King and the third with pocket Queens. The remaining two Kings hit the board and I was up to 8000. Then I did something I very rarely do: I limped with Ace-Eight on the button in a five-way pot. The flop came Ace high and it checked around to me so I put all my chips in and got trapped by a guy who thought his Ace-Jack was big hand that he'd slow-play it. I was out of the contest in 56th Place.


Big bust

It was $3100 to buy into the last warm-up event of the Festa al Lago but a nice 174 players ponied up for it. I got table 31, seat one, and had Tommy Franklin on my left in seat two, David Baker, a good player I had tangled with before, in seat three, Paul "Pretty Boy" Phillips, one of the most entertaining people in poker, in seat four, and "Miami" John Cernuto in seat nine. The fireworks started early when Paul limped under the gun. Seat five raised the 100 blind to 250 and several other players followed suit, including me on the button with something marginal and Tommy on the small blind. The flop came Nine-Six-Trey rainbow, missing me completely but four players got all their money in. The original raiser had Aces; the next guy to act had top Set with pocket Nines; Tommy had Seven-Five of Clubs for a double-gutshot Straight draw with a backdoor Flush possibility, and Paul had Eight-Seven of Diamonds for an open-ender. Tommy's Eight came on the river and as it turned out he had everyone covered by 75 chips and busted three players. I never get to spend enough time with Paul.


I worked my way up slightly from the starting 6000 to 6400 at the first break. Then I limped on the button with Eight-Six in a multiway pot. The flop came Jack-Eight-Six. Someone bet 1500 and I raised all in. He called with King-Jack. I made a Full House on the river and was up to 12,600. By the next break I had worked it up to 14,075 and I was feeling good. The cards dried up for me, though, and I missed every flop and got blinded off to the point of desperation. When it finally folded to me in late position I decided to push in with Six-Five and my tight table image but I got a reluctant call on the big blind from Vince Van Patten's favorite hand, Jack-Ten suited. I flopped a Straight and was drawing dead to a runner-runner chop as the board came Nine-Eight-Seven. I wished everybody luck and packed it in, finishing 47th.

Super Pooper

I played the super satellite for $1060. The highlight was sitting at the table with Chad Layne, a great player and a very nice guy. I had a few second-bests and was out quickly.

The Doyle with Doyle

Finally the day came for the culmination of the Festa al Lago: The World Poker Tour Doyle Brunson North American Championship. There were 322 entrants, which was great for an event scheduled at the last minute such as this one. I drew table 36, seat one and had a lineup of luminaries across the table from me: John "World" Hennigan in seat five, Chris "Jesus" Ferguson in seat six wearing his black cowboy hat over his trademark long hair and beard, and between them the man himself: hall-of-famer, world champion Doyle Brunson. He was wearing a Stetson custom embroidered with the name of his new on-line poker site "DoylesRoom.Com." He had been playing poker for about 40 years before anyone ever heard of the Internet. A player I recognized was in seat seven. He turned out to be J.C. Tran, a well-thought-of young tournament player who would figure prominently in today's proceedings. Prominently.


Johnny World was giving everybody action in level one but nothing much happened for me until the second level when J.C. Tran raised the 200 blind to 600 from early position. I saw Pocket Rockets and made it 2100, a pot-sized raise. He just called, making me think he had Queens or Ace-King. The flop came a King and two small Hearts. J.C. bet 1000 into the 4500 pot, which was definitely a red flag. Now as it turned out there was no way I wasn't going to go broke on this hand, but there was a right way and a wrong way to go broke. I did it the wrong way, overplaying my Aces right there in front of Doyle, who wrote in his bible Super System that he slow-plays Aces after the flop more than any other hand. Here's why. I made it 7500, still putting him on Ace-King or Queen-Queen. Now he raised 7000 more and I have 12,000 left. Having got myself into that predicament, I should have laid it down right there but instead I moved all in. He called and it wasn't till then that I was willing to believe he had pocket Kings. I cast an apologetic glance toward Doyle, who gave me his best aw-bad-luck-but-you-really-are-a-fish look.


