May 19, 2005

Out to Lunch: The 2005 Mirage PPT Freeroll

There will be no winning of any kind

I hoped to make the final table of this, the final season-one PPT event, as my best chance to qualify for season two. My one-year card was expiring and although I had cashed in two WPT events this season I didn't think it would be enough to get me on the PPT roster for season two.


There were 172 entrants today and I drew table 54, seat three. Chip Jett was on my left in seat four; Chris Bigler seat five; Randy Holland seat six; Billy Baxter seat seven; media entry Linda Johnson seat eight; Max Stern seat nine; Kevin Song seat one; and JC Tran, who had knocked me out at the Doyle Brunson with Four Kings beating my Aces Full, on my right in seat two. It wasn't an easy table but it wasn't as bad as a PPT table could be.


I got pocket Aces three times in level one. I got no action twice and lost to Randy Holland when the board made a Straight and he had a higher Straight, bringing me down to 7550 from my starting 10,000 when they broke the table. I moved to table 38, seat eight. WPT Paris champ Surindar Sunar was on my left in seat nine; Asher Derai, seat one; Avery Cardoza, seat two; the lovely media entry Allyn Jaffrey-Shulman, Barry's wife, seat three; 2002 WSOP champ Robert Varkonyi, seat four; local entry Scott Wilson, seat five; Young Phan, seat six; and "Kamikaze Kid" Hon Le on my right in seat seven with a short stack. We barely started playing when they announced we were having a dinner break! By the time we figured out that it was a mistake, it was too late and we were stuck with an unwanted hour off 90 minutes after we had started. Somebody was out to lunch.


When we got back I won a few pots at my new table, chipping up to 11,550 after withstanding Varkonyi's droning trademark, "Do you want me to call? I'll let you play my hand for me. Tell me what you want me to do," and getting him to lay down whatever he had when I represented a Flush on the river. Then, a floorperson came over and asked who the big blind was. It was me! They were moving me to the Spotlight Table!


They wired me and put me in seat six. Mel Judah was on my left in seat seven; "Miami" John Cernuto, seat eight; Ron Faltinsky, seat nine; 1991 WSOP champ Brad Dougherty, seat one; "Syracuse" John Tsiprailidis, seat two; Susie Isaacs, seat three, a media entry named Trey (like Bill Gates, who shared the nickname, he was "the third"), seat four, and Farzad "Freddy" Bonyadi, seat five. It folded to me on the small blind and I raised with pocket Nines. Mel reraised me, indicating a pair or a big Ace. I decided to call and see a flop. It came Ace high and I brilliantly check-folded. That was it for the featured table; they moved us en bloc back to a regular one.


Barry "Spock" Greenstein came into seat eight when Miami John busted. After the Nines incident I was back down to 7575 at the break. Farzad busted and none other than Vince Van Patten took seat five. It folded to me in late position and I raised with Ace-Ten of Diamonds. Brad Dougherty on the big blind reraised me almost all in. He had recently done the same to Barry Greenstein, who folded. I was getting three-to-two on the call and decided to risk it so I put my chips in. He turned up pocket Queens. I flopped an Ace and had reason to hope but he made a runner-runner Straight to bust me. I finished 95th out of 172.


Matt "Jacks Up" Matros busted around the same time and we had a quiet, wound-licking dinner at a local steakhouse. They didn't have any great wines but the Ducale Reserve Chianti was always serviceable.


I was home for a bit to nest with Shortstack. Next big event: the Mirage WPT, inaugural event of season four. I had been playing poker for almost two years and felt like I was ready to turn the corner. Would season four be the Season of the Lion?


May 18, 2005

Tahoe ahoy: The 2005 Harvey's Lake Tahoe WSOP Circuit

Tilting in Tahoe

I flew into Reno the night before and drove the Hertz rental up to Tahoe in time to make the Full Tilt dinner at Friday's Station atop Harrah's, where the other Full Tilt pros and I met our satellite winners for the event, including Josh "Professor Plum" Prager and his lovely wife Helen. I snagged Howard "Bub" Lederer (The Professor) to sit next to me since he had been so busy I had barely had two words with him in the last year. He and I liked the same kind of wine and he introduced me to the 2001 Duckhorn Paraduxx, a yummy Zinfandel-Cabernet blend from the esteemed Napa winery. Former support god JDN, now in charge of Full Tilt special events, paid the bill and we all rested up for the main event tomorrow.


