March 31, 2005
I returned the Taurus to Avis and, after the obligatory argument about the tank being full even though the Taurus gas-gauge needle, which took about 10 minutes to recover from a fill, still read 7/8, hopped the next flight to San Jose, where I rented a lovely white Kia Splenda from Hertz and checked into my room at the Beverly Heritage Hotel. The hotel advertised free Internet but it was only free because it didn't work very well so I just used my Verizon 5220 card which worked fine here in the heart of Silicon Valley. I couldn't find anybody for dinner so I had a nice room-service meal and a little Grey Goose on ice.
The next morning I drove over to Bay 101 and got my video portrait taken in case I appeared on TV for this show. They had no food comps so I grabbed a tuna melt and some iced tea in the casino restaurant with Matt "Jacks Up" Matros, Mark Gregorich, and Andy "The Rock" Bloch. We chowed down on the final bites and they called for us to be seated but none of these had started close to on time so we weren't too worried. I drew table 14, seat eight. John Sutton, a local entry, was on my left in seat nine. In seat one was Jeri Thomas, one of the few women to have a World Series bracelet (Seven-Card Stud, 2000). I was happy and alarmed to see my friend Erick "E-Dog" Lindgren, one of the toughest no-limit players on the planet, in seat two. To his left in seat three was veteran Steve "Zee" Zolotow. In seat four was Card Player writer Allyn Jaffrey-Shulman, Barry's wife. In seat five was Phil "Unabomber" Laak. In seat six was an eccentric, long-haired guy with a thick middle-eastern accent with whom I had played with before but who had never wanted to give me his name. I finally got it out of him: Davood Mehrmand. Finally, on my right was the ubiquitous Men "The Master" Nguyen.
While we waited for the camera crews to mike up the featured table, I told the beautiful Allyn that she was the only human being on earth who could make "Shulman" sound like a waspy name. "Are you with the Newport Jaffrey-Shulmans?" I asked. She smiled and twinkled her eye. "No, the Laguna Beach Jaffrey-Shulmans." Nice place, Laguna Beach.
Finally the cards were in the air. Bay 101 had shuffle machines at all the tables, which I thought should be required for all high-stakes games and tournaments as it both eliminated some possibilities for cheating and allowed for more hands per hour. We started with 10,000 and I played a few small pots, down to 8000 or so, when I got involved in a pot with E-Dog. He made a small raise in early position and I called on the Big Blind with Ace-Seven of Spades. The flop Came Ace-King-Deuce. He milked me with small bets on every street and turned over a set of Deuces to take it down. Half my stack gone, E-Dog raised again in the same position and got calls from Zee, Men on the small blind, and me on the big blind with the same Ace-Seven of Spades. The flop came King-Queen-Four, two Spades. With the nut flush draw and an overcard I was looking to check-raise all in but Men bet out 600. I decided to call that and see what Erick and Zee would do. E-Dog made it 2000. Zee called and Men folded. I put Erick on a big King, Zee on a worse Flush draw, and Men on who knows what. I shoved in the rest of my chips, E-Dog immediately moved in, and Zee, who had less than me, called. When we turned the cards over, not only were we all on Flush draws but Men said he had one too! I of course had the best draw but Erick, unfortunately, did have the King, and with only three Spades and three Aces left in the deck it held up and Zee and I were out of the contest. I finished 141st out of 169.
I tore myself away from the Beverly Heritage and took the next flight out. Next stop: The PartyPoker Million cruise.
March 14, 2005
Because casino gambling came to California through the back door of Indian gaming, none of the Southern California casinos was anywhere near civilization. Harrah's, which now owned the World Series of Poker trademark, decided to hold one of its five circuit events here at Rincon, an Indian casino operated in partnership with Harrah's located in a beautiful valley an hour from San Diego over twisting mountain roads. This casino was only semi-Bizarro; the rooms were gorgeous but under the Indians' compact with California they were not allowed to comp any alcohol. They held the tournaments in a ballroom well-protected from the smoking areas (Indian casinos were about the only place in California you were still allowed to smoke indoors). Shortstack, who had no interest in visiting Commerce, happily flew down for this event and we entered her in her first live tournament, a $230 ladies no-limit Hold 'Em tourney. There were 112 starters and she was able to run over her starting table pretty well. Before we knew it they were down to 27 and Shortstack was still in! She ran into Aces and lost most of her chips but played strong and held out for 12th place, only three from the money. She told me to make sure I wrote about her Lioness tale and wanted to know when her next tournament was.
