April 29, 2004

More chips please: WSOP $1000 No-Limit Hold 'Em with Rebuys

Ram's Aces

Today's tournament had a twist: if you busted out (or even got back to your starting level of chips) in the first two hours, you could buy back in. 538 players entered and after 534 rebuys and 262 add-ons the prize pool was a cool $1.2 million. Including the rake in lieu of tips, the house took 9% of the first $1000 and 3% of the rebuys and add-ons making the juice a relative bargain for those who planned to spend a buck.


I started at table 93, seat four, with an empty seat to my left and Billy Gazes' wife Kristy, a formidable opponent in her own right, in seat two. I rebought immediately so I had twice as many chips as anyone else at the table. There were differing philosophies about the benefit of an immediate rebuy. I figured if there were bad players at the table I wanted to have enough chips to cover their bad bets. The jovial Dean Shulman, cousin of an old family friend of mine and no relation to Jeff or Barry, sat down in seat five but had no luck gambling it up and decided not to rebuy. I ended up busting two players who were drawing near to dead against big hands of mine during the rebuy period and by the first break I had more than doubled up to 4750. I spent another $2000 for a double add-on at the advice of Andy "The Rock" Bloch so I had 6750 going into level three, well the chip leader of the table. We stayed at that table until 3:30 and I finished with a very respectable 7975 chips after busting a guy who was raising frequently preflop when I called with pocket Nines and they held up against his overcards.


They moved me to table 100 and it was nicely free of familiar faces. I got frisky and chipped my way up to 13,000 when Mike "The Mouth" Matusow sat down two seats to my left. He put a damper on my friskiness and I tightened up, especially when Larry Bernstein, another skilled player, sat down between Mike and me. I had 12,500 at the second break. Mike, who had been chipping up nicely, made a great call of a preflop re-reraise all in from solid tourney regular Tom McCormick. They both had pocket Queens but four Hearts came and Tom doubled up on Mike, who railed on Lady Fortune throughout the fifteen-minute break and for some time thereafter.


The next two levels were tough. Larry and Mike kept me tight and I ended with about 13,000 at the dinner break without much action. Unfortunately, this was now only slightly above the average chip position. Dinner was at the buffet they had set up for the players. I had several of the dishes washed down by iced tea.


My fortune improved after dinner when, starting to get blinded off quickly,  I flopped a Club flush against a French gentleman in seat one and doubled up when he put me all in with trip Nines. With the Blinds 300-600 and a 100 ante, there were 88 people left and I now had 24,000 chips, nicely double the average. The ESPN cameras started to focus on me in case I made the final table. I mugged for the camera eagerly. I played tight and went into the 9:30 break with 22,000 chips. They moved Mike the Mouth to Howard Lederer's table to balance the seat counts and soon after we were down to the money: 54 people. I was still in the red, however, since places 37-54 actually paid less than the $4000 I spent to buy in. But I was better off than Daniel Negreanu, who spent $27,000 on rebuys and had to finish eighth or better to make it up.


Mike's seat was filled by Late Night Poker star Ram "Crazy Horse" Vaswani, who played tight despite his nickname. I treaded water and eventually we got down to 45. WPT winner Mel Judah came to the table, sitting at the other end from me, and he and Crazy Horse were the chip leaders. Ram got a windfall when he and Ajay Shah checked down a pot with two pair and an Ace kicker on the board. Ram showed Queen-Jack and Ajay mucked his hand, not realizing that Ram was playing the board and he would have taken half the pot. But Ajay then proceeded to pick up several big hands in a row and accumulate a nice stack himself. I, on the other hand, went card dead and got cut off when I tried to steal. At midnight, with 39 players left, I was down to 11,000 and the blinds for the next level were 800-1600 with a 300 ante. It was do-or-die time. When Ajay raised in seat one and Ian Dobson in seat four reraised all in, I found the dreaded pocket Tens. I figured the reraise all in meant he didn't want a call so I held my breath and shoved my meager stack in. Ajay folded and my Tens held up against Ian's Ace-Queen so I doubled up to a high of 27,000. I was still below average but I had a bit of breathing room, meaning I could make a bet without going all in.


We got down to 36, meaning I was in the black for the day. The empty seats got filled and I got another tough pro at my table, David Grey in seat two. It was costing 5100 an orbit now to sit at the table and I found myself down to exactly 20,000 with pocket Jacks under the gun. I made a small raise to 4000, leaving myself room to get off the hand if I decided I was beat. Ram "Crazy Horse" Vaswani made it 10,000 to go. It folded to the short stack, Jim Grimes, who immediately moved all in for only 600 more. If Ram folded I was getting four-to-one on Jim's bet so I wasn't worried about him even if he had an Overpair but I didn't know about Ram. I really didn't want to let go of the hand so I convinced myself that Ram didn't have a big hand and I moved all in myself. Ram called immediately and I knew before he turned his cards over that he had Aces. Jim Grimes had Kings. The Flop came with a Queen, missing us all, and Ram's Aces held up. I finished 31st for $4420, a $420 profit and my first WSOP cash. I gave $2000 of it to impeccably dressed tournament director Matt Savage to buy into tomorrow's tourney and stuck the rest of the chips in my pocket. The ESPN crew had taken off at midnight so I slunk off unnoticed back to the Palms, where I got a Macallan 25 on the rocks and unwound. Tomorrow was my first-ever live Pot-Limit Omaha tournament.


