Monday, June 30, 2014

A Star-studded WSOP One Drop & Side-lined Blogger

I come to the spectacle that is One Drop more excited than I have been to cover a single poker event in a long while. I imagine that, as it is Day One, I’ll be able to hang out at the tables, capturing the banter and action and creating a compelling narrative of this historic event.  The reality is far from expectation––despite the fact that I’ve been covering final tables in depth for the past two weeks, the big guns are now in town and they have paid cold, hard cash for exclusivity. As one ESPN photographer bluntly tells me as I try to catch the table action, yellow lined notebook in hand––”this is our event.” 

Negreanu, Haxton, Laliberte, Kurganov

Jason Mercier, Daniel Negreanu, Guy Laliberte applaud In-Q

Brandon Stevens, Erik Lindgren, Vanessa Selbst, Max Altergott, Dan "Jungleman" Cates

Dan Coleman and Philipp Gruissem - eye rolling at back of the class?

To add insult to injury, I am chastened for having the temerity to do actual event reporting and am banished to a non PokerNews/ESPN media island, far from the action. Might as well be at home, lounging by the swimming pool I decide after a couple hours of this, and pack it up. The sad fact is, I could have been covering a very interesting Ladies Championship event final table (inexplicably held at the same time) if I had known that ringside reporting was not welcome at the One Drop. The issue is much broader than my banishment––ESPN is aggressively protecting its market share by not allowing live streaming of the one WSOP event everyone wants to see. What we get instead is a slick “highlights-reel” television production that will air over a three-week period starting in late July. I have all the respect in the world for Norm Chad and Lon McCarron, but c’mon––can’t casual and serious poker fans coexist, each getting what they want?  

Dharma Initiative? Paul Newey and Brian Rast in One Drop Gear

exit Dharma...

Sam Trickett & Paul Newey - After this is all finished, let's head down to the pub

What you can expect from me, unfortunately, is an hour of real One Drop reporting/photos from the trenches, followed by recaps of the major action sourced from the PokerNews blog. It’s a shame––not to take away from the PokerNews live action updates, but the prose there is pretty wooden (it’s the nature of the play-by-play beast, I know). My aim throughout the tournament has been to create vivid descriptions and stories that people will look back at in years to come when they want to know what the key action in the 2014 WSOP was really like. (I’ll be the first to admit my coverage has been spotty––holding a world record as Ironman in a tournament held 6 months ago strokes the ego, but does not pay the bills. Neither, incidentally, does a blog.)

Mastermind: the incorrigible Guy Laliberte

Esfandiari - intelligent guy acts bland

Esfandiari and Trickett - Last event's One and Two

First, the opening photo-op and mingle period, which is kicked off by In-Q, a vaguely Tony Robbins-esque motivational speaker who (it must be assumed) is friends with Guy Laliberte. I talk to a number of players and it is amazing how their personalities show through––first thing to do is to apologize to Dan Coleman for my “entitled frat boy” blog comment, which he very rightly called me on. He and Daniel “Jungleman” Cates briefly discuss the EPT Monaco High Roller event that I referred to in my blog post. I hazard that Cates was extremely tired during the tournament. Cates, dressed in a full suit with handkerchief in the pocket (prop bet or undertaker fashion statement?) disagrees, saying that all live tournaments annoy him to some degree––”my irritation was not from animosity, just the fact that live poker is incredibly slow.” He definitely has the look and demeanor of someone who multi-tables to an unhealthy degree, but somehow he seems like one of the most genuine and least put-on players out there.

Internet wizards - Ike Haxton and Dan Colman

Phil Galfond and Brian Rast - ditto

Dan "Jungleman" Cates - Interest you guys in life insurance today?

 Rast and Merson

Greg Merson & Dan Smith

I listen in to some of the interviews by the established media with players such as Negreanu, Lindgren, and Esfandiari and it is all pretty bland, predictable stuff. Props to Lindgren though for winning the $25,000 One Drop satellite last night, which sent him alone among 40 runners to the main event. Along with his decent WSOP tourney showings, things are looking up for one of the most relaxed, chill guys in poker. 

Erick Lindgren - $25,000 satellite winner (Bill Klein behind)

I also talk it up with the Chinese derivatives trader Stanley Choi, who plays the biggest cash games in Macao and is hanging with fellow hedge fund manager and poker aficionado David EInhorn. They both seem very low key and approachable––the types you could have a friendly non-poker related conversation with.