Second hand redux
There were 208 entrants in this, the second World Series of Poker Circuit tournament. While the juice on the $10,000 entry fee was 5% including 3% for the staff in lieu of tips, Harrah's was offering a $2 million freeroll to the top 20 point earners in each circuit series. Since a top-18 finish in the main event all but guaranteed a ticket to that 100-player ball, mathematically Harrah's was adding about $400,000 to each of these events, making them a decent overlay.
I drew table 17, seat seven to start the dance. Aggressive high-stakes player Minh Ly was on my left in seat eight; Al Adler, a genial local amateur, had seat nine; my buddy Jim "Krazy Kanuck" Worth had seat one; Dennis "Swami" Waterman seat two; Erick "E-Dog" Lindgren, one of the top players in the world, seat three; a player I didn't recognize had seat four; the legendary TJ Cloutier had seat five; and another player unknown to me had seat six on my right. On the second hand of the tournament I limped under the gun for 50 with Nine-Eight of Spades. There were several other limpers and then TJ made it 425 to go on the small blind. I knew he liked to steal blinds early in the tournament so I called with my suited connector and position on him. Everyone else folded and the flop came Queen-Jack-Ten, two Hearts. TJ bet 800. I raised it to 2500 with my ignorant end of the Straight. He immediately moved all in. I decided if he had Ace-King it was going to be a short tournament for me and I called. He turned over pocket Queens, giving him a one-in-three shot of making a Full House to beat me, but my Straight held up and he was done, getting up and calling to his wife, "Joy! I'm out already!" TJ was a consummate professional and took these things with good humor. I called over Mike Paulle of PokerPages and Jen Creason of PokerWire and told her to let everyone know the Lion was the chip leader!
Unfortunately another top player, Alan Goehring, 2003 WPT champion, took TJ's place in seat five. His style was to play a lot of small pots and then occasionally make huge moves with nothing, a draw, or the nuts and you never knew which. I liked having position on him but never picked up much of a hand against him and couldn't capitalize on his looseness. Nam Le, a young rising star, got moved into the empty seat ten. I had 20,625 at the break.
I played a few small pots over the next level and finished up slightly with 21,225. E-Dog was catching nothing and bleeding chips slowly. At the start of the next level, Dennis "Swami" Waterman overplayed his top pair against me when he had Ace-Jack and I flopped a Set of Treys on an Ace-Four-Trey board. We got it all in and I busted him, bringing me up to a nice 30,875. I went to the next break with 29,700. Long-time pro Mickey Appleman took Swami's spot in seat two and when Nam Le busted he was replaced by the very jovial and very dangerous Paul Wolfe. E-Dog finally busted, never catching a break, and I treaded water for the rest of the day. Mickey busted and Allen Kessler took seat two. I finished the day with 28,375, around 30th of the 70 players left.
I got a good night's sleep and drew table 12, seat three to start day two. It was a very unlucky draw. The chip leader, Amir Vahedi, sat on my left in seat four; veteran Thor Hansen had seat five; Tony Licastro had seat six; Billy Gazes had seat seven; Prahlad "Spirit Rock" Friedman had seat eight; David Oppenheim had seat nine; Alan Goehring remained two seats to my right in seat one; and Hoyt Corkins, short stacked, was on my right in seat two. It wasn't the worst table draw ever but it wasn't good.
Alan Goehring raised my big blind with his usual minimum raise and I found pocket Sevens so I made a nice pot-sized reraise. He moved all in. I had him covered and decided to call. He turned over Ace-King of Spades and flopped a Flush. A Pair on the turn gave me four outs but the miracle didn't come and I lost the coin flip, sending me down to around 10,000. Hoyt busted and I got nowhere, going to the break with a sad 7750 in chips.
They broke our table and I moved to table nine, seat six. Prahlad had seat seven; David "Harpo" Levy seat eight; Stan Goldstein seat nine; Chris "Jesus" Ferguson seat ten; retired scientist Harry Demetriou seat three; and Alan Goehring still on my right in seat five. Harry moved all in under the gun and I pushed in over the top with Ace-King of Diamonds. This time I won the coin flip and doubled up to 14,600. I picked up some blinds and antes and was back up to 20,000 at the break.
