June 29, 2004

Fountain of cash: 2004 Bellagio Festa al Lago No-Limit Hold 'Em series, part I

Fountain of cash: 2004 Bellagio Festa al Lago No-Limit Hold 'Em series, part I

The first day

Shortstack took a pass on Commerce but there was no way she would miss a stay at Bellagio so she accompanied me to the 2004 "Festa al Lago" (literally, "suckout on the river") series at the Bellagio, 11 No-Limit Hold 'Em tournaments with varying buy-ins. The first was a $1000+60 event with 311 entrants. I drew table 48, seat five. Al Krux, who had made the final table at this year's WSOP Championship, was in seat three and Chris Hinchcliffe, finalist at the PartyPoker Million, had seat nine. I picked up several small pots when I raised or reraised before the flop with big pocket pairs and was up to 3275 from my starting 2000 at the first break.


Chris Hinchcliffe busted out early and the short stack who replaced him soon met with the same fate. Sam Grizzle, famous for needling Phil Hellmuth, Jr., during the 2003 World Series, took the seat and he didn't last long either. It was an unlucky seat. Meanwhile I got involved in defending my blind against Al Krux's button raise with Ace-Six offsuit. I pretended I was Erick Lindgren and smooth-called his bets on the Flop, when two Queens came, and the Turn, which was a blank. We checked the river and my Six outkicked his Ace-Trey to pick up a nice pot. I had 5725 at the second break and Al was kicking himself for not betting the River.


I got blinded down to around 5300 when they broke the table and sent me to table 41, seat one with 87 players remaining. Allen "Double OJ" Kessler was in seat four. I watched two hands and then they moved me again, this time to table 33, seat one. WSOP champ Huck Seed had seat eight and Hon "The Kamikaze Kid" Le had seat six with a huge stack of chips. Apparently he had just busted three players in three hands, which was why they needed to move me to balance the table. I raised on the cutoff with pocket Jacks and got put all in by the Big Blind. I called and he turned over King-Queen. Two Kings flopped and I was ready to stand up when one of my two outs hit the Turn and I made Jacks Full. I doubled up to 11,400.  I lost a small pot to the guy on my left in a Blind battle and I had 9500 at the next break.


When we got back the blinds were up to 400/800 with a 50 ante. I was on the Big Blind when the cutoff moved all in with about the same number of chips I had. I saw Ace-Queen suited and figured this was as good a shot to double up as any so I called. He had pocket Jacks and they held up so I was out of the contest in 43rd place, missing the top 27 who got paid.



Five hundred more

The stakes went up Thursday to $1500+70. There were 224 entrants and I drew table 33, seat seven. There was nobody I recognized at the table but Chris Hinchcliffe sat down on my left a half-hour late, which he said was earlier than he wanted to be. I spent an hour or so folding miserable starting hands and then Chip Jett, Tournament Player of the Year, sat down in seat 10 with a short stack. My stack wasn't getting any bigger and when I reraised an under-the-gun raiser all in with Ace-King Suited, he turned over pocket Aces and I was out of the contest just before the first break.


Shortstack and I hastily made dinner reservations at Aqua, where we each had a double order of tuna tartare washed down with the 2001 Caymus Special Selection, which was delicious out of the bottle but blossomed into a masterpiece after 45 minutes or so.


And more

On Friday the buy-in was $2000+80. There were 185 entrants and I had table 37, seat six. Minh Nguyen, an experienced tournament player, was in seat one, Jeremy "The Kid" Tinsley was in seat nine, and Chip Jett arrived late in seat three. I played very few hands and ended up down slightly from my starting stack of 4000: 3600 at the first break.


Chip Jett took half my chips when he flopped a Set of Sixes and I was able to lay down my top Pair. I got them back, though, when I moved all in with Aces and he called on the Big Blind with Queens. I was back to 3750. Play at the table was very cautious and after three hours no one had busted out. Finally The Kid went broke and two others soon followed. Young Phan took seat 10. I continued to fold my bad cards and was down to 2600 at the second break.


With the blinds up to 200/400 and a 50 ante the guy in seat two, who had been bullying my blind all day, raised all in. I had seen him turn over weak Aces and low pairs earlier so when I saw Queen-Ten offsuit I decided to call, figuring I needed to gamble and if I didn't call he would just keep raising my blind. I was right and he turned over Ace-Five offsuit, meaning I had a 44% chance of winning, but his hand held up and I was out of the contest.


We prevailed upon the management at Craftsteak to squeeze us in for dinner, where we started with a few Wellfleet oysters and then had our usual: scallops for Shortstack and Kobe Flatiron Steak for me along with a cornucopia of fabulous vegetables. We called ahead and asked them to open a bottle of 2001 Caymus Special Selection an hour before we arrived, which they did.


And still more


Saturday was a $2500+100 buy-in event. There were only 151 people in this one and there were several pros at my table 48. I had seat one. Charlie "Scotty Warbucks" Shoten was in seat two; Chris Hinchcliffe had seat three, and David "The Dragon" Phan had seat six. David The Dragon busted a couple players early, picking up one big Pair after another. Kathy "Pokerkat" Liebert  sat down in seat seven and immediately began needling me about moving in on her Aces with Queen-Six offsuit at Binion's. I confessed to being a donkey but she wouldn't let up so I had to comment on her pink hat. Then Mimi Tran came and sat down in seat five so The Dragon was surrounded by tough chicks. I played a couple small pots and at the first break I was up a quarter to 5025.


