July 30, 2004

A Rush at the Lake: A $1000 Weekly Bellagio Tourney

Briefly speechless

In Las Vegas early for the next stop on the World Poker Tour at the Mirage, I decided to enter the regular weekly No-Limit Hold 'Em tournament at Bellagio, now a $1000+60 event. Even at that price it sold out every week and, showing up late, I was assigned the spot of 10th alternate. I was seated about a half-hour after the start and got a table where the only one I recognized was Terry Fleischer, who won one of the Festa al Lago events last month. I was immediately on his left so as I sat down I said, "It's your worst nightmare: The Quiet Lion, sitting down on your left." I had been hanging out with the ghetto-raised Paul "Beanie" Nobles in Paris and was learning some trash-talk from him. I was pretty sure Terry had no idea who I was, though.


After several tournaments of tough table draws and no luck at all I got hit with the deck in this one. I flopped a Set every time I bet a pocket Pair; I got Aces twice and got action both times, and when I bully-reraised Terry's late-position open with Ace-Queen suited, he called and the flop came Jack high, two Spades. He checked and I made a small bet with my nut Flush draw and two overcards. He raised all-in for just over the size of the pot and I quickly called. He turned over Jack-Eight, which although the best hand at the moment was actually a dog to my draw. I hit my Ace on the Turn and Terry was out of the contest. He returned to thank me later: apparently he had made a killing in a cash game after busting out. When the smoke cleared I was one of the chip leaders, parlaying my starting 3000 into over 16,000. They broke the table and I moved over to a new table where the only player I recognized was the very tough Tony Cousineau. He moved all in in early position with his short stack on my small blind and I called with Ace-Nine, getting about three-to-two pot odds and hoping he had two face cards. He had Ace-King, though, and it held up so he doubled through me and asked for my address so he could add me to his Christmas list for calling with Ace-Rag. Beanie's spirit was still sitting on my shoulder so I said, "First, Tony, a Nine is not a rag. Rag is defined as Six or below. And second, I figured you were desperate and sitting at a table full of players better than you so you could have had anything." Tony was briefly speechless, which was quite unusual since he was one of the more eloquent and talkative players, and I got high fives from several of the other players. One asked my permission to use the comeback, which I happily granted provided credit was given to Lion Tales.


Before I knew it we were down to three tables with the top nine getting paid. I had about 20,000 in chips when I raised on the button with pocket Sevens. The small blind reraised all in for 8500 more and I decided to call, hoping he had overcards. He turned over pocket Queens, though, and I was down to just over 10,000. I chipped back up with lots of small pots and then knocked out a short stack to get back up to 27,000. We were down to five-handed with 11 players left when I raised in second position with pocket Kings. I was begging for a desperation reraise and got it from the big blind, who moved in. I called immediately but he turned over Aces, which held up. We went to the final table and I was the short stack. My own Shortstack was there sweating me along with my buddy Andy "The Rock" Bloch, who gave me some advice during the break. I managed to outlast two other players, including the guy who had Aces over my Kings, but when I finally moved in with King-Ten I got called by the next-shortest stack with King-Queen. The fact that we both made Trips on the flop didn't help and I was out of the contest in eighth place for a paycheck of $2403. I hoped the rush would continue through the $10,000 Mirage event coming up.


July 25, 2004

I see England, I see France: The 2004 WPT Grand Prix de Paris

I see England, I see France: The 2004 WPT Grand Prix de Paris

British service

Erick "E-Dog" Lindgren and I headed out of Turning Stone, which had generously comped my room after I showered their craps table with chips in colors they didn't even know they had, and we set the Neverlost in the silver Taurus for the easy drive back to Syracuse airport. E-Dog, one of the nicest guys you'd never want at your poker table, was as bright and cheery at 8 a.m. as any other time I've seen him. We got to the airport in plenty of time and camped out at the gate until it was time to board. We crammed into the Embraer regional jet and hopped back to Newark, where we separated to check in at our separate counters: E-Dog to Delta on the extreme right of the terminal and me to British Airways on the extreme left. We met back in the middle a minute later after ascertaining that nobody was working at either airline until four hours before flight time. E-Dog suggested getting a day room at the airport Marriott so I tagged along and we walked across the parking lot, which was clearly not made for walking across since we had to portage our luggage over several fences. With a little room service and high-speed Internet access time flew by and before we knew it we were portaging back to the terminal. I said goodbye to E-Dog and headed to the British Airways counter.


