January 27, 2005

Gold Rush in the South: The 2005 World Poker Open in Tunica

Creeping delay

I had booked a lovely First-Class seat on the nonstop from Philly to Memphis but a creeping delay left me rebooked on a connection through Atlanta in economy on both segments. I called Hertz and told them I'd be four hours late and they held a nice maroon Camry for me with Neverlost. I set the controls for the heart of Tunica and before I knew it I was checking into the Hollywood Hotel and Casino, which gave me a nice corner mini-suite. I drove over to the Gold Strike and found Avi "Two Cokes" Freedman playing pot-limit Omaha with the big boys. It was late so I just returned to Hollywood and got a good night's sleep.


Two little too late

I entered the $2000 and $3000 no-limit Hold 'Em events and have very little to say about them except that "Action" Bob Hwang, whom I had met in Atlantic City playing a cash game with "Oregon" Dave Lilie, was on my left in both tourneys. He knocked me out of the $2000 when he reraised my Ace-King all in and his pocket Queens held up. In the $3000 the colorful Jac Arama of "Late Night Poker" fame was at my table. I doubled early when I flopped top set with pocket Tens and busted a fellow who was unlucky enough to have bottom set with Four-Four. After that I got nothing and eventually made a desperation all-in with Ace-Nine, losing to Ace-Jack.


Ultra Turbo Super

I entered the $1060 super-satellite the day before the main event. "Super" wasn't enough of a superlative for the folks at the Gold Strike so they called it an "Ultra Super Satellite." With the speed at which the blinds went up they should have called it an Ultra Turbo Super. I survived to the final 10% and won a seat in the big event as well as a little cash. The tourney director paid us each the $160, sticking out his hand in what must have been a gesture of goodwill since he couldn't possibly be expecting a tip on top of the $320 they had already deducted per winner to give to the staff.


A good day

The tournament started a half-hour late but they made time for a speeches by the tournament director and last year's winner Barry "Spock" Greenstein, who generously revealed  the secret of his success last year: win every time you're all in. If the speeches weren't enough, they brought in a gospel singer to perform the Star Spangled Banner before we were allowed to play. All of this was probably designed to make us forget the almost 8% juice they charged here, including the Mississippi tax which through a strange confluence of circumstances they feel compelled to take out although State law does not seem to require it. There was an astonishing claim that this was the second biggest tournament in history and the largest outside of Las Vegas but it wasn't even the second-largest tournament in this season of the World Poker Tour, Foxwoods and Aruba both being quite a bit larger than the 512 entrants they got here.


I drew table 38, seat four. None of the superstars were at the table although there were two well-known English pros: John Kabbaj on my right in seat three and Willie Tann in seat eight. On my left were Justin Young in seat five, a tough, aggressive player, and David "Gunslinger" Bach, whom I had met on the PokerStars cruise. A grizzly black-hat cowboy named "Sonny," or so it said in diamonds on his bracelet, was in seat eight.  Phi Nguyen, a tournament regular, was in seat nine, and another regular, John Hoang, had seat one. It wasn't an easy table and I neither connected nor stole many pots in the first level. I was down to 7600 from the starting 10,000 at the first break.


Sonny had been playing quite aggressively and won a lot of chips without ever showing down a hand. I picked up Ace-Ace and got heads-up with Sonny, who called half-pot bets on the flop and turn on a scary board of King-Queen-rag, two Spades. The worst card in the deck, the Ten of Spades, came on the river and I gave an exasperated check, believing he would bluff at the board in addition to betting his flush. He bet only 3000 into a 7000 pot and I called. All he had was the King so I picked up a big pot and was up to 15,000. I lost a couple more small pots and was down to 12,300 at the next break.


David "Harpo" Levy came and sat in seat one. I made several tough laydowns, perhaps being bluffed out of small pots by John Kabbaj's check-raises but perhaps not. I chose to fold a set of Fives on a board of all Spades when Justin raised my initial bet and then Phi moved all in. If I had known Justin would call I could have played the hand, getting better than two-to-one on my money, but if he was on a draw he might not have called and I would have been in trouble. As it turned out, Justin had flopped the flush and won the pot when Phi's dry Ace didn't catch another Spade. If I had played I would have been out since the board didn't pair but it would have been a good bet. I was down to 8975 at the break, then got nothing at all the next level and was back down to 6675 at the dinner break.