Now here's how I should have gone broke on the hand. I should have called his 1000 bet on the flop, because the Ace of Spades came on the turn and at that point we would have got it all in for sure. Then, when the fourth King came on the river, like it did, at least it would have been him getting all his money in as a 43-to-one dog. Sure, I was broke either way, but the way I played it all I could do was slink off. Even without anyone knowing it was the third time in the series I'd lost with a Full House to quads, word spread quickly of my Aces Full being busted by Four Kings and I got many words of consolation but only Shawn "West Texas Man" Rice was willing to take me to task for overplaying the Aces. "Dude, that's one Pair," he said. One Pair. He was right. Bad beats didn't bother me nearly as much as bad play on my part. Regardless,  I was out of the contest 280th and all the footage WPT cameraman Paul Hannum had taken of me was gathering cobwebs in the corner of Steve Lipscomb's basement. I didn't even stay to say hi to Shana.


Next up: Foxwoods.


October 6, 2004

There Are More Horse’s Shoes in the World: 2004 Hold 'Em at the Horseshoe

Too many mosquitoes

The World Poker Tour Aruba event conflicted with a small series of Hold 'Em tournaments in Las Vegas so I decided to play in the "Hold 'Em at the Horseshoe" series rather than take the long, expensive trip to the island recently beset by hurricanes and giant mosquitoes. Instead I took the usual two-hour hop on Alaska Airlines to Sin City and hunkered down for 10 days of heated tourney action. They were charging eight percent juice, including three percent in lieu of dealer tips, on all but the final $5000 event. I thought it was high but decided to play anyway for the practice.


The first event was a $500 buy-in with a nice field of 208. The tournament was held all downstairs rather than up in the main World Series area. I drew table 43, seat eight and had tournament regular James Hoeppner on my left. He gambled early with some marginal hands and went out when he moved in with Queen-Eight of Hearts against my pocket Kings. James was replaced by another experienced pro, Tommy Vu. We didn't tangle and I had upped my starting 1500 to 2475 at the break. Soon after, I found the pocket Kings again and an early-position raiser called my reraise. Two Tens and a low card flopped. We got it all in and he turned over Jack-Ten, which most players wouldn't have called a reraise with until Vince Van Patten revealed what a powerful holding it was. I didn't catch my two outs so I was out of the contest, finishing 90th.

Bigger but smaller

The next day's event jumped to $2000 and only attracted 52 players. This time I drew table 49, seat six. There were some good players at this table: "Big" Billy Duarte had seat two, Ngoc "Jimmy" Tran had seat three, and Steve Goldberg, whose wife had hit the Wheel of Fortune slot machine for $11 million last year, was nestled into seat four. I had pocket Queens the first hand but didn't get any action and won the blinds. I got no cards for almost two hours and then found pocket Queens once again when Billy Duarte raised my small blind. I moved in on him and he called with Ace-Ten of Hearts, not giving me the proper respect, but two Aces flopped and I was out of the contest, finishing 27th.


I was out in time to head over to Bellagio to play in their regular $1060 Friday tournament. They got 95 players. The third hand I picked up pocket Kings on the button and made a healthy raise that got out all but one limper. The flop came King high, but all Clubs. He check-raised me all in and I called with a sigh as he turned over the nut flush, Ace-Nine of Clubs. I was still only a two-to-one dog but I didn't help and I was out of the contest practically before it started.


Shortstack arrived that evening and we had a nice dinner at Les Artistes steakhouse at Paris, naughtily washing down our French-themed food with a 1998 Chianti. We sure missed the '97s.

The Lion Cashes!

