About a year ago, I found myself entirely sick of poker. I couldn't handle watching the capitalistic mutation of poker on TV. The root of bitter animosity was due to the oversaturation of poker programming along with a disdain for all things poker that I developed after being heavily immersed in the poker scene without any serious breaks. I had been drowning both mentally and creatively and last April, I began the slow process of pulling out of that blustery tail spin. I took major steps to do my best to do as much non-poker activities to balance out the necessary time that poker's role took in my life. I'm not much a TV person and do my best to curtail my viewing in favor of reading and music. So what little time I allotted for myself meant that I eliminated virtually all poker programming from my daily routines.
Flashback to 2002-03. I would go ape shit if there was a repeat of an old poker show on TV. I'd even jizz my pants when ESPN2 showed the Jack Binion Open with Humberto Brenes and Erik Seidel. During the first two seasons when the WPT repeated their Wednesday episodes on Saturdays, I watched them when they first aired and again on Saturdays. I once held a frenetic enthusiasm for televised poker and since then I lost interest, not just in programming but in poker itself. Too much of one thing is bad for your soul.
After I started covering WPT events in 2005, I stopped watching them on TV when they were aired months later. Derek would TiVo them for me but I never watched them. I caught them all live and had no desire to see them on TV. Although there were a few hands I was curious to find out what players held, that wasn't enough for me to sit through hours and hours of programming.
When the 2006 WSOP was aired on ESPN, I didn't watch those episodes. I might have caught one or two but I never made an effort to sit down and listen to the announcers crack bad joke after bad joke. Over the last couple of months, I've caught up on every one. Most of that viewing happened courtesy of JetBlue. They broadcast ESPN2 and ESPN Classic and during my many cross country flights I had the opportunity to see Jamie Gold's run for the World Championship. I also noticed that I was the grim reaper. I was spotted behind both Greg Raymer and Humberto Brenes during their elimination hands.
Photo courtesy of Flipchip
Over the last few weeks, I caught a couple of episodes of Poker After Dark on NBC for which I had higher expectations. I applaud NBC for trying to do something different. They were the only network who took a risk with poker. Sadly, their execution was slightly off. Poker After Dark is not as exciting as High Stakes Poker (HSP), which was was the first thing to slowly hook me back in. It felt good to see some real poker being played and players not having to push all in with junk on WPT final tables with hyper-accelerated blinds. I started watching more and more episodes of HSP and got Derek to TiVo a bunch for me when I was on the road.
When I left for Las Vegas several weeks ago, I programmed Derek's TiVo to record Entourage, The Sopranos, Heroes, High Stakes Poker, The Aussie Millions, and NBC Heads Up Championship. He had the WPT season pass already programmed. When I got back to NYC on Monday morning, I had dozens and dozens of hours of poker to dive into and I couldn't wait with my new-found passion of watching TV poker. Although I suspect that I'm loving the fact that I don't have to travel anywhere for 2 plus weeks and I can sit on the couch and rip bonghits while watching Humberto Brenes act like a clown.
The best part about these shows on TiVo is that I fast forward through all the dull parts and skip all those awful poker-related commercials. How many ads for Lucky You or Full Tilt Poker can I see? I crank through hour long programs in less than 30 minutes.
Over the last two days, I caught up on several hours of the Aussie Millions and NBC Heads Up Championship. I still have a couple of WPT episodes and HSP to watch which I'll get to eventually.
The Aussie Millions have been airing on Fox Sports and I found myself watching those mainly because I had such an amazing time in Australia and the broadcasts gave me a nifty flashbacks of my time in Oz. The Aussie Millions was great because I saw plenty of familiar faces in the background of the poker room shots such as Shronk, Mike, myself, Jonno, and Gaz.
Fox did some funny interviews with American pros and Aussie lingo in a segment called Down Under Dictionary. They'd ask Greg Raymer, Daniel Negreanu, and Phil Ivey about the definitions of words like barrack, dinkum, or barney. They didn't get too many.
They also had a lot of programming from the two days leading up to the final table. Their feature table constantly changed. The first one I saw had Kristy Gazes, Andy Black, and Gobboboy. Gazes had been running hot in Australia and she flopped quad jacks. Gazes tried to trap Gobbo but he checked the turn and folded on the river. He put her on a full house and asked if she flopped it or turned it. Gazes just smiled while she stacked up her chips.
I snapped this photo of Gobboboy and Kristy Gazes
Gobboboy was in rare form. It didn't matter if he was an underdog in so many hands, because he came from behind to win just about every time. At the feature table, he cracked A-A with As-Qs. He flopped the flush draw and rivered the flush. The guy he busted knew his Aces weren't going to hold up. And they didn't.
Fox frequently changed feature tables and the other one I caught was with Joe Hachem, Andy Black, and Jonas Buskas, the crazy Swede who loved to drink and talk hockey. I got drunk with him and his friends during one of the first nights in Melbourne. He bluffed at a pot with 10h-9h. That was a ballsy move with two Aces on the board against an Aussie with J-J. Buskas even showed the bluff. If there's one piece of advice I tell young players (or internet qualifiers playing in their first major event) is... don't show your bluffs!
