Time enough for elk
Despite the fact that the main event of the World Poker Challenge was being broadcast by the Shana-less, rights-hungry World Poker Tour, I decided to return to the place where I had busted Phil Ivey two years ago and take a shot. I arrived the evening before in time to enjoy an order of elk at the Reno Hilton Steakhouse with Gary Lent, Al Adler, Peter "Nordberg" Feldman, and a friend of Gary's named Alex. We went through three nice bottles of red: The 2001 Phelps Insignia, which was eminently drinkable, the 2001 Dominus, which had too much merlot in it for my taste, and the 2002 Duckhorn Estate Cabernet, full-bodied and chewy. Alex put forward the following poker puzzle:
You're playing a pot with me heads up in Texas Hold 'Em. The turn card has been dealt and you currently have the best hand. However, no matter what card comes on the river, you can't win. What are the two hands and what is on the board?
The event started at the stroke of noon but about half the 592 starters straggled in late. I drew table 39, seat eight, and picked up a few small pots four-handed before the rest of the table arrived. On my left was Andy Pham, a young player from Sacramento, CA, who had already cashed in three events in the series here. Across the table in seat three was Aidiliy "Lily" Elviro, also known as Ms. Grinder, who finished 27th in this event last year.
I won and lost a few pots and was just below even at 9725 by the end of level one. In level two nothing worked and I was down to 7650. The structure was excellent, though, and I wasn't worried. With the blinds 50/100 I called a middle-position raise in the small blind with King-Queen of Clubs and Andy Pham called behind me in the big blind. The flop came King-Six-Five with one Club, giving me top pair. With the stacks still very deep I wanted to play a small pot out of position so I checked. Andy bet half the pot, the original raiser folded, and I called. The turn was the Deuce of Clubs, giving me a flush draw to go with my top pair. So much for a small pot; I check-raised Andy all in. He called with Six-Five for middle two pair, giving me 17 outs to outdraw him. The Jack of Clubs came on the river and I doubled through to 17,100 for the last hand of level three.
I reached a high point of 21,725 then was down to 19,300 when they broke the table. I moved to the next table to break, 38, seat seven, briefly. "Minneapolis" Jim Meehan was on my left in seat eight but I didn't play a hand before the dinner break.
I had exactly 20,000 when they broke the table and moved me to 31, seat one. This was a much tougher table with John "JJ" Juanda in seat four and Phil Ivey in seat 10. I didn't bust Phil this time but I can't be good luck for him as he got taken out by Dan "The Piano Man" Slan ("Sklansky minus the k-sky," he explained) in seat six. I ran a squeeze play in the small blind when the short stack in the cutoff moved in for a little more than the opening raise by the player to his right. I reraised with King-Jack offsuit to isolate the short stack and give myself almost two-to-one pot odds. It worked but the short stack turned over Ace-King, making me dominated. I hit my Jack though and knocked him out, chipping up to 22,300. I got all the way up to 27,200 then slipped to 25,975 when they broke the table.
Now I was at table nine, seat eight, and figured to spend the rest of the day here. Matt Lefkowitz was two to my right in seat six; Dan Heimiller between us in seat seven, and Eric Mizrachi, Grinder's very non-identical twin, in seat 10. I had 26,775 at the end of level five. We had two more levels to play. Hasan Habib came into Matt's seat when he busted. Hasan is a sweet guy and a very intense poker player and every time he won a pot I wanted to pump my fists in the air and shout, "Hasan Habib!" I played a few small pots and reached a high of 33,725 before ending the day with 31,600, just below average for the 181 players left.
Ugly , ugly Ten
Tournament director Jimmy Sommerfield always assigned seats by chip count rather than randomly to distribute the large and short stacks evenly. I got table six, seat five. The only one I recognized was Renee Wexler in seat seven. I went card dead and dribbled down to 18,800 before I raised two off the button with pocket Nines and got a call from the big blind in seat nine. The flop came Trey-Trey-Four with two Clubs. He checked and I immediately moved all in for a little more than the pot. Astonishingly, he called and turned over Seven-Five offsuit! He didn't hit his four outs and I was up to 38,900. The nice lady on my right, who hadn't played a hand, moved in on the small blind and I called with Ace-King. She showed Ace-Jack and busted, bringing me to 51,600. She was replaced by John Juanda, who smooth called an early-position raise on the button. I had Ace-King on the small blind and reraised. The original raiser folded and JJ moved in. I called and he turned over Ace-King as well. "You were supposed to have King-Jack again," he said. The board came with four Spades and two Queens and we chopped, but the original raiser moaned he folded Ace-Queen with the Ace of Spades.
I was up to 70,000 just from stealing and re-stealing when Gavin "Birdguts" Smith came into seat nine with a short stack. JJ's aggressive play had him up and down and when it folded to him on the button he moved in with his fairly short stack. I moved in on the small blind with Ace-King. JJ showed Ace-Nine, and I once again busted my friend, putting me up to 92,100. Then Carlos Mortensen took JJ's place. I let him bluff off some chips to me and reached a high of 105,500 when Freddy Deeb came into seat eight. Freddy was raising almost every pot so this really changed the complexion of the table. I gave a clinic in folding and was down to 92,900 at the end of level 10. Once again I went card dead and played very little until they broke the table with 54 players left and me with 87,300 in chips.
I moved to table three, seat five. Carlos was now across the table in seat one but the rest of the players at the table were unknown to me. There was a lot of action and I continued to get bad starting hands. I was down to 65,000 at the dinner break with 39 players left. Only 36 got paid, an unusually small percentage.
When we got back from dinner I survived by stealing and we were down to the bubble with 37 players left. Gavin Smith kept going all in and surviving at the next table. I had 57,000 when Carlos made it 11,000 to go on my small blind. A very cautious player on my right smooth called on the button and I saw King-Queen suited. Normally I would jam here, hoping the dead money in the pot and the folding equity would make up for possibly being dominated when called, but I was worried about the button and decided to pass. It turned out he had Jack-Ten, Carlos had pocket Nines, and the flop came Queen high. I felt sick, but the very next time Carlos raised he smooth called with Ace-King, so I had the right thought if the timing was a bit off.
Finally, down to 47,500, it folded to me in the small blind and with 9500 already in the pot I jammed with King-Five offsuit. I got a call from the big blind with pocket Nines. The board came Eight-Seven-Six, giving both of us straight draws. Then my King came on the turn. "Dooze!" I shouted, but the poker gods had had enough of me and the ugly, ugly Ten came on the river, making me the bubble boy amidst the celebration of 36 players.
I didn't win the Ultimate Poker Challenge Player of the Year. John Phan won and deserved the honor.
I'll be passing on Foxwoods and the WPT Championship but there's a good chance I'll play a bunch of the WSOP Circuit tournaments at Caesars Palace in May. Come say hi!