April 28, 2004

Two early outs: WSOP O8 and PLHE $1500 events

Caught up

I entered the $1500 buy-in Limit Omaha Eight or Better tournament because I felt like I knew enough about the game to have half a chance and because I got caught up in the whole bracelet fever. I got Ace-Deuce-Trey three times and Ace-Deuce-Four twice, winning a total of half a pot out of all five premium starting hands. Soon I was down to one chip and threw it in with Nine-Jack-Jack-Queen, more than quadrupling up when three Eights hit the board and I made Eights Full of Jacks. I played as tight as I could and then got a free Flop with Queen-Eight-Five-Trey. I flopped trip Queens and made a boat when an Eight hit the Turn but lost to a bigger boat when an Ace hit the River and I was out of the contest, the fifth one out.

Nguyen again

Next day was the $1500 Pot-Limit Hold 'Em tourney, somewhat of a crapshoot because we started with only 1500 in chips and so a starting stack was only 10 times the Big Blind by the fourth level. My table-draw luck ran out and although I got lucky table 77, seat seven, there were three world champions at my table: Scotty Nguyen in seat one, Huck Seed in seat three, and Johnny Chan to my right in seat six. Johnny arrived late and while his stack was being blinded off I raised in the cutoff with Ace-Deuce of Hearts. The Button on my left called, as did Scotty Nguyen in the Big Blind. The flop was all Hearts and we checked it around. The Turn was an Ace. Scotty checked and I flipped a 100 chip out. The Button folded but Scotty made a sucker reraise or 200. I knew he either had a smaller Flush or was testing me with nothing. If it was the latter, I could call and hope he bluffed again on the River but if it was the former he'd have to call. I thought for a while and then reraised the pot, which put him all in. He called but he wasn't happy about it and when I turned over the nuts I had knocked out the world champ for the second time. Johnny Chan arrived soon thereafter and immediately got a 45-minute massage, cut short by being knocked out 32 minutes into it. I got to the first break with 2225.


They broke the table and moved me to Layne Flack's table for about five hands, then broke that table too. My new table had my Reno nemesis Tony Bloom on my left. There was a lot of action at this table and I wasn't getting many cards. I got Ace-Queen suited, my best hand of the day, on the Small Blind but mucked it in the face of an early-position raise from a tight player. Finally, with the Blinds 50-100, I got Ace-Jack on the cutoff and made it 300. Tony Bloom reraised me another 500. I don't like Ace-Jack but with 1250 in the pot already I called the sucker raise, probably a mistake. The Flop came Ten high, I checked, he bet, I mucked. Now I was down to 1300. The blinds went up to 75-150 and all of a sudden I was short stack. The player to my right limped under the gun and I limped behind with Nine-Eight of Diamonds, hoping to catch a Flop. But Tony raised, Seat Nine reraised, and the original limper re-reraised. I mucked, as did Tony, whispering to me, "He's got a hand." Seat nine was pot-committed and got knocked out when his pocket Nines lost to Aces. My Nine-Eight would have won the pot, making a Straight, but unfortunately I didn't know that in advance. Finally, when a loose player two to my right opened on my Small Blind, I reraised all in with Ace-Ten. But I couldn't get past Tony, who called with Ace-Queen and put me out of the contest.


April 24, 2004

Take Me Out to the Poker Game: 2004 WSOP $2000 No-Limit Hold 'Em

Sliced and diced

Harrah's Entertainment had bailed out the failed Binion's Horseshoe and tidied up the place a bit for the 2004 World Series of Poker. Today was the first event open to the general public (the first was limited to casino employees), a $2000 buy-in No-Limit Hold 'Em tournament. They got 834 entrants, just shy of the number who entered last year's World Championship and more than double the number who entered this event last year. I drew a table with no one I recognized other than a guy I had played with in Reno who went by the name of Hog sitting on my right. I did well early, busting one opponent when I flopped a Set of Fives and he moved in on the Turn with top Pair and a Flush draw that didn't materialize. Then I called an opening raise with Jacks on the Small Blind. The Flop came King-King-Nine. I bet and got called. I was prepared to Check-Fold but a Jack came on the Turn, filling me up. I made a small sucker bet and my opponent moved all in. I beat him into the pot and busted his pocket Aces when no Ace or King came on the River. At the first break I had more than quadrupled my starting stack of 2000 to 8650.


They broke our table and moved me to the table ninth-to-last in the break list, so we would be there for a while. Fortunately there was still no one I knew at the table. A short stack on my right had moved all in before the Flop two out of the last three hands and when he did it again I found pocket Jacks on the button and called for 1625. I didn't know what he had the other two times but he had Ace-King this time and spiked a King to beat me. I seesawed a bit and was down to 6300 at the second break, still in very good shape. When I returned from the break, though, what had been a nice, safe empty chair three seats to my left turned into one of the most feared opponents in poker: Phil "Number 11" Ivey, wearing his Full Tilt Poker basketball jersey and carrying three racks of chips totaling over 15,000. I had done well against him in Reno but I was sure he would adjust, find my weaknesses, and exploit them. I avoided him and instead concentrated on the guy to his right, With the Blinds 150-300 and a 50 ante, I opened for 900 with pocket Nines and he made a tiny raise of 700 into the 2700-chip pot. I looked into his soul and decided he had a big hand but for 700 more I had to call, just in case I caught a miracle flop. The Flop came Nine high. I checked my nuts and the guy moved all in with his pocket Aces for 3350 more. I called instantly and survived his two outs, busting him and giving me a high-water mark of 9900 chips.