Several agents were working on the economy-class line but I stood in the empty First Class queue for five minutes before anyone acknowledged me. Then a harried man, not particularly friendly, checked me in and directed me to the lounge. There were two security checkpoints. The first, simply to check if you belonged in that concourse, had no priority line and I waited several minutes to get past it. The second, the familiar luggage-screening checkpoint, had a priority queue but the TSA officer directing traffic consistently directed the First Class passengers to the longest screening line, which had 20 people in it, instead of the short one, which had five. Once at the front I breezed through and headed for the luxury of the British Airways First Class lounge. Unfortunately there wasn't one and the Business Class lounge was undergoing renovations. It had no Internet access and, like all airline clubs at Newark, no free local calls due to an inscrutable edict form the New Jersey Port Authority. I was, however, able to pick up two bars from the WiFi in the concourse so for $6.95 I was able to get my Internet fix for the couple hours till boarding. When it came time I was escorted to the gate and settled into one of the First Class cubicles in the 777 to London. I got a Johnny Walker Blue Label on the rocks and perused the menu. We took off on time and I tested out the seat's ability to convert to a completely flat bed although I didn't plan to sleep on this flight since my plan was to stay on Vegas time the whole trip.


Dinner was a decent steak washed down with the 1995 Ch. Lynch-Bages, one of my favorite second-tier Bordeaux and a good year. The six-hour flight passed quickly as I studied Howard Lederer's "Secrets of Hold 'Em" DVD in order to learn his secrets. We landed in London and I had only 10 minutes to enjoy the Concorde Room, formerly the posh holding area for Concorde passengers but, now that the speedbird was defunct, available to all First Class passengers. I went to the boarding gate, where they told me I was supposed to have a ticket inside the pocket of my boarding pass since it didn't say e-ticket. I said I was pretty sure it was an e-ticket so they put my in the penalty box and typed for five minutes before clearing me to go. The flight to Paris had the usual European business-class configuration of three-and-two slightly wider seats. They served a standard breakfast, which I picked at, and soon we were on the ground in Paris. Charles de Gaulle airport is universally despised for many things, including inadequate signage. I saw one sign pointing to the RER train to Paris and walked in that direction for about two miles, passing six out-of-order ATMs on the way, until I finally found the train station. I bought a ticket for €7.95 and made the easy trip to the George V Metro stop, where it was less than a five-minute walk to the Westin Prince de Galles. I had emailed them that I would be arriving early and would be sleeping during the day so they had my room ready. They showed me to a quiet, drab standard room on the second floor, which they called the first floor, with a courtyard view. I bought a WiFi card at the business center for an outrageous €140 for the week, piled chairs against the drapes to shut out the light, and crashed. It sure was a long way to Europe.

To Market, to Market

I awoke shortly after six local time and headed to the Aviation Club de France (ACF) for a party thrown by UltimateBet, at which site I had won my entry into the World Poker Tour event that started the following day. I found my buddies Jim "Krazy Kanuck" Worth and Paul "Beanie" Nobles as well as some other UB satellite winners and Jack McClelland of the Bellagio poker room. There were a few artistic if mysterious hors d'oeuvres and a selection of alcoholic beverages but I had to ask for water, which was apparently not popular in France. I had brushed up my French and ordered a café americain at the bar since it was morning for me. None of us was particularly enamored of the hors d'oeuvres so after the party we walked to the Prince de Galles and asked the concierge if he could fix us up, a party of 11, at one of the best trendy restaurants in Paris. Amazingly, he succeeded in getting us into Market, celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten's new place off the Champs Elysées. We walked over there and were shown to a big egg-shaped table in a private room. I was now ready to echo every review I had heard of the Prince de Galles: the building itself was aged well past American standards of acceptability for a fine hotel but the staff was friendly and helpful.


Service at Market was slow to nonexistent, very much like Vongerichten's Las Vegas restaurant, Prime. The food was terrific, though, and we had a few bottles of the house Bordeaux, a light but delicious 2000. Krazy Kanuck and Beanie were there with their hot babes as were a few of the other UB winners, poker celebrity Clonie Gowan, and east-coast attorney Russell Rosenblum, finalist at both the WPT and WSOP Championships. America can rightly lay claim to world leadership in many ways but no one can touch France when it comes to their specialty: overcharging. Because we went easy on the wine, l'addition came to only €85 each. We walked back to the club, said hi to some friends including E-Dog, and then Russell, Mike "Kazoo" Keohan, and I walked back to the Four Seasons George V, where Russell was staying. I had to see an €890/night room so we went up. It was far nicer than the Prince, almost up to American standards. We chewed the fat awhile and then I returned to my room next door to sleep up for the big day.

Weak field? What weak field?

All the top pros had told me what a great tournament this was because it was such a weak field. Apparently, though, word had got out and every top pro in the world was here to take advantage of it, resulting in one of the toughest fields I'd ever faced. There were 212 starters ponying up €10,000 each. It wasn't clear how much was taken out for juice although I thought it was about 4.5%. Although the tournament area was non-smoking, the common areas of the ACF were choked with smoke at all times. The club had installed air conditioning since last year but it was largely inadequate and most of the rooms were uncomfortably hot even in the mild, rainy weather we were having. The seat drawing was done by fishing cards out of a bowl with nothing written down, inviting cheating by trading seat assignments. I drew table 27, seat one and ended up with two of the toughest pros on my left: John "JJ" Juanda in seat two and Barry "Spock" Greenstein in seat three. Seat four was Irish pro Padraig Parkinson, known to viewers of Late Night Poker. Seat five was James Vogl, who won the first televised event at this year's WSOP. Seat eight was Bill Chen, a respected Internet player. It was not a particularly easy table. I got bullied by JJ, didn't catch any flops, and was down to 6600 at the end of the first level from my starting 10,000.


