The World Poker Tour, now
in its second season, is a weekly televised ( USA only ) series of thirteen
poker tournaments that are united under one banner for television. What makes
the WPT different is that it will film the most prestigious tournaments in an
arena specifically designed for television and air them during a regularly
|WPT Championship, APRIL
19-23 2004 Bellagio Las Vegas, NV
|Jesse May, our venerable raconteur and columnist, writes from Vegas
on this years championship event, the $25,000 buy-in No-Limit Holdem event.
Welcome to the World Poker Tour Championship.
|Nice day for poker at the
Bellagio yesterday. Great day for poker. The throng of spectators surrounding
the roped off tournament area was two deep at all times, four deep for a view
of Ben Affleck, and six deep for Phil Ivey. One guy says to his wife on the
rail, You know who that is! Hes pointing to a fellow standing
in the middle of the room with dark shades and an Ultimate Bet shirt on.
No! Its the Devilfish
For most players, Day One was a long day at the office. The blinds were
such that playing big pots was neither easy nor recommended, and doubling your
stack was a major achievement in itself. Most players sat at the same table all
day long, plenty of time to get to know your opponents and be busy
accumulating, or just praying for the redraw.
There were only fifty
fallouts on the first day of this championship; the most significant by the
wayside was undoubtedly Phil Ivey, who was a pre-tournament favorite. Its
not like nothing much happened, but the bloodbath that will ensue on Day Two
will make the first day seem like a walk in the park. The limits will be
serious enough to put short stacks under pressure, running antes plus blinds
now make every pot worth winning. Its early for predictions, but
nevertheless I like the players who were fresh and focused at the end of the
day. Among the big stacks, Hasan Habib, John Juanda, and Paul Darden were
particularly impressive. Chris Ferguson still had bright eyes and wore a
mischievous smile come the end of the day. And Phil Hellmuth, though a tad
short stacked, had spring in his step.
Former world champion Dan
Harrington is one of the smartest players in poker. When he opens his mouth,
youd be well advised to just listen. Hes waiting for his car at the
end of the day and says, Poker is a funny sport. Right now the game is
strangely weighted. You win a small buy-in tournament and nobody says anything,
and then you get bad cards in a big tournament and you look like an
idiot. Theres a load of players left with a whole lot of talent,
and every single one of the 286 that remain has no choice but to say their
prayers to the lords of lady luck before their head hits the pillow. And then
theyll have to hope that they can just get to sleep.
One pm and a nice looking table with Jeff Schulman in the one
seat, Paul Darden in the three, and Seidel three seats to the left of him.
Schulman looks like the Grateful Dead never left town, a big mop of curly brown
hair settled on him every which way. Darden is locked up in a big early pot
with an Asian on his left, the river card is down, and Darden fiddles with his
chips for a full thirty seconds before separating a blue chip from the bottom
of his stack and flipping it in. Bet 5000. Called. Darden rolls over two queens
and takes a chunky pot. Seidel has watched the whole hand with his eagle eyes,
drinking it in. Dan Harrington saunters over from the next table to wish Erik
good luck. Dan looks like the Miami tourist from hell, in a plaid flowered
Hawaiian shirt, if this is even possible, with a bright orange baseball cap. Ye
Darden gave them fits all day long. He sits low in his chair with
a pair of glasses that everybody needs to have, clear plastic with curlicue
sides. Too cool. There were sixty minutes left in level five and I actually saw
Paul Darden speak. I have no idea what he said but I swear I saw Dardens
lips move and a man on the left nod. Im bringing it to your attention
because it is the first time that Ive ever seen him speak while sitting
in a poker tourney. The man is focused.
Huck Seed showed up for the
second level. Two oclock and were in the North Valet on the break
when Huck pops out of a car long and lanky with a bag of food. I follow him to
his seat, where he plops down in the eight spot, a terror on the table. He eats
a banana before the cards are dealt, sits ramrod up, and starts to play. Fast.
The other nine cant be happy. Its an action table, with two players
going bust during the first two levels. 4:30 pm and Paul Wolfe has moved into
the seat on Huck Seeds right with about thirty thousand. Hucks been
chopping and weaving and he has nearly all the small denomination chips on the
table. Wolfey is hating life, because in addition to Huck on his left and
French all rounder Jan Boubli to the left of him, the suddenly svelte former
world champion Russ Hamilton is in the ten seat with well over 120,000. Paul
Wolfe looks at the table, looks at the rail, shrugs and says, What a
bargain I got here.
