Friday, August 11, 2006

Signing off from Vegas

Well my battery is dying and the plug doesn’t work so I’ve got to be quick…

Unfortunately, I caught a nasty cold that had me down for the count the last two days of the WSOP. I tried to soldier on for a bit on Thursday, but just couldn't cut it and headed for the comfort of my MGM bed.

Congratulations to Jamie Gold for achieving the dream 8,772 fellow main event participants had. May Gold be a great ambassador for the game as it gears up for what will be a major discussion with Congress in the coming years on the future of online poker. There's no doubt the effect that the online game has had on the growth of poker offline (8,773 participants in the WSOP being proof number one) and to pull the plug on the online game would certainly reverberate within the real world poker community.

It's always sad to see the WSOP come to an end. There is no other tournament like it in the world; truly nothing comes close. Other tournaments offer trophies, rings or watches to the winners, but there is nothing that compares to a WSOP bracelet. Thousands of professional, intermediate and rank amateur players traveled to their Mecca this summer. Most of them went home empty handed (or with empty wallets), but almost all of them returned with great stories and the experience of a lifetime.

Of course, this also ends my one-year poker journey and I’ll have much more to say about that when I have the time.

I was to stay for BARGE, but after five weeks in this town I’m a bit sick of it and ready to go home so I changed my flight until tomorrow. There’s also the matter of this girl…

I met Amy shortly before leaving for Vegas and we’ve talked a lot since I’ve been here and we’re both eagerly anticipating our second date. (Kind of glad nothing happened with that “Karen” girl now that I think about it). If that’s not a good enough reason to head home, I don’t know what is. There’s also a grad school orientation taking place on the 19th that might prove useful. So home I head.

I drove by the Panorama Towers every day for a week as I commuted from the MGM to the Rio and dreamed of the riches that would allow me to live there. But the more I think about it, the things I need in life I’ve already got and they’re all back home in Alabama.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Shannon Elizabeth is stalking me

So she hasn't actually spoken to me or made eye contact, but I know she's up to something. First, she played in the celebrity/charity event with me. No, we weren't at the same table, but she was positioned near a friend of mine who was also in it. She must have known I would come over and talk to him. Then, we were at the Harrah's official WSOP party at Voodoo Lounge on top of the Rio. She was sitting in a booth chatting with Joe Sebok, but I was once again within sight. The other day I was playing a satellite and she started talking to the guy sitting beside me before leaving. And lastly, the Poker Blog team was having dinner at Antonio's in the Rio two nights ago and as I got up to depart there was Elizabeth again, dinning with Joe Hachem's brother.

I've got my eye on you Shannon.

We've officialy entered the silly season of the WSOP. A star-studded field filled 50 tables of the Rio on the pentultimate day to play the last bracelet event, a $1,500 NLHE, that will be completed today. Many of the pros wouldn't normally touch such a small event, but with no other action everyone's taking their shot at the elusive WSOP hardware.

But no one's treating it too seriously. The pros are joking and meeting and greeting. Even the amatuers are loose, cutting up at the tables as the WSOP comes to a close and the ESPN production crew prepares the featured table for the close of another summer of poker.

The silliness extended to me. I foolishly thought I could beat an A-J with an A-K in my own last ditch attempt at serious coin. No bracelets for yours truly in 2006, just a heck of a lot of stories and new friends. Speaking of which, I've got to head to a mixed game with some of those friends that begins at MGM in mere minutes.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Down to 27

I found happiness last night at the MGM in the form of mechanical horses. For the first time in five years, I played Sigma Derby. It’s a large rectangular device in which people sit around all sides and place bets on two horse win-place combinations as the little mechanical dudes race around a track inside the glass case. During each race, the 10 possible combinations of the five horses are given specific odds so if you bet one quarter on a 2 to 1 you double your money or if your longshot 43 to 1 comes in you get $10 and change. It’s an incredibly silly and fun diversion, and apparently old machine as it has no dollar bill slots. You have to get a roll of quarters from a change girl to play it.

This was the first Sigma Derby I’ve seen since we played one at Caesars Palace in 2001. Heck, might even be the same machine.

As for that little thing they call the World Series of Poker, they played down from 45 to 27 players today, stopping at 5:15 this evening, after just five plus hours of play. Unfortunately, Rob Berryman, a 21-year-old University of Alabama student, busted out 33rd when his inside straight flush draw did not make it after the flop. I didn’t realize we had a Tuscaloosan still in the hunt until T-News sports editor David Wasson informed me of it yesterday. It turns out Rob was one of the college kids playing in that fraternity game I wrote about last fall when I was working on a proposal for that college poker scene book.

