August 20, 2005

The Tough Get Tougher: UPC II $3100 No-Limit Hold 'Em

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Yesterday's defeat had taken the chip off my shoulder and I bought in with some trepidation, seeing even more big names in the room. But this was the season of the Lion so I plunked down $3100 and sat with the field of 60. I drew table six, seat eight, and it was déjà vu all over again with me sandwiched in between Hoyt Corkins in seat six and Chris Bigler in seat eight. I filed a formal protest with the tournament director but he thought I was joking and blew me off with a smile. Besides those two big boys, "Syracuse" Chris Tsiprailidis was in seat one and John Phan had seat two. Right away I ended up heads-up with Chris Bigler with pocket Tens on a board of Nine-Trey-Deuce rainbow. I check-raised him and he called. The turn was a Five. I bet 1800 and he moved in. Against most opponents I would have folded but Chris had been bullying me every time we had played together and I decided to make a stand with my overpair. He turned over Ace-Four offsuit for the gutshot Straight and I was out of the contest.


August 19, 2005

2600 Hurts: UPC II $2600 No-Limit Hold 'Em

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Suck and re-suck

I strutted into the Plaza with my upturned chin and a grin reminiscent of gin and vermouth, having used part of my winnings last night to buy into today's $2600 event. With the stakes going up we were starting to attract more big guns and of the 53 players, three well-known pros were at my starting table. I drew table 16, seat seven, and Hoyt "All In" Corkins was on my left in seat eight; Allen "Knish" Kessler was in seat five, and Jenny Kang was on my right in seat six. Right away I got Jenny to lay down what was probably an overpair when put in the third raise all in on a coordinated flop. That brought me up from my starting 7500 to close to 10,000.


Jenny busted and was replaced by the very aggressive Chris Bigler so now I was stuck between him and Hoyt. The ever-dangerous Mike Borovetz took seat one. I didn't get much and was back down to 7825 at the break.


When we got back I saw a multiway flop with Six-Four offsuit on the small blind. The flop came Seven-Six-Three rainbow. I checked, Hoyt bet, the other player called, and I decided to move in with my pair and gutshot on a semibluff. Hoyt didn't take long to call with Ace-Seven suited, making him a 69% favorite but I hit a Four on the turn to give me two pair. Now I was a 77% favorite but Hoyt re-sucked with an ugly, ugly Seven on the river to send me packing in 34th place.


Dinner was with Matt Maroon, one of the many Matts I knew who were excellent poker players and/or writers, and in his case both. He had expressed an interest in being corrupted by good wine and I wanted to take him to Mistral at the Las Vegas Hilton but it was closed for the summer so we went to the decent Hilton Steakhouse instead. As usual in Las Vegas the steaks were perfect and we washed them down with the yummy 1997 Heitz Trailside Cabernet, the Maroon's introduction to California cult wines. Heh heh.


Tomorrow: $3100!


August 15, 2005

Looks Like I Made it: UPC II $1570 No-Limit Hold 'Em

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Royal Flush

The summer heat wave continued and I imagined walking through a blast furnace as I passed from the Plaza valet parking into the air-conditioned casino, the smell of moldering carpets and stale cigarette smoke welcoming me. There were 70 entrants in today's Ultimate Poker Challenge event and I drew a table with no familiar faces to start. Right away I raised in middle position with Queen-Jack of Spades and got a call from the big blind. The flop came King-Seven-Six rainbow with the King of Spades. I bet the flop and got called. The turn was the Ace of Spades, giving me a gutshot and a flush draw. I bet again and got a call. The river was the Ten of Spades, giving me my first Royal Flush in live play. I bet and he folded so I didn't get to show my prize. A few hands later I again bet a draw and this time rivered a Straight and got paid off. I made a good call with Ace high on what looked to be a busted Flush draw and before I knew it I had doubled up my starting 4500 to exactly 9000. I had 8375 when they broke my happy table.


