A Good Start
Bellagio was hosting the third annual "Festa al Lago" series and I wasn't quite sure how I could have attended three annual events when I'd only been playing poker a year and four months but I flew down to Vegas anyway in an attempt to boost my Player of the Year standings. The first event was a $1060 No-Limit Hold 'Em tournament that drew a whopping 367 entrants. I drew table 44, seat nine. The only familiar face was Tommy Vu in seat four. I played a lot of hands but won few pots and was down from the starting 2000 to 1100 at the first break. Things improved, though, and I worked my way up to 6300 by winning a lot of small pots and winning some coin flips with short stacks. I doubled through Asher Derai, a top tournament pro, when seat eight opened for 1200 of his 3200 and I smooth-called with pocket Queens. Asher moved all in with a big stack. Seat eight folded and I called. Asher showed Ace-Queen suited but got no help and I won the nice pot, bringing me up to 19,500. With that many chips I started bullying and worked my way up to 30,300 at the next break. I bled off a little but then someone picked the wrong time to take a stand against me and came over the top with pocket Eights. Unfortunately for him I had Rockets and busted one more player. I had 33,600 when it came time to race off the green chips, although it wasn't much of a race as only one player at the table had any. With 36 remaining we redrew for seats and I got table 46, seat nine. I won a few small pots and had 48,500 at the dinner break.
After dinner we quickly got down to 27, meaning we had made the money! We redrew once again and I got table 47, seat seven. World Champion Carlos Mortensen had seat nine. I traded a few chips back and forth with Carlos but he got busted by "Syracuse" Chris Tsiprailidis. With the blinds and antes rising and no cards coming my way my stack quickly dwindled. When we finally got down to nine I had only 14,000 left but both Syracuse Chris and Phil Siegel had even less. We would return tomorrow for the final table. It was 2:30 a.m.
I slept as well as I could but ended up getting less than six hours. When we resumed, the blinds were 2000/4000 with a 1000 ante. One player had already been eliminated when on the third hand it folded to me and I saw King-Queen offsuit. I shoved my remaining 12,000 in and got a call from both blinds: Tuan Le in the small and Michel Abecassis in the big. The flop came Deuce-Deuce-Trey. They checked and the turn brought a Four. Now there were two Clubs and two Diamonds on the board. Tuan bet 30,000 into the dry side pot and I figured I was sunk. Michel reraised all in. Tuan called and turned over Six-Five for a Straight. Michel had Ten-Four and what he was doing in the pot I couldn't tell you. I was drawing dead and, as tournament director Jack McClelland said, "Michel needs to catch a Four or a Deuce and Richard needs to catch…a bus home." I was out of the contest in eighth place, cashing for a big $6,610 and catapulting me into the top 1000 in the standings.
I missed event two, a $1570 buy-in, because of my five minutes of play at the final table of event one. Event three was a $2080 buy-in No-Limit Hold 'Em tourney with 155 entrants. I drew table 40, seat three, and this time there were plenty of familiar faces at my table. Meng La had seat five; Billy Baxter seat seven; Chris Hinchcliffe seat eight; "Action" Dan Harrington seat nine, and Magic (his real name) Epstein on my right in seat two. I didn't want to be at a table with any of these tough players let alone all of them. I played one big pot where I got outkicked with Trip Tens, seat six's Nine beating my Eight kicker. I was down to 1000 from my starting 4000 when they broke the table.
The new table wasn't much better. I got table 32, seat three. John Nguyen had seat seven, Chip Jett had seat eight, Jennifer Harman seat nine, Jim Miller seat 10, and Kenna James seat two on my right. I doubled through Jim Miller on a coin flip and had an unimpressive 1550 at the break. I pushed in again with King-Queen and fared better than last night, doubling through John Nguyen when a King came to beat his Ace-Nine suited. The third time was the curse, though, when John called my last 1350 and beat my Ace-Five of hearts with pocket Eights. I was out in 102nd place.