Saturday's tournament was for a dime, $1000, and drew a healthy field of 124. I didn't recognize anybody at my table, which was good, and I doubled up early when my pocket Aces held up against pocket Kings. By the first break I had taken my starting 1500 to 3775. I got frisky and won some small pots and knocked out a couple players and by dinner I was all the way up to 11,775.  I didn't feel like eating downtown so I walked around for an hour and psyched myself up for making the final table. I worked it up to 15,000 and stayed at that level from when it was twice the average stack to just average. Soon we were playing hand for hand, waiting for the 10th player to bust out, and it happened. I had made the final table. We redrew for seats and got started right away. The shortstacked Lonnie Alexander two to my right kept doubling up with unlikely hands, including beating my Ace-King with Queen-Four suited all in before the flop. I called his all-in a second time with Ace-King and he had the same hand for a split pot. Finally I moved my remaining chips all in on the button with Ace-Ten. The big blind called with pocket Kings, though, and they held up so I was out of the contest in eighth place, cashing for $3272. That was almost enough to get me even for the series. Lonnie's luck held up and he won the tourney, having won back-to back events at the Bellagio the week before. Nice rush!


Not many on Sunday

The price dropped back down to $500 on Sunday but still only 50 people showed up. WSOP bracelet holder Gavin Griffin sat to my left, playing his tough game as usual. He blew me off a couple pots and then I reraised a loose player all in with Ace-King. He called with pocket Sixes, which held up, and I was out of the contest, finishing 36th. I asked the tournament director how much I won but there was no answer.


Shortstack and I had a nice dinner at Ah Sin, the pan-Asian restaurant at Paris, washed down with lychee martinis. The lamb satay was particularly yummy.

Back to the old Orleans

Attendance was dwindling at the Horseshoe and I figured they wouldn't get many for the $3000 event scheduled so Monday I headed over to the Orleans for the opener of the new World Poker Players Association series. This was a $1000 buy-in event with seven percent juice. I bought in and dribbled away my stack, never hitting a flop and finishing 36th out of 62 although I outlasted the great TJ Cloutier at my table. The WPPA was one of several efforts to organize poker players and get more of the TV money in our pockets. Sounded good to me.

Another day, another dime

Tuesday was another $1000 event at the Horseshoe on Tuesday that drew 90 players so I bought in and drew table 48, seat five. There was no one I recognized at the table but I lost half of my stack when I had to lay down top Pair after I got played back at. Then I raised in late position with Ace-Ten and liked the Ten-Five-Five flop with two Hearts. I put in the rest of my chips, 575, but the guy on my left thought it was only 175 and put in that many chips. He grabbed them out when he saw his mistake but I asked for a decision and of course the floorperson made him leave the chips in the pot and let him decide whether to call or fold. He decided to call with a Flush draw and lo and behold came the Heart on the turn and I was out of the contest early, finishing 80th.

Bellagio Finale

I got called away on a family emergency so I had to cut short my play at the series. I did enter a $1000 Omaha Hi/Lo Limit event at the Orleans and never hit a hand, busting out halfway through the field. I entered the Bellagio Friday tourney for $1060 and hoped I would last longer than last week. It was not to be, however. After losing 2/3 of my stack overplaying pocket Tens, I went all in before the flop with pocket Kings and got called by King-Queen. Two Queens dutifully came and I was once again out in time for dinner, which was at Les Artistes with pro Russ Floyd, whom I had met in Atlantic City with "Oregon" Dave Lilie. I had my usual bone-in filet but Russ didn't like bones so he got it without and added some crabmeat and a lobster tail. We washed it down with a nice little 2000 Bordeaux.


I had a flight booked back to Vegas next week for another series of No-Limit tournaments, this one at the Bellagio.


September 22, 2004

Persistence is Futile: The 2004 Borgata WPT Event

Persistence is Futile: The 2004 Borgata WPT Event

With most of the month of August off and a conflict keeping me from competing in the World Poker Tour season-three opener at the Bicycle Club, I had plenty of time to practice my No-Limit Hold ‘Em with small on-line cash games. After a year I felt like I knew less about the game than when I started: I was learning one poker trick at a time but there were 1000 of them and I was only up to about 87. Still, I was ready to do better at the Borg than last year when I gave Bobby Thompson a free card to fill up his Set and beat my flopped Straight. I wouldn’t make that mistake again.


I cleaned out all but 47 miles of my US Airways balance with an award ticket to Philadelphia in preparation for them going out of business. They were still too broke to serve drinks in real glasses in First Class and the food tasted like it was right out of a microwaved Budget Gourmet. Staff was apathetic and service minimal. The movie was Raising Helen with Kate Hudson, an entertaining if minor party-girl-turned-mom flick. We landed a bit late and a Ford Taurus from Avis got me to Atlantic City.


