December 22, 2004

Lion at the Lake: The 2004 Bellagio $15,000 WPT Event

Lion at the Lake: The 2004 Bellagio $15,000 WPT Event

Super nothing

I did play in the $1570 super satellite the day before the main event but it wasn't noteworthy other than my sitting at the same table as Noam Freedman, Avi Two-Cokes' brother, and the poker femme fatale Isabelle Mercier. I chipped up to about double my starting stack then lost a bunch of small pots and eventually lost a desperation all-in. I wandered out of the tournament area and found Annie Duke sitting at the video-poker bar with my buddy Jim "Krazy Kanuck" Worth. Annie gave me my entry slip for the main event and I was happy to see I got a table in the center of the room. The one thing I didn't like about playing at Bellagio, one of the most beautiful hotels in the world, was the constant stream of cigarette and cigar smoke that drifted into the tournament area from the casino floor and from players dashing outside the ropes for a quick puff between hands. Table 46 was about as far from the rail as you could get so I was happy. Annie asked me for advice on whether to split up a Pair of Kings on her five dollar bet in order to draw one card to a Royal Flush. Since the Pair of Kings only gave her $5 bet back and the Royal draw paid $4000 if it hit I advised her to go for it. She did and got bupkis. The house always won. I bid Annie and Kanuck adieu and rested up for the big one.

Rogues' Gallery

They got 376 people for this, the first $15,000 event in the World Poker Tour's history. I got to my table and found all too many familiar faces. As they filled in one by one the chorus of groans got louder and people passed by murmuring and shouting, "You're kidding!" Here was the table lineup: Seat one, Ted "Teddy Bear" Forrest, finalist at the first WPT championship and the guy who took most of my chips when he flopped a Full House to my Three Kings in the last $10k event here. Seat two, Jim "Krazy Kanuck" Worth, my friend and top Internet player specializing in slicing and dicing opponents heads-up. Seat three, Richard "Quiet Lion" Brodie (me). Seat four, Three-time WPT Champion Gus Hansen. Seat five, winner of the last WPT Championship $25k event Martin "The Knife" De Knijff. Seat six, WPT Champ "Magic" Antonio Esfandiari. Seat seven, Evelyn "Evy Babee" Ng. Seat eight, WSOP champ Scotty Nguyen. Only seat nine had an unknown, who gave his name only as "Barry" and spent the first half-hour arguing with the tournament officials over signing the TV release. Seat ten arrived late and we all groaned as yet another bracelet holder sat down: Huck Seed. It was a true rogues' gallery and the cameras buzzed around us all day long.

Most of us played pretty tight, with the exception of Evelyn and Barry, who were coming over the top quite a bit, Evelyn before the flop and Barry after. He snapped off one top player after the other and we were all looking to get some decent cards with which we could call his aggressive raises. I lost a few small pots but then chipped back up to just over the starting 30,000 at the first break. When we returned I found Ace-Nine of Spades on the big blind in a five-way pot. I decided not to exercise my option and the flop came Jack high with two Spades, giving me the nut Flush draw. I checked and no one bet so five players saw the turn, the Seven of Spades, making me the mortal nuts. I checked again, figuring one of these guys would have to try to pick up the pot. It was Barry in seat nine who bet 3000. It folded to me and I raised it to 8000. It folded to Barry and he moved all in. I quickly called and showed him my nuts. "How much do I owe you?" he said, turning over the King-Five of Spades and realizing he was drawing dead. It was a 64,000 pot and since he had me covered that was my new chip count. I had 62,300 at the break.

I was down to 55,000 and the blinds were 200/400 with a 50 ante when Kanuck made it 1500 to go in middle position. I saw Jack-Ten of Spades and called with it in position. Antonio called on the small blind and I flopped top Pair when it came Ten-Six-Trey with two Hearts. It checked to me and I bet 4000 into the 5350 pot. Antonio check-raised me to 14,000 and Kanuck mucked. This was a moment of truth. I knew Antonio was very aggressive and I thought it unlikely that he had check-raised with something like King-Ten. He either had Six-Six, Trey-Trey, or some kind of draw. Since it was much more likely he had a draw than a set and since I didn't know what kind of draw he was on, I put him all in for around 10,000 more. He had odds to call at that point and showed Five-Four for an open-ended Straight draw. "Time to get there," he said, but he didn't and he was out. I, meanwhile, was the table leader with 84,000.