My new assignment was table eight, seat three. Max Pescatori had seat one; "Captain" Tom Franklin, seat two; John "Murphdog" Murphy, seat eight; and David "Harpo" Levi, seat nine. I limped in early position with Jack-Ten suited and saw a Jack-high multiway flop. The big blind bet and I called along with Franklin. The turn was another Jack. The big blind bet 1000 and I called and Franklin folded. The river was a Ten, giving me the nuts. The big blind moved all in and I called. He showed Jack-Seven and I was up to 14,025. It's an easy game, really.


Then I made a button raise with pocket Deuces and seat five made it 700 to go on the big blind. I called and the flop came King-Seven-Deuce with two Spades, giving me bottom Set. He bet 1000 and I moved all in. He called 2300 more with Eight-Five of Spades. My Set held up and I was up to 18,300. Then Tom Franklin rivered a Set of Tens when I gave him a free card on Fourth St. and I was down to 14,000. Then seat two caught a Nine on the river to make Two Pair against my Ace with a better kicker and I was down to 10,425 at the break.


When we returned Tom Franklin tried to move the button ahead, claiming he had just paid the big blind. The funny thing was, the dealer had been very conscientious and, as he moved the button to me after the last hand, had specifically said it was my button after the break. Well Tommy would have none of it and started accusing me of angle-shooting and demanding to review the videotapes. So the floorman went off and came back a few minutes later saying the tapes showed the button was in the right place. Well, this didn't satisfy the good Captain and he went off on another tirade. I don't know what got into him but I was about the least likely player to be guilty of angle-shooting and while I was probably less fastidious about watching the button movement than most, this particular time I was certain, because of the dealer's comment before the break. So he was either mistaken, trying to get in my head, or shooting an angle himself, but it just made him look foolish in front of the whole room.


When we finally started playing poker again, the blinds were 100/200 and I made it 600 in middle position with pocket Queens. Harpo called on the big blind and we saw a flop of Jack-Four-Trey. He check-raised me all in and I called. He had a Jack and didn't improve so once again I busted him, which he was probably getting pretty sick of. That put me up to 17,300. I then went card-dead for a while and dribbled down to 14,025 when they moved me for balance to table seven, seat nine. Seat one was Doug Lee and seat two, Marc Aubin, both of whom had been at my starting table in Lake Tahoe. UPC executive producer Dan Pugliese, a solid player, was in seat three.


Two players limped to me in the big blind and I raised with Ace-Jack suited, getting a call from only the small blind. The flop came Ace-Queen-Trey and the small blind check-raised me all in. I was getting over four-to-one so I made a crying call, expecting to see pocket Treys, Aces, or Ace-Queen, but it turned out he was on an ill-advised pure bluff. I busted him and was up to 20,000. I had 19,700 when they broke the table.


My new table was 14, seat three. Capt. Tom had seat one; Dan Pugliese, seat two; Roy "The Boy" Brindley, seat six; and fellow Full Tilter Rafe "Tiltboy" Furst in seat eight.  I had 19,215 at the break.


When I returned they moved me once again for balance, this time to table 16, seat nine. Murphdog was the only one I recognized but then Rafe followed me and took seat three soon thereafter when they broke our old table. It was time to start busting short stacks and I took out one when I called his all in with Ace-Nine on the big blind and beat his pictures, then another when I flopped top pair with a Queen in a battle of the blinds and called his all-in bet with second Pair. I was up to 33,000 when we got down to 18 and redrew seat assignments.


I drew table 16, seat three. Rafe had seat two and I told him I was getting tired of writing his name down in my notes. Mike Borovetz had seat four; Vince Burgio, who won three of these events in a row last year, had seat eight, and Murphdog had seat nine. I was down a little to 30,300 at the diner break.


When we got back, Murph was raising a lot of pots with his huge stack and when I reraised him on the big blind he pushed in. I called right away with Ace-King of Hearts and he sheepishly showed King-Five. I doubled through, bringing me to 63,700. Soon we were down to 10 players and in the money! We moved to one table of 10 and needed to lose three players for the TV final table tomorrow.


I drew seat six; Mike Borovetz was on my left in seat seven; Vince Burgio had seat eight; Rafe had seat nine, and the rest were unknown to me. I looked for spots to be the aggressor on the TV bubble but didn't meet with much success and was down to 51,800 when we made it down to seven. My first TV final table!


