Gold Rush in the South: The 2005 World Poker Open in Tunica
I had booked a lovely First-Class seat on the nonstop from Philly to Memphis but a creeping delay left me rebooked on a connection through Atlanta in economy on both segments. I called Hertz and told them I'd be four hours late and they held a nice maroon Camry for me with Neverlost. I set the controls for the heart of Tunica and before I knew it I was checking into the Hollywood Hotel and Casino, which gave me a nice corner mini-suite. I drove over to the Gold Strike and found Avi "Two Cokes" Freedman playing pot-limit Omaha with the big boys. It was late so I just returned to Hollywood and got a good night's sleep.
Two little too late
I entered the $2000 and $3000 no-limit Hold 'Em events and have very little to say about them except that "Action" Bob Hwang, whom I had met in Atlantic City playing a cash game with "Oregon" Dave Lilie, was on my left in both tourneys. He knocked me out of the $2000 when he reraised my Ace-King all in and his pocket Queens held up. In the $3000 the colorful Jac Arama of "Late Night Poker" fame was at my table. I doubled early when I flopped top set with pocket Tens and busted a fellow who was unlucky enough to have bottom set with Four-Four. After that I got nothing and eventually made a desperation all-in with Ace-Nine, losing to Ace-Jack.
Ultra Turbo Super
I entered the $1060 super-satellite the day before the main event. "Super" wasn't enough of a superlative for the folks at the Gold Strike so they called it an "Ultra Super Satellite." With the speed at which the blinds went up they should have called it an Ultra Turbo Super. I survived to the final 10% and won a seat in the big event as well as a little cash. The tourney director paid us each the $160, sticking out his hand in what must have been a gesture of goodwill since he couldn't possibly be expecting a tip on top of the $320 they had already deducted per winner to give to the staff.
A good day
The tournament started a half-hour late but they made time for a speeches by the tournament director and last year's winner Barry "Spock" Greenstein, who generously revealed the secret of his success last year: win every time you're all in. If the speeches weren't enough, they brought in a gospel singer to perform the Star Spangled Banner before we were allowed to play. All of this was probably designed to make us forget the almost 8% juice they charged here, including the Mississippi tax which through a strange confluence of circumstances they feel compelled to take out although State law does not seem to require it. There was an astonishing claim that this was the second biggest tournament in history and the largest outside of Las Vegas but it wasn't even the second-largest tournament in this season of the World Poker Tour, Foxwoods and Aruba both being quite a bit larger than the 512 entrants they got here.
I drew table 38, seat four. None of the superstars were at the table although there were two well-known English pros: John Kabbaj on my right in seat three and Willie Tann in seat eight. On my left were Justin Young in seat five, a tough, aggressive player, and David "Gunslinger" Bach, whom I had met on the PokerStars cruise. A grizzly black-hat cowboy named "Sonny," or so it said in diamonds on his bracelet, was in seat eight. Phi Nguyen, a tournament regular, was in seat nine, and another regular, John Hoang, had seat one. It wasn't an easy table and I neither connected nor stole many pots in the first level. I was down to 7600 from the starting 10,000 at the first break.
Sonny had been playing quite aggressively and won a lot of chips without ever showing down a hand. I picked up Ace-Ace and got heads-up with Sonny, who called half-pot bets on the flop and turn on a scary board of King-Queen-rag, two Spades. The worst card in the deck, the Ten of Spades, came on the river and I gave an exasperated check, believing he would bluff at the board in addition to betting his flush. He bet only 3000 into a 7000 pot and I called. All he had was the King so I picked up a big pot and was up to 15,000. I lost a couple more small pots and was down to 12,300 at the next break.
David "Harpo" Levy came and sat in seat one. I made several tough laydowns, perhaps being bluffed out of small pots by John Kabbaj's check-raises but perhaps not. I chose to fold a set of Fives on a board of all Spades when Justin raised my initial bet and then Phi moved all in. If I had known Justin would call I could have played the hand, getting better than two-to-one on my money, but if he was on a draw he might not have called and I would have been in trouble. As it turned out, Justin had flopped the flush and won the pot when Phi's dry Ace didn't catch another Spade. If I had played I would have been out since the board didn't pair but it would have been a good bet. I was down to 8975 at the break, then got nothing at all the next level and was back down to 6675 at the dinner break.
Andy "The Rock" Bloch, his girlfriend Jen, and I headed over to the superior Sheraton buffet for dinner. There we ran into Mike May, a poised New Yorker and tournament regular who spoke like Ben Stein on speed. We timed it perfectly, getting back a minute and a half before we restarted.