Andy "The Rock" Bloch, his girlfriend Jen, and I headed over to the superior Sheraton buffet for dinner. There we ran into Mike May, a poised New Yorker and tournament regular who spoke like Ben Stein on speed. We timed it perfectly, getting back a minute and a half before we restarted.


I raised in late position with Queen-Ten offsuit and got a quick call from Justin on my left. The flop came Ten high, two Clubs. I bet out and he reraised me all in. I decided he likely didn't have me beat and called. He turned over Ace-Jack offsuit and I doubled up to 13,400. I won some small pots and was up over 20,000. Then the Danish pro Mads Andersen sat down in seat eight. I said hello and asked him if he knew Gus Hansen. He said yes, he's a good friend. Uh huh. I prepared to be bullied and it didn't take long. I raised his big blind with Queen-Jack of Diamonds and he reraised 1700 more. I figured him for a loose aggressive player, decided to play the hand in position and called. The flop came Jack high. He bet out 5000. I still didn't believe him and I raised 7500 more with top pair. He reraised all in. At this point I started to believe him but I only had 6600 more and there was almost 30,000 in the pot. I almost had odds to call even if I knew he had Aces and with the chance that he was still bluffing or on a big draw I called. He did in fact have Aces but I got lucky and hit my Queen on the river, crippling him and bringing me to 34,000. It was the first major suckout I had had in a long time in a big tournament and all of a sudden I was in great shape.


Radeen Talebi, a tough player I had seen before, sat down in seat six after Gunslinger, who had lost just about every pot, got knocked out. Mads and Phi lost their short stacks and two relatively inexperienced satellite winners sat in seats eight and nine. I had 34,050 and the next break. Seat eight got eliminated and the aggressive English pro Paul Maxfield took seat eight. I started bullying and was up to 38,500 at the break.


Derek Tomko sat in seat two with a short stack and Sonny, who had rocked up after I won the big pot from him, finally got knocked out. An inexperienced-looking player took his seat and didn't play a hand for an hour. Finally, he raised under the gun. Everybody folded to me on the small blind and I called with pocket Sevens, putting him on a big hand and hoping to get lucky. The flop came Queen-Nine-Seven with the Queen and Nine of Diamonds. I checked and he bet 3000. I put him on Aces and raised 4500 more. He just called. I still thought he had Aces but considered that he might have Ace-King of Diamonds or maybe Ace-Queen. The turn was the Four of Clubs and I put the rest of his chips in, about 7500 more and he called. My jaw dropped when he turned over King-Ten of Diamonds! This guy had waited an hour for a hand and then opened under the gun with that! He had a huge draw but didn't hit on the river and I busted him, bringing me to 56,000. I ended the day 22nd of the 161 remaining with 55,300 chips.

Turbo ultra death

I drew a great table for the start of day two. Only John Kabbaj and Andrew Miller were tough players I recognized at my table. John was on my right and Andrew was across the table with a short stack. George "The Greek" Paravoliasakis was in seat two. The printed sheet had named him as the chip leader with 118,000 but he actually only had 18,000. Unfortunately they broke that table almost immediately. I had lost one small pot and was down to 50,500. They moved me to table 31, seat nine. Mike May was on my right in seat eight. Andrew Miller had seat three and Raj Kattamuri, a good young player from Dallas, was in seat five with a lot of chips. Mike, Raj, and Andrew were dominating the table as I got mostly unplayable hands like Jack-Five offsuit. I laid down Ace-King preflop in response to big action from Andrew and seat four. It was a good laydown as Andrew won the pot with Kings and seat four showed the same hand as me. I would have been drawing to two outs for half the pot.


The blinds and antes were going up in turbo ultra mode. We had already lost almost half the remaining field and my lovely stack was now only a bit more than 20 times the big blind. Vellaisamy Senthilkumar, whose nickname is now "SK," sat down in seat six. With less than 33,000 left and the blinds at 800/1600 and a 200 ante I finally got a decent hand, pocket Sevens, and made it 6000 when it folded to me in fourth position. It folded to Raj in the big blind, who studied a minute and then said, "I'm all in." I took a couple minutes to analyze the situation. He had me well covered. The extra-large raise often meant Ace-King, but he was smart enough to know I knew that and move in with a big pair. I decided he probably didn't have Aces. There were 16 ways to make Ace-King, 6 ways to make Kings, maybe a 25% chance he playing one of the other pairs that way, 30 lower than mine and 36 higher. That meant I'd win about nine of the 16 times he had Ace-King, one of the six times he had Kings, 6 of the 7.5 times he had a lower pair and 1.5 of the nine times he had a higher pair for a total of 17.5 wins and 21 losses. There was also a small chance he had something like Ace-Queen or King-Queen, which increased my odds. Since the pot was giving me about three-to-two odds I could call. If I didn't call, I would have been left with 26,000 chips at this aggressive table, not desperate but now a short stack without much bullying leverage. I decided to make the loose call for all my chips. Raj did indeed have pocket Kings and I didn't hit my Seven so I was out of the contest, 89th of 512.


