February 26, 2004

You're that guy, right? The 2004 WPT Celebrity Invitational

Free ice cream

I played a little live No-Limit Hold 'Em at the Commerce Casino along with Haralabos "Bob" Voulgaris and some other folks I didn't know to get some practice in before the World Poker Tour Celebrity Invitational Tournament to which, as the author of Lion Tales, I was of course invited. It turned out the well-groomed black man in the green workout suit sitting to Haralabos's left was one of the celebrities, Morris Chestnut, a movie actor who made his debut in the critically acclaimed 1991 movie Boyz N the Hood.  I won a nice pot from Haralabos and we both cashed out to go up to the pre-tournament cocktail party.


It was a celebrity event for poker players as well as Hollywood personalities: Howard "Bub" (The Professor) Lederer was there, as were Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, Andy "The Rock" Bloch, Erick "E-Dog" Lindgren, Paul Phillips, Annie Duke, and many more. They had a nice spread of hors d'oeuvres including sushi and cherries and they had an open bar, I supposed out of deference to the celebrity nature of the event. I recognized a few of the celebrities: Ron Livingston and Willie Garson from Sex and the City, movie actress Mimi Rogers, and Saturday Night Live performer Norm MacDonald. Of course the lovely Shana Hiatt was there interviewing luminaries and soon the room was packed to overflowing. When we checked in we got our table and seat assignments on red plastic hospital wristbands while the stars got "All Access" badges to wear around their necks. That was good since I was able to tell the celebrities easily as they were the ones with circulation in their wrists.


I got assigned table eight, seat one to start. We had two celebrities at the table, only one of whose identities I discovered: Adam Corolla, host of the Loveline radio show, was in seat four. However, there were five others at the table who were more of celebrities to me: in seat two was TJ Cloutier, the winningest tournament player of all time. Seat five was Lyle Berman, founder of the World Poker Tour and winner of three gold WSOP bracelets. In seat six was Christer Johansson, winner of WPT season one's Paris event. In seat nine was Thor Hansen, finalist at the Showdown at the Sands, and in seat ten was Erick "E-Dog" Lindgren, winner at Aruba. All five had won WSOP or WPT events.


I started out being frisky and hitting some cards and won several small pots, including one against E-Dog in which I flopped Two Pair but inadvertently raised less than I wanted to because I mistook the chip values, pricing him into the pot with a Straight draw. Fortunately it didn't hit and I took the pot when he folded on the Turn. The empty seat three got filled by someone I actually recognized, Richard Kind, the well-known character actor from the TV series Mad About You and Spin City. Richard held his own but Adam sputtered out, building a single remaining chip up to a decent stack but then being busted by yours truly when he called my pocket Kings with Ace-Queen and got no help. By the time they broke our table I had increased my stack by 50% to 15,575. Many of the big names were out early, not entirely unrelated to the fact that there were some big juicy games going on downstairs what with the celebrities and all.


The new table, 8, had two celebrities: Stephen Collins, from the TV show Seventh Heaven, and Joshua Morrow, from the soap opera The Young and the Restless. There were only three world champions at this table, though: TJ, still glued to my left hip in seat four, Billy Baxter, who had eliminated me from the big event a couple days ago across the table in seat seven, and John Juanda, winner of 11 major tournaments and voted best all-around player twice in the last four years, in seat eight. Matt Savage, the highly respected tournament director of the World Series of Poker and other big events, sat to my right on the other side of Collins in seat one.


I looked hard for opportunities but the blinds and antes were going up so fast in this novelty tournament that I was below 10,000 chips before I knew it. Juanda raised my blinds a couple times and I decided not to re-pop the best player in the world with my garbage hands after I saw him call Matt Savage's busted-Flush bluff on the river with Ace-King and win the pot with no pair. I got Ace-Queen offsuit but Billy Baxter, the tightest player at the table, had raised in early position and I figured there was a good chance I was behind so I mucked. Finally it folded to me on the button just as Card Player columnist Jan Fisher arrived to take Joshua's seat. With less than two orbits left before I got blinded off I pushed my remaining 6000 chips in with Ten-Seven offsuit, hoping TJ and Jan would fold. Of course Jan didn't know that I hadn't played a hand in the last hour but it didn't matter as she called and turned over Ace-Ace, Alaska Airlines, ready to fly me back to Seattle because I was out of the contest.


The waitresses were passing out goodies provided by the sponsors of this event, including Solé water and Silhouette low-fat ice-cream sandwiches. As a rule I don't eat dessert but since they were low fat I had just two. Andy busted out just in time to have dinner with Card Player publisher Barry Shulman, his fiancée the writer Allyn Jaffrey, and me. We got a nice if cramped table at Crustacean, a trendy Beverly-Hills Euro-Chinese restaurant-place-to-be-seen. Barry's son Jeff "Happy" Shulman, Card Player editor, was still in the tourney with a nice stack and so could not join us but he called halfway through dinner to report his misfortune, busting out in 19th place. The lights went out halfway through dinner but the 1997 Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon kept us lit up. As a rule I don't eat dessert but since the lights were out they comped us a Raspberry Affaire and a sorbet sampler so I had just a few bites and a nip of the Far Niente Dolce. It was raining Cattaraugus and dogs as we found our way through the gilded maze of Beverly Hills to the frontage road that was Commerce. Next stop: San Jose.


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