Dinner was at N9ne steakhouse with Russell Rosenblum and Shortstack. They had a good selection of lesser-known Napa Cabernets there and we had a nice 2001 whose name escapes me.

Lion on the Telly

I was very excited to be on TV and did the interview wearing my Full Tilt "Quiet Lion" baseball jersey while Rafe wore his hockey uniform. I'll leave the details of the show a surprise. It's scheduled to air Sept. 24. Check your local listings: the show is syndicated on a variety of local stations.

August 14, 2005

Seat of Death: UPC II $1060 No-Limit Hold ‘Em

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Squeeze Play

The valets at the Plaza were beginning to recognize my gray Caddy and with quick service and precision timing I got to the tournament area just in time for the start of today’s event. We got a nice crowd of 139 players to pony up $1060 each for today’s event. I drew table 10, seat one, and recognized only Mike Borovetz in seat nine. Right away I limp-called a raise by seat four with Eight-Six of Diamonds. The flop came Nine-Seven-Trey with one Diamond, giving me a Straight draw and I check-called. The Turn was the beautiful Ten of Diamonds, making my straight and giving me a Straight Flush draw to boot. We got it all in and he showed pocket Kings, giving him no outs. I busted him and doubled up to 5900. David “Harpo” Levi took seat four.

Then I raised in middle position with pocket Tens and got called by the big blind. The flop came Queen-Queen-Ten, giving me a Full House. He check-called a half-pot bet from me but he Hollywooded so badly I was certain he had a Queen. The Turn was a King and he made a small check-raise, which I called. Now I was afraid I was actually behind so I just called a small bet on the river. Sure enough he turned over Queen-Ten. I had flopped a Full House and was drawing dead! I patted myself on the back for not doubling him up but I was down to 3900. For the cold-decking I gave a playful scowl to my favorite Plaza dealer, Anna, a nice Jewish girl who used to run a kosher deli with her husband Marty across the street from Yeshiva University in Manhattan until they both moved to Las Vegas to play and deal poker.

Harpo and I always seemed to get it all in against each other pretty quick and this was no exception. On a multiway flop of Ten-Nine-Six we got it in with my Ten-Seven of Hearts a favorite over his Queen-Eight. A Seven came on the Turn, giving him a Straight, but I filled up when a Ten came on the river and he was done for the day, bringing me up to 5025. Dave Daseke took Harpo’s spot in the Seat of Death. I had 5875 at the break.

They moved me to table 14, seat one, for balance and “Syracuse” Chris Tsiprailidis was the only name player, in seat eight. I found pocket Nines in late position in a pot raised by a very tight player who had previously folded Jacks to a reraise. Well, if he was going to fold Jacks I was raising and sure enough he folded. Maybe he had Queens. I was up to 7400 but the blinds and antes were escalating fast. With the limits at 200/400 with a 50 ante, I found King-Queen in a pot with an early-position raiser and the tight guy calling. I decided to run the squeeze play and moved in. The first player folded but the tight guy called with Ace-King, a bad matchup for me. I didn’t hit and I was out 56th.

Dinner was at Little Buddha at the Palms with Avi “Two Cokes” Freedman and brother Noam. The Palms was a very nice place to stay for playing in a tournament downtown, with convenient freeway access and great rooms and restaurants. Avi had two Diet Cokes and Noam and I enjoyed the Harushika cold sake.

Tomorrow: $1570 at La Última!

August 11, 2005

Brief beat: Second $550 event at the UPC II

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With the air conditioning going full blast to ameliorate the 115-degree desert heat, I pulled the gray Caddy into valet parking at the Plaza, entered the dingy casino, and fought through the registration line to get my seat assignment. Once again I was in the auxiliary area, table 27, seat one. There was no one I recognized at the table but before 10 minutes were up I limped into a family pot in late position with Ten-Nine suited. The flop came King-Ten-Nine, giving me bottom two pair, a strong but vulnerable hand. It checked to me and I bet 200 into the 150-chip pot. Somebody check-raised me all in. I looked into his soul and decided I had the best hand. I called and he turned over King-Queen for top pair. That made me a 64% favorite but the turn was a Four and the river another Four, counterfeiting my two pair and knocking me out of the contest in last place.


