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.