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