Gus had lost every pot and was very short so I started bullying him a bit. I chipped up to 88,525 at the next break and eagerly called Shortstack to report that I owned the table. Gus finally busted out to Teddy Bear on a coin flip. Tom Jacobs took his seat and Ron Faltinsky replaced Antonio. I ended the day with 86,375, just shy of tripling up. I was 21st in chips going into day two with 231 players remaining. I felt good!

Double Triple

I drew table 49, seat seven for day two. It was a good table draw overall: I was the chip leader at the table and there were only two players I recognized: Mel Judah, a WPT champ, and Jimmy "Jimmy Jimmy" Cha, who had busted me at Borgata when hi hit a three-to-one dog flush draw against my top Set. However, they were directly to my left in seats eight (Mel) and nine (Jimmy) and I was concerned about Jimmy Jimmy since he was a very aggressive player. Early on I found pocket Fives in early position and limped in. Jimmy made it 4500 and it folded to me. I decided to put him to the test and made it 15,000 to go, not something I would ordinarily do with a low pair but I thought he might lay down something like Ace-Nine suited since a limp-reraise represents a big hand. Instead he moved all in for 16,300 more. At that point I was getting almost three-to-one pot odds to call. I suspected he had Ace-King and I called. He did in fact have Big Slick and didn't improve so he was out of the contest and I was up to 114,800. The table started filling in with good players: David "Plastique" Plastik took seat nine; John "JJ" Juanda seat four; and Mark "The Shark" Seif seat two. I had 111,300 at the break.

After Paris and Turning Stone, I decided I had to be willing to see flops with players like JJ and Erik "Rounders" Seidel who raised and reraised a lot preflop. So, along with the won't-be-bullied Javier QuiƱones on my right, I kept JJ in check by calling him in position and mixing up my post-flop play, sometimes checking when I hit and betting when I missed. I won a couple pots from him and at the next break I was up to 153,000 and JJ was down to under 60,000.

When we got back from the break I saw another flop with JJ when he raised my big blind and I called with Nine-Seven. This time it came Queen-Nine-Seven, two Spades. I was hoping he had a piece of it so I checked, intending to check-raise on a board that looked like I might have a draw. Instead, he checked behind me and the Jack of Spades came. This time I bet and he called. I figured he had a Jack or a decent Spade. The river was a fourth Spade and I didn't have one. I had to bet to put him to the test with his middle Spade. I decided half his chips was enough so I bet 15,000. He stewed and finally said, "You better not have the Ace," and called, turning over King-Jack with the Jack of Spades. I don't know if he would have folded the Jack had I put him all in but it certainly would have been more uncomfortable for him to call with the Jack. I was down to 120,000 and had brought the most dangerous player at the table back up to 80,000.

JJ raised my blind again in short order but this time I had Ace-King offsuit and I made a small reraise, which is also what I would have done with a big pocket Pair. He thought for a long time and studied me while I looked off into space and tired to replay the Shana Hiatt Girls of Hawaiian Tropic video in my head from memory. Finally I heard his distinctive staccato precise enunciation: "I'm…all…in." I immediately called. "Do you have it?" he asked. I told him I had Ace-King and he turned over his trademark hand: JJ. The flop came King high and it was all over for JJ. I felt bad for knocking out my friend and ending his hopes of making Player of the Year, but you had to win all the chips if you wanted to win the tournament and the almost $1.8 million first prize. I was up to 210,000.

