My initial excitement over the "tour" aspect of the World Poker Tour had faded and at this point I was happiest to go back to Las Vegas, where the streets were lined with world-class resorts, restaurants, and casinos. Bellagio was not my favorite place to play because of the constant cigarette smoke drifting into the supposedly non-smoking poker area. Nice hotel though.
As always the Professional Poker Tour event was a freeroll, meaning I didn't have to pay, and I donned a polo shirt bearing the logo of my sponsor, Full Tilt Poker, before heading over to the B. There were 230 entrants. I drew table 41, seat three, and as usual for these events had a table full of good players. On my left in seat four was John Stolzman, the young gun who won the WPT event in Tunica and caused a tempest in a teapot when he tipped the staff an extra $500 over the $45,000 "tip" he was forced to leave when 3% was deducted from the prize pool. (Even this freeroll event, nominally a $500,000 purse, really paid only $485,000, the other $15,000 going to the tournament staff.) Seat five was the tough John Myung. On his left was Chris Bigler, another tough and aggressive player. Seat seven was my buddy Russell Rosenblum, and in seat eight was Ken Goldstein, brother of Stan. The Professor himself, Howard "Bub" Lederer, had seat nine. In seat one was Lyle Berman, majority owner of the WPT and PPT. I asked him why a guy who flipped burgers at McDonalds couldn't play a scratch-card game in his restaurant but it was OK for the guy who owned this tournament to play in it. "Because I'm dead money," he replied. Finally, on my right was Ron Faltinsky, a tournament veteran.
I tangled it up with Howard early when he raised in late position and I called on the button with Queen-Ten of Diamonds. The flop came Nine-Eight-Trey with the Nine and Eight of Diamonds, giving me a Straight Flush draw. Howard bet out and I made a modest raise. He came over the top, again modestly. I put him on a big pair and I moved all in. Howard thought for a while, gave me his patented staredown, and then said, "Oh well, I have a lot of work to do today," and called all in. I had him covered since he had lost a small pot earlier. He turned over the expected Aces and I'm sure he was happy to see I had the big draw, making him a slight favorite, and not a set, which would have made him a seven-to-one dog. The turn gave me a flush and the river made my Straight Flush. I had busted Bub and, classy guy that he was, he gave a tight smile, wished me luck, and lumbered out of the room. I was up to 17,325.
My old nemesis Phil Hellmuth, Jr., took Howard's seat and immediately ordered several bottles of Dom Perignon from the cocktail waitress, although he didn't drink them. As was my tradition, I asked Phil if he knew my name yet. He looked annoyed, like a fly was buzzing around his head, and barely shook his head. A few others at the table said, "Really?" and "You don't know who he is?" I told Phil we'd probably played almost 40 hours of poker together and flipped him a Lion Tales card. Finally he remembered Aruba. "You're the guy who came over the top of me with Ace-Eight in Aruba and beat my pocket Tens!"
I said, "I had Ace-Ten and you had pocket Nines, but yeah. You talked about it for three hours."
"But there was only an hour left in the day," he said.
"Actually it was the last hand of the day. I came back a couple hours later and you were still talking."
He wrinkled his nose and clammed up.
Ron Faltinsky got moved to the spotlight table and then Ram "Crazy Horse" Vaswani took his seat. I had 17,600 at the first break. John Stolzman busted and Phi Nguyen took his spot on my left. I wasn't too happy about that as Phi was a very tough player. Nevertheless, I chipped up with a couple small pots to 22,000 at the next break.
Tony Cousineau took seat two when Ram busted and then the winner of the Party Poker Million last month, Mike Gracz, took seat seven when Russell lost all his chips. I played a few pots but got raised out by the aggressive guys on my left and was down to 13,350 at the break. Then Ken Goldstein slow-played a flopped set of Aces and got some chips when I tried to pick up the pot on the river. Mike Gracz busted and was replaced by a guy I didn't recognize, sipping a cocktail, who said his name was John. I figured he was a high roller put in by the Bellagio but when the President of Bellagio, Bill McBeath, came up and stood behind him, I got suspicious. It turned out Bellagio and used at least some of its entry slots for hotel executives rather than as rewards for loyal customers, as every other PPT host casino had done. John turned out to be a finance bigwig at Bellagio and a very nice guy. Bellagio's management were in the enviable position of not having to try very hard to attract customers or earn their loyalty. It would be fun to see how they adjusted when they were no longer the premier destination in town.
Chris Bigler went out and the man himself, Doyle "Texas Dolly" Brunson, took seat six. I remarked to Doyle that the last time he was at my table I got knocked out with Aces Full to Four Kings and I blamed him. He had heard it all over the years and just smiled. But then, down to 7000 or so, I raised in second position with Ace-King. Kenny G moved all in over the top and I called. He showed Ace-Queen, making me a big favorite, but turned a Queen and I was out of the contest.
The $25,500 WPT Championship was next.