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WPT at Bellagio
CEO "Rocket Boy" 12.22.2006

Recently I had the opportunity to visit Las Vegas to attend the World Poker Tour event at Bellagio. This was the first time I had ever seen a WPT event so watching the $15,000 buy-in Doyle Brunson North American Poker Championship event was a heck of an introduction. 583 players entered and it was a star-studded field.

Days 1 - 3
I watched a little on the first day but I couldn't get in. Just peered in from the entry to the Fontana bar. Three players had already busted out by the time I got there at 3pm. They were only at the 2nd blind level: 100/200. It must take a really good hand to lose 30,000 chips when the blinds are just 100/200. I spotted too many of my favorite players to name here, but at one table I saw Daniel Negreanu with Chip Reese on his left and Mike Matusow on Chip's left. Tough table.

And I must say that the ladies of poker are far lovelier in person than they are on TV. Evelyn Ng, Isabelle Mercier, and Cyndy Violette were especially hot. Most of the players looked smaller and thinner in real life with one exception: Shawn Sheikhan looked bigger and thuggier than he does on TV.

I went back again on the second day of the tournament, Saturday, and by that time there were only 182 players left at the 800/1600 blind level. Matusow was standing up and chirping after a big hand he'd won, Joe Awada busted out in 175th, and I looked everywhere but didn't see the man himself. No sign of Doyle. I watched until they got down to 165 players left, at 7pm.

I walked over to the poker room and right by the entrance I saw one of those 3-wheeled electric carts. It had a big Doyle's Room logo on the back. Sure enough, Doyle and several other top players were in Bobby's Room playing. They were obviously just going through the motions until some rich amateurs showed up.

Haralabos Voulgaris

Day 4
I didn't do any spectating on Sunday, but I watched about ten hours of play on Monday. The plan was to play down to the final 6 for the TV table no matter how long it took. And brother, it took a long time. I watched from the velvet rope from 5pm to 3am. The WPT film crew were muttering things like "this could go on to 2 or 3am" and yeah, it did. Jack McLelland was the tournament director and at one point he said "Final table TV taping will begin tomorrow evening at 5pm. If we get done by then."

During play, I heard at least 5 women walk up to the rail behind me and ask their husbands "Which one is Negreanu?" I felt like turning around and saying "He's the guy wearing the Negreanu jersey." He finally wore a Maple Leafs jersey with his own name on the back, in huge capital letters. Hard to miss since he had his back to us on the rail. He and Joe Hachem were the big chip leaders and seemed to trade the lead as they busted people and won big pots.

Daniel Negreanu

Players were consolidated into 3 tables, then 2 tables when there were 18 left, then the final table with ten players. It could have gone on for many hours, but luckily for me it didn't. Mack Lee suffered a truly bad beat from Negreanu. Lee was all-in with pocket queens and Negreanu called with his pocket 4s. The flop was AK2, turn was a 3, river was a 5. Negreanu had caught runners for the wheel. Steve Sung busted in 9th when his dominated Queen-Jack lost to Jim Hanna's Ace-Jack.

Negreanu won a medium pot by slow-playing pocket aces. There was a king on the board and his opponent had a king, but there was very little betting and Negreanu just check-called all the way. He came over to the rail to explain himself on the next break and gave two bits of advice that I've never read in any book. In fact, I'm not going to tell anyone what he said. My little secret. As the break ended, I heard Joe Hachem say to himself "This might be the one" as he walked back to the table.

Joe Hachem and Justin Bonomo

Negreanu put Justin Bonomo all-in and they both flipped up Ace-King to chop a pot. Haralabos Voulgaris moved in with Queen-4 of diamonds and Mads Andersen busted him in 8th with his pocket tens. On the very next hand, Mads busted Justin with pocket sevens vs. Justin's Ace-Queen. They were down to the final six players for the TV table. Play had ended after 15 hours.

Thanks to his busting the last two players, Mads Andersen had moved into a close second in chips. He'd been the short stack earlier in the day and went nuts briefly, pushing in on 4 consecutive hands to steal the blinds and antes. Negreanu was the chip leader by a tiny margin, and they both had over 4.3 million chips. David Redlin, Joe Hachem, and Ed Jordan were nearly tied for third with about 2.3 million each, and Jim Hanna trailed in sixth with under 1.3 million.

TV Show Taping
I showed up at Bellagio's Tower Ballroom at 2:30pm the next day. The doors would open at 4pm so I figured I'd get there extra early. I was about 35th in line and fortunately there were some nice ladies to talk to in line. We saw all the players walk into the interview room to do their segments, and at 4pm the doors opened. As we entered we were given a Bellagio WPT souvenir chip with a numbered sticker on it. The idea was that if we didn't get into the main room before taping began, we'd be called in by number as seats opened up.