Then I raised in middle position with King-Queen offsuit. Prahlad, who had been waiting patiently for a hand, moved in his short stack. It folded to me and I called the additional 5500, getting almost three-to-one pot odds and hoping he had pocket Jacks. Instead he turned over Cowboys. I picked up an open-ended Straight draw on the turn but the best hand won and I was back down to 10,500. Randall Skaggs, who took Harry's seat when he busted, had been moving his short stack all in with some frequency and always showing decent hands. I decided to call in the big blind with Presto, pocket Fives. He turned over Ace-Six and spiked an Ace on the flop. We counted down the stacks and coincidentally had the exact same chip count, 10,700. I lost one too many coin flips and I was out of the contest 48th.
Paul Wolfe busted around the same time and we played a little pot-limit Omaha before breaking for dinner. Unused to a flood of big shooters, Rincon had its two best restaurants closed two days a week, including tonight. With my Seven Stars card, however, we were allowed to cut the long line at the tiny Chinese place and along with Russ Boatman and one of the tournament staff had a nice dinner with hot sake. They had only one sake glass so Ross used it while Wolfie drank out of a shot glass and I used a water goblet.
After Dinner Al Adler, who had busted out of my starting table toward the end of day one, took me aside and asked if I had any advice for him. I looked down at his smoldering cigarette and then over at his beautiful wife and two young daughters. I said "Quit smoking."
Next stop: the Professional Poker Tour freeroll in San Jose.
March 2, 2005
I bought in for the WPT Championship at the Bellagio which automatically got me an entry in the WPT Invitational back in beautiful downtown Commerce. There was a snazzy party the night before hosted by UltimateBet and All In magazine at the Spider Club in Hollywood. I crashed and had a couple comped martinis made with moderately priced vodka. I was hoping to see Emily Procter there but she didn't show and since other than poker I didn't watch much TV besides old seasons of West Wing and The Sopranos I didn't recognize anyone else.
The day of the event I pulled up to valet parking at the casino, having paid a ridiculous $143/night for the Wyndham Commerce down the street, nonrefundable. My timing was excellent because there was Shana Hiatt posing for photographers in her little red dress on the red carpet they had out for the celebrity players. I waited until she was done and then tried to enter but the red carpet was only for real celebrities and I had to go around back to get a plastic wristband letting the guards know I was OK to mingle. None of the A-list celebrity poker players—Ben Affleck, Tobey Maguire, and Matt Damon leading the list—made it for the event and they went well through the B and C lists into the D list, which I may have qualified for myself having appeared as a guest on Oprah! some years ago.
Like last year, they threw a nice cocktail party for us at noon before the event. I had some yummy sushi and chicken satays but stuck with water to keep my brain ticking for the tournament. I still didn't recognize anyone other than poker players. There were 238 players competing for the $200,000 prize pool. Soon it was starting time and I drew table six, seat 10. It was a pretty tough table: "Action" Dan Harrington had seat one; Eric Weiner, with whom I had played at a big Bellagio tournament, had seat four; Joe "The Elegance" Beevers had seat five; and Bellagio tournament director Jack McClelland had seat six. The rest must have been celebrities but I didn't have Shortstack around to identify them. We started with 10,000 in chips and blinds of 50/100. I had the small blind for the second hand and seat two made a small raise under the gun to 200. Seat three, a writer for the Los Angeles Times, called, as did two others. I found pocket Kings and made a hefty pot-sized raise to 1200. Seat two and the writer called. The flop came Jack high and I bet out 3000 into the 4000 pot. The writer called. I figured he had something like Ace-Jack. The turn was harmless so I put in the rest of my chips. He called but I still thought I had the best hand until he turned over pocket Jacks. My miracle didn't come on the river and I was first out.
I may have subconsciously realized that in this event the first one out gets not only a $1500 admission to the World Poker Tour Boot Camp but also an interview with Shana Hiatt. Shana was concerned because I busted out before she had time to change out of her little red dress but producer Steve Lipscomb told her to go ahead and do me in the dress.
Einstein once explained his theory of relativity by saying that when you were sitting on a hot stove, a minute seemed like an hour, and when you were sitting with a pretty girl, an hour seemed like a minute. I think the interview lasted thirty seconds but it was over almost before it started, leaving only the memory of those big brown eyes softly inviting me into her world. She seemed reluctant to end it and I think there were some definite sparks there so I gave her a quick wink and waved goodbye with my left hand, the one with the wedding ring on it. I didn't begrudge her interest in me but she had to know I was a one-woman lion.