He seems like a good kid and he doesn’t plan to splurge with the money. He told me he won’t play again next year unless he wins a seat. His family was here to cheer him on and I’m happy to see him fare so well.

We writers shall soon depart for food and drinks following our short day so I must conclude.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

I won't lie...

...I'm very envious as I watch the last remaining players in the main event battling it out to see who'll come out on top. If you played your heart out for two and a half days, only to get cold decked and eliminated much earlier than you would have expected, you can't help but be disappointed.

Things are winding down around here.

I get a little sad when the last week of the WSOP comes upon us as the Rio tournament room becomes a shell of its former self.

Sure, there's no shortage of excitement in the back of the room as the main event grinds down to the final few tables, but the rest of the room becomes almost a ghost town.

The cash games start to dry up, as most players have left to return home. In fact, practically no high limit games are being played now, merely the $2-$5 blinds no limit and $10-$20 limit games are there for the few who want to partake.

Satellites are few and far between, as the only events left are the supplemental bracelet events that Harrah's has implemented in the last two years. No longer are the second-chance tournaments in play either.

Many of the tables have been removed because they're just not needed anymore. Tournament structure sheets are scattered around the tables, no longer placed in an orderly fashion for interested onlookers. Many of the vendors have packed up and left town.

The WSOP is the greatest tournament on earth and if you've been around to enjoy it, you can't help but feel a bit melancholy when its end is near.

A gaggle of bloggers met up last night at MGM to have drinks at the sportsbook bar before taking a limo to the Rio to goof around. G-Rob and BadBlood were in town and joined folks like Byron and Michael and April and Ryan (420th in the main event!) and his wife Kim and me and some other people I may be forgetting.

Byron managed to spit beer all over us and the dealer as we played blackjack at MGM and G-Rob introduced BadBlood to the not-so-wonderful world of Let it Ride at the Rio. Later, we had a game of Let Her Ride on the way back to our hotels. Michael's wife hopped in my lap in the back seat due to the lack of room and I was forced to think pure, happy thoughts on the way back as she is not an unattractive, baseball, apple, baseball, apple, baseball....

April (Kyle, of fame) and I were put up at the MGM by Party Poker because they were so slow in paying us for our first few weeks work. So I left my dungeon at Binion's and into my deluxe apartment in the sky last week. I'm there until the 11th and then move back to the Plaza downtown for BARGE. Interestingly enough, BARGE was for some reason moved to Caesars Palace so I will have to commute to the Strip every day. I may have to renew my car rental for the last part of my trip. Beats the hell out of riding the Duece.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

This is James Spader. Posted by Picasa

This is not James Spader. Posted by Picasa

The run ends

You could sense the high nerves as players made their way to the Rio for Day 3 of the main event. More than 250 players would be eliminated Friday without making the money, despite two full days of tiring, meticulous play on the green felt. Short stacks would be looking to double up early while medium stacks would be looking not to screw up. I figured I was in good shape with my 142K as it put me in the top 140 of the 1,159 players remaining.

I made my way to Table 39, and had to wait several minutes to unbag my chips as the big stack to my left, Bill Gustafin, sorted his black and pinks and yellows. That’s one thing I had not experienced before – in truth, I never thought about it. It takes several minutes to empty those bags of chips and stack the chips by proper denomination if you have hundreds of them, like Bill and myself. To my right sat Mark Lawler, dressed in a coat and tie and a bowler with a feather peeking out of the brim.

“I bought it in the gift shop this morning,” he said of the cap.

I asked him if he was trying to play up to the cameras, but Lawler said he just wanted to look good today. I choose to wear my white Poker Share polo and straw hat I picked up at the party at the Palms. All I needed was a piece of straw to chew to complete the country boy look.

“You’re name is Mark, right?” I asked Lawler. He was surprised before I told him I had researched him and the other players on the Card Player Web site the night before. I didn’t mind telling them because I thought it would give me the appearance of someone they should fear at the table.

“I imagine you found nothing on me,” he said. He was right.