The ballroom had been divided into two sections: the overflow room first, then the actual TV setup in the next section. There were chips and salsa, all the Blue Diamond almonds we could tolerate, and all the Xyience energy drinks we could slam. The Xyience folks gave out a few freebies like t-shirts (XXL: too big for me anyway) and neck loop pass-holders.

I was just about the last person to get in before the taping began and I was fortunate enough to get the last seat open in the front row. On Doyle Brunson's immediate right! I shook his hand and told him it was an honor, and he smiled back and nodded. The tournament director introduced him, he stood up and waved, and I'm in that shot. Doyle split after two hands, hurrying back to Bobby's Room and The Big Game.

Spoiler Warning: if you read past this sentence you're going to find out who busted out when and who finally won...

OK. I won't go into too many details since you'll be able to see the Travel Channel edit on May 30th, 2007. But for the most part, the final-six play was really good. There were, however, some harsh bad beats on several river cards. Ed Jordan (wearing garish yellow-framed shades) was the first bustout. He tried to bluff Negreanu off a pot but it didn't work. Jordan moved in on the turn with 8S 7S on a QH QC TH 4H board and Negreanu called with the AC KH. Negreanu rivered the heart flush.

Not sure why Jordan did that. (If you've watched Negreanu play, you should know that he's nearly impossible to bluff.) He could have gotten away from the hand after his initial 200K bet was raised and the re-raise was called. With that much action, 87 suited simply can't be good if you've missed he flop and turn and have no pair and no draw. He wasn't desperately short-stacked before that hand but he didn't have enough left to shut out Negreanu's flush draw with two overcards on the turn. Jordan could have lost the minimum after taking one shot preflop, then folded to the heat.

The next bustout was on a huge suckout and re-suckout. Dave Redlin raised, Joe Hachem re-raised, and Redlin pushed in. Hachem called without much hesitation. Redlin showed AQ, Joe showed QQ. Very bad news for Redlin. The 7 4 4 flop helped nobody. Redlin spiked an ace on the turn making Joe a huge underdog. He had one out. And he rivered it! The case queen came out and she brought the house down. Dave Redlin took it pretty well but he was clearly stunned as he tried to walk it off. At least he got paid over a quarter million to ease the pain.

The river card knocked out Mads Andersen in fourth. He was desperately short stacked after losing many big pots early. He pushed in with 7H 6H and Negreanu called with the AD 4D. The flop paired Mads' 6 with QD JC 6D but Negreanu had picked up the nut flush draw. The turn was the 8S but the river once again proved fatal. It was the 9D completing Negreanu's flush.

Wow! Two of my favorite players were in the final three. I would have liked to see Negreanu vs. Hachem heads-up but it didn't happen. In fact, Jim Hanna could have knocked them both out to win it in one monster 3-way all-in. Hachem raised, Negreanu pushed all-in and Hanna thought for a long time, then mucked. He said he'd had pocket tens. Clearly a tactical fold. Either Negreanu would be knocked out or Hachem would be fatally crippled. It was the former, as Negreanu's King-Ten didn't improve versus Hachem's pocket fours. Hanna's pocket tens would have held up to win the tournament since he had both of them covered. If I recall correctly, it would have been only the second time that a World Poker Tour winner knocked out the 2nd and 3rd place finishers in the final hand.

Negreanu was clearly disappointed. He'd been full of confidence, as he usually is, and he recovered quickly. A short while after he was eliminated he came back in with his wife and some friends, waving a few rings ($10,000 bundles of one hundred $100 bills with a ring of paper holding them together). He'd become the WPT's all-time money winner with his $592k third place winnings. Time to party!

Ahhhh, time for the money presentation. The Bellagio cocktail waitresses, all of whom were gorgeous in their skin-tight Xyience mini-dresses with a "cleavage window," did a quick rehearsal and then dumped the cash on the table. Not sure if it was real since I didn't see any extra security show up. $2.1 million in real benjamins is definitely worth protecting, so it must have been phony.

Rachel ready for her entrance

Heads-up play lasted about 25 minutes. Joe Hachem came back from an 8 million vs. 9 million chip deficit to win. Hanna, as good as he is, is nowhere as experienced as Hachem. Hanna played very few hands when it was down to him, Negreanu, and Hachem. But now there was nowhere to hide. Hachem brought it strong, pulled even in chips, then kept attacking and took the lead. At the 120k/240k blind level the final hand was dealt. Hanna raised to 720k with QC JC, Hachem moved in with AS 6C, Hanna called all-in. They each hit the flop of AC QD 3D. Hanna picked up a flush draw when the 8C turned, but the river 2D locked in the win for Hachem.

I can't imagine a cooler World Poker Tour spectating experience. It was at Bellagio, two of my favorite players made the final three, and I shook Doyle Brunson's hand. That's going to be a hard act to follow.

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