A Brit named Gary with a short stack reraised me all in before the Flop when I opened with pocket Aces. I called of course but his Ten came on the River and he doubled up on me to the tune of 1925. Once again Tens got me in trouble but this time I had them where I wanted them, just lost a four-to-one shot. Fortunately I still had chips but unfortunately the seat of the guy whose Aces I cracked was now filled by Erick "E-Dog" Lindgren, the nicest guy in poker but also one of the toughest opponents. He sliced and diced me and Phil stole my blinds and soon I was down to around 3000 chips. With 200-400 Blinds and a 50 ante I moved all in with pocket Sevens and got called by Ace-King. My Sevens held and I doubled up. But I was forced to tighten up since I didn't know how to outplay E-Dog and Ivey without a hand. Finally I got Aces again. The former short stack to my right now had some chips and he made it 2000. I reraised all in and the player two to my left re-reraised all in. The player to my right folded and the guy on my left showed pocket Jacks. My bullets held up and I more than tripled up to 11,500. At the dinner break the guy with the Jacks told us his wife had just gone into labor and he abandoned his few remaining chips. I had exactly 10,000.


After dinner I tried to get frisky, opening in late position with King-Five of Hearts. E-Dog called on the Blind and the flop came Nine-Four-Four rainbow. He checked and I checked behind him, knowing a bet here was useless because he would call with anything. The Three of Hearts came on the Turn, giving me a Flush draw. Erick bet 1500. I thought a bit so it wouldn't be obvious I was on a Flush draw and then called. The River was a blank. Erick checked. I bluffed 2500 and he brilliantly called with Ace-Queen, his Ace high beating my King high. I was down to just over 5000. Blinded down to 4000, I pushed in with pocket Nines and got called with Tens. The door card was a Nine, though, and I doubled up once again. I told E-Dog I had another 5000 chips to bluff off to him and he flashed the shark teeth behind his boyish smile.


Gary the Brit opened and I called on the Blind with pocket Nines. The Flop Came Jack high. I bet 2500 and he raised me all in for 2425 more. I thought for quite a long time and tried to see into his soul. I didn't see anything so I called but he had Aces and I was back down to 4100. With the blinds and antes now at 400-800/100 I didn't have many options left. I opened all in with King-Deuce suited on Phil Ivey's Big Blind. "OK," he said, and called with Queen-Ten offsuit. His Ten came on the Turn and I was out of the contest, finishing a respectable 99th to add to my double-digit record but missing the money by 18 spots. I was feeling good playing against weaker players but it was still magic and wizardry how to play any two cards and get people to lay down better hands, or call people down with no Pair and win a pot. I needed to learn those mystical skills to get to the next level.


April 22, 2004

The Big Event: The 2004 Word Poker Tour Championship at Bellagio

Pushed around

With a $25,300 entry fee the WPT Championship was by far the biggest buy-in tournament in poker, overshadowing the $10,000 World Series of Poker main event won last year by Chris Moneymaker. With on-line satellites Bellagio drew an incredible 343 people, making the prize pool of $8.3 million the largest in history – for a few weeks, anyway, until the next WSOP main event. Like many, I was in uncomfortable territory playing a tournament with 50,000 in starting chips and blinds starting at 50/100. It seemed prudent not to risk too many chips early without the nuts, but then opponents who knew that could take advantage and drive me out of hands by raising and re-raising. I asked Howard "Bub" (The Professor) Lederer how to resolve this dilemma and he said, "Play poker," nodded, and turned away. "OK," I said. Then, "Wait a minute! I don't know how!" But he was gone.


I drew table 31, seat 9. To my left was Ben Lawton, who had won an entry from a satellite sponsored by HBO. He was playing tighter than tight and was an ideal player to have on my left. In seat one was Eric Kesselman, who seemed to be playing pretty straightforwardly. Next was Lee Watkinson, a good tournament player I'd tangled with before. Seat three was Maciei Kowalczk, whom I didn't know but who played aggressively. To his left was Can Kim Hua, a WPT finalist and very tough tournament player. Seat five was superstar Annie Duke, with whom I had played in Tunica. She had played tight early and I wasn't too worried about her at this stage. Seat six was Rory Liffey, a European pro. Seat seven was David Lewis, a local who had bought in, and on my right was the super-aggressive pro David Singer, who made the final table of the 2003 WSOP championship. Singer did his best to make himself intimidating with sunglasses, earplugs, and silver rings on nine of his ten fingers, but to me he just looked like a nice Jewish kid from Scarsdale County.


Singer started right off raising a lot of pots. Since I had position on him, I called with anything decent, figuring I could win some chips from him when I hit my hand. I called with a Pair of Deuces and flopped a Set when the board came Nine-Eight-Deuce, two Spades. Singer bet out and I raised the pot. He called. The Turn was a blank. He checked, I bet the pot, and he called. A third Spade came on the River and David bet the pot, 8500. I thought and thought and couldn't come up with anything he could have that didn't beat me so I laid down my Set. That little adventure cost me 10% of my stack.


A bit later I limped under the gun with a Pair of Jacks, something I had seen Johnny Chan do at Foxwoods. Everybody folded but Singer on the Big Blind. The Flop came Nine-Trey-Deuce rainbow. Singer bet 1000 and I made it 3000. He called. A Six came on the turn and he checked. I bet 5000 and he check-raised me 8000 more. I asked why there was no ring on his left middle finger but his stone face remained immobile. Somebody called the clock on me and Jack McClelland came over and started counting. I tossed my Jacks into the muck. Now I was down to 37,500, a quarter of my stack gone and I felt very pushed around.


Singer and Annie then played a huge pot where the Flop came Queen-Queen-Trey. They almost got it all in on the flop but when Singer put his final chips in, only 6500 more, Annie mucked. For all I knew they both had nothing. Singer then got caught a couple times and Annie got her chips back with Singer down to 37,000 or so and he tightened way up.


Meanwhile, Maciei Kowalczk was down to 10,000 when he pushed all in with Ace-Ten of Diamonds against Can Kim Hua, who called with Ace-King. The flop came all diamonds and Kowalczk doubled up. He won another pot, again with diamonds, and he was back up to 39,000. Then He got it all in preflop against David Singer and showed Ace-King of Diamonds. Singer turned over Aces but Kowalczk made his Flush on the Turn and Singer, disgusted, walked away.


