March 4, 2004

The 2004 Bay 101 Shooting Star Championship

A nice upgrade

Next stop on the World Poker Tour was at the Bay 101 Casino in San Jose, Calif., so Shortstack and I booked an Alaska Airlines nonstop and a hotel next to a shopping mall. Nobody flies Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. so we breezed through Sea-Tac security and ensconced ourselves in the Alaska Board Room until departure time. We settled into seats 1D and F and found water and peanuts waiting for us. Once in the air we had a choice of chicken sandwich or turkey salad. Alaska got us there on time and we took the shuttle to Enterprise Rent-A-Car, where the well-trained, well-dressed staff upgraded us from the Yugo we had booked to a white Ford Focus with manual windows and door locks and a cassette deck.I was pretty sure cassettes were obsolete five or 10 years before the Focus was introduced so something fishy was going on, maybe a reverse-chop-shop operation. We graciously accepted the upgrade nevertheless. We used manual Neverlost – printouts from Mapquest – to find the Courtyard by Marriott in beautiful Milpitas. We liked Courtyards because they had complimentary high-speed Internet. I bopped over to Bay 101 and ran into the man of the hour, Antonio "The Magician" Esfandiari, who made back-to-back final tables in the last two WPT events. I congratulated him. He seemed tired. Card Player Editor Jeff "Happy" Shulman, who had finished close but no cigar in the last two events, passed by with his beautiful girlfriend Christy. The poker room was packed. Actor James Woods sat at the 20-200 Hold 'Em table, trying his luck against World Champion Chris Moneymaker, top pro Kathy Liebert, and long-time pro Steve Zolotow. The waiting list was 30 players deep do I headed back to the hotel.


Shortstack and I had been eager to try celebrity chef Bradley Ogden's other restaurants, having enjoyed his Las Vegas location, so we made reservations at Parcel 104 in nearby Santa Clara. As we arrived we overheard a lady asking how she could get the same table again next time she came. "Ask for table 112," said the manager. A heartbeat later I said, "We'd like table 112 please." They set it up for us. It was just a regular table in the middle of the room so I didn't know what all the fuss was about. Shortstack had the tuna tartare and venison while I had a mussel-clam hot pot and rack of lamb. We washed it down with a half-bottle of Silverado Limited Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1997. As a rule I don't eat dessert but they had the Crazy for Caramel so I ordered just one with a couple pots of decaf tea. We returned to the hotel to rest up for the big day.


A penalty situation

There was a long line to sign the WPT release form and draw seat assignments but at the end of the line was a nice brunch buffet.  They gave us all Bay 101 paperweights made out of etched glass with Flipper in the middle. As it was the first trophy I'd won on the tour I carefully stashed it out in the rental car so I wouldn't lose it. I said hi to Howard "Bub" (The Professor) Lederer, Erick "E-Dog" Lindgren, and tournament director Matt Savage, who ungraciously refused to let me cut the line. After I reached the front I loaded up on semi-healthy food and looked to a table full of people I knew, passing by Men "The Master" Nguyen before settling into a seat next to Perry "The Baiter" Friedman. Rafe "Tiltboy" Furst sat across from me and Annie Duke was next to Rafe. It wasn't long before they called us to the tournament area and introduced the stars.


The format of this event was a little different: each starting table had a "Shooting Star" in seat five. The stars had bounties on their heads: whoever knocked one out received $5000. The buy-in for the tournament was $5000 plus a $200 entry fee so some of the people were thinking about winning the $340,000 first prize, some were hoping to rack up $5000 prizes knocking out stars, and I was thinking I was only going to lose $5000 instead of the usual $10,000 this week.


I got table 17 and my Star was the Champ himself, Chris Moneymaker. Chris and I had played together a couple of times and he said right off he knew better than to steal my blinds. My frisky image was paying off. Seats one and three were new faces but seat two was old-time pro Howard "Tahoe" Andrew and the tough "Tall" Phil Gordon, co-host of Celebrity Poker Showdown, filled seat four. Five was Moneymaker and sitting next to me in seat six was the beautiful Evelyn Ng, like my wife Shortstack from Toronto only taller. Evelyn had appeared in the Ladies Night episode of World Poker Tour. I complimented her on the nice segment they had done of her and former boyfriend and mentor Daniel Negreanu in the swimming pool. Although it was cold in the tournament area she wore a clinging cutoff tee leaving her slender midriff devilishly exposed in a blatant attempt to put her opponents on tilt. I was prepared and had a counter-strategy, which was not to look at her except under very special circumstances, like if it wasn't my turn to act or something. Seat eight was a young Asian man I didn't recognize and in seat nine was the very aggressive Randy Jensen, finalist at this year's Tunica WPT event. Rounding out the field was another aggressive pro, Mike "The Mouth" Matusow, a likeable, effervescent young man capable of huge bluffs. This table would be a true test of my friskiness.