Now Sammy Farha, runner-up to Chris Moneymaker in the 2003 WSOP, sat down in seat nine and Jack McClelland took seat 10 when the players there busted out. I was able to take a couple pots from the aggressive Sammy and chipped back up to 9475, when we finally got a break after three hours of play. When we got back JJ busted Barry and moments later Barry's ex-girlfriend Mimi Tran sat down in seat seven after the player there busted. She didn't last long, though, because Sammy broke her and was accumulating a nice stack. Although we had never played together before, Sammy and I were already on a first-name basis. Every time I played back at his bluff and he had to fold he told me, in a very friendly way, how much I now owed him. I smiled back and assured him I'd give him a crack at my chips. I had 8675 at the dinner break.


I ate in the club restaurant with Krazy Kanuck and Beanie and their hot babes. I thought it was comped but it turned out they charged us €60 each for the dinner with no wine. I wouldn't be coming back here real soon, I thought. Service was almost nonexistent and we resorted to begging other tables for pieces of fruit.


When I returned I won some chips from JJ when I limped on the small blind with Ace-Trey of Spades. I expected him to raise but he didn't. The Flop came with two Sixes and two Spades. I bet 500, he raised, and I moved in. He couldn't call and I was up to 13,750. I won another small pot and had 15,800 when they moved me to balance the tables.


I was now at table 28, seat nine. English pro Gary Bush was at my left in seat 10. Elie "Rocky" Marciano took seat two soon after I sat down. The obnoxious angle-shooter Tony G was in seat three, bragging about his chips. My arch-nemesis David Singer, this time wearing only seven silver rings, was next to him in seat four. Seat five was a UK pro I didn't know. Steve "Z" Zolotow had seat six. The fearsome Gus Hansen was in seat seven with a big stack and in seat eight was Caprice, the spokesmodel for Paradise Poker, who was entered in the tournament as a publicity stunt. She had no idea how to play and looked miserable.


Gus and David, predictably, raised my blind most every turn around the table. Finally I had a Pair of Tens against Singer and called his 1400. The flop came Jack high and I check-called for 2000, figuring I had the best hand and he would bluff again on the Turn. An Ace came, though, and when he bet half the pot, 3500, I chickened out and folded. Then I picked up Aces in early position. Everybody folded except the small blind, who called. The flop came three small Spades and neither of my Aces was a Spade. I bet 2700 and he check-raised me all in. I figured him for a Pair and a Flush draw so I called. Unfortunately he turned over Ace-Jack of Spades and I was drawing virtually dead. Tony G, delighting in the misery of others, cried out, "The Nuts!" My Aces were cracked and I was out of the contest, finishing about 105th and missing day two by just a few minutes. I returned to the hotel and crashed.

Stuck in Paris

I tried to reach British Airways to change my flight but their world-renowned customer service didn't include being open for business on Sunday. I had my €28/day Internet access, though, so I played on the Internet a little and then headed over to the club, where I met Russell. He had just busted out and was ready for dinner so we went to Le Cinq, one of the top restaurants in town and conveniently located at his hotel. We ordered the "light" tasting menu and a bottle of the 1999 Ch. Lynch-Bages, which looked like the best value under €200. Service started well then flagged as they rushed us through dessert while we still had wine on the table and then abandoned us for 45 minutes with empty water glasses and coffee cups until we asked for l'addition. The food was good but not enough to fill up Russell, a devoted eater. Dinner came to an outrageous €458. Service was included and we saw no reason to leave anything extra.


The next day we dined with Howard "Bub" (The Professor) Lederer and his hot babe Suzy, her friend, and Steve "Z" Zolotow at a nice Italian place, Casa di Delfo. Z had another nickname, "The Bald Eagle," but I didn't think it was good karma for me to be calling anyone else bald so I just called him Z. I had tuna carpaccio and a nice veal dish with lemon sauce. Suzy ordered the wine, two Bordeaux: a nice St.-Emillion to start, which didn't overwhelm me with Merlot content, and then with no prompting the Ch. Lynch-Bages 1997. It was all Lynch-Bages all the time. Overpriced Italian food was cheaper than overpriced French food, but not much. I finally reached British Airways, which informed me that is was not possible to change my flight as they were fully booked. I watched the tournament whittle down to the final six.