But it was the guy without the acclaim that would take more than 40 percent of my stack early and it was a foreboding start to the day. Here’s how the hand came down: Lawler raised to 3,600 and I called with Qd-Jd. The flop was a Q-J-9 rainbow and Lawler bet 5K. Wanting to play the hand for value, I raised to 12K rather than shut my opponent out of the pot. That turned out to be my undoing. Lawler pushed all in and I called. He showed T-J and hit an 8 on the turn for the straight. I missed the re-draw on the river and pushed about 60K Lawler’s way.

Despite that hit, I remained composed with my remaining 80K and built it back up to 89,500 at the first break (only one hour in since we stopped mid level on Tuesday.)

Before going back in, I felt a pat on the shoulder. I turned around to find Gustafin with a grin on his face. “Hang in there buddy,” he told me. I was delighted that this big stack to my left, who could create headaches galore for my now slightly below average stack, was such a nice guy.

The field narrowed to 910 players during the second level. Only 37 more players to go before the money. Play tightens further and I become more aggressive. Here’s two examples:

1) I’m in the small blind with Jc-8d and Lawler limps. He checks the Qs-2h-3c flop and I bet 3,500 and he calls. A Kh appears on the turn and he checks again. I fire another 9K and Lawler folds.
2) Two hands later I’m on the button and try to steal the blinds (now 800/1,600) with a 4,500 bet with K-7 off and a big stack calls in the big blind. After a flop of J-2-3 rainbow he checks and I fire another 6K. He mucks 6-6 faceup and we go to break.

I’m at 107,600 at the break and feeling good. Even the big stacks are letting me push them around. It’s a friendly table and I seem to be ruling it. So of course my table is broken minutes after we return. I take my new seat at Table 51 and find several young, aggressive players with monster stacks. It’s my worst WSOP nightmare come to life.

I’m forced to completely change my game strategy, going from the aggressor to the passive player. There’s no playing these guys without a hand and I don’t want to bubble. We narrow to eight hundred eighty something and we begin playing round for round. After each dealer deals around to where the big blind started, he or she stands up and waits for all the tables to complete the action. After one round, we are down to 876 players and have to continue the round for round. Finally, after round two we are all in the money.

Tournament director Jack Eiffel announces the fact and the room is filled with cheers and claps. A man at the table to my right, British apparently as he’s wearing pants with the Union Jack, stands on a chair and shouts to the rafters.

“That’s step one,” I tell the man to my right.

“Did anyone tell you you look like that actor?” he asks.

“James Spader,” I reply.

“Yes, that’s him,” he says.

Unfortunately, step one would be the only step for me. We play a few more hands and players drop like flies. The floorpeople bring racks over to our table as they’re about to break us. In fact, I have nearly all my 80K in chips in racks when this table’s final hand is dealt. Matt Maroon raises the 2K blind to 6K and an aggressive Asian guy on the button makes it 16,700. I look down and find K-K. Finally, after waiting this table out, I pick up a hand with a chance to double up or more before moving to new digs. I think for a minute before pushing all in.

Maroon calls quickly, making me think I might be screwed. When the Asian guy calls too I know I’m screwed. Maroon turns over Q-Q. The button turns over A-A. No one improves and two of us go home.

You hear stories of how people react when they’re knocked out of the main event, but I took it in stride. It was that tranquility that allowed me to keep an even keel through the first two and a half days and I kept that same attitude upon being eliminated.

I didn’t care much for the guy on the button. He was a bit of a dick and he had a haircut that could have sprung from an Archie’s comic, with hair shaved close around the sides and parted in the middle on top. But I bit my tongue.

I just shoved my racks of chips over.

“Nice hand, sir,” I said before being escorted to the payout desks.

My final showing was 768th, though I really should have been 767th since I had more chips than Maroon. It’s irrelevant really since all of us in that group got $16,493 for our efforts. It’s not $12 million, but it beats a kick in the shins.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Day 2A report and Day 3 preview

Wednesday was one of those days that was just a pain in the ass. I had discovered the night before that I had two tires going flat. I apparently picked up some nails going down Industrial. It took forever for the tow truck to come get my car and just as long to get another rental and the Binion’s elevators stopped working and I had to hoof it…

…Oh, you wanted to know about Tuesday? That, my friends, was a good day.

I felt confident going into Day 2 of the main event because I felt I had played good poker on Day 1. It’s true that the deck ran over me, but besides that I played solid, aggressive poker and picked up many small pots. I played even better on Tuesday.