Men "The Master" Nguyen took seat four, nursing a Corona. I lost a coin flip with the short stack in seat six and was down to 155,000. Then seat three raised the 1000/2000 blinds with a 300 ante to 10,000. I decided the big raise meant he didn't want to see a flop so I called on the big blind with Five-Four offsuit. Lo and behold, the flop came Eight-Seven-Six, two Clubs, giving me the bottom end of a Straight. I checked and he bet 25,000, around the size of the pot. He had about 80,000 more so I declared, "I'm all in," thinking he would take a stand with his overpair. He deliberated for a long time and someone called the clock. It's quite rare for someone to call after letting the clock almost run out but call he did, turning over pocket Queens and drawing dead to a runner-runner Full House. The turn paired the six but the river was safe and I had busted another player, putting me up to 275,000. I finished the day with 262,200 the eighth most chips of the remaining 82 players. I had tripled up for the second straight day and was in excellent position to win this thing if my luck and skill held up.

Dinner was at Canal St. Grill, a local favorite steakhouse, with Chad Layne and Shawn "West Texas Man" Rice, both still in the running along with me. We had just a couple Grey Goose martinis, some yummy steak, and retired to our several domiciles to rest up for day three.

Day of ironies

Shana was there for day three, positively glowing under the camera lights as she taped spots for the TV show we were all making. I drew table 33, seat four, and once again managed to avoid most of the top players. Paul Zimbler a European pro, was in seat six; Men The Master, seat seven; Tom Jacobs, seat eight; Vellaisamy Senthilkumar, seat nine; and Erik "123" Sagstrom, seat two. I had never played against the 21-year-old Erik123 before but his reputation preceded him and he lived up to it. Starting shortstacked, he got lucky with Men the Master and busted Men with pocket Kings against Jacks. Humberto Brenes took Men's seat. Then Erik called a raise by Tom Jacobs on his big blind and raised and reraised the flop, forcing Tom to lay down and then showing the useless Seven of Diamonds while raking in the pot. Tom took exception to Erik rubbing it in but in his cherubic innocence he simply turned to me and said, "Surely I must be allowed to show I am capable of a bluff?" I assured Tom Erik didn't mean anything personal but it's tough to get bluffed out of a huge pot like that and be down to the felt so late in the tournament. I then got Tom's last chips when I opened with Ace-Ten suited and he moved in on me with King-Queen offsuit. I won a small pot from Senthilkumar, who's getting a nickname next time I see him, like it or not, and I was up to 339,000.

My luck turned south then and I lost a nice pot to seat one with a Jack-high flush to his King-high flush. They broke the table and I moved to table 51, seat eight. Mark "The Shark" Seif was in seat one; Jennifer Harman, seat five; and Hasan Habib in seat seven. Once again I had only two top pros at the table. As the last time we met, I immediately doubled up Jen when she beat my top Pair with bottom two in an unraised pot. "Is it my destiny always to double you up, Jen?" I asked as I made the call. There was no answer but the sound of chips sliding away from me. That brought me down to 215,000. I won a small pot and was back up to 238,000 at the break.

Right after the break the 51st person was eliminated and we were all in the money, guaranteed at least $21,000 each. The short stacks who had been hanging on started moving all in every hand and it was the perfect time for me to limp with pocket Aces under the gun. Only nobody raised and I ended up four handed in an unraised pot. The flop, though, was pretty good for me: Seven-Six-Trey, all Clubs and I had the Ace of Clubs. The small blind led out 15,000 and had about 125,000 more. With the Overpair and nut Flush draw I moved all in, not wanting to be moved off the hand by a bigger bet on the turn if another Club didn't come. He called with, ironically, Five-Four offsuit for a Straight, the same hand I had won all the chips with yesterday. No Club came and I was down to 95,000. I had 77,000 left when we redrew tables with 45 left.

My new table was 52, seat two. James Van Alstyne, winner of the Ultimate Poker Challenge at the Plaza, was on my left in seat three with a nice stack of 450,000; Paul Zimbler, seat four; David "Devilfish" Ulliott, seat five; Jeff Lisandro, seat seven; Humberto Brenes, seat eight; Eric Weiner, with about 500,000, in seat nine; and Barny Boatman, the voice of Late Night Poker, was in seat one on my right with a short stack. Devilfish was saying something in his Yorkshire tongue but as usual I couldn't understand a word out of his mouth. When I complained he started speaking in perfect James Bond English. "That's great!" I said. "Why don't you always talk like that?" He said something in reply but I had no idea what it was.