On finals day I went over to the club to say hi to Shana and root with the crowd against Tony G, who apparently wasn't a bad poker player despite his obnoxious antics. The cashier's cage had been robbed at gunpoint at 7:30 that morning but no one was hurt and no money was taken from customers and Bruno, the manager, seemed unperturbed. The smoke in the club was overwhelming and I left with Beanie and his hot babe for dinner at what many consider the best restaurant in France, Taillevent. We were escorted into the beautiful upstairs dining room by the owner and subjected to cigar smoke from the only other table, also poker players from the ACF. We ordered the more expensive of the two tasting menus and a cheap 1999 Bordeaux, Ch. Brown, which was fine but not worth the €60 they charged for it. The six-course meal was creative and delicious. They served the foie gras course after the fish, which I thought was not a bad idea as foie gras tended to stanch the appetite. There was a cheese course and then two desserts, which as a rule I don't eat but they were included. Once again they shoved the dessert at us before we had finished the wine. They failed to ask us if we wanted coffee or an after-dinner drink and when I asked the second time for coffee apologized for it by comping us snifters of the house cognac. Dinner came to €633. The service was included and once again we saw no reason to add to it. I thought the dinner much like Las Vegas's Renoir if it didn't have a non-smoking section and cost twice as much. We returned to the club just in time to see the winning hand. Mike Sexton toasted the winner with Champagne, apparently having lost the awkward sponsorship deal with Budweiser. Many of the players hung out in the thick cloud of smoke and we partied at the bar awhile.

Au revoir, but not any time soon

I arranged with Steve "Brec" Brecher, who made the final table at this year's Bellagio WPT Championship but resists all attempts to come up with a more interesting nickname, to share a taxi to the airport the next morning. I paid the hotel bill, which included almost €200 for one room-service snack and assorted items from the mini-bar. It was a quick drive and I got to Charles de Gaulle about 90 minutes before I needed to. I practiced my French one last time, asking the guy at the information booth, "Ou est British Airways." He rattled off something in French that I had no hope of understanding but pointed to the left so I went there. There didn't seem to be any check-in counter, just a queue with a sign stating, "ticket sales only" so I went to the self-service kiosk, which demanded the credit card I used to pay for the ticket. I got it right on the third try but the machine printed two blank boarding passes with a "void" watermark on them. I cried for help until a BA staffer came and after 10 minutes of typing in the back room they returned with my boarding passes. I exited passport control and lugged my luggage up a flight of stairs to the shared business-class lounge after ascertaining that there was no elevator, at least none that worked after the recent terminal collapse. There was fish-netting on the ceilings, presumably to mitigate future collapses. I made myself a café americain from the machine and kept awake until boarding time. Just as I was leaving Vince Van Patten, tired as I was, walked in. I told him I'd see him at the Mirage next week and headed to the gate. The flight was uneventful and they served a very nice snack of shrimp salad on the 40-minute flight, which I washed down with a screw-top Bordeaux.


I finally had time to enjoy the First Class lounge at Heathrow but I was so exhausted I don't know how much I appreciated it. I found the ubiquitous Ch. Lynch-Bages, the 1995 again, and poured myself a few glasses while I awaited the boarding announcement. I left at the first announcement, which was a bit too early because there was a formidable queue in the business-class line when I arrived. I got on, turned left, and settled into the cubicle.


It was 7 a.m. Seattle time and I told the steward I wanted to sleep right away so he brought me pajamas and a Scotch. I donned the blindfold provided in the amenity kit and got a nice five hours in before awakening. I watched the rest of The Professor's videos, had a delicious Indonesian chicken dish in honor of John Juanda, and before I knew it we were on the ground in Seattle. I called Shortstack, who squealed with delight and came to pick me up in her sparkling clean black T-Bird. We had less than 24 hours before we flew to Vegas for the next event.


July 15, 2004

We next play Verona: The American Poker Championship at Turning Stone

Go east young man

It was perhaps presumptuous for the organizers of a last-minute $10,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold 'Em tournament, the first to be televised live and the first at Turning Stone Casino Resort in Verona, N.Y., to dub the event the "American Poker Championship," but I decided to stop there anyway on my way to Paris and play in the event, limited to around 100 players and therefore a better-than-average chance for me to make a final table. I booked travel on Continental and grabbed the last First Class seat on the popular Seattle-Newark nonstop. Shortstack dropped me at the airport very early and as usual Continental's First Class service was comfortable and attentive. The movie was 50 First Dates with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, an entertaining and offbeat romantic comedy highlighted by one of Sandler's brilliant musical compositions.  I connected in Newark to a commuter flight to Syracuse with a very nice flight attendant who gave a world-class safety demonstration prior to passing out pretzels. We landed on time in Syracuse and I picked up a Hertz rental with Neverlost to assist me through the half-hour drive to Turning Stone, just a stone's throw away in Verona. The organizers had reserved a room for me at The Lodge, the nicest of the hotels on the property, and I settled in and hooked up the complimentary high-speed Internet.