The blinds were up to 300-600 with a 75 ante so we were almost to the point of a normal tournament. I picked up a couple of decent hands and reraised the openers: Annie, who re-reraised me and got me to lay down Ace-Queen suited, and the new player Paul Lackey, an Irishman, who folded twice to my reraises. Can Kim Hua started getting frisky, opening twice an orbit, and when he bet 2000 I made it 7500 with Ace-King. He then reraised another 15,000, or half my chips. Between his friskiness and his seeing me reraise a lot and fold to Annie's re-reraise I figured he was making a move on me so I moved all in. He beat me into the pot with his pocket rockets and just like that I was out of the contest.


It all happened so quickly I was a bit numb – not even upset. I walked around and told a few people I was out and then hung out with Andy "The Rock" Bloch, who had been eliminated earlier and was standing at the tournament desk getting his photo taken with babies and signing autographs. We had a late dinner at Fiammo at MGM with Avi "Wookie" Freedman and Steve "Z" Zolotow, both still in the running. Avi had six appetizers and I had a nice New York steak. It took three bottles of old Italian wine to get one that hadn't gone bad in the bottle but we happily drank the 1982 Solaia. I played a little Pot-Limit Omaha for play money on the Full Tilt Poker beta site with Paul "Beanie" Nobles and Erik "Rounders" Seidel and then went to bed. The World Series started Friday.


April 16, 2004

Once more into the Bellagio: another $2600 No-Limit warm-up

Power on

They got the power turned back on at the Bellagio after an unscheduled three-day outage so I entered the last No-Limit event before the World Poker Tour Championship. This was another $2600 buy-in, including a $100 entry fee and $75 in lieu of tips. There were 207 entrants, many fewer than in the last $2600 event, because people had either gone broke or gone home.  The only big name at my starting table was WPT finalist Maureen Feduniak. I mentioned that I was lucky for her since she had won the last tournament we had played in at the same table together, beating Howard Lederer, who had knocked me out at the final table. We began to play and I won a bunch of small pots, growing my stack from the starting 5000 to 8050. Then I got a free flop with Queen-Deuce of Diamonds when the player to my left limped under the gun and everyone else folded. The flop was Ace-King-Four of Diamonds, giving me the Nut Flush. I slow-played the nuts while he slow-played his Ace and he came over the top of me on the end for all his chips. Just like that I had 15,000.


Barry Greenstein sat down and I avoided him as best I could until they broke the table. There were still many unknown faces at the new one, with the exception of Fred Berger to my left, and I managed to hold my own until they moved me for table balance. The new table had quite a few Brits at it but no one I recognized from TV. They weren't pushovers, though, and it was tough to be frisky with all the stealing going on. I decided to get my share and picked on one guy who was raising two or three times an orbit. I reraised him before the flop on the Small Blind with Ten-Nine of Diamonds. He called, which I wasn't too happy about, but then the Flop came Ten-Nine-Four, two Hearts. I moved all in with top Two Pair and he called with pocket Aces. My hand held up and all of a sudden I had 29,000 chips. I fluctuated between 29 and 35k and had about 30,000 when they broke the table.


My new table once again had Barry Greenstein. Internet player Scott Epstein sat to my right, stealing my pathetic blinds constantly until I picked up pocket Jacks and reraised him all in, to which he folded. Eskimo Clarke sat to my left with a nice stack and Meng "The Ninja" La sat  two to Eskimo's left. There seemed to be a lot of stealing going on but every time I tried to do it Barry Greenstein reraised me. Finally I raised with Ace-Jack and Meng reraised almost my whole stack. I thought awhile and then moved in for only 7500 more than his 30,000 raise. He called of course and had Ace-Queen suited, making me a big dog. The door card was a Jack, putting me ahead, but the other two cards were Ten and Nine, giving Meng an open-ended Straight draw. The Turn brought a Heart, giving him a Flush draw too, so now he had 18 outs. The River was the very welcome Deuce of Spades and I doubled up to 65,000. I had 64,800 when we broke for dinner.


Most of the restaurants at Bellagio were still closed, including the buffet, but I pulled some strings to get a reservation at Olives. Avi "Wookie" Freedman, his wife Gail, and Andy "The Rock" Bloch joined me for a delicious dinner. Avi's specialty was ordering appetizers so we had several of the yummy Tuna Tartares, a squid, some carpaccio, and a couple salads. I had the superb rack of lamb for the entrée and Avi and Gail shared some sea scallops. As a rule I don't eat dessert but they had homemade chocolate-chunk cookies with peanut-butter ice cream so I had just one order and ate it with a fork. The cookies were so rich I couldn't finish two of the three but The Rock helped me out.


I rushed to get back to the tournament but they had extended the break another half-hour because the blackout so I cooled my heels until eleven when we resumed. We were down to three tables now and I found myself still with many unfamiliar faces. The night marched on and I picked up a few more blinds and antes when fellow Northwesterner and Lion Tales reader Dennis Waterman moved in for his last 13,000 with King-Queen. I called on the Big Blind with Ace-Eight of Spades and it held up to put him out 14th. I felt bad about busting him but I now had over 100,000 chips. We were down to 12 when I found Ace-King under the gun and Keith Hawkins on my left reraised me all in. I called and beat his pocket Queens when an Ace came on the Turn, busting him out in 12th place and giving me the chip lead of 161,000 when we called it a night at 3 a.m.