I plunked down ten dimes at Harvey's Lake Tahoe to register for the next-to-last WSOP Circuit event and try to qualify for the Tournament of Champions freeroll. Since Harrah's was adding roughly $400,000 to each of these events in the form of entries to that freeroll they decided to eliminate one of the only two comps poker players got: the free buffet. Complimentary drinks were still available while playing so I made sure I took them for several bottles of water. I drew table 46, seat four. Frequent RGP poster Oliver Tse, a satellite winner, was on my left in seat five. Gabriel Thaler, a tough pro, had seat six. Marc Aubin, with whom I had played two years ago in Aruba, had seat seven. Doug Lee of Calgary, winner of the Rio WSOP Circuit event, had seat eight. A player Tony, unknown to me and sporting a pony tail, had seat nine. Seat 10 was The Man: 2004 Player of the Year Daniel Negreanu, the hottest thing in poker. In seat one was Alex Prendes, with whom I had briefly played in Reno; seat two was cash-game player Cuco Quintero, and in seat three was the aggressive, cigar-chomping, singing Amir Vahedi.


I tried to play pots against the players whose pictures weren't on the wall at Binion's and ended up raising early with pocket Queens and calling a reraise by Marc Aubin along with Gabe Thaler, who called my raise and then Marc's reraise.  The flop was a bingo, Queen-Seven-Six, giving me top set. It checked to Marc, who bet 2000. I check-raised to 5000 and Gabe quickly mucked. Marc thought for a long time and I put him on Aces. Finally, he moved in for the rest of his almost 10,000 and I quickly called, turning over the nuts. He did have Aces and didn't improve, cleaning him out save one black chip and doubling me to 20,025. Marc didn't last much longer and Scotty Nguyen came into seat seven. Seats one and nine busted and I had a nice 19,025 at the break.


Nothing worked after the break and I lost several small pots to bring me down to 8000 by the next break. Jeff Lisandro came into seat two after Cuco busted. I continued my downward spiral and had only 3000 when I reraised Daniel all in on my small blind with pocket threes. Unfortunately he had picked up Jacks and happily called. I didn't improve and I was out of the contest, finishing 105 out of 173.


Josh was still in the running at the dinner break and when I saw him wandering I invited him to dinner before I found out Helen had already gone home. We salvaged a little conversation at Caesars Tahoe's steakhouse but as he was still playing he didn't try any of the yummy Nickel & Nickel John C. Sullinger Cabernet, unfortunately a 2000 vintage being all they had. I changed my flight and headed back to Vegas for the next event: the final Professional Poker Tour freeroll, at the Mirage.


May 2, 2005

Champing for a bit: The 2005 WPT Championship at Bellagio

Not this year

I had already bought into the $25,500 World Poker Tour Championship, a tournament that set the world record for juice at a whopping $1250, so that I could get into the celebrity freeroll at the Commerce and get some value for my juice. I had half-expected that with that enormous rake the Bellagio would surprise us with some nice gift or comp but as usual the only comp forthcoming without begging was the $15 buffet discount and the full comp to the dinner buffet for those still in the event. I totaled up the juice I had paid over the last not-quite-two years at Bellagio: $11,665. I hoped the growing competition among poker rooms would sweeten the deal a little bit for the tournament players.


I entered both of the $2600 super satellites, playing for cash since I had the entry, but got nowhere in either and settled instead for some nice dinners at Ah Sin and Les Artistes steakhouse across the street at Paris. At Artistes, Shortstack and I had been drinking the 2000 Ch. Branaire, a moderately priced Bordeaux from what was of course one of the best years in history. I couldn't get away from the bone-in Filet there, a fabulous dish at what would be the best restaurant in town most places but here in the capital of world cuisine just another hotel steakhouse. At Ah Sin we dined with Russell Rosenblum and Matt "Jacks Up" Matros, whose excellent book The Making of a Poker Player I was about halfway through, and feasted on soup, sushi, satays, and stir-fry. Their wine list wasn't terribly exotic but the 2001 Mondavi Napa Cabernet Sauvignon was expectedly yummy, a great year for an extremely reliable classic.