Today's event was a $2600 buy-in with 134 entrants. I started at table 45, the one used as the final table, and the only familiar faces were two Nguyens, Van and Scotty, both excellent players. I won a few pots early and then I limped in early position with pocket Eights. Seat five also limped and the big blind checked. The flop came Jack-Five-Four rainbow and it checked around. The turn was another Five and I figured my Eights were good so I bet them and seat five called. At that point I wasn't putting another dime into the pot except the river was an Eight, giving me a Full House. I bet the size of the pot and seat five reraised the minimum. That was usually a warning sign but I had a huge and unexpected hand so I wasn't too worried. I figured he probably didn't have Jacks or he would have raised preflop so I put him on slow-playing pocket Fours or something like Six-Five. I move in and he calls. "You're not going to be happy," he says, and before he showed it I knew he was going to turn over Presto for Four Fives. I had him well covered so I was actually only slightly below my starting stack of 5000. They broke the table just a couple hands too late.
My new assignment was table 33, seat nine. Kenna James was once again on my right and Sammy Farha, famous for dangling an unlit cigarette between his lips while finishing second in the 2003 World Series to Chris Moneymaker, had seat three. I won a preflop all-in with Aces against Ace-Queen and that brought me up to 8800. Sammy busted out, as did his replacement, and then a short-stacked Erik Seidel sat down in the unlucky seat. As for me, I lost every pot after that and eventually lost a desperation all-in to finish 58th.
Up and Down
The series reset back to $1060 and attendance rose back to 328. I got a table full of strangers, table 32 seat three, and worked my stack up to 6300 before losing a bunch of pots and going back down to 2425 at the break. The blinds increased and I eventually lost a coin flip with Ace-Queen of Hearts to pocket Sixes. I was out 143rd.
Sammy and Me
Today's contest was for $1570 and attracted 234 players. I got table 41, seat three. Top pro Tony Cousineau had seat eight. Early on I got Aces in middle position and Tony called my raise to 125 on the big blind. The flop came three Queens. We checked the flop and Tony called my 200 on the turn. I check-called 300 more on the river and Tony of course turned over Ace-Queen for quads, the second time in the series my Full House lost to Four of a Kind. I was happy only to lose 625 on the hand. Later I got a free flop with Queen-Seven on the big blind. The flop came Queen-Queen-Ace and I doubled up against someone overplaying an Ace. Fred Berger came and sat in seat seven and when seat one busted it was David "The Dragon" Pham who took the spot. I had exactly 4000 at the break, up from 3000 to start.
With the blinds now at 100/200 I limped under the gun with pocket Jacks. David The Dragon pushed in all his chips in the small blind and I called. He turned over Eight-Five of Hearts, a decided dog to my Overpair, and I busted him, bringing me up to 7025. I made a good call with Ace-Queen of Hearts against a short stack moving in with King-Jack but he won the decision and I was down to 2825 at the next break.
Gavin Smith and Sammy Farha sat down and Gavin immediately moved all in on me. I called with Ace-Jack and he turned over Presto but its magic didn't work and I doubled up. Then Allen "Double OJ" Kessler sat down in seat seven. I didn't get to play a hand with him, though, as Sammy was raising almost every pot and I chose the wrong time to come over the top with King-Nine. He studied for a long time, trying to engage me in conversation while I mentally replayed Shana Hiatt attaching her wireless mike to her bikini top in Aruba last year. "I know you have a big hand, Richard," Sammy said, "but I'm gonna pay to see it." He called and turned over pocket Tens, showing genuine surprise when I turned over my one overcard. "Richard!" Sammy said. "King-Nine?" My King came on the river but it made him a Straight to beat me and I was out of the contest 39th. So close and yet so far. If they paid for making the final 25% I'd be way ahead.