Tournament director Matt Savage threw a reception in his suite just down the hall from mine so I mingled out on the balcony with the pros, including Layne "Back to Back" Flack, Amir Vahedi, Andy "The Rock" Bloch, and Phil Hellmuth, Jr., to whom I introduced myself for the seventh or eighth time. Chris "Jesus" Ferguson demonstrated his card-throwing technique although we didn't have any bananas to slice. Scotty Nguyen showed that he was pretty good at it too. We drank in moderation, some of us, since we had a big tournament tomorrow.



The tournament was held in a beautiful showroom, giving spectators an excellent view throughout the event. There were 112 starters paying $10,000 each of which $200 went to the house and 3% of the rest to the staff. I drew table five, seat eight. It wasn't the easiest table. Josh Arieh, who finished third in the 2004 WSOP Championship, had seat two. John Myung, who had won the Showdown at the Sands, had seat five. Abe Mosseri, who had made the final table in the Bellagio $10k World Poker Tour event, had seat six, and Erik "Rounders" Seidel, one of the toughest players in the world, sat on my right in seat seven. There were a few unknowns at the table and the good players were taking advantage of them at every turn. I entered a few pots but gave up or lost them and about a third of my starting 10,000 was gone by the first break: I had 6625.


Right after the break I picked up pocket Kings and a kid from Boston, Jason, reraised all in and I called. He showed Queens and they didn't improve so he was out and I had 12,300. My patience paid off. Josh knocked out Abe and Clonie Gowan, winner of the WPT ladies' night, sat down in his seat. I folded a lot and went to the next break with 11,425.


Brian Haveson, who finished second to Myung in the Showdown at the Sands, then sat down on his right, making an interesting match-up. I won a small pot and went to the next break with 13,435. But I went card-dead at the next level and went back below par, going to the dinner break with 9850.


Dinner was at the casino buffet, where the organizers gave us a generous $8 discount off the list price of $10.95. Fortunately Allen "Double OJ" Kessler had a stack of $5 comp slips so we didn't actually pay anything. I had a variety of tepid taste treats washed down by an iced tea.


My dearth of cards continued after dinner. Rounders was picking on me every time it folded to him on the small blind and the best hand I ever got was Ten-Five offsuit so I kept mucking like a weak donkey. Finally I picked up King-Queen and reraised him all in. He made a big show about sweating over the decision to muck and then claimed afterwards he had Ace-Five suited, which I believed about as much as I believed the Easter Bunny was Jewish. I went to the next break with 8725. I had outlasted more than half the field: there were 45 players remaining.


John "J-Dags" D'Agostino came to the table in seat one. I tried to move him off a hand but he reraised me all in and I had to let it go. I was down to just over half my starting stack, 5275, when we finished the day with 36 players left. I was still in but I was the shortest stack remaining.


It was still early so we went up to Matt's suite to have a nightcap and watch a little poker on TV. The Rock was out, as were Jesus, Howard "Bub" (The Professor) Lederer, and many more. I was still in so I owned all of them.


Six hands make fast work

In the unique format of this tournament, the tables all went to six-handed after the first day. I drew table three, seat six. Amir Vahedi was on my left in seat one. Paul "Pretty Boy" Phillips had seat three, sporting a beautiful designer shirt and copper hair. Clonie Gowan was at Pretty Boy's left in seat four and the other two were locals with short stacks, almost as short as mine. I picked up pocket Nines right away on the small blind and moved in, hoping for a call from gamblin' man Amir, but he mucked. Then I found Queen-Eight of Hearts on the next hand and moved in again. The big blind woke up with Ace-King and called but I flopped Two Pair and ended up with a Full House, doubling up to over 12,000 and leaving him crippled. A few hands later I had Pocket Aces and made a standard raise. There were no takers unfortunately so I just won the blinds and antes. I traded a couple small pots with Clonie and then saw a couple flops and folded to bets. I was down around 9000 when I found King-Ten suited under the gun. I decided to move in with it and finally got a call from Amir with a weak Ace-Six offsuit and from the big blind on my right, who threw in his last few chips with Jack-Eight offsuit. The flop came Jack-Seven-Six, two Clubs, so while my opponents had each made a Pair I was the favorite with 15 outs against Amir and 12 against the short stack. No Club came, though, and Amir spiked his Ace on the river to knock us both out. I finished 31st.


Getting knocked out late in a tournament was disorienting: I wanted to keep playing. I was finally getting some good cards but I was out. Pretty Boy and J-Dags went on to the final table, televised live, which I watched in The Rock's suite with Rounders, Daniel "Nanu Nanu" Negreanu and his girlfriend Lori, and even John "JJ" Juanda after he got eliminated. The new on-line poker site they were affiliated with, Full Tilt Poker, had just gone live so we were playing on line while we watched.