After the break I got up to 7000 before losing a couple small pots and going down to 4300. They broke our table and I moved to table 46 seat nine. It was like a rerun of yesterday with Young Phan in seat one and Minh Nguyen in seat three. I fiddled and diddled and chipped up to 7125 by the next break.


Right after the break T.J. Cloutier, one of the greatest tournament players of all time, sat down with a huge stack. Then a guy across from me raised my blind a small amount. I had Ten-Nine so I called. The Flop came Nine high. I checked and he moved all in. I looked into his soul and decided he was bluffing so I called. He turned over pocket Threes and I doubled up to 10,200. Then a player who had been limping or raising almost every pot raised under the gun. I saw Ace-King offsuit and my choices were to muck them or move in. I chose the latter and he called with pocket Tens. The Tens held up and I was out of the contest.


Dinner was at the beautiful sushi bar at Shintaro. The fish were fresh, the jellyfish in the tricolor illuminated tank behind the bar were mesmerizing, and the Kurosawa sake was smooth as silk.


June 23, 2004

A Little Omaha

A Little Omaha

City of Commerce

While many of the pros were off in Barcelona playing in the heads-up championship I decided to sneak down to Commerce, Calif., and play in the tournaments there. I booked a flight on Alaska Airlines from Seattle to Long Beach, a more relaxed airport than LAX and even a bit closer to Commerce. I settled into seat 2D and heard the dreaded announcement that they were changing a part. Fortunately it was only a 20-minute part and we landed almost on time. Hertz had lost all the cars with Neverlost but eventually they found one and I was on my way east in a charcoal Mitsubishi Galant.


Check-in at the Wyndham was a breeze so I settled into a regular room overlooking the courtyard, which really makes it sound a lot nicer than it was, and fired up the Wayport WiFi access to play a few hands before dinner. No trip to central LA was complete without dinner at Dal Rae steakhouse in beautiful Pico Rivera. Avi "Two Cokes" Freedman joined me and four non-poker-playing friends for a fabulous feast washed down by the 2000 Justin Cabernet Sauvignon. We had one of the new waitresses, who had only been there six years, but she did a fine job and we left a generous tip.

Final table, such as it was

I had come down early to play in the $1500 rebuy Pot-Limit Omaha tournament but it had been replaced, because of lack of interest, by a $500 No-Limit Hold 'Em tourney. A few diehards asked to play Omaha anyway and we ended up having an 11-person tournament. I made the final table by starting at it and finished seventh when Charlie "Scotty Warbucks" Shoten cracked my Aces with rags that ended up making a wheel. It came down to Avi Two-Cokes and WPT Championship finalist Hassan Habib and they chopped it with Hassan having a two-to-one chip lead and getting the win.

Set back

The next day was a $2500 No-Limit Hold 'Em tournament  I drew table 13, seat four, with Ted "Teddy Bear" Forrest in seat six and Billy Dougherty in seat eight. I managed to shield my chips from those two top pros but when I called a small early-position raise from the latecomer to my right with pocket Nines the Flop came Ace-King-Nine. He checked and I made a small bet, which he called. The Turn was a Ten. I couldn't put him on Queen-Jack so I bet 600, a third of his stack, hoping he would come over the top with Ace-King or even Ace-Queen. He did move in and I called immediately but he turned over the rockets: two Aces, American Airlines, Alcoholics Anonymous. He had me in the very rare set-over-set situation and I was down to one out. The last Nine didn't come so I was down to 175 chips from my starting stack of 3000. I gambled with pocket Sevens, lost the coin flip, and I was out of the contest in the bottom half of the field. Anchors Aweigh.

Reached my limit

I entered the $540 Limit Hold 'Em tournament the next day and ended up at a table with champion Thor Hansen and one of my nemeses from the Reno WPT event, Alan Myerson. Everything was going fine until a guy limped with Jack-Seven and caught a Jack on the river to bust my top Pair. I was out early again.

Cut and run

The highlight of the trip was the eating. Avi Two-Cokes and I hit Dal Rae again and we had lunch several times at Sushi Sasabune, the world's best sushi restaurant located in an old Mexican restaurant next to the freeway. We both decided to cut and run from the main event, which ended up having only 90 entrants, most of whom were the caliber of Erik "Rounders" Seidel, Daniel "Nanu Nanu" Negreanu, and Barry "Spock" Greenstein, and as the absent Andy "The Rock" Bloch pointed out, it wasn't televised. If I had known Ben Affleck was going to win it I would have stayed and beaten him.


I changed my Alaska flight and played a few hands before setting the Neverlost back to Long Beach. Neverlost lost the 710 freeway and tried to take me the long way, I-5 to I-605 to S.R. 91, all of which were moving along at the pace of a parking lot. I cut and run again and took Lakewood the 10 miles to the airport. LGB had free WiFi so I played a few hands before boarding the air stair to the flight back to Rain City. Flight attendant Keith was one of those legendary ones that gave the whole profession a good name: friendly, attentive, and above and beyond. Next stop was my first stop: the Bellagio "Festa Al Lago" series. Commerce was the kind of place that made you long for Las Vegas.