I had made reservations for a late dinner at the Old Homestead steakhouse with “Oregon” Dave Lilie, Kim “Tiltmom” Scheinberg, and Bruce Hayek, chief trip reporter for the Tiltboys. Oregon Dave tried to order a Bombay Sapphire martini but I made him drink Tanqueray Ten instead. He enjoyed the drink but hated me with a fiery hate because, he said, I had ruined him for Bombay Sapphire for life. Oregon Dave, who could pass for George Costanza’s twin brother, got his nickname years ago when he visited friends in the Northwest and they locked him in the refrigerated beer-storage closet of a convenience store until he agreed to stop pronouncing their State “ORE-uh-gone.”


He was in there for nine hours.


We all had the Gotham Rib Steak except for Bruce, who had a soft-boiled egg. Like Prime at the Bellagio, the food was deliicious and the service mediocre.

Don’t run over the Lion

The Borgata management thought it best to open tournament registration at eight in the morning rather than the day before so when I got up around 10 I called Oregon Dave and registered both of us for today’s $1500+80 No-Limit warm-up tourney. There were 346 entrants in today’s event and I got table 15, seat six. WPT season-one finalist Stan Goldstein was in seat one and Davin “Typo” Anderson, who got lots of air time at this year’s World Series, had seat 10. Stan tried to run over me repeatedly but I was on to his bamboozlement so between bluffing and trapping him I increased my stack from the starting 4000 to 7425 after the first three levels, mostly at his expense. I picked up pocket Aces and picked off an all-in with Ace-King after the break, giving me 11,000. My luck turned south, though, and I dwindled to 7175 by the dinner break. My $80 entry fee was good for a buffet comp providing I lasted that long so Oregon Dave and I feasted on some soft-shell crab before the event resumed. I didn’t last long after dinner. With the blinds skyrocketing I took a coin-flip with pocket Eights versus King-Jack suited and lost it, finishing 97th.


Oregon Dave talked me into playing $40/80 Hold ‘Em at a very loose table. There was one woman, in fact, who didn’t seem to have ever played the game before. She played every hand and stayed in with anything at all. I played one big pot in four hours and finished $350 up.


Motor Coach Lobby

I had to get up early again to register for the next day’s tournament, a $2500+100 No-Limit Hold ‘Em event. This one got 327 entrants. My table was in an overflow area known as the Motor Coach Lobby, a fancy name for bus station. I got table 10, seat one, a very weak table but I didn’t hit many flops and had only increased my stack from 6000 to 7900 when they broke the table. Now I was at table two, seat nine, with champion “Action” Dan Harrington in seat one and Jersey native Mike Sica, who won the $3000 No-Limit Hold ‘Em event at this year’s World Series, in seat seven. I chased a couple draws that didn’t hit, took a bad beat, and then foolishly moved in for my last 2000 with Ace-Nine, getting called by an under-the-gun limper with Ace-King. I didn’t hit my 26% equity and I was out of the contest early.


Oregon Dave didn’t play in this one so we got in the Taurus and drove around to some of the other casinos. Our first stop was Harrah’s because it was one place I’d never been to. When we looked around we decided there hadn’t been much reason to go there after all. We got in the elevator to the parking garage with a distinguished gentleman whose name tag had the title “Investigation Supervisor.” I asked how the investigating was going and he said his life would be easier if people would just learn how to drive. I wished him good luck as we exited on level three but he seemed to be going the same way we were. He matched us step for step and when we got to the red Taurus there was a security guard, an abashed 72-year-old man, and a big dent in the left rear bumper. After another hour the police had come and gone, all the reports were done, and we drove to the Boardwalk to have dinner and watch the Miss America parade. Miss Vermont smiled and waved at me but after what happened with Shana I didn’t want to get another young girl hopelessly hooked on me so I shooed Dave into Caesars, where we had a nice dinner of lamb chops washed down with the 1999 Joseph Phelps Insignia. We walked back along the boardwalk and drove the wounded car back to the Borgata, where I discovered my laptop’s hard drive had crashed. I went to bed.