After the show ended The Rock and I had dinner in the very fine restaurant in The Lodge. I had Caesar Salad and Beef Wellington, washed down by water. The Oneida Indians had no stronger medicine despite ten years of applying for a liquor license.


We had one final party in Matt's room and discovered E-Dog and I had the same flight out of Syracuse so I arranged to drive him to the airport the next morning, where we would take separate transatlantic flights to the first stop on season three of the World Poker Tour: Paris. I checked in with Shortstack, who predicted season three would be the Year of the Lion. Magnifique!


July 7, 2004

What, no TV? The 2004 Bellagio Festa al Lago Championship

Teddy bear, teddy bear, what have you got?

What with the lack of TV coverage and all there were only 181 entrants in the $10,000+200 No-Limit Hold 'Em event that concluded Bellagio's Festa al Lago. I got table 41, seat three. Celine Dion's husband, Rene Angelil, was in seat one. Ted "Teddy Bear" Forrest was glued to my left hip in seat four and Tracy Scala, who had knocked me out of an earlier event when he made a Straight to beat my top Pair, had seat five. Dan Alspach, who made the final table at the recent televised Plaza event, had seat five. David "Harpo" Levi, a major-tournament regular, had seat seven and a scowling Asian man named Tommy who apparently was a high-stakes cash game player had seat eight. We started with 20,000 in chips and I played carefully while Teddy Bear accumulated a ton of chips by making good calls of other people's bluffs on the River. At the end of level one I had 22,750.


The blinds went up to 50-100 and I continued to play conservatively, losing a couple small pots and finishing the level down a bit at 17,200. There was still plenty of time so I continued to look for opportunities to win chips. Ted Forrest busted Rene and his mountain of chips continued to grow. I found pocket Queens under the gun and limped with them to mix it up. It folded to the big blind, who raised. I made a nice reraise and he moved all in. I spent quite some time looking into his soul but I couldn't see anything. Finally he called for the clock. I decided he didn't have Kings or Aces and I called. He turned over Jacks, which didn't improve, and he was busted. I had 31,500. Then I limped late with Sixes in a multi-way pot and the flop came King-Nine-Six. Dan Alspach bet and I made a pot-sized raise in case he had a draw. He called. The Turn looked safe so when he checked I moved all in. He immediately called and turned over Big Lick: Nine-Six of Spades. Only one of the two remaining Nines could save him and they didn't come so he was busted and I now had a whopping 61,600. I won some blinds and went to the break with 63,000 even.


When we returned the blinds were up to 100-200 so I thought I should start bullying. I raised in late position with Jack-Nine of Diamonds and got three callers including the short-stacked David "Harpo" Levi. The Flop came Nine-Nine-Seven. We got it all in with his Overpair and to add insult to injury I got the last Nine and a Jack. Harpo was busted and I was flying high with 67,500. Then Jack McClelland came by and announced "Richard Brodie has about 80,000 in chips," an announcement that shall hereafter be know and the "Jack McClelland Jinx." I raised with Ace-King and got my usual call from Teddy Bear on my left. The flop came King-King-Ten, two Spades. I bet out and he called, so I figured he had a Pair, a Ten, or a Flush draw. If he had King-Queen or King-Jack I was going to get some serious chips. A Spade came on the Turn. I decided to check, to let him bluff at the flush if he didn't have it. He bet 5000 and I raised 10,000 more. He called, so I figured he had a small flush but with a Pair on the board he didn't want to push it. The River was a blank and I checked, thinking I was probably beat. He bet 14,500, which I reluctantly called. He turned over King-Ten of Clubs for the nut Full House. Yikes! I was lucky not to lose more on that hand. I was down to 29,000. I played hard and chipped back up to 38,000 at the break, just above average.


After the break the blinds were 100-200 with a 25 ante. I got a free flop with Four-Deuce of Clubs and it came King-Seven-Three, two Clubs. The kid who had sat down at my right  bet 1500 and I called with the Flush draw. The Turn was a Five, giving me an open-ended Straight draw as well so when he bet 3000 I put him all in for about 19,000 more. He called right away with a Set of Sevens. I didn't hit any of my 13 outs and I was down to the felt. Then I picked up pocket Aces on the Button and raised. A guy who played almost every hand and had limped under the gun put me all in. I called of course and he turned over Kings. It was unlucky for him, but he hit a King on the Flop and I was out of the contest, riches to rags, in 94th place.


Dinner was with Andy "The Rock" Bloch and his friend Jen at Bradley Ogden, which we were finally able to get into again after a spate of awards made it tough to get a table there. I had the oysters with five different sauces and the duet of Colorado lamb. We washed it down with the 2001 Caymus Special Selection.


My Alaska flight the next morning was delayed three hours for mechanical problems but the useless status monitors at McCarran Airport blithely announced boarding and final boarding, designed by people who didn't seem to think it important for monitors to reflect the actual status of a flight but rather that the scheduled status would be just fine. I finally got back to Seattle in time for Shortstack to bring me home in time for the fireworks over Lake Washington.