I was again a card rack early and busted two short stacks in the first level. On the first hand, I picked up K-K and raised the 500 blind to 1,500. The player in the BB re-raised to 4K and I hesitated for show and finally threw my Milwaukee’s Best All-In chip into the pot. He called off the rest of his 10K immediately and showed A-K. The case king on the flop practically sealed it and I was off to the raises with this 16K pot.

I picked up K-K again shortly afterwards and re-raised a short stack who had gone all in for 6K to get heads up. He had A-Q and my hand held.

I then pulled off one of my best plays of the day when it was folded to Vinnie Vinh on the button and he raised the 500 blind to 2K. (Little did I know at the time that he won the most recent WSOP Circuit Event at Caesar’s. So much for my supposed homework.) The small blind called and I decided to try the squeeze play. I figured Vinh could have anything and was probably weak and would have to fear me raising after the SB called so I popped it up to 7K. Vinh folded and the SB called, a move I didn’t like. You wonder what my hand was? It doesn’t much matter since it would be reasonable to make this move with any two cards, but since the SB called I did need back up. I had it, sort of, with the A-7. The flop was a nice A-4-4 and I checked it to the river and bet 6K then. He folded. I played it reasonably slow because I assumed I was way ahead. Probably I should have bet the turn.

Just before the first level ended came the hand of dreams. An early position raiser made it 1,500 and I called in the BB with T-T. The flop was Th-7d-3h. I check and he bet 2K. I raised to 5K and he made it 12K. I just called. Turn is the other ten and I figured my action was killed. Nope. He bet 8K after I checked and I decided to smooth call again. When the Kh showed on the river I decided to bet out 9K and he immediately went all in for another 20K or so. The bettor, a guy in his early 20s in a Ladbrokes shirt, nearly fell out of his chair when I called in a flash and tossed over my quads. I showed quickly because I was pretty excited, but also didn’t want to slowroll. He mucked without showing. The only reasonable hand I can figure is he had 7-7 in the hole. You guys have any other guesses?

A little later in the day I lost 14K in a hand when I re-raised a shortstack’s 3,500 bet to 10K and called his additional all in when I had jacks and he had kings. That dropped me down to 95K or so.

There weren’t any significant hands the rest of the day. I built my stack up to 142,400 at the end of the day by blind stealing, re-raising and continuation bets. I’ve been fortunate that the first two days have been very easy so far as I haven’t had many tough decisions. It’s doubtful that Friday will be so easy.

We only played 4.5 levels on Tuesday because players were dropping like flies so we’ll come back at the 600/1,200 level with 200 antes for an hour Friday at noon. There are about 1,150 players left as we move to Day 3 and 873 will make the money. The average stack is about 80,000 so I am a solid 60,000 above it. In fact, I rank in the top 150 in chips I believe.

I got a terrible draw for Friday though. Here’s how Table 39 stacks up:

1 Sean Le $215,500
2 Sakura Sugawara $71,900
3 Sam Sweet $23,500
4 David Cai $35,500
5 Kent Gourding $15,700
6 Jian Jun Li $137,300
7 Brian Hetzel $32,400
8 Mark Lawler $70,900
9 Johnny Kampis $142,400
10 Bill Gustafin $228,900

Despite my high chip count, I manage to be seated at a table where not only am I third in chips, but where the two bigger stacks are directly to my left. That’s terrible luck. One advantage I see is it allows me to come into the pot first, so we’ll see how much these guys try to re-steal. I may have to come over the top of them early to show them I mean business. We’re not in this for $15,000; we’re in to get to the top!

I also want to acknowledge the support I’ve received during this run from my fellow poker writers here in Vegas. It’s helpful to know I’ve got my fellow folks supporting me, as well as others like Pauly, Otis, Wil and any others I may have left out. And thanks also to my poker buddies back home in Tuscaloosa for the kind well wishings, even those without a financial stake in this ;)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Day 1 afterthoughts

...I was always at a comfortable level during the day since I was never short stacked. I was able to build my stack up quickly and I was never all in once during the day. I pushed all in a handful of times, but I always had my opponent covered by a wide margin. The only all in where I could have been crippled was the early one when I had A-A against the A-T on the ten high board.

...Chip counts during the day:

First level: 16K
Second level: 12K
Third level: 32K
Fourth level: 33,650
Fifth level: 26,925
Sixth level: 40,825

...I eliminated three players during the day, which nicely corresponds with my chip stack at the end of the day. It's about what I would have had if I had simply taken 10,000 chips each from three players.

