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