Chuffed - David Einhorn (in Blue Shark Optics glasses) & Stanley Choi 

I talk briefly with Minnesota businessman John Morgan, who was memorably the recipient of folded quads in the 2012 One Drop. I played with him at a $600 tournament at the Venetian earlier this month and he was mum on whether he did indeed have the straight flush that Russian semi-pro Mikhail Smirnov put him on. 

Phil Galfond to John Morgan - "I wouldn't have folded quads."

I also speak with John-Robert “Broke Living” Bellande, who tells me that he did not win a seat at a Dan Bilzerian home game with strippers as rumored, but rather raised a stake through the usual shady backers and investors. The charismatic gambler surprised many in the poker world by registering at all. In this era of electronic transactions, he memorably brought bricks of cash to the Rio cage in an old gym bag. 

John-Robert “Broke Living” Bellande - "haters will hate"

Among the milling players, Andrew Robl, Greg Merson, and Jason Mercier stand out by sitting stoically in their seats while others chatter away––clearly focused on the tournament at hand, not the media exposure. Vanessa Selbst, the lone woman in the tournament, also seems extremely focused, with Phillip Gruissem, Dan Smith, and Ike Haxton emanating brainwaves. The Russian Igor Kurganov is naturally charming the ladies––in this case PokerStars pro Liv Boeree. 

Talal Shakerchi, Liv Boeree, Igor Kurganov

Vanessa Selbst - composed, focused

Mercier and Rast

Phillip Gruissem & Ike Haxton - brainwaves popping

Niklas Heinecker, John Juanda, & Erik Seidel

Daniel - darn, Kurganov got the girl as usual

With table draws picked randomly and announced, it is time to head to the tables. I hide out at the PokerNews computer island for a time. I have gotten to know the PokerNews crew by sight over the past couple weeks and they don’t seem to care, busy as they are trying to capture all the critical hands. As might be expected with 3 million starting stacks and 3,000-6,000 blinds, early play is fairly tentative, with players feeling each other out. Sam Trickett, who comes to the table with a nasty gash on his foot from dropping ranch dip on it at the supermarket, gets an early double-up, eliminating David EInhorn with a straight vs. trip jacks. This stroke of good luck is a harbinger of things to come, as to pull a “Trickett” will soon become the phrase-du-jour for hitting your miracle inside straight or whatever. 

no inkling of the phrase of the day to come - "pull a Trickett”


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Phil Ivey Wins Historic 10th WSOP Bracelet in $1,500 Eight Game Mix

The $1,500 Eight Game Mix features the unflappable Phil Ivey as chip leader in a tournament that he really needs to win––not only for the glory of his 10th bracelet––but for a prop bet that reportedly well exceeds the $167,332 first place prize. He and Daniel Negreanu took all comers in a wager that one of them would achieve a victory during the course of the 2014 WSOP’s 65 bracelet events. Estimates place the prop bet totals at anywhere from the $200,000 Negreanu tweeted to $1 million and upwards. Apparently Ivey took most of the action, with Negreanu participating to help out a friend. Naturally, it's all relative––the entry for Sunday’s One Drop alone is a cool million. 

Chairman of the Board - Phil Ivey commands respect from Chidwick, Steury, Heimiller, Yamron

With Alex Rocha and Daniel Negreanu having been felted in eight and ninth, a stellar lineup remains as we head into the home stretch. Chip leader Phil Ivey has 600,000 in chips and dour Indiana pro Aaron Steury, a 2011 WSOP bracelet winner and “part-time degenerate” sits on 480,000. Close behind is the feared UK tournament threat Stephen Chidwick, who has taken a page from Mike McDonald’s “stare down opponents and make them feel very uncomfortable” playbook. Veteran poker player Bruce Yamron and 2014 Seniors Event winner Dan Heimiller sit on around 250,000 chips, while Brooklyn-based Yuebin Guo (122,000) and the German Christoph Haller (75,000) are short stacked. 

Second to Guo

As expected, Haller is the first to go and Guo departs soon thereafter, felted by local favorite Heimiller when he is unable to complete his low in stud eight-or-better. Heimiller chips up to 330,000, enough to make a serious run at the bracelet. Stephen Chidwick, playing a wide range of hands, experiences volatile swings and is next to go in 2-7 Triple Draw when Ivey makes an eight-perfect 8-5-4-3-2. Moving up to over a million chips on this hand, Ivey takes a decisive tournament lead that he will relinquish only once more before the night is through. Ivey from here on out picks his spots, choosing hands when he has a good chance of scooping significant pots at minimal risk. Yesterday’s hero, $25,000 Poker Players Championship winner John Hennigan stops by to support his good friend Ivey, while Yamron hollers “congratulations, buddy.”

