T minus 3
|Jesse May in
Even though the World Series of
Poker has been going on for one month already, it hasnt really started.
Because the Big Dance has yet to begin. And therell be a bunch of players
who will wipe away a frustrating month with a result in the only event that
really matters. With the prize pool slated to top $17 million without sweating,
anyone at the $10,000 final table will garner a result worth, in prestige and
money, the equal of any bracelet yet to be given away.
It was at dinner
last night when the subject of John Juanda came up. I really fancy this
guy, one top player said. Theres nobody in the room as
focused and relaxed as him this month. Hes just awesome. So it was
really no surprise when we showed up at Binions at 11pm to see Juanda on
top of a whole load of chips in the $3000 NL Holdem. In the category of
if you just keep playing well then good things will happen to you, Juanda is
top of the poker world. It doesnt matter how late it is nor what the
event, if John Juanda is still in then hes the most focused guy at the
table and playing good poker. And at a time of night when most of the players
have turned to beer, coffee, or Red Bull to keep their wits about them, Juanda
is always sitting there tall in his chair with eyes darting every which way,
sipping water, wearing a red and black bowling shirt, and playing great poker.
He looks, right now, like the best player in the world.
At 1:30 am
theyd reached 35 players from 651 starting and Johnny Chan has his hand
to his forehead and his fan full blast in his face. He leans back in his chair,
spreads his arm over a vacant seat and closes his eyes. Annie Duke from the
next table leans over and says, Shouldnt we all be cashing out four
hundred thousand or something? Last thirty-five out of six hundred fifty, I
mean! Annies wearing a pink Ultimate Bet shirt and tight jeans.
Shes doing leg stretches on her chair with bare feet painted in glittered
nail polish. The rest of the players at her table look like theyve run a
marathon. And they have. And its only been the first day of a two day
event. Its nights like this that make you realize just how much energy
youll need to come through 2000 players over seven full days. Id
rather back an athlete than a poker player. I really would.
11am, one hour before this event started, and some guy at the sign-up desk asks
how many have registered before him. 280 is the answer. Oh? your
man says, Thats much less than last year
Yeah right. At
12:25 pm two lines stretched forever with about half of the world queuing for a
late entry. They hit six hundred at 12:30, and with alternates finally topped
out at another record for another event.
Quite a few Europeans still in
the frame in the last no limit test before the madness of the biggest poker
tournament in the world begins. Londoner John Kabaj, just into town and playing
in his first event, for example. Irishman Desi Higgins. And Hendon Mobster Ram
Vaswani. A slew of unknowns spread out over four tables along with some names
who well likely be hearing from next week, like Amir Vahedi. And Paul
Phillips. Pauls black hat, red t-shirt, and short stack have become
synonymous with the bubble at Binions as far as Im concerned this
month. The man has probably played seven years worth of poker this month
already, making the dinner break in 70% of the events and yet cashing in almost
none. But hes got effort, and had a whole lot of practice in playing a
short stack of chips, guarding his fifteen thousand with his life, and still
finding time to smile while the big chipped wolves circle around him. If he
gets any sleep before Saturday, I like his chances. If you keep knocking on the
door, sooner or later someone will be home.
John Hennigan won the Limit
Holdem event at 1am yesterday and $300,000. He started the day and the
final table as chip leader, but that doesnt really tell the story. The
story is that Hennigan displayed a limit poker skill that was classes above the
rest of the table, and the heart of a champion to go with it. During the first
three rounds at the final table Hennigan was dealt two queens twice, ace-king,
ace-queen, pocket jacks and pocket nines. He lost with all of them. It was
three pm and his minder took one look at the situation and dashed across the
room to mug a waitress for a Miller Lite, which was hustled back across the
room and delivered to Hennigan from under the roving cameras with all the
solemnity and pomp of a can of Popeyes spinach. Hennigan received the
beer and drained half in one gulp, then he looked at your man with a wry smile.
Good read, he said. And laughed.
When they reached the final
three, Hennigan was the shortest stack. His eyes were a bit watery, his stare a
bit vacant, and his countenance tightened when An The Boss Tran
turned over the four five for a river straight to set him back to barely
100,000, one tenth of the chips on the table. And then he came alive. He raided
the able Patsy Gallagher for all her chips and reached the final two just a
smidgen behind An Tran. And ten minutes into the head-up final you felt it was
all over. Hennigan found Trans number and punched it like a time clock.
Tran had been fond of the slow play and the check raise all day, but when
youre playing head up limit Holdem the check raise is way
overrated. Its the raise and the reraise thats in fashion, and
Johnny World had plenty of that. Although Tran won quite a few pots when
Hennigan was bluffing with the nine high and lower, the uncontested ones were
all the Worlds and he sealed the deal in less than an hour.
Savage announced that this was Johnny Worlds second bracelet, but it was
really his first. When Hennigan won the HORSE tournament three years ago, he
was told that they would monogram his bracelet for him and he could pick it up
in a week. He never got the bracelet, making Hennigan the first man in the
history of the World Series of Poker to win the bracelet and not take it. And
when Matt Savage strapped the bracelet last night onto Johnny Worlds
wrist, he again asked if he wanted to leave it here to be monogrammed. No
way! said the World. Im leaving it on! And hours later
thats just where it was.