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.
|Theres a classic
scene from the movie The Cincinnati Kid. It might be the best
scene, but then every scene in that movie is the best scene and if you
havent yet watched it twenty-seven times I wholly advise you to get on
it. The scene is when the players are preparing for the big game. First you see
Steve Mcqueen, the Kid, packing his valise. Hes got his odds book and his
mouthwash and a change of clothes. Then you see Edward Robinson, whos
playing the part of Lancey Howard, the Man. Lanceys got a special
suitcase just for poker games, and in it there are special compartments and
pockets and the whole kitchen sink packed into that suitcase, in preparation
for what he knows will be a marathon poker game to end all poker games. And as
The Man, he will be prepared.
It was three minutes before the fifth
level of Day 2 at the World Poker Tour Championships yesterday, and Daniel
Negreanu strode to his table looking for all the world like he was setting out
on a backpacking tour of Europe. He was wearing a high tech knapsack that
bulged off his back, a black sweatshirt and a black baseball cap, and he was
carrying a plastic bag. Negreanus not a bum, and while you might have
thought that Daniel was for some reason carrying all his possessions on his
person, it was just him going to work and you better believe he was prepared.
Daniel had his special bottles of water and a bag of energy food and lord knows
what else, he was calm and cool and comfortable as all can be, and if you could
have seen the raggedy looking countenances of his nine opponents, all of whom
had played eight straight hours of poker on the day plus nine the day before,
you would have started shoving money towards the betting window and said Daniel
Negreanu, buy, buy, buy. And even though theyve been calling Negreanu the
kid for quite some time, I dont think itll be long and Im
starting right now, to call him The Man.
Level Five on Day 2 of this
Championship was the most significant level of the tournament so far. Late
night is when the wolves come out, and with six thousand in every pot before
the cards were even dealt, money was not only on offer but up for grabs.
Fatigue makes you do strange things. Half of the field had shut down, thinking
about sleep and a drink and calling their wives, thinking about being able to
say they made it to Day 3 when theyd get a new table draw and have a new
plan and anything could happen. Half of the field would fold anything just to
stay in the tournament. The other half of the field was near blown out tilt. It
had been a long day and they didnt like their chip position and they
figured lets get doubled up here or theres no sense coming back.
And then there were guys like Daniel Negreanu. Late night is when the wolves
come out. Last level of the day is when you play your ass off.
And what a
table. In seat number one was Jeff Schulman, who had definitely switched off.
Schulman had had a great day, increasing his stack from twenty thousand to
nearly two hundred, and his pink Polo shirt was now untucked, his mop of hair
had sagged, and he squinted his tired eyes from behind his glasses while
getting up from the table every other hand to kibbitz with his dad. He was
already thinking about tomorrow. The two seat was David Pham, one of the most
dangerous players in poker, and he was on top of his game late into the night,
laying down an ace-queen two pair on the river when a third diamond hit the
board, and it was the right move as your man on his left proudly showed the nut
flush after Pham folded. The flush was a satellite winner from Hollywood Park
named John Ubia, a two and four dollar player who was in the biggest spot of
his life and had an army of friends and family watching his every move and with
plenty of advice to sit tight and make it until tomorrow. Daniel Negreanu was
towards the middle of the table, with an Internet player wearing full Poker
Stars paraphernalia to the left of him, who had a mountain of chips and moves
to boot. The table was rounded out by two talented Asians in Hon Lee and Young
Phan, an older man who was seemed to present no threat nor factor, and then on
his own at the end of the table, one Johnny World Hennigan.
Most people know very little about John Hennigan, and as a modest man he
probably prefers to keep it that way. Youll never hear about Hennigan
unless you talk to the best. The best all know who he is, and theyre
wouldnt be one of them who wouldnt say he has so much talent
its terrifying. Yosh Nakano says World is the closest you can come to a
modern Stuey Ungar, and hes mostly talking ability. Many who have played
with Johnny World in tournaments call him madman, and to a man the
few whove played with Hennigan in a cash game call him so good its
scary. If a head-up match had to be played with the fate of the free world as a
stake, youd be very comfortable putting the call in to one Johnny World.
That said, the night was late. Hennigan had been on a great run early
in the day, reaching two hundred thousand, but now he was wild as to maybe be
steaming, and just maybe you couldnt be sure. Hed played a lot of
pots lately, and had had to lay down a pair to The Dragon Pham when it went
raise-raise-reraise-all-in on a jack-nine-seven board. Hennigan had had his
sunglasses wired across his big bald head and his earphones locked in all day,
but halfway through the last level his headphones were off, his sunglasses were
folded, and you just didnt know.
I was fortunate enough to witness
what, for me, was nothing short of a great poker hand. Maybe Im crazy,
maybe theres someone who can figure this one out, but I saw the hand as a
beautiful mystery, the greatness of No Limit Holdem that Ill never
unravel. Here it was.
Antes are 300 with the blinds at one and two
thousand. Ubia limps in from early position, and this is not a huge sign of
strength. He loves the action hands and had won a pot earlier raising the
king-ten of diamonds under the gun, but now his man behind him was plastering
Ubia with the shut down shut down talk and to not put too much money in without
being sure. Negreanu raises the pot to ten thousand, two blue chips, and the
World calls from the small blind. The big blind calls as does Ubia, and the pot
is now large and four way for the Ace-three-four flop, rainbow. Checked around
to Daniel, who bets ten thousand more, quickly called by Hennigan and, after a
twelve second dwell up, also by Ubia. The big blind is out. The turn comes the
five of spades, putting a four straight on board and also two spades. The other
spade on board is the ace.
Now it gets interesting. Johnny
World Hennigan fires a grey chip into the pot, twenty-five thousand, and
Ubia goes into a worried tank. I mention to another railbird, who has been
watching the table all day, that the World may be the only player at the table
nutty enough to have a deuce in this spot and he tells me that Hennigan has
already busted two players on the day with a deuce in his hand, once flopping
three ducks with the 2-4 of spades and another time flopping two pair with a
Montana banana. Hennigan is sitting on about 150,000 in chips before the start
of this hand, and the more Ubia thinks the more he doesnt want any more
part of it. Ubias on 90,000 and folds after a three minute dwell up.
Negreanu has about 240,000, however, and he quickly calls, flipping a grey chip
into the pot that he is holding in his right hand. .
When the ten of
spades hits the river, putting the back door flush on board, I am thinking
beware but what happened next was fast as lightning and no less shocking. In
the space of ten seconds, heres what happened. Hennigan throws two grey
chips in the pot, fifty thousand bet. Negreanu puts both hands to his chest
open behind his stacks, and makes a pushing motion while saying all-in. And
Hennigan flips his cards in the muck. All that happened in ten seconds. Now you
tell me what they had.
I tell you it was awesome. Ubia watched the
proceedings in absolute bewilderment, and as Daniel was raking the monster pot
Ubia asked, What did you have? and Daniel just laughed, put his arm
around Ubia and said, Hey, now. I cant tell you that
Three minutes later he told Schulman he had ace-jack. Five minutes later he
told Hennigan he had a flush. All it was was awesome, because it could have
been a bluff and a rebluff as easy as it could have been a straight making an
unmakeable laydown. All I know is it was two world class players and I love No
Oh yeah. And Daniel Negreanu might not win this
tournament, but youd be a very sick man to want him at your