I got pocket Fives under the gun and pushed in. Eric in seat nine called with Ace-King but Presto held up and I was back up to 159,000. At the break I had 146,000 and a bit of breathing room. They raced off the 500 chips and the smallest chip we were using was now 1000. I won a few rounds of blinds and antes and was about even at 137,000 when they redrew for tables with 36 people left. My table-draw luck, as well as my card luck, now ran out. I got table 49, seat three. On my left were Ted "Teddy Bear" Forrest in seat four; Hasan Habib, seat five; Howard "Bub" (The Professor) Lederer, seat six; and Johnny "Orient Express" Chan around the corner in seat nine. On my right in seat two was Raymond Davis, an unpredictable, aggressive player. I treaded water and was down to 124,000 at the break.

When we came back I found pocket Jacks in third position. I decided to limp with it so that I could move in over the top if one of the aggressive players raised. The button called and then Johnny Chan overbet the pot with a 50,000 raise. I moved in with hopes that I had him beat but he was probably the tightest player at the table and I had to fade the eight-to-one against someone having Queens, Kings or Aces. He did have Kings and called and my miracle Jack didn't come so I was out of the contest. The Orient Express got me and I went out with JJ's trademark hand, same as him. I finished 33rd, winning $27,227, my biggest cash yet. Since it only cost me $320 to buy into the satellite it was almost all profit.

Tagging along with JJ, I crashed Mike Sexton's holiday party along with Andy "The Rock" Bloch and his girlfriend Jen. Mike put on quite a shindig and many of the TV pros were there including Phil "Unabomber" Laak and his girlfriend, movie star Jennifer Tilly, whom I remembered from the erotic thriller Bound and who sure didn't look a year older than me. I resisted the temptation to ask Phil if he had any nude pictures of his girlfriend and instead focused on seeing how much Dom Perignon I could drink. Someone must have eventually taken me back to the hotel.

Happy holidays to all my friends and readers. My next event will be the $10,000 World Series of Poker Circuit tournament at Harrah's Atlantic City in mid-January.

December 19, 2004

I Like that Lake: 2004 Five-Diamond series at Bellagio

Pot's the limit

I got the word that in the future, all tournaments at Bellagio would be No-Limit Hold 'Em so these would be the last times I'd be playing Pot-Limit Hold 'Em or Omaha for a while here. Today's event was a small $1570 Pot-Limit Hold 'Em tourney with 245 entrants. I drew table 50, seat nine. John "JJ" Juanda, my friend and one of the most feared players in the world, was on my right, which was right where I wanted him. The only other one I recognized was Richard Tatalovich in seat one on my left, a tricky, experienced player. I doubled up quickly when I raised with pocket Aces and got called by Queen-Jack when the flop came Queen high. That got me to 5250 from my starting 3000 and a nice compliment from JJ, who said, "I couldn't have played it any better myself." Next I had pocket Kings in the small blind and I raised the pot against seven limpers. It folded to seat five, who reraised all in with his short stack. Seat six called but when I re-reraised all in he folded Ace-Queen. Seat five had pocket Eights and my cowboys held up, busting him and bringing me to 7500. Chris Bjorn took seat five and I dribbled down to 5900 by the break. I went card-dead for the next two hours. Finally I called one of JJ's frequent raises with King-Ten suited. The button and big blind called behind and the flop came King high. I check-called the flop, getting heads-up with the button. It checked down and I got outkicked when he showed King-Jack. I asked JJ if he could have played that one any better and he said yes. I was down to 725 and put it in with Ace-Nine but the button woke up with Ace-King and I was out of the contest 107th.


Next up was the $2080 No-Limit Hold 'Em event, which drew 358 players. I got table 45, seat three, with Layne "Back to Back" Flack on my left in seat four, Robert Williamson in seat six, Max "The Italian Pirate" Pescatori in seat eight and Mel Judah in seat ten. I won several small pots and chipped up to 5450 at the first break. When we got back I found AA on the small blind and busted seat one, bringing me to 9350. I ran into a set then won a coin-flip and had 8475 at the next break. I chipped up to exactly 10,000 when I moved in with pocket Queens on the small blind in response to seat one's late raise. Layne, who had me covered, moved in behind me and seat one folded. Layne turned over Big Slick, spiked an Ace on the flop, and I was out of the contest, finishing 122nd.