Later on and Chris Bigler moves into the one
seat. Huck Seed never says nothing to no one, but Chris Bigler has raised him
all-in with a bit of the yaw-yaw-yaw and Huck sharply mentions he doesnt
appreciate it after he folds his hand. The two have a bit of history. It was
Bigler fifth when Huck was sixth in the 1999 World Series of Poker.
Another wild table had Ram Vaswani, Humberto Brenes, Gary Lent, Johnny
Chan, and a rough looking Phil Gordon to boot. When Pinnacle posted their
prices and Vaswani was one of the shortest in the field, a lot of Americans may
have said, who? But in Europe they just call him the talent, or sometimes Crazy
Horse, as in the boys call him crazy and the girls call him, often. Hendon
Mobster Ram Vaswani has long been known as a European with loads of potential,
and when he gets going you could liken him to Layne Flack with sunglasses and a
mouth gag. Because Ram never talks, he never says boo, but his chips can fly
and he played action poker all day long. Ram doesnt know how to hold onto
chips, he only knows how to make more. Vaswani had eighty thousand after level
two, twenty thousand after level three, and was back to sixty thousand by level
four. He had his jacket collar pulled up around his neck and lost a fifty
thousand dollar pot to Johnny Chan. A rotation of gaggling girls stood behind
Ram with oohs and aahs.
Humberto Brenes got hit hard. He jumps out of
his seat, his grey sweatsuit and yellow t-shirt flapping, with his discman in
one hand and an empty green water bottle in the other. Brenes briefly considers
the discman and then turns his attention to the water bottle.
Aaaigh! he shouted, while squeezing the water bottle to a pulp in
his hand. You have to imagine he thought it was his opponents head, some
luckless two outer who had just taken Humbertos chips. It was all in good
fun, sort of, but Brenes had been reduced to less than 30,000.
Ivey. Phils walking back to the table from the bathroom when a fan asks,
Can I get a picture with you? One second, says Phil. He
darts into the tournament area, folds his hand, and then comes back outside, to
the sheer delight of the tan shorts and yellow crew shirt who stands grinning
like a wide eyed lunatic as Phil poses with his arm around him. Ivey
doesnt smile; he stares straight into the camera with his killer
countenance. Phils wearing a red, white, and blue basketball jersey that
says Full Tilt Poker on front. On the back, it just says Ivey, number
Midway through the second level and Phil Ivey is having trouble with
his plundering. A big stack of low denomination chips is a sign that hes
been doing well stealing blinds, but a dearth of the blues and reds and I think
hes lost the big pots. Ivey yawns one time, uh-oh. He orders apple juice
Its 4:05 pm. With wet hair and shoulders back, in walks
a pair of black shades, a black jacket, and a smirk the size of Texas.
Its Phil Hellmuth, making his entrance for the start of the third level,
and every TV camera in the room is swiveling around to catch the bad boy of
poker putting in his trademark fashionably late appearance.
Some of the
best tables on the day were unfortunately the most difficult to see, as they
were stuck in the main poker room with no space for viewers. Johnny
World Hennigan ran over a table that featured Chip Reese, Doyle Brunson,
and Sam Grizzle, among others. Chris Ferguson was hidden from view all day
long. And Layne Flack at a corner table with John Juanda, Hasan Habib, and
Deep into the fifth level and JJ has gotten busy.
Its been a tough day for Juanda, sitting at the end of a virtual
murderers row. With Hasan Habib and Layne Flack on his right, Juanda had
very few opportunities for entering pots. Layne was bashing from the off, but
come 8 oclock and he finally slowed down. JJ picked up the pace and came
from very low chips to end the first day on his watermark high.
beat I witnessed was David Singers knockout. Singer had a great table
draw and was playing his toes off, punching and chopping at a table full of no
namers. Hed built his stack nicely while playing lots of pots. David is
an under the radar man, but a deep finish in the 2003 WSOP plus a few other
results has people taking notice. Hes a small guy, no more than 65 inches
nor 130 pounds in his sweats. Theyre in the fourth level and a man raises
early, repumped by Singer to seventeen grand, which was a clear and strong
message. When the man tapped all-in for some seventy thousand, Singer called
instantly and of course showed two aces. Ace-king of diamonds was a bit out of
line, but when two diamonds hit the flop plus one on the river, Singer was
walking. Jacket slung, chair pushed back, he never said a word, just went where
the hobos go when it snows.