...The advantage of getting our seat assignments is that I was able to see how I stack up against my Day 2 table tomorrow. Here's the names and chip counts:

Table 143

Seat 1 Ralph Caparotti $15,475
Seat 2 Johnny Kampis $40,825
Seat 3 Patrik Selin $48,075
Seat 4 Peter Blow $8,100
Seat 5 Peter Lidekraus $14,425
Seat 6 Empty
Seat 7 Mark Wellen $54,050
Seat 8 Jay Zimmer $6,600
Seat 9 Vinny Curry $65,650
Seat 10 Andrew Berner $11,950

I'm fourth of nine players in chips and was a little unlucky to get a table where I don't rank higher in the chip count since I'm in the top 20 percent in chips overall. Blow and Zimmer will probably be looking to double up early with their short stacks and the blinds at 250/500 with the 50 ante. I looked up all the players on Card Player's Web site and only found Selin and Curry listed as having cashed in tournaments, though their results are scattered over the last couple of years, indicating they're good but not fantastically superb tournament players. I'm ready to take them on!

Stinky Fish Poker...ever heard of it? I didn't think so. Posted by Picasa

Antonio Esfandiari signs his John Hancock at the Ultimate Bet booth. Posted by Picasa

Patrons play online/live poker at the expo. Poker Pro is trying to introduce these tables that eliminate the need for dealers...and tipping! Posted by Picasa

Luske gets emotional. Posted by Picasa

Marcel Luske sings "Endless Love" at the Bluff Magazine party at the Joint in the Hard Rock Casino Sunday night. The females were swooning. Posted by Picasa

Mikey goes wild at the expo, banging the table with his arms and putting cards in his mouth. And they wanted a chimp to play in the WSOP? Posted by Picasa

People check out the chip counts and seat assignments posted for Day 1B players. Posted by Picasa

Here's what the mob at the Rio looked like over the last four days. Thankfully, the crowd will disperse somewhat as the field diminishes. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 30, 2006

I seem to be about to fall asleep. No, that's not a gold bracelet on my wrist, merely a watch. Posted by Picasa

WSOP Day 1B report

The tension in the tournament room was thick as we waited to begin play on Day 1B of the WSOP’s main event. I surprised myself because I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I’d be as a first timer, perhaps because I knew I had more experience in big casino tournament play than the great majority of the Internet qualifying field present for the festivities.

The table was filled with fellow ‘net qualifiers as I had hoped, and one pro, Patrik Antonius, himself a cool customer. I rarely saw his expression change and he didn’t crack a smile until the board came 9-7-7-9-9 in a hand in which he held a seven and another player tried to bluff him on the turn with 4-4 and sucked out for a chop.

I was hopeful coming in that I could either steal a lot of blinds or limp pre-flop and steal a lot of small pots, but this proved not to be the case. The players were aggressive in defending blinds and stealing blinds, so it seems they shared some of the same strategy.

I earned my first notable pot when I limped for 50 with 9-9 and Antonius raised it to 225 or so in the cutoff seat and it was folded to me. I decided to see what would develop and called. After a flop of K-7-5 rainbow, I checked to Antonius and he fired out 400. Unsure where I stood, I called to see what he would do on the turn. That turn card was the oh-so-creamy nine. I checked, he bet 1,400 and I check raised to 3,200. He thought a long while and called. The turn was a jack of hearts and he folded to a 3,000 bet. This put me up to 15,000.

A loose player to my right managed to take most of my profit back with 10s-6s for a flush and Jc-4c for two pair.

As we played in the second level, Nolan Dalla announced that Phil Hellmuth, who was on the featured ESPN table, had busted and the room was filled with cheers.

And soon after I make my move up the charts. I pick up my second pair of pocket rockets on the day and raise it up to 525 and the loose player to my left smooth calls. After a ten high flop I bet 900, he raises to 2,500 and I push him all in for 4,000 more. He shows A-T and the aces hold.

A few hands later I’m in the SB with 2-2. Antonius makes it 600 and the button, another loose player, calls. I call as well and we see a flop of A-2-2. I check to Antonius, who bets 1,200 and the button raises to 3,000. I smooth call and Antonius wisely folds. The turn is double checked and my 3,000 bet on the river is called. I had hoped for the case ace to river so I could push. No way that player is going to fold in that spot.

Antonius cracks another smile after I turn over the quads. “I had a big ace,” he said. “I knew you had something.”

“Yeah, what else could I have had? You had an ace and you know he had an ace,” I said in agreement.

