Enough warm-ups already: WSOP $3000 No-Limit Hold 'Em
Table of death
The final warm-up No-Limit tournament at the Horseshoe drew an amazing 651 entrants, making the prize pool a hair under $1.8 million after the 8% juice. These warm-up tournaments were bigger than most of the poker tournaments in history. I drew a downstairs table again, table 28, seat 2. On my left was my buddy Andy "The Rock" Bloch, who had eliminated me from the second-chance tournament in Tunica from which I got my lucky chip. Peter "The Poet" Costa, with whom I had tangled before, sat in seat eight, and one of the most respected players in the world, Howard "Bub" (The Professor) Lederer, had seat 10. I played cautiously when the big names were in the pot and ended up splitting two Blind battles with The Rock. I won about 1000 when I called down seat five's bluff and when they broke the table I had 3900 from my starting 3000.
The new table had only two faces I recognized: Steve "Tipsy Joker" sat on my left and Mel Weiner, who had knocked me out at the Bellagio $10,000 WPT event, sat to his left. Tipsy busted out the first hand I was there so I didn't have to tangle with him. There was a lot of action at the table so I decided to play quality hands. It paid off: when I raised on the Small Blind with pocket Aces I got two callers who folded when I bet the pot on the King-high flop. I had 4600 at the first break and called Shortstack to tell her the news.
That table broke quickly and with 5100 I moved to table 53, seat one. Fred Hwang, a young tournament regular, sat across from me in seat five. The lovely and vivacious Clonie Gowan had seat seven and Jeremy "The Kid" Tinsley, who placed third in that same Tunica tournament, had seat 10. It was the first time I had seen The Kid not getting a massage but he quickly rectified that. The guy in seat six bluffed off a bunch of chips to me and I was up to 7475 when they moved the table en bloc upstairs. I lost a blind battle to The Kid and was down to about 5000 when they broke the table.
My new table, unfortunately for me, had many faces I recognized. I had seat eight. To my left was one of the top women players in the world, Kathy Liebert. In seat one was Alex Brenes, seat two Melissa Hayden, seat four my nemesis Can Kim Hua, who had eliminated me twice, seat six Steve Ford, who had eliminated me once, and seat seven Layne "Back to Back" Flack, so named for winning back-to-back World Series of Poker No-Limit Hold 'Em events in 2002. So there were only three people I didn't recognize. Then seat five turned his head toward me and I saw it was Ben Affleck. He wasn't as tough as some of these pros but his game was good. I introduced myself to seat ten, who turned out to be Martin Deknijff, winner of the biggest prize in poker history: $2.7 million at the 2004 Bellagio WPT Championship. He was wearing a nice shirt. So there was one guy at the table who wasn't a big name: seat three. His name was Scott.
I raised Kathy Liebert's Big Blind win Queen-Six offsuit, trying for a steal. She reraised me and I thought she was making a move so I reraised her all in. She called with Aces. "I can beat that," I said. A Queen and two Hearts came on the Flop. The Queen of Hearts came on the Turn, giving me trips and leaving Kathy with only the Ace of Diamonds as an out, since a Heart would give me a Flush. A Heart did come on the River, giving me a superfluous Flush and knocking out a disbelieving Kathy. I must have been her Can Kim Hua. I didn't think she'd ever won a hand against me. Alex and Melissa busted out soon after but their deaths were not by my hand. I was back to 7500 at the break and I called Shortstack to let her know I was at the Table of Death.
Layne "Back to Back" Flack, drinking back-to-back Coors Lights and sucking out five consecutive times all-in with the worst hand versus Ben Affleck and Steve Ford, raised on the cutoff. I had Ace-Queen and reraised all in. He called with Ace-Six and this time the best hand won. I had busted the pros on my left and right and was up to 11,000. Amir Vahedi took Layne's place and starting splashing his ample stack around. Then I had Ace-Queen again and raised in early position. Ben Affleck reraised all in with his short stack on the Big Blind and I called. His pocket Tens held up and he doubled up on me. I won some blinds and antes and then got Ben all in again with King-Jack of Diamonds against my Ace-Ten of Diamonds but he hit a King and doubled up on me once more. I still went to the dinner break with 9575.
Dinner was at the buffet they had set up for us. It was the same every night. I had iced tea and dined with Andy, Kristy Gazes (Bill's wife), and Amir.
After dinner Ben's luck finally ran out and Amir got his chips. The ESPN crew missed the celebrity bust-out but came over to film Amir's smile. I went card dead and got blinded down to just over 5000 when I found pocket Jacks in third position. Seat one, a guy named John who had replaced the busted Alex Brenes, reraised me almost all my chips. I sensed he wasn't strong and re-reraised all in, which he wasn't too happy about, but for a few more chips he called with his Ace-Queen. He hit an Ace on the Turn and I was out of the contest, finishing 126th for the second tournament in a row. I might not have been playing great poker but at least my consistency was improving. The main event was next.