Very aggressive

I slept in as best I could, getting almost six hours of sleep. I walked over to Bellagio and found my stack right where it should be. Howard "Bub" (The Professor) Lederer came over from the Pot-Limit Omaha tournament he was playing in and wished me luck. We played only two hands when one of the players I didn't know from the other table busted out and we redrew for seats at the final table. I got seat eight, with French movie star Patrick Breul to my left. With the chip lead I decided to be aggressive and with the blinds 2000-4000 with a 1000 ante I bet 15,000 in early position with yesterday's lucky hand, Ten-Nine of Diamonds. Patrick called on my left and everyone else folded. The Flop came Ace-Seven-Four rainbow. I bet out with nothing and Patrick called. I figured he had an Ace, but not a big kicker. The Turn was an Eight, giving me an open-ended Straight draw. I checked, hoping for a free card, but Patrick bet 25,000. I had the pot odds to call but I wanted to win the pot right there rather than trying to bluff the River if my Straight didn't hit so I moved all in over the top of him. He called and turned over pocket Sevens for a Set. I needed a Six or a Jack on the River but they didn't come. I had him covered but just barely, down to a mere 4000. Two hands later I was all in on the Big Blind and got three callers. I didn't look at my hand. Four Diamonds came. I looked and found the Six but two others had higher diamonds. Meng had the Nine and justice prevailed as he compensated for my earlier suck-out by busting me. Tenth place paid $5720, a profit of $3120.


Andy "The Rock" Bloch commiserated with me since he had suffered a similar fate in the recent Seven-Card Stud tourney but when it came down to it I was alone in my humiliation. I walked outside, down the moving walkway past the dancing fountains. Celine Deon sang the theme from Titanic as I watched the water cannons shoot waves of spray hundreds of feet in the air. It was about a mile's walk back to the MGM Grand's giant, golden, quiet lion.


April 11, 2004

A big event with no TV: A Bellagio $5150 No-Limit Hold 'Em Warmup

Table from hell

I decided I needed more practice against the world's best No-Limit Hold 'Em players so I entered the $5150 No-Limit Hold 'Em event at Bellagio even though it wasn't televised. The juice, including 3% in lieu of tips, was $300 or 5.8%. There were 169 entrants, less than half of what they got at the televised Reno event, but still a large field by historical standards.  I drew the table from hell to start, with six very tough players and two I didn't know. My current nemesis Scott "Empty Seat" Fischman sat to my left in seat one. A woman named Debbie had seat two, then Two-time WPT finalist Phil "Unabomber" Laak in seat three, WPT champ Paul "Pretty Boy" Phillips in seat four, Reno finalist Young Phan in seat five, Fred Berger in seat six, David "The Dragon" Phan in seat seven. An experienced pro whom I hadn't met, Alex Roberts, sat to my right in seat eight. I lost 2000 of my starting 10,000 chips sending messages to Scott and The Dragon that I wouldn't be pushed around, and I was down to 7000 when I had to dash across the street to Paris to play my final session in their Million Dollar Slot Tournament. I stayed one more hand to play my button, though, and found the Ace-King of Spades and raised. Debbie called and I ended up winning 1000 or so back when I caught an Ace on the Turn to beat her Pair of Sixes.


I didn't win the million so I came back and battled at the table from hell until I found a Pair of Queens in middle position and made a standard raise. Scott Fischman reraised me. I looked into his soul but saw only an empty seat so I moved all in. He called with Aces but I flopped Queen-Nine-Nine and doubled up to 15,000. Anyone can have skill but it takes luck to win a tournament. I knew I'd be on the wrong end of that bet four out of five times but I was grateful still to be alive.


They broke us and I moved to a table with only three players I recognized: Steve "Z" Zolotow on my left in seat one, John "JJ" Juanda in seat two, and Meng "The Ninja" La in seat seven. Meng paid me off 3500 when I caught a Straight on the river in a three-way pot that was checked almost all the way down. As I had hoped, he called me with a Pair, thinking I was trying to buy the pot with nothing. Then seat eight limped under the gun and I limped right along with Ace-King of Spades. Steve Z took the opportunity to move all in with a Pair of Sevens for 6000 more. It folded to me and I called, making a Flush on the River and knocking out the Zee man. I won another small pot and was up to a high point of 35,000 when Scotty Nguyen and Howard Lederer sat down. I fortunately went card-dead then and didn't have to play against the world champions. When they broke the table, with 45 people left, I had 30,000 chips, a bit below average.


My new table had me in seat two, Gary Lent, who had won a big pot from me at the Sands, in seat five, Chad Layne in seat nine, and Gabriel Thaler, a young high-stakes player, in seat one to my right. Gabriel was raising a lot of pots and when I saw Jack-Ten of Clubs on the button I moved all in for the re-steal. Unfortunately the Big Blind woke up with pocket Queens and took half my stack. Gabriel was not amused when he saw my Jack high. The Blinds and Antes were going up and up and up and by the dinner break I was down to 9600. I figured I might be out on the first hand after the 90-minute break but I walked across the street to Paris and saw the five Million-Dollar finalists play their round and had a nice steak at the banquet with Shortstack.


When I returned I perhaps foolishly called all in from the Pocket Queens guy with King-Nine of Spades. He only had Tens this time but I caught runner-runner Nines on Fourth and Fifth Streets and doubled up. Then Barry Shulman sat down in seat seven with a nice stack, playing a lot of pots as was his style. I didn't tangle with him but when seat eight raised the 800-1600 Blinds to 5500 and Gabriel called, I saw Ace-King offsuit and moved in for 19,200. Seat eight folded but Gabriel decided to call with a Pair of Fours. They held up and I was out of the contest, finishing 36th.