Limping to ruin
We were back up to $2080 for today's contest with an impressive 219 entrants. I drew table 40, seat six and recognized Dr. Scott "River Otter" Aigner in seat four and Dustin Sitar, who always wore a green visor, in seat two. I doubled up right away when I limped late in a multiway pot with Ace-Jack and the flop came Ace-Ace-Jack. Otter busted soon after and I had 6075 at the first break, up from the starting 4000. I busted the short stack in seat one with Presto against his Ace-Ten and got back up to 7500 when Thor Hansen and Melissa Hayden sat down in seats one and five. I bullied a bit and got up to 9450 when they broke the table and I moved to table 44, seat six. This was a nice table full of strangers except for the shaved-headed guy on my left who I recognized but whose name I didn't know. I limped under the gun with pocket Tens and he limped behind me. The short stack on the small blind shoved all in and I thought about what to do, the most attractive choices being calling and raising. Finally I decided to move all in myself, hoping the guy on my left would lay down overcards. Turned out he had pocket Aces, though, and the small blind's King-Queen and my Tens were toast. I was out in 77th place.
The stakes went up to $2600 for the penultimate warm-up event. I drew table 33, seat one, in spitting distance of our favorite celebrity poker player, Tobey "Spiderman" Maguire in seat three. Tom McCormick sat between Tobey and me in seat two. David "Harpo" Levy, with whom I had tangled quite a bit, had seat four. Rollo Johnson was in seat six and Minh Nguyen was in seat eight. I completed the small blind with Eight-Seven offsuit in a family pot and the flop came Nine-Six-Five, two Hearts. I check-raised seat five and he called. The turn paired the Five, meaning if he had flopped a Set he now had a Full House and if he had Presto he now had quads. I bet 2500 and he called. I was frightened. Very frightened. The river brought the Jack of Hearts, so now if he had been on a Flush draw he just made it. I checked and he turned over Nine-Seven of Diamonds. This questionable play by seat five cost him almost all his chips and brought me up to 10,000 from my starting 5000.
WPT champ Ron Rose sat down in seat seven and then Spidey raised under the gun. Rollo called and I saw pocket Kings on the small blind and made it 1300. Spidey thought a bit and called, as did Rollo. The flop came Ace-Queen-Five and we checked around The turn was a Six. I checked and Tobey bet 2000. Rollo mucked and I went into the tank. I turned on my Spidey-sense and decided he had pocket Aces. I reluctantly mucked as Harpo chided me, "Pocket Kings no good!" I was down to 5575 at the break.
When we got back I reraised Ron Rose's early opener all in with Ace-King of Hearts and he called with yet another Pair of Aces. This time I escaped, though, when the board made a Straight to split the pot. Ron complained that I never gave him enough respect. "It's your loose image," I said. "What loose image?" he cried.
Harpo lost most of his chips to Tobey and then I finished him off with Ten-Ten against Nine-Nine. He stood up and told a friend, shrugging, "Spiderman got me." I had 7250, which was blinded down to 6450 at the break. They broke our table and I went to table 40, seat eight for five minutes then got moved to table 43, seat nine for balancing. Thor Hansen was in seat three, Young Phan in seat six, and Ralph Levine, one of the friendliest guys on the tour, in seat 10. Three of us went all in before the flop, myself and one other with Ace-King and the third with pocket Queens. The remaining two Kings hit the board and I was up to 8000. Then I did something I very rarely do: I limped with Ace-Eight on the button in a five-way pot. The flop came Ace high and it checked around to me so I put all my chips in and got trapped by a guy who thought his Ace-Jack was big hand that he'd slow-play it. I was out of the contest in 56th Place.
It was $3100 to buy into the last warm-up event of the Festa al Lago but a nice 174 players ponied up for it. I got table 31, seat one, and had Tommy Franklin on my left in seat two, David Baker, a good player I had tangled with before, in seat three, Paul "Pretty Boy" Phillips, one of the most entertaining people in poker, in seat four, and "Miami" John Cernuto in seat nine. The fireworks started early when Paul limped under the gun. Seat five raised the 100 blind to 250 and several other players followed suit, including me on the button with something marginal and Tommy on the small blind. The flop came Nine-Six-Trey rainbow, missing me completely but four players got all their money in. The original raiser had Aces; the next guy to act had top Set with pocket Nines; Tommy had Seven-Five of Clubs for a double-gutshot Straight draw with a backdoor Flush possibility, and Paul had Eight-Seven of Diamonds for an open-ender. Tommy's Eight came on the river and as it turned out he had everyone covered by 75 chips and busted three players. I never get to spend enough time with Paul.