Our table is broken soon after and I take my 32K chips back near the featured table area. The table is full of internet qualifiers – two from Poker Stars, one from Party Poker, two from Poker Room, one from Interpoker, one from Poker Share and one from Ultimate Bet.

I find this table to be even better than the last one – no pros, and a happy go lucky bunch on top of that. I’m able to build my stack up to 36K when I hit a bump in the road.

A player in middle position raises to 1,000 and I find aces for the fourth time on the day and pop it to 2,500. He calls and then pushes for 10K on a flop of 5h-6h-Jc. I call immediately, but get a disgusted look when I see 7h-8h. Too many damn outs. He hits the Th on the turn and I can’t catch up on the river with my nut flush draw.

That pushes me down to about 23K and around that time we hear loud applause begin across the room that soon spreads across the pavilion.

“Doyle must have been eliminated,” I said, and soon thereafter a tournament director announces the departure of “Texas Dolly,” who also started us off this day with the line “Shuffle up and deal.”

“The difference between Doyle and Hellmuth,” one player opines, “is that they cheer for Doyle when he busts out because they respect him and they cheer when Hellmuth busts out because they hate him.”

Meanwhile, it’s getting late. We begin the sixth level at 1:20 a.m. and two hours are still left before the play ends. I meander for the last level until I get aces for the fifth time and raise the 400 BB to 1,200 under the gun. A Sweedish kid, who to this point had played well, decides to double up or go home and pushes his 10K into the pot. After I call he turns up Q-J offsuit. Huh?
He’s drawing dead by the turn. Thanks for coming, have a nice flight home.

I finish the night with Q-Q and a player folds to my reraise. The tournament directors announce that play has ended and the room cheers. Hand shaking and congratulations commence between all the players at my table. The player in the Yankees jacket who folded to my reraise on the final hand comes over, shakes my hand and tells me he thought I was the best player at the table. I was obviously honored by that gesture.

I count the chips before bagging them and receiving my new table assignment. The finall tally is 40,825, my high point of the day and tops on this table. We are hustled to our new tables to leave our chips and sign some documents. My second day on Tuesday looks promising as I saw no familiar professional faces.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

It's D-Day

It's funny how interested people around this town get when they find out you're playing in the main event of the WSOP. I met a man in a laundromat Tuesday who excitedly shook my hand and asked my name when I told him I was in the big one. (I don't just volunteer the information, but people see my WSOP cap and the conversation starts.)

People are so enthused about celebrity that they hope to say they met that guy back when...before he won the WSOP and was known to millions. In my case, I hope this guy at the laundromat gets his wish.

The dog-eared copies of Harrington on Hold'em have been studied and re-studied. Small tournaments around town have been played. It's finally time for me to take my seat at Table 98 today and my first chance to play on poker's biggest stage. I'll report back on what it's like for a main event virgin to compete.

I have a game plan in place and I'd like to have 30,000 chips by the end of the day, which would put me at about an average stack when Day 1 action is complete. We'll see what the cards dictate.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Some of the sweet Poker Share swag included those cool straw hats, decks of playing cards, T-shirts and sunglasses. Main event players also got backpacks with polo shirts, a beach towel and flip flops. Girls not included. Posted by Picasa

Mikey themed snacks for party patrons Posted by Picasa

Real World suite Posted by Picasa

Views of the Real World suite Posted by Picasa

Mikey and WSOP dealer Art Bracken at the Poker Share party Posted by Picasa

Otis, the blogger last longer champion Posted by Picasa

...then again, Miss American Pie is pretty hot. Posted by Picasa

I'll take Robin Tunney over Shannon Elizabeth any day... Posted by Picasa

"Don't mess with the king's blinds!" Posted by Picasa

"Lucky You" director Curtis Hanson makes a point, while Texas Dolly, Jennifer Harman, Drew Barrymore and a producer watch. Posted by Picasa

Dueling cameras....starring Kristin and Pauly Posted by Picasa

Celebrities, monkeys and donkeys

Thursday was a busy, but fun and eventful day, from the annual WSOP press conference and media/celebrity charity tournament to the Poker Share party.

We were directed to the showroom at Masquerade Village in the Rio for the press conference where the slick looking and talking commissioner, Jeffrey Pollack, bragged about the WSOP’s success. He harped on the first every players’ advisory council and the $50,000 HORSE event (which will go to four days next year), as well as a special section on the WSOP that will appear in Friday’s USA Today, a first for the game.