That left plenty of time for dinner, which was at Mix at Mandalay Bay with Eric “Howard Treesong” Liebeler and his beautiful wife Carmencita. I had been looking forward to my first experience of celebrity chef Alain Ducasse. The food and company were terrific, but the atmosphere was a bit crowded and noisy, interfering with enjoyment of the spectacular view, and the service was inexplicably unpolished. A tuna tartare appetizer was fresh but not as tasty as Michael Mina’s. The lamb was wonderful, but a 2001 Nickel & Nickel Tench Vineyards Cabernet was served with cheap wine glasses. I was told they didn’t have anything better but later found out they were lying and had Riedel stemware, which presumably they allowed you to use at some magic price point.


I introduced Eric and Carmen to the game of Moscow Hoosegow. Amazingly, this will be the first reference to it on the Web. You give a clue consisting of two words. The answer is a synonym for the first word followed by a synonym for the second word, which must rhyme. For example, “Capital Prison” would be “Moscow Hoosegow.” Note that you could not say “Russian Prison” because “Russian” is not a synonym for “Moscow.”


Eric got my favorite example, invented by Shortstack, instantly: Terrorist’s Sleepwear.


Tomorrow: $1060 at the Plaza.


August 8, 2005

La Última! Ultimate Poker Challenge at the Plaza Season Two

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Running over

Busting out of the World Series main event early made it possible for me to play in the very first event in season two of the Ultimate Poker Challenge at the Plaza, referred to fondly by Shortstack as “La Última.” While the first events were only $550 buy-ins, every event was televised so my sponsor Full Tilt Poker was happy for me to play in as many as possible. I planned to play in half of the two-day events, unable to play the other half by virtue of winning the previous event.


I had reserved a Hyundai Affront from Avis, since there was no way in hell I was staying at the Plaza, and they had upgraded me to a gray Cadillac Sedan de Ville, which I thought was a nice gesture.  I drove it into the Plaza self park, a scary, prison-like edifice with imagined muggers waiting around every corner, and resolved to park with the valet in the future.


They got a nice turnout of 146 entrants for the first event and I got assigned table 29, seat one. My table was set up in a makeshift auxiliary tournament area across the casino.  I only recognized one player at my table, Noam Freedman, brother of my buddy Avi “Two Cokes.” Despite his being on my left, I was running over the table perhaps better than ever before and I was up from 1500 to 4325 when they moved us en bloc to the main tournament room, table 14.


I was stealing like mad and after raising three hands in a row and winning the blinds and antes one seemingly solid player, who had made a show of telling me what hand he was laying down every time I stole, reraised me. The only problem was that I had a real hand this time, pocket Tens. I decided to call but he had Alcoholics Anonymous and I was out of the contest in 68th place.


Noam also busted out in time for dinner and we had a wonderful meal at the trendy N9ne steakhouse at the Palms along with Avi. I had the bone-in filet and Noam, Shortstack and I shared a nice bottle of 2001 Napa Cabernet while Avi had two Diet Cokes. Tomorrow: another $550 event in La Última!


August 6, 2005

This is it, wasn’t it? The 2005 WSOP Main Event

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Corner table

With 5,619 players vying for the biggest prize in poker history, Harrah’s management had roped off the entire hallway leading from the tournament area to the rest of the casino so that the little girls involved in the final stages of the dance competition might continue unmolested. Meanwhile, they routed all the people who had paid $10,000 each to enter this event through a cheesy poker trade show. With $600 per person being raked from the prize pool, including $200 earmarked for the staff, Harrah’s still gave back nothing other than a single $10 food discount and it wasn’t even usable at the tournament snack bar.


I had drawn the first of three flights for the big event. The Maitre D’ had given me a corner table, which made it easy for my fans to watch me play, but unfortunately I had three good players at my table, all to my left. I had table 179, seat two, and the two players to my left I didn’t recognize but they obviously knew what they were doing. In seat seven was Hooman Nikzad, a tournament regular who had busted me once before. The guy in seat nine was making ridiculous preflop raises, making it difficult to see a lot of cheap flops with marginal hands. I played very few pots and was down from 10,000 to 9750 at the first break.