Two hundred ninety-one turned out for the $3100 No-Limit Hold 'Em event and I drew table 35, seat seven. Gerry Drehobl, winner of this year's WSOP $1000 event, was in seat one; Chris Hinchcliffe seat two; Stan Goldstein seat three; David "Devilfish" Ulliott seat five; Two-bracelet winner Scott Fischman seat six; Men "The Master" Nguyen seat nine; and Tom McEvoy seat ten. It was a pretty tough table. Gerry busted out quickly and was replaced by Pete Moore. I didn't hit much of anything until the 100/200 level when Men limped in second position and gave me a free flop on the big blind with Seven-Six offsuit. The flop came Ten-Nine-Eight, two Clubs and I decided to bet out with my Straight and hope he had an overpair or a set so he would raise and I could come over the top. I bet 400 and Men made it 1000. I put him on either a draw or an overpair so I moved all in because about two-thirds of the remaining cards in the deck would complete some kind of draw and I didn't know which ones to be scared of. He thought so long that someone called for the clock and he timed out, his hand automatically folded. He told me he had pocket Jacks and I told him I had Two Pair. One of us may have been telling the truth. I had 5375 at the break.

I played aggressively but lost every pot and was down to 2175 when Fischman opened in late position. I put him on a steal and moved in with Ace-Six offsuit, something I don't usually do but I thought I had the best hand in this case. He called with a real hand, though, pocket Sevens, and my Ace never came so I was out of the contest in 149th place, not making my customary top half of the field. Well, it paid the same as 145th.


I had been practicing Pot-Limit Omaha, a game that's pretty easy to play decently and even easier to play badly. Only 109 people entered the $2600 event, which I supposed was why Bellagio was eliminating it from their repertoire. I drew table 46, seat four. James Hoeppner had seat six; Joe "The Elegance" Beevers seat seven; World PLO Champion Ted Lawson seat eight; and one of the top PLO players in the world, Robert Williamson, in seat three. Robert arrived almost an hour late due to scheduling conflicts and Ted Lawson got knocked out shortly thereafter. I hardly played a hand but won a couple small pots to get to 5375 at the break, up from my starting 5000.

The table broke and I moved to table 47, again in seat four. Thor Hansen was in seat one; Tony Cousineau seat two; Barry "Spock" Greenstein seat three; Hendon Mobster Ross "Rocky" Boatman seat eight; and "Minneapolis" Jim Meehan seat nine. I missed every flop and was down to 4475 at the next break. Then, on the button, I was second to call one of Minneapolis Jim's frequent raises with Nine-Eight-Eight-Seven, the Nine suited. The big blind reraised and Minneapolis Jim and the original caller called, as did I for 1050 more. The flop came Ten-Nine-Eight rainbow, giving me bottom set on a very dangerous board. But the big blind bet the pot and then Jim raised all in. It folded to me and I made an easy call for my 3000 remaining chips into the 10,050 pot since neither of the others figured to have a higher set. I put Jim on Queen-Jack and the other guy on Ace-Ace, which was probably right since he folded. Jim turned over the cards I expected, giving me about a 40% chance to more than quadruple up, but the board didn't pair and I was out of the contest in 36th place—my customary finish in PLO tourneys.

Cannot Can Can

The next tourney was Pot-Limit Hold 'Em again, this time for $2600. Only 168 people entered and I drew table 42, seat five. There was only one player I recognized at the table but it was my nemesis Can Kim Hua. I told him my goal today was to win my first pot from him so I played every time he was in and finally won a tiny one, pumping my fists in triumph and screaming, "Jaaaaaaaa!" I was up three green chips to 5075 at the break. I chipped up to 5850 when they broke the table but they brought Can with me to table 48. I had seat two and Can seat eight. Ted Lawson was in seat four; Humberto Brenes seat six; "Magic" Antonio Esfandiari seat seven; and Allen Cunningham seat nine. This was a tough table and it was one of the last to break so I was trapped here for the duration. Can started right in on me by raising my big blind and I defended with pocket Treys. I flopped my set when it came Ace-Jack-Trey. I check-raised his 1000 to 2500 and he called. The turn was another Ace. I thought he must have an Ace and would have to call me so I moved all in, hoping he didn't have Ace-Jack. He called and turned over Ace-Seven. Unless the last Ace, a Jack, or a Seven came on the river I was going to double up but the ugly, ugly, Seven of Diamonds jumped out of the deck and squirted cider in my ear. I was out of the contest in 100th place even.