I called Shortstack and told her the story, then got ready to pack up for the next stop on this busy California tour: San Diego.
March 1, 2005
Like last year, the City of Commerce was awash in Seattle weather during the annual February Los Angeles Poker Classic tournament series. The rain misted and showered from drizzle to torrents in the normally dry Southern California climate. Poker's popularity had caught up with the hotel space in the area so that rooms in the two acceptable hotels in this normally undesirable part of east LA were running up to $149/night if you could get one. Despite taking about $500 in juice, including staff payments in lieu of tips, from the $10,000 entry fee, the Commerce Casino charged players $1 each for water during the tournament. It was like a Bizarro version of Las Vegas where everything was backwards. In Vegas they build resorts, give you free rooms, ply you with free drinks, and try to get you to gamble. In LA they build the casino in the worst part of town, don't have enough decent hotel rooms, and charge you for water. Well, I just had to step outside, look up, and open my mouth.
The casino hotel was sold out but I found a $99 rate at the Wyndham. That was still three times what I had paid last year and when I checked in they tried to tell me I had to give them 24 hours notice to check out or pay one night's penalty. I told them that was not listed on the web site when I made the reservation and if I wanted a long-term lease I would rent an apartment. I crossed out the offending language on the registration card instead of initialing it and left the bewildered front-desk clerk to iron things out with his manager.
Wyndham had a great frequent-guest program. I was used to being treated like a king with Platinum or Diamond status in the big hotel chains but all you had to do was sign up for Wyndham's program and you got treated better than a Hyatt Diamond: wine, water and snacks in the room upon arrival, preferred floors and views, and best of all free Internet access. I settled in, got the Internet working, and drove through the rain over to the casino to see what was happening.
There was a super satellite starting in a couple hours but I didn't want to stay up so late playing it that I would be tired for the main event so I passed on it. Instead, I played a $1060 single-table satellite but busted in third place and got nothing so I forked over the cash to enter the main event. When my plane landed I had set Garmin for the nearest Bank of America, picked the youngest and prettiest teller, and handed her a personal check for $10,000. "I'd like to cash this please." After the initial shock and consultation with her manager, she opened her drawer and chided me, "You're using up all my hundreds, you know." But behind the scolding there was a twinkle in her eyes as if they were subconsciously converting those hundred Benjies into the equivalent amount of bling-bling. I turned around as I left to see if she was following me home After I bought in I returned to the Wyndham, played a little on-line poker, and rested up for tomorrow.
There were 538 players in the LA Poker Classic Championship, fewer than in several other big events this season but well above last year's 382. I drew table five, seat three. Out of 537 others I got the best player in the world, John "JJ" Juanda, on my left in seat four. The unbluffable Barry Shulman sat to his left in seat five. I didn't recognize anyone else at the table, but with those two on my left my friskiness was limited.
I chipped up to 11,350 from the starting 10,000 by the first break after level one but the chips dribbled away to 7800 by dinner. Both JJ and I folded several hands to a guy in seat six who kept chasing draws and hitting them, or at least representing that he hit them. Dinner was the second-worst buffet I'd ever had, the first being at the Hollywood Hotel in Tunica. At least they comped it.
After dinner Barry Shulman called big bets from a very tight kid in seat 10 on the flop and river with a weak Ace, catching his kicker on the river and busting the kid's Ace-King. That sent seat 10 on tilt and he threw away the rest of his chips after the flop with unimproved pocket Deuces in a three-way pot where the other players had monsters. That took out seats nine and 10 and seat one busted shortly thereafter. Jimmy "Jimmy Jimmy" Cha, who had busted me once and I him once in big events, took seat 10. JJ splashed in his last chips and lost a race so he was out, replaced in seat four by Raymond Davis. Then I picked up pocket Tens on the button and raised the 200 blind to 1000. Mr. Draw-chaser called on the big blind and the flop came King-Seven-Deuce with two Clubs. I bet 2000 of my remaining 5800 into the 2300 pot and he called. Then the Eight of Clubs came. We both checked. The river looked harmless but my opponent picked up his huge stack of 500 chips and slammed them on the table. It was 3200 to call to win 9500 and I figured there was a good chance he was bluffing so I called. Nope. He turned over the Ten-Nine of Clubs for the Flush and I was out of the contest in 380th place. This was the first time I could remember going out because I was calling what I thought was a bluff on the river and although I was wrong at least I went out in an advanced way.
I checked out of the Bizarro hotel and went to Vegas.