Pollack also mentioned a possible champions’ reception next year, in which Harrah’s would bring al former bracelet winners together.

Tournament director said participation had increased 8 percent for the preliminary events from 2005, while the prize pool has also increased. There were 7,600 entrants in the main event as of 2 p.m. Thursday.

“At least 12 players will become instant millionaires,” Daily said.

Last year, each of the final nine made at least $1 million, with Joe Hachem earning the top prize of $7.5 million.

The proceedings then moved to the Hall of Fame inductions, where Billy Baxter and T.J. Cloutier were honored.

Baxter moved to Las Vegas from Georgia in 1975 and became a force in the WSOP, cashing 34 times and winning seven gold bracelets, all of them in lowball events.

“Players began calling the lowball tournament the Billy Baxter Benefit,” said Harrah’s executive Tom Jenkin.

Baxter was the litigant in a landmark Supreme Court decision in 1987 that compelled the IRS to treat poker winnings as earned income.

“It’s certainly an honor to be included with all these great players of the past and present,” Baxter said of his induction.

Cloutier is one of the legendary road gamblers and is often considered the best player never to have won the WSOP main event, with two seconds and a third on his resume. The native Texan has won six WSOP bracelets.

“It’s one of two things I always wanted to win,” Cloutier said of HOF induction, noting that the other was the main event.

“I’ve still got a chance and I’m still kicking.”

Cloutier quickly reiterated, however, that he now wants to win the HORSE event. One out of three isn’t bad.

Harrah’s brought reigning champion Hachem to the stage and the three men fielded questions from the media, including one dimwit who congratulated Baxter and Cloutier on being inducted yet couldn’t remember Baxter’s name.

Baxter said he disagreed with the prospect of raising the entrance fee to the main event to narrow the field. “This is a world championship that should be open to everyone and I think they’ve got it right where they need it to be.”

“I’m proud to be the reigning champion even it it’s only maybe for another week…maybe,” Hachem said in reply to a question, drawing chuckles.

“Trying to repeat a victory is hard. Trying to repeat a main event victory…is almost twice as hard.”

Pollack said there could be an announcement in the coming months of an event that may be only for amateurs who haven’t won a bracelet or made a final table. “The World Series of Poker is a work in progress that we will improve every year,” he said.

As for Poker Share’s attempt to enter the chimp Mikey, Pollack was adamant that no monkey would play in the WSOP. “There’s been no chimp entered into the WSOP, nor will there be.”

“But there are fish and donkeys everywhere,” quipped blogger C.J., sitting next to me in a showroom both. Pauly and fellow Poker Blogger Kristin were also there. (As an aside, Poker Stars recently hired Pauly and C.J. to blog for them, while Party Poker hired Iggy and a few others to join us at Poker Blog. It’s an arms race unseen since USA vs. USSR!)

Cloutier and Baxter discussed the importance of the WSOP in the poker world.

“I don’t think there’s any event in the world that will ever top it,” Cloutier said.

“It’s like the majors in golf,” Baxter added. “You always want to win the major.”

A reporter asked about trickle down money from sponsors reaching players via the prize pool.

“We might not see that part of it, but it’s definitely coming,” Cloutier said.

Media director Nolan Dalla took the last question.

“Who’s going to win?” he asked the players.

Cloutier thought for a second. “One of the 8,800 players who’s going to enter,” he said.
“I agree with him,” Hachem said.

Curtis Hanson, director of the new movie “Lucky You” that centers around poker, then took the stage to promote the flick, which opens Sept. 8. The movie centers on the relationships between a longtime player (Robert Duvall) and his son (Eric Bana) and the son’s love interest (Drew Barrymore).

“The ability that every poker player tries to develop…would be hateful away from the table,” Hanson said.

Barrymore was brought onto the stage to discuss the movie, but didn’t get off on the right foot when she opened with, “I’m extremely honored to be here at the World Championship of Poker.”

It’s World SERIES of Poker, dear.

Barrymore said she watches poker on TV obsessively and plays with friends.

“Thank you for being here because poker is cool,” she said.

Um, ok.

The gathered media mass then watched a trailer of “Lucky You”, as well as a clip from the movie that featured a recreation of the Bellagio poker room, in which poker pros like Jason Lester, Sammy Farha and Barry Greenstein sit around the table with the characters played by Bana and Duvall.

Doyle Brunson and Jennifer Harman are also featured in the movie, though Harman plays a fictional character and actress Jean Smart plays a poker player based on Harman. Confused yet?