Another day, another $3000

The next event I played was another $3100 No-Limit Hold 'Em tourney, this one drawing an astounding 420 players. I drew table 31, seat four, and had "Kamikaze" Hon Le in seat one; French movie star and kindred high-stakes amateur Patrick Bruel, who had busted me at a prior final table here, in seat five, Gavin Smith, who did well in the Plaza Championship but whose Aces I had cracked to bust him on the Party cruise, in seat nine; and Foxwoods winner Tuan Le, a very aggressive player who busted me at my last final table, in seat ten. I played frisky but it didn't pay off early and I was down to 2775 when I found Ace-King of Clubs under the gun. I decided to limp with it so I had the option of reraising if one of the aggressive players raised. Gavin and Tuan called but the Kamizaze Kid made it 600. I moved in, it folded to him, and he called with Ace-Queen of Spades, making me a nice favorite. The flop came Jack-Ten-Deuce with two Spades, giving him 157 outs, but they didn't hit and I was back in business with 5500. I had Hon covered barely so he was out. But my old foe Can Kim Hua immediately came to take his place! I asked who he was juicing to make sure he got my table but he remained inscrutable. I won a couple small pots and was up to 7025 at the break.

The gorgeous Evelyn "Evy Babee" Ng sat down in seat two and when someone other than I busted Can he was replaced by Dan "Lucky Egg" Gordon, a fellow UltimateBet qualifier for the upcoming main event here. I fiddled and diddled and chipped up to 10,100 at the break. Charles Hiatt (no relation to Shana) in seat three limp-reraised me all in when I had Ace-King. I called and he turned over Queen-Jack, not a great hand for that move but he made a Pair and doubled through me. That brought me back to around my starting stack but I doubled up with pocket Jacks versus pocket Tens, all but assured of victory by a Jack-high flop. I was up to 13,000. With several inexperienced players at the table and the antes in I wanted to play a lot of pots so at the 300/600/50 level I limped under the gun with a very marginal hand, Ace-Jack offsuit. Evy Babee called and then Charles Hiatt moved all in for 3250 more. I didn't think Evy would call if I did and I thought it likely I had the best hand. Even if I didn't I was getting nearly two-to-one pot odds so I called. He turned over Ace-Eight offsuit. Of course he flopped an Eight and I was down to 9000. I had now doubled him up twice once as a two-to-one favorite and now as a five-to-two favorite. I checked my lucky lion coin to see if it was operating properly but didn't see anything obvious. I went to the break with 9925.

The blinds were now 400/800/75 and Evy had been raising a lot of pots with her big stack. I decided to reraise her all in with King-Queen suited and she called with Ace-Nine offsuit. I was only a slight underdog in this matchup with over 45% probability of winning but an Ace flopped and I was out of the contest in 121st place. I felt good about my play but got unlucky.