Bellagio had broken the 452 entrants in the Championship into two flights for day one and I had drawn the second flight so I had the day off while most of the TV pros played, which was fine with me. When my day arrived I drew table 44, seat four. Shortstack said that was great because I'd already flopped a set. I wasn't unhappy with my table but the toughest players were lined up like a rogue's gallery on my left: Swedish pro Ken Lennard in seat five, Jan "Le Grande" Boubli in seat six, "Magic" Antonio Esfandiari in seat seven, and my pal Chad Layne, a very tough and smart player who made several final tables in the Ultimate Poker Challenge at the Plaza, in seat eight That was a difficult lineup to get frisky with. Seats nine and 10 were players I didn't know: David Sutcliffe and Richard C. Roberts. In seat one was Shahram Sheikram; seat two, Ram "Crazy Horse" Vaswani, a tough and potentially wild player, and on my right was WSOP champ and author Tom McEvoy, an old-school player who not only played by the book but also wrote it.


I had my work cut out for me.


Ken Lennard and Jan Boubli were making plenty of moves on pots but Antonio was playing as tight as a drum. I hovered around my 50,000 starting stack, going to the first break with 48,100 and the second with 52,475. Richard C. Roberts in seat 10 was getting hit with the deck and taking plenty of chips from the aggressive players on his right. I lost several small pots, and then finally I defended my big blind against a button raise from Ram with Four-Trey of Diamonds. The Flop came Jack-Eight-Deuce with two diamonds and I decided to check-raise him and try to pick up the pot right there. He called and the turn was the Five of Clubs, giving me an open-ended Straight draw as well. I bet out and he called. The river was the Ace of Diamonds, giving me both a Straight and a Flush. I decided to check it and induce a bluff but Crazy Horse didn't get crazy and checked behind me. I showed the Flush and he mucked. I was back up to 43,125 at the next break.


I struggled and lost a couple pots and was down to 30,350 at the end of level four. The Swede Ken Lennard busted out and was replaced by the Dane Mads Andersen, whose Aces I had cracked on a suckout in Tunica. All of a sudden Antonio shifted gears and started raising every pot. I looked for something to play back at him with and settled for calling on the button with Ten-Nine offsuit. I check-raised him on a Nine-high flop and he studied me for a couple minutes, trying to get me to talk to him, then tossed in 25,000, putting me almost all in. I studied him and decided he probably had me beat, especially since the last time he had tried that move on me I had called him with top pair and busted him. I mucked and he showed Ace-Ten offsuit for what would have been a three-outer. I outsmarted myself on that play, giving Antonio too much credit, and should have called. But I still had 20,000 and, as Phil Hellmuth, Jr., would say, I was in! In! In!


Soon thereafter, Antonio raised yet again and McEvoy called on the button. I found pocket Sixes in the small blind and pushed in, thinking I probably had the best hand. Antonio immediately folded but McEvoy, to my surprise, called with pocket Fives. Unfortunately, the board came all Hearts and McEvoy's Five of Hearts played, sending me out of the contest with 171 remaining in flight two.


Russell and Matt busted out soon thereafter, as did my buddy Andy "The Rock" Bloch. Russell and Matt, best friends, had both made the final table last year and hoped to repeat but it was not to be. Matt sequestered himself to decompress but Russell, Andy, his girlfriend Jen, and I had a yummy dinner at Elements at the Aladdin, washed down with the wonderful 1989 Ch. Pichon-Baron. Shortstack had taken an earlier flight home so I called Alaska to change my flight so I could join her. She picked me up in Lioncar, the silver Sebring convertible, and we settled in for some time off before the next big event at one of our favorite places, Lake Tahoe.