On the strength of my 12th-place finish in the first Professional Poker Tour event and several cashes in the World Poker Tour I applied to become a regular member of the PPT and a few days before the Commerce, CA, event got the news that I was accepted onto the tour. Shortstack and I booked an Alaska flight down to Long Beach airport for the two-day midweek event. The poker circuit spent most of February and March in California so rather than spend a few hundred bucks on Neverlost I programmed our Garmin StreetPilot III with all the necessary maps and popped it into the cigarette-lighter outlet in the lovely white Kia Optima we rented from Hertz. Commerce was only about 10 miles form Long Beach over city streets, a bit longer taking a surface road four miles to the 91 to the 605 to the always-congested 5, and still longer taking the 405 to the less-busy 710. As usual in Southern California, all the routes ended up taking about the same time for we let Garmin choose and she decided on the 91. We checked into the Crowne Plaza Hotel and Casino, got lucky room 711, and headed over to Dal Rae for dinner with local friends. The out-of-the-way steakhouse, the jewel of Pico Rivera, was as good as ever and we washed down filets with a bottle of the 2001 Stags Leap Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.
Frisk and re-frisk
The next morning I went down to the tournament room dressed in my Full Tilt Poker bowling shirt with "Quiet Lion" embroidered in script letters over the right breast. Many of my friends were affiliated with Full Tilt and I gave them first shot at sponsoring me for the PPT, which they were happy to do. No logos were allowed on the World Poker Tour but PPT participants were allowed to wear one small logo on the front of their shirts and were free to strike any compensation deal they could with the sponsor. Full Tilt offered to pay me a modest sum should I appear on TV with the logo but I was just happy I could wear my cool shirt.
There were 181 starters in today's $500,000 freeroll, making an average player's equity $2769 after 3% was withheld in lieu of tips. I supposed I was somewhat below average skill in this field but hey, it was free, and playing against these top pros was an exhilarating experience for me. I drew table 11, seat eight. It wasn't a bad draw at all: none of the players I truly feared were at the table but two aggressive, frisky players were directly to my left: Juha "Cinderella" Helppi in seat nine and Phil "Unabomber" Laak in seat one. Seat two, the English pro Joseph Gresch, was unknown to me but played conservatively as did veteran Susie Isaacs in seat three. Seat four was the very frisky Freddy Deeb, against whom I'd never played before. Thomas "Gummybear" Keller had seat five. Jeff "Happy" Shulman of Card Player magazine had seat six, and Jesse Jones rounded out the field in seat seven. In the early going Freddy and Jesse check-raised me to death and I laid down hand after hand, getting to a low of 6500 before I got over my nerves, got frisky myself, won a few small pots and got back above water to 11,175 at the first break. Gummybear had no luck and was the first to go at our table, replaced by Stan Goldstein, an excellent player who had never had any luck against me at all, a trend that I hoped would continue. I treaded water and had 10,875 at the dinner break.
I found Gavin Griffin and Chris Bigler and we decided to pay for dinner in the sports bar and grill rather than fight the hordes getting the comped food in the poker room. Everyone had been recommending the Galbi Beef, Korean short ribs, so Chris and I ordered them and they were delicious. We got back to the tourney room with two minutes to spare.
I let Stan and Juha bluff off some chips to me, played back at Freddy, and won a few small pots, getting up to 16,000 when they broke our table. My new assignment was table five, seat six. An "The Boss" Tran was on my left in seat seven with a short stack. "Tall" Phil Gordon had seat eight. Freddy Deeb followed me into seat nine but then got moved to balance tables. The beautiful Dee Luong Had seat one; Dave "El Blondie" Colclough seat two; Allyn Jaffrey Shulman seat three, Noli Francisco seat four; and Melissa Hayden seat five. Right away Phil limped under the gun. There were several other callers and I woke up with Pocket Aces on the small blind. I made a hefty pot-sized raise and then Phil made a big re-raise. The others folded and I considered what to do. A limp-reraise usually meant Aces but there were only two left and Phil liked to make a lot of moves. I considered just calling and trying to get the rest of his chips on the flop but I thought he might call with Kings or even Ace-King so I decided to move in for my remaining chips, less than a pot-sized re-reraise. He thought for not too long and folded, saying he had Queens. I was up over 20,000.
Then, with the blinds 100/200 and a 25 ante, Noli opened for 500. I called behind him with pocket Jacks. There were three other callers and the flop came Nine-Nine-Eight with two Diamonds. Noli led out for 1000. I figured I had the best hand and made it 3500 to go. The others folded and Noli called. The turn was a rag and Noli checked. I could have bet again here but if he had a bigger Pair or a Nine I would rather call a small bet on the river than get check-raised here and lay down, plus I had a free card for my two outs to make a Full House and possibly win a huge pot so I checked behind, risking giving him a free card to beat me with Ace-King or a Diamond to make a Flush. The river looked harmless and I called his 1800 on the river, winning the pot with Jacks up when he turned over Eight-Six of Hearts. I was up to 25,700.
The blinds went up to 200/400, still with a 25 ante. I lost a few small pots then and was back down to 15,000 when Phil opened in second position for 1000. I defended my big blind with pocket Deuces and the flop came Ace-Queen-Trey rainbow. Phil bet 1200 into the 2650 pot and I called, thinking I may have the best hand or be able to take the pot away later if he didn't have an Ace. A miracle Deuce came on the Turn and Phil made a "milk me" bet of 1800. There wasn't much to do here but move in so I did and he called quickly with Ace-Queen. He didn't fill up on the river so I doubled though, putting me up to 31,000.
Dee and Melissa busted out and were replaced by Susie Isaacs in seat one and Tony Cousineau in seat five. An Tran had been playing tight so I bullied him when it folded around to me on the small blind. But The Boss moved in and I didn't quit have pot odds to call with my Eight-Deuce offsuit so I said he must have a big hand because he knew I would call and laid it down. He showed Five-Deuce suited. I had had him dominated! The very next hand I opened on the button with Ace-Six offsuit and he immediately moved in again. Phil folded and I considered the range of hands he might do that with. I decided I had good enough odds to call his 6000 and busted him when his King-Nine of Clubs didn't improve. I was up to 34,500. Kathy "Pokerkat" Liebert took his seat and I had a nice 32,300 at the break.
Kathy and Susie busted out and were replaced by Maureen Feduniak in seat seven and Ralph Perry in seat one. I raised a few pots and saw a few flops but had no success and my stack dwindled to 25,000. Ralph busted out and they moved Noli to balance the tables, later bringing in World Champion Greg "Fossilman" Raymer into seat four and Bobby Hoff in seat one. Tony C busted and was replaced by my Reno nemesis Tony Bloom. Then they pulled up a 10th chair and put Billy Baxter on my left, saying they had made a mistake and broke a table too early. Bobby Hoff busted out and we were back to nine. Meanwhile I kept losing small pots and was quickly down to 17,000. I backed down in a battle of the blinds with the very tight Tony Bloom and had only 7900 left when Fossilman raised in late position and put on his hypno-glasses. I saw pocket Fours on the button and with the blinds at 500/1000 and a 100 ante, it was good enough for me. I shoved in and showed him the monkeyface but the Champ called with pocket Tens. I didn't hit my 18% chance and I was out of the contest, finishing 44th.
I wished my friends good luck. Andy "The Rock" Bloch was still in, as were John "JJ" Juanda and Daniel Negreanu. I had to learn how they did it.