I see England, I see France: The 2004 WPT Grand Prix de Paris
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
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
Dinner was a decent steak washed down with the 1995
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
Service at Market was slow to nonexistent, very much like Vongerichten's
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.