I worked my way up slightly from the starting 6000 to 6400 at the first break. Then I limped on the button with Eight-Six in a multiway pot. The flop came Jack-Eight-Six. Someone bet 1500 and I raised all in. He called with King-Jack. I made a Full House on the river and was up to 12,600. By the next break I had worked it up to 14,075 and I was feeling good. The cards dried up for me, though, and I missed every flop and got blinded off to the point of desperation. When it finally folded to me in late position I decided to push in with Six-Five and my tight table image but I got a reluctant call on the big blind from Vince Van Patten's favorite hand, Jack-Ten suited. I flopped a Straight and was drawing dead to a runner-runner chop as the board came Nine-Eight-Seven. I wished everybody luck and packed it in, finishing 47th.
I played the super satellite for $1060. The highlight was sitting at the table with Chad Layne, a great player and a very nice guy. I had a few second-bests and was out quickly.
The Doyle with Doyle
Finally the day came for the culmination of the Festa al Lago: The World Poker Tour Doyle Brunson North American Championship. There were 322 entrants, which was great for an event scheduled at the last minute such as this one. I drew table 36, seat one and had a lineup of luminaries across the table from me: John "World" Hennigan in seat five, Chris "Jesus" Ferguson in seat six wearing his black cowboy hat over his trademark long hair and beard, and between them the man himself: hall-of-famer, world champion Doyle Brunson. He was wearing a Stetson custom embroidered with the name of his new on-line poker site "DoylesRoom.Com." He had been playing poker for about 40 years before anyone ever heard of the Internet. A player I recognized was in seat seven. He turned out to be J.C. Tran, a well-thought-of young tournament player who would figure prominently in today's proceedings. Prominently.
Johnny World was giving everybody action in level one but nothing much happened for me until the second level when J.C. Tran raised the 200 blind to 600 from early position. I saw Pocket Rockets and made it 2100, a pot-sized raise. He just called, making me think he had Queens or Ace-King. The flop came a King and two small Hearts. J.C. bet 1000 into the 4500 pot, which was definitely a red flag. Now as it turned out there was no way I wasn't going to go broke on this hand, but there was a right way and a wrong way to go broke. I did it the wrong way, overplaying my Aces right there in front of Doyle, who wrote in his bible Super System that he slow-plays Aces after the flop more than any other hand. Here's why. I made it 7500, still putting him on Ace-King or Queen-Queen. Now he raised 7000 more and I have 12,000 left. Having got myself into that predicament, I should have laid it down right there but instead I moved all in. He called and it wasn't till then that I was willing to believe he had pocket Kings. I cast an apologetic glance toward Doyle, who gave me his best aw-bad-luck-but-you-really-are-a-fish look.
Now here's how I should have gone broke on the hand. I should have called his 1000 bet on the flop, because the Ace of Spades came on the turn and at that point we would have got it all in for sure. Then, when the fourth King came on the river, like it did, at least it would have been him getting all his money in as a 43-to-one dog. Sure, I was broke either way, but the way I played it all I could do was slink off. Even without anyone knowing it was the third time in the series I'd lost with a Full House to quads, word spread quickly of my Aces Full being busted by Four Kings and I got many words of consolation but only Shawn "West Texas Man" Rice was willing to take me to task for overplaying the Aces. "Dude, that's one Pair," he said. One Pair. He was right. Bad beats didn't bother me nearly as much as bad play on my part. Regardless, I was out of the contest 280th and all the footage WPT cameraman Paul Hannum had taken of me was gathering cobwebs in the corner of Steve Lipscomb's basement. I didn't even stay to say hi to Shana.
Next up: Foxwoods.