Fish on my right

The next day was a $200 rebuy super satellite. I decided to play it and ended up spending $800. I was the fourth caller in a raised pot with Six-Trey of Hearts in late position when the flop came Six-Trey-Trey. I got action from two players and wasn’t too happy to see another Six on the Turn. A very inexperienced player was on my right and I milked him for most of his chips with the flopped Boat. I took some more from an impatient Stud player on my left with Two Pair versus his weak Ace and at the end of the rebuy period I had increased the 6000 chips I had bought to 10,125. Most everyone took the discounted double add-on of $200 for 4000 more chips. They broke the table and plonked me down right next to Oregon Dave, also known as “Not Trump” and “The Fish.” With The Fish on my right I had the advantage over him and picked off a blind-steal with the blinds shooting quickly through the roof. I lost a couple coin flips and was in serious trouble when Dave reraised a loose opener all in on the button. I looked down and saw Ace-King on the small blind. Getting almost three-to-one on my remaining 8800 chips I decided to call but Dave had the rockets and with the opener calling with Ace-Queen I was practically dead, needing a miracle Straight or four Flush cards to my Ace. They didn’t come and I was out of the contest.


Dinner was at Steve and Cookie’s steakhouse with a big group including Erik “Rounders” Seidel, John “JJ” Juanda, Kim “Tiltmom” Scheinberg, Steve “Suitcase” Brecher, and my new best friend Steve “Ice” Eisenstein, who bought a few bottles of the 1999 Nickel & Nickel for the table. A waiter overheard my raving about the John C. Sullinger vineyard and brought a bottle of it over to our end of the table. The food and service were good but the company was better.


Borgata Management had finally relented and allowed registration the day before for the main event. I bought a seat from one of the satellite winners and I was happy to see Oregon Dave had won a seat also. The inexperienced staff took an hour to get through a line of 15 people, filling out endless forms and stapling sheets of paper together. I got to bed around two.

Jimmy Jimmy

The whole tournament was in the main room today since only a disappointing 312 people entered. I had a tough table but none of the superaggressive superstars was there. Seat one was Andrew Miller. Seat two was Mimi Tran. Seat three had Jimmy “Jimmy Jimmy” Cha, who had finished fourth in the $2500 two days before. I was in seat four. On my left were John Myung in seat five, Mark Dickstein in seat six, and Nick “The Beef” Hanna in seat seven. Seat eight was an unknown and seat nine was empty until they broke a table and put WPT finalist Abe Mosseri there.


The tournament was short but sweet for me. I called an early-position raise by Jimmy Jimmy with pocket Tens. The flop came Ten high, two Spades. He check-raised me all in with Ace-Nine of Spades. I called instantly, a three-to-one favorite with top Set, but Spades came on the Turn and the River and I was out of the contest. I can’t mind getting it in with a 75% chance to double up but the cards didn’t fall my way.


With my ‘puter dead I called US Airways to change my flight and then spent the evening drinking Tanqueray Ten martinis and watching Paul “Pretty Boy” Phillips play a mixed $400/800 limit game with David “Oppy” Oppenheim, John “J-Dags” D’Agostino, and an Internet player known as Lucky777. It was a year ago at this time I first met Shana Hiatt and the trip wouldn’t have been complete without seeing her in the B-Bar, where she was chatting with two older women as drooling men lined the walls trying to make eye contact with the Playboy cover girl. I’m pretty sure she winked at me but I pretended not to see as I didn’t want all the men In the room to get jealous. I got to bed around five.


Home early

I slept in till one, took care of the bill, and then drove the Taurus back to Philadelphia airport to await my flight. US Airways saw no need to give its First Class passengers a preferred security line so I waited 45 minutes and got to the gate shortly before boarding. Dinner was embarrassing and the service was nonexistent. I slept as much as I could. When I got back to Seattle my Shortstack pulled up in the black T-Bird to take me home. I was going back to Vegas in a couple days for almost daily tournaments for the next few weeks. I was nothing if not persistent.