I raised in late position with Queen-Ten offsuit and got a quick call from Justin on my left. The flop came Ten high, two Clubs. I bet out and he reraised me all in. I decided he likely didn't have me beat and called. He turned over Ace-Jack offsuit and I doubled up to 13,400. I won some small pots and was up over 20,000. Then the Danish pro Mads Andersen sat down in seat eight. I said hello and asked him if he knew Gus Hansen. He said yes, he's a good friend. Uh huh. I prepared to be bullied and it didn't take long. I raised his big blind with Queen-Jack of Diamonds and he reraised 1700 more. I figured him for a loose aggressive player, decided to play the hand in position and called. The flop came Jack high. He bet out 5000. I still didn't believe him and I raised 7500 more with top pair. He reraised all in. At this point I started to believe him but I only had 6600 more and there was almost 30,000 in the pot. I almost had odds to call even if I knew he had Aces and with the chance that he was still bluffing or on a big draw I called. He did in fact have Aces but I got lucky and hit my Queen on the river, crippling him and bringing me to 34,000. It was the first major suckout I had had in a long time in a big tournament and all of a sudden I was in great shape.
Radeen Talebi, a tough player I had seen before, sat down in seat six after Gunslinger, who had lost just about every pot, got knocked out. Mads and Phi lost their short stacks and two relatively inexperienced satellite winners sat in seats eight and nine. I had 34,050 and the next break. Seat eight got eliminated and the aggressive English pro Paul Maxfield took seat eight. I started bullying and was up to 38,500 at the break.
Derek Tomko sat in seat two with a short stack and Sonny, who had rocked up after I won the big pot from him, finally got knocked out. An inexperienced-looking player took his seat and didn't play a hand for an hour. Finally, he raised under the gun. Everybody folded to me on the small blind and I called with pocket Sevens, putting him on a big hand and hoping to get lucky. The flop came Queen-Nine-Seven with the Queen and Nine of Diamonds. I checked and he bet 3000. I put him on Aces and raised 4500 more. He just called. I still thought he had Aces but considered that he might have Ace-King of Diamonds or maybe Ace-Queen. The turn was the Four of Clubs and I put the rest of his chips in, about 7500 more and he called. My jaw dropped when he turned over King-Ten of Diamonds! This guy had waited an hour for a hand and then opened under the gun with that! He had a huge draw but didn't hit on the river and I busted him, bringing me to 56,000. I ended the day 22nd of the 161 remaining with 55,300 chips.
Turbo ultra death
I drew a great table for the start of day two. Only John Kabbaj and Andrew Miller were tough players I recognized at my table. John was on my right and Andrew was across the table with a short stack. George "The Greek" Paravoliasakis was in seat two. The printed sheet had named him as the chip leader with 118,000 but he actually only had 18,000. Unfortunately they broke that table almost immediately. I had lost one small pot and was down to 50,500. They moved me to table 31, seat nine. Mike May was on my right in seat eight. Andrew Miller had seat three and Raj Kattamuri, a good young player from Dallas, was in seat five with a lot of chips. Mike, Raj, and Andrew were dominating the table as I got mostly unplayable hands like Jack-Five offsuit. I laid down Ace-King preflop in response to big action from Andrew and seat four. It was a good laydown as Andrew won the pot with Kings and seat four showed the same hand as me. I would have been drawing to two outs for half the pot.
The blinds and antes were going up in turbo ultra mode. We had already lost almost half the remaining field and my lovely stack was now only a bit more than 20 times the big blind. Vellaisamy Senthilkumar, whose nickname is now "SK," sat down in seat six. With less than 33,000 left and the blinds at 800/1600 and a 200 ante I finally got a decent hand, pocket Sevens, and made it 6000 when it folded to me in fourth position. It folded to Raj in the big blind, who studied a minute and then said, "I'm all in." I took a couple minutes to analyze the situation. He had me well covered. The extra-large raise often meant Ace-King, but he was smart enough to know I knew that and move in with a big pair. I decided he probably didn't have Aces. There were 16 ways to make Ace-King, 6 ways to make Kings, maybe a 25% chance he playing one of the other pairs that way, 30 lower than mine and 36 higher. That meant I'd win about nine of the 16 times he had Ace-King, one of the six times he had Kings, 6 of the 7.5 times he had a lower pair and 1.5 of the nine times he had a higher pair for a total of 17.5 wins and 21 losses. There was also a small chance he had something like Ace-Queen or King-Queen, which increased my odds. Since the pot was giving me about three-to-two odds I could call. If I didn't call, I would have been left with 26,000 chips at this aggressive table, not desperate but now a short stack without much bullying leverage. I decided to make the loose call for all my chips. Raj did indeed have pocket Kings and I didn't hit my Seven so I was out of the contest, 89th of 512.
Dinner was at Fairbanks steakhouse at the Hollywood with Andy, Jen, and Steve "Suitcase" Brecher. We had steak and salmon washed down with the 1996 Stag's Leap S.L.V. Cabernet, which drank nicely. I had a very early flight back to Seattle, where Shortstack picked me up in the black T-Bird and whisked me back home to rest up before the next adventure. Next up: Commerce Casino in LA.