April 6, 2004

Five-Star Warm-up: Bellagio $2600 No-Limit Hold 'Em

Tens again

Las Vegas was having their annual thundershower and the airport was closed briefly Friday afternoon but the brief disruption wrought havoc with all the flights. Our America West flight from Reno was canceled and my brother Mike, Andy "The Rock" Bloch and I bought tickets on Southwest for the next available flight, which was four hours later and delayed two hours on top of that. Since it was an expensive last-minute ticket we were "randomly" selected to have our belongings rifled through – Mike and I were, anyway. The Rock knew people in Washington and he breezed through, getting the very last standby seat on an earlier flight while Mike and I played Chinese Poker to pass the time. Finally the air-traffic hold on Vegas was lifted and a couple bags of peanuts later we were back in Sin City.


Bellagio was holding a series of poker tournaments with a minimum $2600 buy-in leading up to the big $25,300 buy-in World Poker Tour Championship. I entered event No. 1, a $2600 No-Limit Hold 'Em tourney. To my astonishment a staggering 361 people entered! Last summer there were exactly 40 people entered in an identical event. Thank you, World Poker Tour. The juice was $175 or 6.7% including the money held in lieu of tips, a bit high for a big tournament but hey, it was the Bellagio. The series was called the Five-Star Poker Classic (not to be confused with the Five-Diamond Poker Classic in December), named after the fact that a restaurant in Bellagio had received the highest rating from an oil company. Somehow they had passed over Binion's Horseshoe.


I drew a tough table to start the tourney with tourney regular Raymond Davis on my right and two-time WPT finalist Hoyt Corkins two seats to my left. I stayed out of pots with Hoyt and managed to take quite a few chips from Raymond when I flopped trip tens and he called me down with pocket Jacks. They moved our table en bloc out of the poker room into the expanded tournament area on the casino floor but then they broke the table and moved me back into the poker room, then once again moved the whole table back out again. I was getting dizzy but my chips were intact.


I ended up with the chip leader, Vegas pro Chad Layne, and a tough young Internet player, Scott "Empty Seat" Fischman, glued to my left hip for hours, inhibiting my friskiness. Then Erik "Rounders" Seidel sat down at my right. Fortunately he was very short stacked. He eventually called an opening raise, all in for his meager 1850 remaining chips. I saw pocket Tens, the hand I knocked out Phil Ivey with in Reno, and moved all in. The opener folded and my Tens held up over Erik's Ace-Queen and he was out. Just call me Johnny Chan.


I finally got moved away from Chad but not Scott and slowly grew my stack from the starting 5000 to 20,100 by the dinner break. The three of us, Chad's beautiful wife, and Andy "The Rock" Bloch sat together at the buffet that Bellagio was kind enough to comp everyone who made it that far. I told Chad how much I appreciated the warm welcome I got from most of the experienced tournament players but The Rock told me it was because I was a fish.


With the blinds up to 800-1600 and a 200 ante I didn't have much room to maneuver but I caught a few hands and doubled up to 40,000 on the nose. Then, with the blinds 1000-2000 and a 300 ante, I caught my Hand of the Month: pocket Tens. Sure, I knocked out Phil Ivey and Erik Seidel with them but I had also lost most of my chips with to Tony Bloom in Reno with them. In middle position, I cautiously made it 6000, hoping for a re-steal attempt, but Steve Ford on the Small Blind just called. The flop came Nine-Seven-Five and Steve bet out 15,000. I was pretty sure I had the best hand so I moved in for an additional 19,000 and he beat me into the pot. I waited for him to flip over his Set but all he had was pocket Eights, making me a three-to-one favorite. He had only six outs to beat me: the two remaining Eights and the four Sixes, which would give him a Straight. The Turn was a blank but the Six of Spades came on the River and I was out of the contest, finishing 35th, eight from the money.


I entered the $2600 Omaha Hi/Lo event the next day but then I remembered I didn't know how to play that game and was out quickly. I flew back to Seattle to get clean laundry and Paul "Beanie" Nobles messaged me to play in the UltimateBet satellite for a seat in the Paris World Poker Tour event in July. I ended up winning it. Beanie came in second. "That's the last time you'll ever tell me about a tournament," I joked. Ah, poker in the comfort and privacy of your armchair. Thank you, Congress, for not making it illegal yet. I think.


April 1, 2004

The Biggest Little Tourney in the World: The 2004 Reno World Poker Challenge

Roller Coaster

I brought Shortstack and my brother Mike, visiting from his home in Chiang Mai, Thailand, to the Biggest Little City in the World to hang out while I played in the penultimate season-two World Poker Tour event, the World Poker Challenge at the Reno Hilton. The folks at the Hilton knew us well since we had been coming here for years and they gave us one of the truly luxurious wine suites replete with sunken Jacuzzi tub, dual Italian-marble sinks, and plasma TV. High-speed Internet, of course, was a must for all of us and I plugged in Lionfish, with Shortstack and Mike connecting peer-to-peer sharing the Internet connection.


I entered a warm-up tournament and a super satellite for the main event but had no luck in either. I had lost my lucky souvenir chip from the small Tunica tournament Andy "The Rock" Bloch and I cashed in and I was afraid the poker gods were angry. I hoped my luck would improve in the main event, a $5100 buy-in No-Limit Hold 'Em tourney with $100 entry fee and 3% taken out in lieu of tips. That made the juice a relatively reasonable 4.9%. During the several days we were there before the main event started we dined mostly in the Hilton's excellent steakhouse, the highlight being the very lean and delicious elk steak. We sampled the 1999 Etude Cabernet Sauvignon, fruity and delicious, the 1999 Dunn Howell Mountain, which we thought a bit uneven, and the 2001 Caymus, dark and chocolaty but otherwise uncomplex and perhaps needing a bit more time in the bottle. 2001 was said to be a banner year for California Cabernet and I was looking forward to trying many more.