Dinner was at Fairbanks steakhouse at the Hollywood with Andy, Jen, and Steve "Suitcase" Brecher. We had steak and salmon washed down with the 1996 Stag's Leap S.L.V. Cabernet, which drank nicely. I had a very early flight back to Seattle, where Shortstack picked me up in the black T-Bird and whisked me back home to rest up before the next adventure. Next up: Commerce Casino in LA.


January 20, 2005

Jersey in January: The 2005 Atlantic City WSOP Circuit

Low tech

Harrah's bought the World Series of Poker and decided to have it year-round so I booked a flight east to play in the first "WSOP Circuit" event, this one at the partially renovated Harrah's Atlantic City, located next door to the beautiful Borgata. I smiled sweetly at the Hertz agents in Philadelphia until they upgraded me from the Hyundai Accent I booked to a Chevy Cavalier and finally to an Impala. I knew the easy route to Atlantic City by now so I didn't bother with Neverlost and before I knew it I was in Harrah's VIP room whipping out my "Seven Stars Club" card, a super-elite status Harrah's confers only upon those guests with the severest of gambling problems. Nobody rolled out the red carpet like Harrah's and they bowed, scraped, and handed me the keys to an Embassy Suites-like two-room suite. It was roomy but not in the renovated tower but since none of the rooms had high-speed Internet I didn't care too much about the rest. My Verizon cellular modem worked well enough for email but service was too intermittent to play on-line poker for any serious money.


I found Avi "Two Cokes" Freedman, WPT Championship finalist Matt Matros, and Jim "Krazy Kanuck" Worth and we had a nice dinner at the steakhouse, cleverly named "The Steak House." They had yummy sashimi and filet mignon and we washed it down with a bottle of 2001 Niebaum-Coppola "Cask" Cabernet Sauvignon.

Lotta supers

The next day they had a series of $200 rebuy super satellites. I skipped the noon one but decided to play the 5 p.m., getting down to the final five tables before being forced to play a mediocre hand on my big blind and busting quietly. But The Steak House was still open and Chad Layne, Krazy Kanuck, his stunning girlfriend Monica and I had a fabulous encore dinner. I ate healthy tonight, sashimi and salmon, this time with vodka cocktails instead of wine. The winners of the on-line satellites at Full Tilt were having dinner there with the celebrity pros affiliated with the site and when I walked by to say hi to Andy "The Rock" Bloch, Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, Paul Wolfe, Erik "Rounders" Seidel, and the others I got asked for my very first poker autograph by one of the satellite winners. The Full Tilt folks had given me a personal avatar on the site because I played in the big events and I got recognized from my on-line cartoon. I signed it Richard "Quiet Lion" Brodie and wished him luck.

Not a bad turnout

They got 249 people to show up for this hastily scheduled $10k event, not a bad turnout for Jersey in January. I drew table 16, which was for some reason labeled 616, seat four. The great TJ Cloutier had seat two and Internet player Bill Phipps was on my right playing his first big live tourney. On my left was Jamie Ligator, a Costa Rican player with a good deal of tournament experience, in seat five; Cyndi Violette in seat seven; and John Spadavecchia, who had already won one tournaments here and made a final table in another, in seat eight.


Over the last few weeks I had been practicing my loose-aggressive game and I got real frisky early. I picked up a few pots without getting cards and was up to 11,000 from my starting 10,000 at the first break. By that time the blinds were already 100/200 with a 25 ante but the stacks were still big enough that I defended my blind against John Spadavecchia's early-position raise with Five-Trey of Clubs. The flop came Ace-Trey-Trey and we both checked. The turn was a Ten and I checked again. He made a small bet. I had previously taken two small pots from him by raising his small bets so I did the same here, hoping he had had enough of me. He immediately moved all in and I called. He showed Ace-King so he needed one of the remaining two Aces to beat me and they didn't come so he was out and I was up to 18,000.


