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WSOP Circuit Main Event - Lake Tahoe
CEO "Rocket Boy" 11.17.2008

Maniac railed the World Series of Poker Circuit event at Harvey's before, but he split after his buddies got knocked out. Not me. I stuck around for most of the final table action. Several name pros made the final table, plus a few semi-pros and amateurs.

Harvey's Lake Tahoe
It's owned by Harrah's so don't be shocked when it morphs into "Caesars Resort" next year. No, really. Wikipedia says so. OK, I suppose Julius Caesar is more famous than Harvey Gross. Maybe Harrah's can just buy back the old Roman-style rugs and columns off MontBleu down the block. Harrah's owned that property when it was called Caesars Tahoe and the new owners never quite got around to swapping out that old-school Roman décor.

Whatever. The place will still be the hotspot of poker at Lake Tahoe no matter what name is on the building. They spread several daily and weekend tournaments, various cash games, and of course a World Series of Poker Circuit event.

The WSOPC Main Event
PokerPages has complete live upate and final results pages, so I'll just relate my personal observations and a few key hands. I got to Harvey's just before final table play started, and there were four well-known pros plus a well-known amateur. Michael Binger, Allen "Chainsaw" Kessler, Mike McClain, and Scott "Big Riskky" Clements were the pros. Travis Erdman was the well-known amateur: this was his 3rd final table in a row at the WSOPC Harvey's event. Eight guys at the table were probably all thinking "Binger has the chip lead. This is gonna be tough."

Start of final table action, near the Hard Rock Cafe

This year there was no TV coverage at all. Although ESPN's ratings for the WSOP Main Event final table were up sharply from last year, it seems that poker TV in the U.S. has reached and passed the saturation point. There were two official photographers there, one from PokerListings.com and another from Harvey's. PokerListings.com and PokerPages.com were apparently the only sites doing live updates. Nolan Dalla, WSOP Media Director, was there. This time he didn't tell me not to use my monopod. He did at the WSOP $50K HORSE event this summer.

Mike McClain, the "agony of defeat guy" in previous years' ESPN WSOP show intros

There was a small grandstand and one row of chairs all around the tensa-barrier around the table. So if you wanted to sit, you could. I spotted Max Pescatori and spoke with him briefly. Seems like a pretty decent guy, and his English is also relatively good. He made the final table of the $500 "last chance" tournament being played at the same time as the WSOPC final table.

Max Pescatori finished 8th in the $500 "last chance" tournament

Scott Clements was the first bustout. His M was only about 5 at the start of play so he really needed to double up. He didn't and he finished 9th. Bill Bostick was the next to go. He looks so much like Michael Binger that I thought he was Binger when he walked in. Slightly different hair color and style, thicker beard. Bostick looks more like Michael Binger than Binger's own brother Nick.

View from the rail after Scott Clements' departure

Travis Erdman ended his amazing run in 7th, then Allen Kessler got felted in 6th on a huge bad beat: his AA got cracked by 77 when a 7 spiked on the river. Believe me, I know the feeling. If his rockets had held up, Kessler would have had a chance to get down to heads-up play. Instead, Ty Stewart busted him and took the chip lead over Binger.

Allen "Chainsaw" Kessler ponders his next move

Mike McClain busted Tay Nguyen in 5th when McClain's AA held up. Then Binger and Stewart took turns busting opponents. McClain went out in 4th with QQ after Stewart had turned a straight with his 98. Jake Solis, a local player, busted in 3rd when he shoved preflop and both Binger and Stewart called then checked it down. Binger won that pot, but Stewart still held about a 5:4 chip lead going into heads-up play.

Jake Solis' final hand

It must be said that Ty Stewart had been running extremely well. He had apparently been playing very aggressively on both the previous days. And he continued being aggressive at the final table while making big hands. I didn't see all the heads-up hands, since I took a burger break at the nearby Hard Rock. When I left, Stewart had increased his lead to about 3:1 (1.5 mil vs. 500K). When I returned, Stewart had about an 8.5:1 chip lead (1.7 mil vs. 200K) and was pushing Binger around.

Michael Binger playing a hand: the Ray-Bans are on

The two players' styles were somewhat like those of the WSOP Main Event heads-up players. Binger had that patient small-ball style of Eastgate, and Stewart the more aggressive style of Demidov. (ESPN's coverage only showed two hands out of the 3.5 hours of heads-up main event play, so if you didn't follow the hand-by-hand online, you'd never know.) Despite his huge chip disadvantage, Binger must have known that he had a huge experience advantage. Been there, done that, and I can do it again. During short-handed play, Binger ordered a burger and fries.

Ty Stewart bets Binger off the hand on the river: "If you called it would have been all over." Really?

Binger would squeeze his cards, and if he decided to play a hand he'd put on his Ray-Bans. Stewart would simply close his eyes and act like he was asleep after his biggest bets. Binger would also almost always ask Stewart what he had if there was no showdown, no matter who won the pot. He was probably not as interested in the answer as in the read he got while Stewart spoke. Maybe it's better that this event wasn't being taped for TV. These guys were quiet, determined, polite, and focused. Neither one lost his composure for even an instant.

Michael Binger, evidently well-hydrated, in his squeeze pose

The key heads-up hand (other than the final hand, of course) was when Binger took back the chip lead. By the time the action ended preflop, the pot was already over 300K, more than half of Binger's remaining stack. They checked the 753 rainbow flop, Stewart bet 225K on the jack turn, and Binger called. They both checked the river, and Binger's Q7 for a flopped pair of 7s beat Stewart's ace-high. Stewart had made at least one ill-timed big bluff when Binger had a big hand, so Stewart may have been getting a little gun-shy toward the end.

Binger started to step up the aggression right along with the blinds. He bullied Stewart off pots, kept the pressure on, yet never gave Stewart a chance to double up. Finally, Binger hit top pair on the flop, Stewart hit middle pair, and the money went in the middle. Binger's hand held and that was it. Congratulations, Mike! You played strong and never gave up.

Michael Binger with the lion's share: $181K, a WSOPC ring, and an entry into the 2009 WSOP Main Event

The WSOP Circuit events are back to what they were intended to be: PR for the actual WSOP in Las Vegas. No more TV coverage, precious little online coverage, and relatively small prize pools. Then again, stars like Johnny Chan, Chris Ferguson, Kathy Liebert, and others still show up. And that's enough to keep me coming back too. Next year I might even get up here early and actually play some cash games.

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