Tournament director Jimmy Sommerfeld, who had a rolling Southern accent that could just rock you to sleep, was famous for starting on time and even this 342-person event started at noon on the dot. I drew table 34, seat eight to start the tourney. No stars were at the table but the players weren't pushovers either. Early in the first level, 25/50 Blinds, I found pocket Aces in early position and made it 150 to go. Alan Myerson called me in the Big Blind and when the flop came King high he bet out 500. I took Doyle Brunson's advice and, with no obvious draws on the board, played it slow by just calling. The Turn was the Nine of Diamonds, pairing the board and making two Diamonds. Alan bet 1000 and I called, still thinking he had something like King-Queen or King-Jack. I might have raised to see if he had trip Nines or better here but I didn't want to get so many chips into the pot and have him put me to the test for all my chips. The River was a third Diamond but no obvious help to anyone. Alan bet 3000 and I called. I was right about his hand – King-Ten – but they were Diamonds. He had made a back-door flush and took the pot down. I had lost half my stack. Where was my lucky chip?


I played very tight for the rest of the level, not getting any good hands and not wanting to get too frisky while I was upset over my Aces getting cracked. I called Alan's raise on the Big Blind with his King-Ten of Diamonds and laughingly folded it face up when he raised the low flop. But I hurt inside. The only thing that could salve my wound was another pair of pocket Aces and sure enough they came and I raised the standard amount. Ron Livingston on my left reraised me and I pretended to think about it for a bit before moving all in. He called with Jacks and I doubled up on him back to just over my starting 10,000. A dark cloud lifted and I was back in the game. I got a little frisky and had 13,000 at the dinner break.


Andy "The Rock" Bloch had arranged dinner at Andiamo, the Italian restaurant in just about every Hilton around the world. I introduced my brother Mike to the all-star cast: Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, Steve Brecher, Howard "Bub" (The Professor) Lederer, Erik "Rounders" Seidel, Clonie Gowan, John "JJ" Juanda, and Avi "Wookie" Freedman. Steve Brecher's friend Tyler was there and said he liked my Lion Tales although he wished I'd talk more about the food. Howard didn't like to eat much at dinner because, he said, it slowed him down. I liked to eat at any time and had a nice assortment of appetizers and the filet mignon, medium rare. There was no wine because we were playing and dinner for eleven came out to about what we normally spent on dinner for two with wine, an all-too-sobering thought. As a rule I don't eat dessert but they had the chocolate Galliano cake a la mode so I had just one order.


After dinner I got another crack at the aggressive Alan Myerson when I called his raise on the Big Blind with the tricky hand of King-Queen. The flop came Jack-Nine-Six rainbow. I checked and he bet only 300, not enough to get me to fold the inside Straight draw. I called and –  Bingo! My Ten came on the Turn. He bet 1000 and I made it 4000 because there was a Flush draw now and I didn't want him catching another back-door Flush. He called. The River was a blank and I moved all in, hoping he'd think I was making a move and not put me on making an inside Straight draw. He didn't take the bait and mucked, but I had won back almost exactly the same chips he had taken from me earlier.


I was up over 14,000 but that was my high point for a while. I had to lay down hand after hand and was down to just over my starting 10,000 when Bob Slezak in seat two busted out and was replaced by the very dangerous Prahlad "Devastator" Friedman. I avoided playing pots with him and he only stole my blind once but by the time the table broke I was down to 8500 chips.


My new assignment was table 50 seat eight, which put me to the left of top tournament pro Amir Vahedi. Amir, whose trademark was an omnipresent unlit cigar, tested me right away, raising my Big Blind from his Small. I had a decent hand so I reraised him all in and he mucked. I was back over 10,000. Then Ronnie Ebanks in seat five raised in middle position. I called for time and chewed a little, then reraised all in with pocket Kings. He thought for a couple minutes and then called with Jacks. My cowboys held up and all of a sudden I had 23,000 chips.


The blinds were 400-800 now and I was down to just over 20,000 chips when Amir raised from two off the button, making it 3000. I saw Ace-Jack of Diamonds and called with position on him, thinking I likely had the best hand since he liked to play any two face cards. It was heads-up and the flop came Jack high, two Clubs. Amir checked to me and I moved all in, not wanting to risk another Club falling on the Turn. Amir had a good draw and called with King-Nine of Clubs but my Jacks held up and all of a sudden I had 43,000. Whee! I went back and forth a little but ended day one with 42,800, just above average for the 94 players left. And I was in double digits for the sixth big-buy-in tournament in a row.


I had a chilled Gray Goose L'Orange and went to bed.


The Lion's Roar

I drew table eight, seat six to start day two and I found my lucky chip, which had been in an unusual pocket of one of my cargo pants. My table luck held out and once again there were no big names at my table. I got a little frisky and grew my stack to just under 100,000 without risking too many chips when three-time WPT finalist Phil Ivey sat down on my right. Since he was on my right it was easy for me to avoid him and they broke our table without me having to play a hand against him. It was down to 63 players and I got moved to table three, seat five. Unfortunately, now Phil Ivey was sitting on my left with a mountain of chips. He called when I opened with Ace-Queen and the Flop came Nine high. I bet and he called. The Turn was a blank and I check-raised him all in with nothing but overcards. He watched me for a couple minutes while I used Yogic state control to make myself unreadable. It worked and he finally mucked. I felt like Matt Damon bluffing Johnny Chan out of a pot in Rounders but Phil didn't ask what I had so I couldn't say, "Sorry, Phil, I don't remember."


Phil then started making a habit of opening under the gun on my Big Blind. I called with Seven-Six of Diamonds hoping for a monster Flop. It came Eight-Seven-Five, two Clubs. I wasn't crazy about the Flush draw but it was still a great Flop for me heads-up so I bet out.5000. Phil made it 15,000 and I called after a brief think. The Turn was the Ten of Spades. I checked. Phil bet 10,000 and I called. The River card was the Nine of Hearts. I checked and Phil bet 30,000. "Show me the Jack," I sighed, and threw in six orange 5000 chips. Phil tapped the table with his cards and said, "You got it." "I got it?" I said. "You got a Six?" he asked. I flipped over my hand and he threw his into the muck as the dealer pushed me the pot of 120,000.


