Toto and the Lion
The field for the first Global Poker Challenge, a shootout-style no-limit Hold 'Em tournament with a cute but financially meaningless USA-versus-the-world theme, was 110, mostly top pros. In a shootout, you have to win your starting table to advance to the next round. I didn't mind this format as it would involve a lot of important pre-flop decisions, which leveled the playing field somewhat between the more experienced players and me. The buy-in was $5000 with no juice except the 3% in lieu of tips, and I got table 14, seat one. As expected it was a tough lineup: I wasn't happy to see Layne "Back to Back" Flack, one of the top no-limit players in the world, on my left in seat three. Another excellent player, Toto Leonidas, had seat four. Seat five was occupied by 2005 WSOP final-tablist Tex Barch. Seat six had a pretty young Asian girl who seemed to be friends with the notorious Tony G. Seat seven had one of my nemeses, David Singer; and seat eight was an English pro I'd played with before but whose name I'd forgot. Seat two was empty, giving us a nice luck-of-the-draw advantage: I only had to beat six people, not seven, to advance.
We started with 10,000 in chips and I quickly chipped up to 14,300 by snapping off Layne and David when they tried to bluff me. The blinds went up fairly quickly and I won several coinflips with short stacks, bringing me up to 24,000 by the time we had eliminated everyone but Toto, Tex, and me. I got cold-decked three-handed when Tex and I got it all in with my pocket Tens v. his Queens but then pulled a miracle. I flopped a set but the board was Jack-Ten-Nine of Spades, giving him a Straight Flush draw! My set held up and Tex was down to the felt with 3500 chips left. He announced he was going all in on the next three hands. He did, on the button, and I found pocket Aces on the small blind. I just called, hoping Toto would make an isolation raise, which he did, 7000 more. I elected to reraise all in, hoping he had a middle pair and call me, but he folded what was probably a weak Ace. I busted Tex and had a 2.5-1 lead over Toto with 48,500. It was down to Toto and the Lion.
Knowing Toto was a great player, I wasn't going to make the mistake I did against Bill Edler at the UPC, underestimating his thought process and giving him too much credit for a hand. I would see flops with my positional advantage and move in when I was first to act, which I did with several decent hands before he called my pocket Fives with his Ace-King. Inexplicably, Presto didn't hold up and now we were close to even in chips. I still had him covered, though, and when he came over the top of my Jack-Five offsuit on a flop of Six-Five-Four with two Hearts, I moved in, thinking I had the best hand and putting him on a draw. He did indeed have a draw, but it was a huge one: he called with Ace-Eight of Hearts, giving him 18 outs twice. The turn was the Six of Hearts, making his Flush but giving me four outs to fill up. It was not to be and I was down to the felt. I got it all in with Queen-Ten of Diamonds versus his King-Jack offsuit and lost the race, finishing on the bubble.
It was nice to make a run at it but painful to get so close and miss. My friends Andy "The Rock" Bloch and Chad Layne, among others, were sweating me but Presto let me down and I once again didn't get the luck where I needed it.
Shortstack and I had a nice dinner at Tableau, the private restaurant at Wynn for Towers guests. I'm continually impressed by the seemingly endless parade of excellent restaurants in Las Vegas. We had the 2002 Beaux Freres Pinot Noir, which was unexpectedly effervescent on opening although it settled down nicely after a half-hour.