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
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
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