True to his word, Chris hardly played a hand on my blind, which was unfortunate because I wanted a chance to bust him. He raised me one time but I had Woolworth – Five and Ten – so I mucked it after pretending to consider putting him all in. There was a lot of raising and a lot of folding at the table and from the 10,000 chips we started with I clawed my way up to 11,100 by the first break while Randy Jensen and Evelyn Ng were the first ones out. Evelyn was replaced by Card Player columnist Matt Lessinger, whose shirt covered his midriff completely. Randy got replaced by a pretty young Asian woman with a big diamond ring named Suzy K who claimed it was her first tournament. She quickly got involved in a big pot with Mike the Mouth. With a board of Nine-Seven-Seven-Queen-King, Suzy bet and Mike made a monster reraise all in. Suzy studied for a minute and then picked up her hand and laid it face up in front of her so everyone could see the Seven of Diamonds. Most of us at the table knew that was against the rules and quietly looked at each other. Finally Mike said, "I have a question." The dealer called Matt Savage over, who said Suzy would have a ten-minute penalty but her hand was live. That was fine with her as she called Mike's bluff and took down a 40,000-chip pot. Mike took it relatively well but commented that a 10-minute penalty didn't seem severe enough in this particular case. He fought valiantly but soon picked up pocket Kings versus pocket Aces and was eliminated. Meanwhile your hero stayed afloat through sheer friskiness and a couple pre-flop reraises with big pairs that didn't get called. I was up to 12,550 at the second break.


Moneymaker was playing tight as a drum and when he doubled up he had me covered so I could no longer eliminate him. The blinds and antes were going up and I didn't hit a flop nor did I care to bluff off all my chips against this tough field so I was down to 5000 when I won the final pot before they broke our table. I moved to Table 12 just in time to get Ace-King offsuit under the gun. I was un-racking and counting my chips, about 8000, and the Chinese woman on the small blind complained I was taking too long and had to ask for time. "Time," I said. With the blinds 200-400 and an ante of 50 I made it 2000 to go. It folded around to the complaining Chinese woman who promptly put me all in. The big blind folded and I studied her for a few seconds, trying to decide if she had Aces. I couldn’t tell so I called. She turned over Ace-Jack of Spades and said, "Good hand." The flop came Deuce-Deuce-Trey, no Spades. The turn came a Five so a Four would split the pot. "No Four!" I shouted, and the river came a Jack. I chided myself for rooting against the wrong card but it was too late: I was out of the contest. I finished 126th of 243, breaking my four-tourney streak of double-digit finished and not even beating half the field.


I did, however, outlast Erik "Rounders" Seidel, Andy "The Rock" Bloch, movie star and writer John Favreau, and last year's Lucky Chances WPT winner Paul Darden. Andy joined us for dinner at Michael Mina's restaurant Arcadia, located in a different Marriott, this one in San Jose. The place was nearly empty on a Wednesday night. The menu had some items from Mina's other restaurants, including the Tuna Tartare from Aqua, our favorite, and the Lobster Pot pie and Lobster Corn Dogs, neither of which I cared for. They brought out a superb amuse-bouche, a pan-roasted prawn on a bed of mashed potato. Andy and I started with the Tuna Tartare while Shortstack had a salad. They brought delicious warm bread with the three different flavored butters like at Nob Hill. For the main course Shortstack had a double order of the Tuna Tartare, Andy had Chips on Fish, a beautiful presentation of pan-fried fish with potato chips on top. "Hey," we all said in unison, "they forgot to take the scales off the fish!" I had Chicken-Fried Steak, a yummy dry-aged Nebraska sirloin wrapped in a potato crust that was a bit too rich for me. We washed it down with the 2000 Plumpjack Cabernet Sauvignon. Naturally we skipped dessert.


We returned home and changed our flight to go back tomorrow. Next stop: The Party Poker Million cruise to Mexico.


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