Dan Heimiller, an aggressive, unpredictable player, took seat eight and immediately tried to make a play on me, reraising me when I raised his flop bet and saying "oops" and mucking when I moved all in. That brought me to 21,000 and I was cruising. TJ Cloutier had been taking some bad beats and when he pushed in his last 2300 in the cutoff it was an easy call for me on the small blind with pocket Nines. He said he was in trouble and turned over Five-Trey offsuit. The flop came Ten-Jack-Queen but then two Fives came for a miracle suckout. TJ was still alive and I was down to 17,700. I lost a small pot and was down to 15,525 at the dinner break.


They had a nice buffet set up for the players but Russell Rosenblum, Matt Matros, their friend Adam and I went to the Italian restaurant Florentino's instead. Russell and I split an order of delicious baked clams and I had a yummy rack of lamb. Adam had an osso buco so huge the waitress said as she set it down, 'Here you go, Mr. Flintstone." I broke into song and the waitress and I sang The Flintstones theme until we got a fair amount of bemused looks from the other guests. We didn't drink since we were on duty.


After dinner I got nowhere and was down to 13,950 when they broke the table. I moved across the room to table 23, seat two. Joe Cassidy, a tough, aggressive player, was on my right in seat one. Seat four was Allen "Double OJ" Kessler. I asked him if he was drinking Scotch but he said, "It's apple juice." There were no scary opponents at the table other than Cassidy on my right so I was looking to pick up some chips. It happened when I raised in middle position with Ace-King offsuit and Kessler called in position. The flop came King high and I bet out. He called. Another King came on the turn and I checked it. He checked behind me. There were no obvious draws on the board so I figured it was most likely he had a big pair but a King was also a possibility, maybe even the same hand as me. The river was innocuous. I decided to put all the rest of my chips in, about two-thirds of the size of the pot, in hopes he would call with Aces or Queens. He did call and I won the pot. He told me he had Queens. That brought me up to a new high-water mark of 24,500. I had 23,225 at the break.


Despite the great table I had no cards to play and was down to 19,000 when they broke the table. They moved me to table 29, seat nine. Finally I got some top pros but they were all on my right. Pete Moore was on my left in seat one; seat five was Russell Rosenblum; seat six, Billy Gazes, seat seven, Erick "E-Dog" Lindgren with a big pile of chips, and seat eight, Chad Brown, host of Ultimate Poker Challenge and the guy who busted me with set-over-set in a previous tournament. I won several blinds and antes but then doubled up Russell when I called his small all-in rereaise with Ace-Eight offsuit. He showed pocket Nines and I didn't improve. I was down to 17,500 at the end of day one, not desperate but about half of average. I had my work cut out for me.


Short and sweet

Only a third of the field was left, which meant I should have had three times as many chips as I started with. I didn't so I was looking to double up. I drew a decent table with no huge stacks and no scary players: table 27, seat two. Russell Rosenblum had followed me in seat four and Allen Kessler was back in seat six. Steve "Z" Zolotow had seat seven and the table leader was Alex Balandin in seat eight. I came out aggressive and won a few blinds and antes, bringing me back up over 21,000. Then Alex made a small raise in the cutoff and I defended my big blind with King-Ten offsuit. The flop came King-Queen-Nine, two Clubs. I assumed he would bet at the flop and I decided to check-raise with top pair and a gutshot. He bet 4500 and I waited several seconds before moving all in. He didn't hesitate to call, though, because he had Jack-Ten, giving him the nuts. I needed a Jack for a chop or runner-runner to win the pot. Instead, two more Clubs came. Neither of us had a Club so his Straight held up and I was out of the contest, finishing 73rd.


I immediately checked out of Harrah's and moved next door to the Borgata, where they had high-speed Internet access (no longer free though) and decent pay tables on their video poker. I played a little on line and then got a message from Kanuck, who had his best finish yet in a big tourney but still busted out in time for dinner at Sulian, the great French-Asian restaurant at Borgata. We had a fabulous hot-and-sour soup and Kanuck had a wonderfully spiced kung-pao chicken while I tried the delicious Mongolian lamb. It was all washed down with Grey Goose.


My flight to Tunica was tomorrow.