Next stop: Turning Stone, with the final day televised live on Fox Sports July 14.


July 5, 2004

Garbagio: 2004 Bellagio Festa al Lago No-Limit Hold 'Em series, part II

Garbagio: 2004 Bellagio Festa al Lago No-Limit Hold 'Em series, part II

Back to a grand

They gave us a break and reset the buy-in back to $1000+60 for Sunday's tournament, which illustrated the economic principle of price elasticity: 323 entrants bought into this one, more than double yesterday's. I drew table 36, seat nine. David "The Dragon" Phan had seat three and perennial tourney winner Tony Cousineau, who had finished fifth in Friday's tourney, sat on my right in seat eight. I chatted with Tony about his family in hopes he wouldn't steal my blind too much. The aggressive Raymond Davis was supposed to be at my left but he decided to skip the tournament so I was happy when tournament director Jack McClelland picked up his chips. I was less happy when the seat was taken by Marcel Luske, who finished 10th at the WSOP Championship this year. I didn't get too much play in with these guys because they soon broke the table and moved me to table 31, seat one. The only one I recognized was Jeff Cohen, a Bellagio regular, in seat 10. I took advantage of the weak field and chipped up to 3875, almost double my starting stack. I lost a couple small pots and had 3575 at the first break.


I found my old friend Ace-King on the cutoff and raised David Baker's Big Blind. He moved in on me and I called. He turned over pocket Queens but I spiked an Ace on the Flop and doubled up. Then WSOP champ Tom McEvoy sat down in seat three. He wrote the book on tournament poker, which I had read, so I figured I owned him. I didn't get a chance to prove it because a tight player in the cutoff raised my big blind of 200 by only 300 and I called with Ace-Jack. The flop came Jack high and I decided to let him bluff at the pot so I check-raised. I didn't think far enough ahead, though, and when he reraised me all in I knew he had an Overpair but I was getting more than four-to-one odds to call with five outs so I did. He turned over Queens and the poker fairy denied my wish so I was out of the contest. Upon reflection it would have been better to bet the flop and fold to a raise from this player, who I didn't think would bluff me in that situation. It was a big mistake, one that cost me about $1600 in tournament equity. I was sick and resolved to play it better next time.


I stayed in my room and got room service for dinner.

Waste of a day

The next day's tourney was $1500+70. I got table 41, seat 10. 195 people entered. I got no cards and eventually took a coin flip, which I lost, finishing 171st.


Dinner was at the Fantasy Market Buffet at The Palms. It was not remarkable but the High Roller Lounge next door had Silver Oak by the glass for $10, which was.


Ace King No Good

Not to be deterred, I took a nice walk in the hot Vegas morning and then registered for the $2000+80 event. I drew table 46, seat four. This one drew 170 entrants. Tourney pro Kenna James, wearing his customary black Stetson, had seat three to my right and the elusive Raymond Davis sat down to my left in seat five. I told him he had been on my left yesterday too only he didn't show up. I got Ace-King twice and missed the flop twice, folding to a bet. Then I got it a third time in late position and raised, called by Tracy Scala in the Big Blind  Tracy's wife was also named Tracy, which I imagined led to some interesting comedy. This time the flop came King-Nine-Eight rainbow. I bet 300 and he called. The Turn was a Five. I bet 800 and he raised me 1000 more. I had 1725 chips left and I had a decision to make. I decided I wasn't good enough to lay that hand down. I just called in case he had me beat but didn't bet the river. He did bet the river, a blank, and I threw in my last chips to see him turn over Seven-Six of Hearts for the Straight. I was out of this contest in 45 minutes, finishing 160th and leaving plenty of time for dinner with WPT finalist Mike "Kazoo" Keohan.


We went to the N9ne steakhouse at The Palms, where we had some excellent steak washed down by the 2001 Duckhorn Cabernet Sauvignon. As a rule I don't eat dessert but they had the S'mores, complete with mini-hibachi to toast the marshmallows, so we shared just one order.



The biggest piece of trash you can play

The next day's tourney was $2500+100 and drew 165 entrants, making the prize pool over $400,000 after the 3% for the staff in lieu of tips. I drew table 47, seat four. Mimi Tran was in seat seven. I won a few small pots and increased my starting 5000 to 5625 at the first break. Then Layne "Back to Back" Flack sat down in seat eight with a nice stack, which I hoped to get my hands on since I had eliminated him at Binion's and owned him. It was the player to my left whose chips I got, though, when he moved all in on my Small Blind reraise. The original raiser folded. I looked into his soul, decided he didn't have Aces, and called with my Kings. He turned over Jacks and didn't get lucky so I doubled up to 12,600.  Then the great T.J. Cloutier took seat one and Men "The Master" Nguyen took seat two. I was glad those guys were on my right. I played a couple pots, including one where I flopped four Jacks against Layne but I could only get 400 out of him. I went to the second break with 12,725.