Chidwick, of the “stare down opponents and make them feel very uncomfortable” school

the long walk

I notice that Yamron and Ivey have been chatting frequently the last level. During the dinner break, I talk briefly with Yamron, a friendly older gentleman who has known Ivey since 2000 and tells me “I used to put Ivey into 75-150 games in back in the day in Atlantic City. A funny story... my daughter is a PokerStars reporter in London and knowing how Ivey loves wine I invited him to The Ivy, a famous West End place known for its wine. When the sommelier comes around, Ivey cuts to the chase––’I’d like to see your reserve list’.” Yabron raises his eyebrows with a chuckle, “These vintages start at around £8,000 per bottle.” 

Cracks in the cool demeanor - Ivey clearly enjoying the game

got a few chips

I also talk with Mike “Shoes” Gambony, a Las Vegas grinder and good friend of Dan Heimiller, who calls him “the nicest guy in poker,” someone who will gladly stake Las Vegas players who are down-and-out. Heimiller lives to play in marathon tournaments and has had a stellar 2014 WSOP thus far. He began his winning streak on June 4th, placing 17th in the $1,500 Limit Omaha Hi/Lo event for $10,400. According to Gambony, the timing of his 10:30pm bust out proved very fortuitous-–it gave him a 30 minute window in which to late-reg for the $1,000 NLHE Seniors Championship, which he took first place in for $627,000. 

Heimiller -  “nicest guy in poker”

Down to his last 150,000 chips, Aaron Steury risks his tournament life in limit hold’em preflop on A-Q and is called down by Heimiller’s A-J. Unfortunately, a jack on the flop seals his fate and he takes the walk from the tournament floor without a handshake or any acknowledgement of the other players.

Steury vs. Heimiller

Steury gets it in good A-Q vs. A-J

Steury reads the bad news –– jack on the flop

Steury - no handshakes

Wearing his signature “winner, winner, chicken dinner” t-shirt, Heimiller has been flirting with disaster all evening, getting critical double ups when he is extremely short stacked––finally, even his good karma cannot save him. Shipping his last 164,000 chips in NLHE with K-4, he is called by Ivey’s A-6 and an ace on the flop sends him to the rail. 

 It's past bedtime..

and time to go.


Ivey stomps off after felting Heimiller

and plots victory..

With Ivey and Yamron starting with nearly identical stacks heads up, the end is surprisingly quick. A swelling rail that includes the likes of Chino Rheem, Joe Hachem,Mike Matusow, and Erik Lindgren watches as Ivey makes short work of the overly cautious Yamron. On the first hand, Yamron calls down to the river in seven-card stud for 215,000 chips, before mucking to a river bet. I notice that Ivey gives a slight smile and does a boxer-like head bob thing when he has what he considers a strong hand––a sign to his opponent to steer clear, perhaps. 

Yamron - soon to go

Ivey - not this hand

The truncated match ends in Omaha 8, with Yamron’s two pair losing to Ivey’s higher two pair and the crowd going wild. Despite the sense of jubilation among the fans on the rail, there must be a good few railers with crushed dreams, as they lose significant propositions that Ivey will not take home a bracelet this WSOP series. Speaking with reporters after the historic win, Ivey notes that he tempered his aggression on the final table, choosing to chip his opponents down rather than “spew off chips and give up the lead.” 

 this hand

old friends

the Champ

After the tournament, there is some speculation on the 2+2 forums that Ivey could have shipped his good friend Yamron the first prize money (or more) to lose, as his prop bets well exceeded the first-second place prize differential. Beyond the logistical difficulties in trying to arrange such a deal during a break when many eyes are on you, I find it improbable simply because, (as people who know mixed-game poker far better than me have noted), Yamron was playing less-than-optimal poker during the final table––failing to raise pots and capitalize on premium hands, and limp folding to late street bets with some frequency. His performance heads up was a continuation of that style and he simply did not hit the right cards. With the pride in beating Ivey heads up for a bracelet also on the line, I say let’s give Ivey full props, as he ties Doyle Brunson with his 10th bracelet win and moves just three shy of Phil Helmuth’s record 13 WSOP victories.

 Ivey back into the light

Chipped opponents down, rather than “spew off chips and give up the lead.”