Last train to Omaha

The final Omaha tourney at the Bellagio, for a while at least, was a $3100 event with 94 entrants. I drew table 49, seat two, and had no one there I recognized other than Ted Lawson on my left in seat three. Seat four quickly busted and Amir Vahedi came in to replace him. With Ace-Ace-x-x and one suited Ace on the button I got three-way action from Ted and seat nine. Seat nine got it all in with Two Pair but Ted wisely folded a set to save some chips on the river. I was up to 11,800 from my starting 6000. They broke the table and I went to table 45, seat four. Lawson followed me to seat six; the dangerous Scott Fischman had seat seven; Erik "Rounders" Seidel seat nine; and Billy Duarte quickly busted out of seat two to be replaced by Barry "Spock" Greenstein. In a seven-way unraised pot, I had King-King-Ten-Trey with the suited King of Clubs. The flop came Ace of Clubs-Queen-Eight of Clubs, giving me the nut Flush draw. Barry bet 1500. I called, hoping for more callers behind and putting Barry on Ace-Queen or Ace-Ace. The Seven of Clubs came on the turn, giving me the nuts. Barry checked to me and I moved in for 4500 into a pot with just over 5000 in it. He thought for a bit and then called with Ace-Ace-x-x, making him a three-to-one dog to fill up on the river, but the ugly, ugly Queen of Clubs came, giving Spock a Full House and sending me to the showers, out of the contest in 39th place.

Tomorrow was the super satellite but I had already won my entry into the main event so if I played it would just be for the cash.

December 10, 2004

Five-Something: December 2004 Bellagio Series

Five-Something: December 2004 Bellagio Series

Uneventful start

The ladies in the tournament-registration booth had finally learned my name so when I plunked down $2080 to enter event No. 1 in the current series at Bellagio they had the advantage of me: they knew my name but I didn't remember if this was the Five Diamond event or the Five Star event, two of the three annual tournament series held at the premier hotel-casino in Las Vegas, at least for another four months, when Wynn opened down the street. Arnie the Compmeister was in town and he had asked me to get (comped) tickets for the new Cirque du Soleil show at the MGM Grand, "Ka." I got the tickets but told him I might not make the show or dinner before because I was in a tournament.

There were 306 entrants in the first event. I drew table 55, seat three, and the only two people I recognized were Max "The Italian Pirate" Pescatori in seat one and a guy named Steve on my right in seat two. Steve was the one who had flopped a set of Nines in the big hand at my table in October when Tommy Franklin made a Straight on the river to knock out half the table including Paul "Pretty Boy" Phillips. With a table full of unknowns I sliced and diced, chipping up nicely, and then busted a maniac in seat eight when he moved in with Queens on my reraise with Kings. That put me up to 7250 from my starting 4000. Seats two and four busted and were replaced by Tommy Vu and Layne "Back to Back" Flack respectively. I got a free flop with Eight-Deuce of Hearts when seat six limped and the flop came King-Eight-Eight, giving me trips. I check-raised the limper and he moved in for about half what was already in the pot. I called and he turned over pocket Kings for the full house so I was drawing dead to the last Eight. It didn't come and I was back down to 4000. Layne tsk-tsked me and said I should have known he had the Kings. I said I wasn't that good.

They broke the table and moved me to 49, seat eight. Tony Cousineau was in seat four; young up-and-comer David Sternbaum was in seat six; Chad Layne was on my right in seat seven; Tony Ma on my left in seat nine; and Danish pro Claus Nielsen in seat ten. I won a small pot and was up to 5175 at the break. Things deteriorated from there and I was down to 1600 when, just as I looked at my cards to see Ace-King on the button, Claus on the big blind said, "Good time to steal." I thanked him for the advice, hemmed and hawed, and then put my chips in. Tony Ma quickly called with Ace-Seven and I was up over 3000. I treaded water by winning a few blinds and antes but finally Tony Ma got his revenge and busted me with Ace-Ten suited versus my Ace-Six on the button. He flopped a Ten and it was all over but the crying. I was out of the contest 91st.

I was out just in time to meet Shortstack and the Compmeister for dinner at the MGM. Arnie gave the thumbs-up to the Creole-spiced lobster at Emeril's. I had the yummy pecan-crusted Texas redfish with Emeril's signature barbecued shrimp to start. We washed it all down with the 1995 Kathryn Kennedy Cabernet Sauvignon, fruity but with an unexpectedly pronounced acid content. From there we went to Ka, where we were escorted to great seats in the lower center of the showroom. They were still working the bugs out of the performance but some of the effects were spectacular. I rated it as good as the other two Vegas Cirque shows I had seen, O and Mystere. As I sat enraptured by the dancing, flying, lights, and music, my mind kept drifting to pocket pairs and flopping sets. I couldn't wait for the next event.