I still had plenty of room to maneuver with the blinds at 200-400 and a 50 ante but when I raised with Ace-King in early position and T.J. made a big reraise on the Small Blind I moved in. He had to call at that point and he turned over Ace-Jack, which incidentally he says in his book is "the biggest piece of trash you can play." The Flop came Ten-Nine-Eight and a Seven came on the Turn to give him the Straight. I needed one of the three remaining Jacks to split the pot but it didn't come and I was out of the contest most ignominiously, finishing 48th.


Dinner was at Nob Hill at the MGM Grand with Shortstack. We had the spicy tuna parfait, which was to die for, and I had the steak Rossini while humming "The Thieving Magpie." We washed it down with the 2000 Gemstone Meritage, delicious especially after it opened up.


Three Large

The final warm-up in the Festa al Lago series was a $3000+100 event with 150 entrants. I drew table 46, seat three. The very tough Chad Layne was on my left in seat four, Todd Brunson, Doyle's son, had seat five, and Sam Grizzle had seat nine. I got no cards and lost every pot and was down to 3300 from my starting 6000 at the first break. I danced around a little in the second two levels but got nothing to play and was down to 3000 at the second break.


Patience prevailed and I chipped back up to 6050 when I won some blinds and antes with the premium hands I had been waiting for. Of course no one called me because I hadn't played a hand in an hour and a half but I still got some chips. The 300-600 blinds and 50 antes quickly brought me back down to 5000. Then the kid on my right pushed in on the Small Blind with his short stack, even shorter than mine. I decided my Ace-Seven suited was good and called. He turned over King-Queen, making me a three-to-two favorite, but he Paired and I was suddenly down to 1875 after paying my ante and Small Blind the next round. Chad Layne had just busted out so when it folded to me I threw my remaining chips in the pot, which already contained 1300, with Queen-Deuce. Todd Brunson called with King-Three and although I spiked a Queen on the Flop he Festaed al Lago and hit his three-outer on the River to put me out of the contest in 55th place.


The bright side of my continued dismal showing was that once again I was out in time for dinner. Shortstack had a reservation ready just in case at Craftsteak at the MGM Grand, which was superb as always. We washed down our epicurean delight with the 1960 Vega Sicilia "Unico," a wonderful Bordeaux blend from Ribera del Duero.


I failed to save $9000

I had invested $17,720 in the warm-up events and my total return was a $15 buffet comp so I tried to save nine large by entering the $1000+60 super satellite the day before the main event. The super drew 229 entrants, meaning the last 22 left standing would get entries into tomorrow's event, with some pocket change left over for the bubble boy. In a departure from the usual Bellagio system, we started with 3000 in chips instead of the usual amount of double the buy-in. I drew table 32, seat seven. Two pros were across the table from me: Ngoc "Jimmy" Tran, who had busted me at Binion's, in seat two and "Big" Billy Dougherty in seat three. Billy raised the first pot and when it got to me I said, "I'm scared to play against world champions." Billy said, "Come on. I'm in the twilight of a mediocre career," but I folded anyway, only having the Montana Banana, Nine-Deuce.  Billy lost a big pot and got short stacked and when he raised in early position I saw Ace-King of Diamonds and reraised enough to put him all in. He called me heads up and showed a Pair of Sevens, making him a slight favorite. But when the Flop gave me a Royal Flush draw I suddenly had 18 outs, making Billy's Pair about a two-to-one dog. I didn't make my Royal but I hit an Ace on the river, putting him out. Then I doubled up when I raised with Ace-King and got reraised all in by a loose player. I called and he showed Ace-Queen, which never improved. I had 5800 at the break.


After the break I got nothing playable and quickly got blinded and anted down. Finally I moved in with a marginal hand and lost and that was that. I finished 81st and was out once again in time for dinner.


Tonight we had a delicious meal at Fiamma at the MGM Grand, preceded by a drink at their new spaceship lounge Teatro, which had just opened the day before. Teatro had super-premium wine and Champagne by the glass, including magnums of Dom Perignon Rosé. The bartenders worked behind a wall and beautiful young models stood behind the bar making conversation. I was recommending some vodkas to one of them, who happened to mention she was between boyfriends, when before I knew it Shortstack was dragging me by the ear off to dinner. At Fiamma we dined with Michael, the son of a friend, and his roommate Tony, both new Brown graduates nearing the end of a cross-country motorcycle trip from Providence to Seattle. I had the excellent Caesar salad and salmon, which was perfectly cooked after I explained I liked my fish either raw or cooked but not in between. Elizabeth, the wine steward, helped us select a nice 1997 Brunello di Montalcino, which Michael said was the best wine he ever had.


Tomorrow was the main event and I hoped to get some cards.