Hachem played too passive. I saw him lay down three hands where he was the favorite; A-Q to K-9, A-4 to A-3, and A-10 to A-J. I would have mucked the A-Q hand. Andy Black had raised and another player had re-raised with K-9. When the action got to Hachem, he said he had to either push all in or fold. He put the guy on a strong hand and mucked. On the A-10 hand, he flopped second pair on a King high flop. Hachem folded to the pre-flop raiser who missed the flop completely, but fired out a continuation bet.
Fox also showed the biggest pot of tournament (at that time). On a board of Qc-Qh-4c, defending champion Lee Nelson held Kc-9c and Gus Hansen had Ac-Qs. Gus fired out at the pot and Nelson re-raised all in. Hansen quickly called with his trips versus Nelson. His flush never materialized and he headed to the rail. That hand helped push Hansen towards the front pack of the chipleaders.
Fox interviewed Andy Black a few times who claims to meditate up to two hours a day.
"I prepare my mind so my concentration remains for consistent for the game of poker," said Andy Black on trying to minimize his infamous blowups.
Black had won a PLO event on the first day he arrived and ended up taking 3rd in the Aussie Millions main event. He was on top of his game.
I also got to see Shaniac's bustout hand against Fricke. Here's what I originally wrote:
Shane "Shaniac" Schleger had been running well during the Main Event. Although his stack fluctuated over the first few days, he seemed in control on Day 3 until Gobboboy busted him by a brutal river suckout. All the money went in on the flop of Q-9-2. Shaniac flipped over Q-J and had Gobboboy dominated, who showed Q-10. Gobboboy caught running cards (a King on the turn and a Jack on the river) for a straight against Shaniac's two pair. That pot was close to 3M and a disgusted and stunned Shaniac headed to the rail in 19th place after getting his soul sucked out on the river. That hand made Gobboboy the first player to jump over 3M in chips.Fox also had an interesting bit on Gus Hansen talking into his voice recorder. If you have seen Hansen at tournaments recently, you'll notice that he's an avid note taker.
"Most poker players are lazy," he mentioned alluding to player's not reviewing their hands or examining his play.
Paul Wasicka joked that no one could understand what Hansen was saying because, "Gus was speaking in Dutch."
I think it was Danish.
Anyway, Wasicka went deep in the Aussie Millions and that was the first time I had a chance to watch him play aside from the 2006 WSOP main event. 2007 might be a bigger year for him because right after Australia, he made the final table of the WPT LA Poker Classic then drove out to Vegas hours after the final table ended so he could play in the NBC Heads Up Championship, where he was a last minute replacement for Phil Hellmuth.
Don't you like a heady segue?
I watched NBC's Heads Up and wanted to see how Wasicka went on to win. He beat several tough opponents including Joe Hachem. He came from behind on the last hand to eliminate Hachem. All the money went in the pot pre-flop. Hachem had raised all in and Wasicka reluctantly called. Hachem was ahead with As-9h against Wasicka's Ah-3h. Wasicka flopped a gutshot and a flush draw and got there on the river to bust Hachem. In the next round, Wasicka took down TJ Cloutier, who hit the craps tables moments after his elimination.
Shannon Elizabeth beat up on Jeff Madsen, who's gotten more props for banging Trishelle from The Real World instead of winning two bracelets at the 2006 WSOP. She hit two big flops against Madsen. She flopped two pair with Q-10 and the flopped a straight with 8-7o. She knocked out Madsen when her 8d-6d beat his pocket fives. Elizabeth flopped a flush draw. Neither player could watch the river and in true dramatic fashion, she flush spiked on the river as she advanced to the Sweet 16. In the Elite 8, Elizabeth bullied Barry Greenstein and even flopped a full house with J-6. I wonder if she got any tips from Greenstein during her brief fling with his son Joe Sebok last summer.
Best hand I saw on Heads Up was Humberto Brenes trying to steal a pot on the river with The Hammer. Huck Seed held A-10 and his Aces up on a board of J-J-3-A-3 bested Brenes' 7-2o. Seed looks stoned everytime he's interviewed.
The coverage of the Heads Up reminded me of the piss poor coverage that NBC provides for the Olympics. You get very little meat and too much hype with way too many commercial breaks. They only show a hand or two and you don't get a good grasp of the back and forth action of heads-up play. I understand that they are trying to jam in as much action as possible in the first two rounds, but what they picked... sucked. I have been fast-fowarding through most of those episodes. What a waste. Like I said, I was only interested in Wasicka's matches and focused on watching those.
By the way, Flipchip has some excellent photos of the Heads Up Championships. Check out: Heads Up Final Four Photos, Heads Up Sweet 16 Photos, and Heads Up Early Rounds Photos. One of those posts include a photo of Isabelle Mercier's eyes. Yummy.
I still have several more hours of poker to watch, mainly High Stakes Poker and the WPT. I should be caught up by the end of the week.
P.S. Happy belated 40 to Iggy.
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