“Doing a movie was a lot of fun,” Harman said after she, Brunson and Lester were called to the stage. “Watching everything involved in it was quite interesting.”

Lester praised the efforts that went into making the poker scenes look authentic.

“I don’t consider myself to be a celebrity,” Brunson said, “and I’m certainly not an entertainer. I’m just a poker player.”

Then we all hustled back to the tournament room for the media/celebrity charity tournament, though crapshoot would be a more apt name. We get 1,000 in chips with 25/50 blinds and 15 minute levels. It’s truly a shove in fest.

The celebrity turnout was much better this year and this probably not so comprehensive list included: Norm McDonald, Robin Tunney, Ron Jeremy, Shannon Elizabeth, Jennifer Tilly, “Amazing” Jonathan, Carrot Top, James Garner, Cindy Margolis, Anthony Michael Hall, Penn Jillette, Ryan McFadden and Dick and Vince Van Patten.

Once again, I had no bigshots at my table, unless you include poker writer Barry Tannenbaum, a woman who is the president of Corum, a watch company and WSOP sponsor, and some guy dressed as Elvis.

Elvis doubled up early and then serenaded the woman he busted, to the delight of the ESPN cameras.

“Don’t mess with the king’s blind,” he often said.

“I wouldn’t think of it,” I replied.

I lucked up a few times and was hanging in until I tried to take the blinds from late position with A8 and ran into AJ and then lost the rest of my chips with a push with AT that ran into the same woman, now holding AK. Ten of us bloggers had a last one and I was the third to last out. Brad “Otis” Willis was the standing winner, making the final table in the process.

I hurried over to the Palms for the Poker Share party after I busted. The soiree was held in Room 28101, otherwise known as the “Real World” suite, after the MTV series was filmed there several years ago. It was nice meeting the guys I played against day after day for weeks, trying to earn a main event seat, since there were only a few dozen of us playing those tournaments.

I also got to meet Mikey, the prohibited chimp. He didn't show off his poker skills, but he did insist on hopping into the arms of everyone in sight. He particularly loved Art Bracken, a longtime WSOP dealer.

Max Wright, poker room manager for Poker Share, said he was disappointed by Harrah's decision. "I think they've got a lack of a sense of humor," he said.

Alex Van Klaveren, the site's spokesman, said a lot of training was put into preparing Mikey for the WSOP. He told me that Mikey would have been able to play on his own without his trainer assisting him.

Van Klaverern said Pollack hasn't replied to emails from him asking for an explanation. The spokesman suspects Harrah's could use the rule that a player has to be 21 to enter to bar the chimp.

"This is not the end of it," Van Klaveren said. "When he turns 21 we're going to enter him again."

When I asked him how old Mikey was, Van Klaveren hesitated.

"He's four," he finally replied.

"Four and a half," Wright corrected him.

The WSOP tournament area was a madhouse Friday morning as players and spectators convened to begin the biggest poker tournament in history.

The main event was about 15 minutes late getting started thanks to the crush of people trying to get to their seats. Security tried to keep all non-players out of the tournament room to no avail, leading to one massive traffic jam and fire code violation.
Media director Nolan Dalla announced that all people wearing poker clothing with .com on it had to take those articles off or turn them inside out. One major online site experienced a major snafu when it handed out thousands of shirts, baseball jerseys and caps with .com on them, leading many players to put tape over the suffix of the URL.

Finally, when most of the players had found their seats, Dalla opened with, "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the World Series of Poker," which was followed by hearty applause.

Actor James Garner, playing in his first WSOP at age 78, was given the honor of announcing, "Shuffle up and deal."

The first player was eliminated six minutes later.

"Congratulations everyone," said a tournament director. "You have outlasted one player."

Alternates were then called to be ready for placement.

An interesting addition to the mix this year is an all-in button provided to each player (which can double as a card protector.) If a player wants to go all-in, they can toss the button into the pot. Players were also provided with seat cushions for added comfort.

Later in the media room, tournament director Daily told me that there were 8,570 players in the main event, a figure that’s still expected to climb. Harrah’s will continue to accept alternates until the end of the first level on day four (Monday).

The sun sets over Ventura. Posted by Picasa

No cameras were allowed on the lot, so this is the closest shot I got of CBS Studios, from the sidewalk in front of our hotel. Posted by Picasa

We walk back to the hotel Posted by Picasa