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.