I had planned to bribe one of the 14-year-old girls with a $10 buffet coupon to say I was her uncle and get me into the men’s room behind the ropes but given my corner table location it was unnecessary and I was one of the first to get to the main restroom. When I returned I played a few more pots but had no success and was down to 7925 at the end of level two, and then 7900 at the end of level three.


With the blinds at 100/200 with a 25 ante, it was time to start playing pots and I raised in early position with Ace-King suited. The good, aggressive player in seat four made a small reraise and it folded back to me. I decided he was medium-strong and decided to move in, perhaps getting him to lay down the best hand or getting a race if he called. He immediately called and showed pocket Jacks. They held up and I was down to 1250.


Then a four-way pot limped to me with King-Nine in the big blind. I decided to see a flop and it came King-Four-Trey rainbow, making it likely I had the best hand. I decided to check and see what the others did. Somebody bet and I called. He turned over Ace-Ten for the bluff but caught an Ace on the river, knocking me out.


Dinner was at Shibuya with Russell Rosenblum, Matt “Jacks Up” Matros, Chris Fargis, and his girlfriend Jodi. We all had Kobe steak, washed down with the 2001 Phelps Insignia.


While the Rio was indisputable a nicer hotel than Binion’s Horseshoe had been, in many ways Harrah’s was a poor host. The enormous rakes they took from the events combined with the negligible complimentaries offered opened the door for a competing group to take the franchise away by offering better value to the players. The lack of restroom facilities was inexcusable. The dealers were overworked and undertrained. The playing cards were used over and over again, picking up marks and scratches along the way, not retired after a few hours as they are in games where the house’s money was at stake. To be fair, Harrah’s put this thing together quickly. Let’s see if they correct these problems next year.


It was a disappointing World Series but tomorrow started the Ultimate Poker Challenge series at the Plaza, which I had been looking forward to. Shortstack said she had a feeling the Lion was going to tear up “La Ultima.” We would see.


August 5, 2005

Tiny Dancers: 2005 WSOP Event #37, $1000 No-Limit Hold ‘Em with Rebuys

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Home stretch

Having flown home to Seattle to get more money while ESPN took a couple weeks off, I returned to Sin City on July 3 for the home stretch of this year’s World Series.  When I returned to the Rio I noticed that Harrah’s had rented the next ballroom over to a group of several thousand little girls having a dance competition. In addition to the perversity of bringing little girls to a casino in Las Vegas with or without a poker tournament in the next room, the tiny-dancers convention caused a major logistical problem, cutting off access to one of the two main men’s rooms we had been using. It would be tough going during the first break.


While the eight-year-old division was having their finals in the Jon-Benet Ramsey pavilion, 894 degenerate gamblers entered the $1000 NLHE rebuy event. We started late because Harrah’s wanted everybody to have casino chips to do the rebuys rather than cash so there was a long line at the cage, where all the governmental paperwork involved in cash transactions could be taken care of in one place. I drew table 45, seat four and rebought immediately. Gary Beck had seat two and Derek Laforte had seat three. I bled down to 1575 at the first break and got back from the men’s room just in time for the deal. Then I chased and hit a flush draw versus seat one to bring be up to 2400 at the end of the rebuy period. I bought a double add-on to bring me to 4400. I was up to 5250 when they broke the table.


My new assignment was table 141, seat two. Gary Beck came with me to seat six and Paul Testud had seat eight. I kept losing small pots and dwindled quickly to 1875. Then I doubled with Ace-King suited versus Ace-Queen and I was back up to 4250. I dribbled back to 2400 and with the blinds at 100/200 with a 25 ante I raised in third position with pocket Tens. The big blind moved in and I called. He showed pocket Queens and they held up so I was down to 800. Then an under-the-gun player who had just lost with Queens versus Kings raised and it folded to me on the big blind. I was getting exactly two-to-one so I figured under the circumstances I could call with Queen-Jack. He showed pocket Nines but they held up and I was out of the contest 368th.