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