I had 215,000 chips when we got down to 28 players and started going hand-for-hand. Phil Ivey had lost most of the rest of his chips to Londoner Tony Bloom on his left, bluffing all-in preflop with Queen-Nine suited against Tony's pocket Aces. Phil continued to raise under the gun with his short stack but the third time I called with pocket Tens and Phil was out on the bubble. The 27 of us left were guaranteed $9802 each. I breathed a sigh of relief, having taken care of another couple months of the cable bill.


With three tables left we redrew for seats. I stayed at table three but slid over to seat seven. I raised under the gun with Ace-Five of Clubs and got called by a local gentleman on the Big Blind. The flop came Nine-Five-Trey, two Spades. He checked. I bet out on the strength of my middle pair and he quickly called. The Turn was another Five. I was pondering my strategy when I heard, "I'm all in!" I figured he had trip Fives and thought I was on a Spade draw but unless he had a Nine or Trey with his Five, unlikely hands to call with preflop, I had him beat. "How much is it?" I asked, then, "Never mind. I call." I flipped over my trips with the Ace kicker and he turned over Ten-Nine of Diamonds. He needed one of the two remaining Nines but they didn't come and I took over 120,000 chips, busting him. I had 361,000 chips when we redrew for the final two tables with 18 people left.


Now I had Tony Bloom in seat one, Steve Brecher in seat two, Peter Muller, who had a beautiful white retriever with him, in seat three, me in seat four, Rosemary Maxfield in seat five, John "JJ" Juanda in seat six, Young Phan, who had given me trouble at the Sands, in seat seven, Paul "Eskimo" Clarke in seat eight, and Todd Brunson, son of poker great Doyle, in seat nine. Rosemary busted out almost immediately so now I had JJ and Young on my left, making friskiness difficult. I won another 55,000 or so from Londoner Tony Bloom in seat one when I held Eight-Seven suited, the Flop came Nine-Eight-Eight, and I ended up making a Straight. I had exactly 400,000 chips. I got out-friskied a few times by JJ and Young and when we broke for dinner I was down to 361,000.


Andy "The Rock" Bloch had set up dinner once again at Andiamo. This time we were joined by Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, John "JJ" Juanda, Paul "Beanie" Nobles, Avi "Wookie" Freedman, and Steve Brecher. Only Steve, JJ, and I were still in the contest and I was near the chip lead with almost twice the average count. I had the excellent beef carpaccio followed by a nice grilled salmon with the very sweet sauce on the side. As a rule I don't eat dessert but the chocolate Galliano cake had been lucky for me so I had just one. Despite protests, JJ left a Benjy to cover the $5 or so of food he ate and I stuck it with The Rock to figure out how to give it back to him.


After dinner they raced off the purple chips worth 500, leaving us with only the yellow 1000's and the orange 5000's, and the blinds went up to 3000/6000 with a 1000 ante. On the first or second hand Steve Brecher moved all in in second position for 99,000. I had Ace-King offsuit. Steve had been playing very tight and I decided that with only 18,000 in the pot I didn't really need to gamble 100,000 on a hand where it was unlikely I was a favorite so I mucked Big Slick. Later I saw Steve double up going all in with Queen high so I probably should have called. He had switched gears perfectly, getting me to lay down a big hand.


The blinds went up to 4000/8000 with a 1000 ante and I was down to 350,000 or so when Paul Muller limped on the Small Blind. I had King-Nine of Hearts on the Big Blind and I raised the size of the pot, 20,000. Paul quickly called. The flop came Jack high, two Hearts. Paul checked. I bet 40,000 on the strength of my Flush draw and overcard and he reraised all in for another 139,000. With two-to-one pot odds and what I thought were 12 outs, I called. He turned over King-Jack, eliminating three of my outs. It was almost exactly the same situation in which I won all those chips from Amir but this time I was on the wrong side of a busted Flush and just like that I was down to 150,000. If the Heart had come, which was just a bit worse than three-to-two against, I would have been the chip leader with 550,000 chips but now I was below average. I had been a Heart beat away from the final table.


Tony Bloom then opened for 24,000 in middle position. I saw pocket Tens on the button and heard Paul Phillips voice: "You don't win by making big laydowns late in the tournament." I reraised him all in. He turned over Aces, they held up, and I was down to the felt with 11,000. I was playing to win but with 11,000 chips I realized that if one more person busted out before me I'd make an extra $3000 in prize money so I kept that in mind. Nevertheless, on the very next hand I got pocket Deuces and bet the 10,000 I had left after the ante. Young Phan and Eskimo called and checked it down. "I have a pair!" I said. Young turned over King high. "I have a pair!" I said. Eskimo didn't catch any of the five overcards either and my baby Deuces held up! I quadrupled up to 39,000. "Watch out," I growled. Steve Brecher said, "The always-dangerous Quiet Lion has chips." I rolled my eyes. "Sometimes he's more dangerous than other times," I said.


I mucked a Seven-Three offsuit but then Eskimo made it 24,000 and I had Ace-Four so I moved in for 38,000. I got him heads up with Queen-Jack but my slight favorite faltered as Eskimo made three Queens and I was out of the contest. I finished 14th for $16,337. I got sympathy from The Rock, Jesus, Clonie, and Avi, who had been cheering me on, but if I was somewhat disappointed I really didn't feel bad. This was a personal best for me. I had now cashed two WPT events in a row and held my own against Phil Ivey. April and May, the two biggest months in poker, were coming and the Quiet Lion was roaring.