Las Vegas. NV
I waited 44 days for the sure thing. The defining moment of the summer. The one incident that would set the 2008 WSOP apart from the previous four years that have blended into one long blurry flashback of bracelet winners, bad beat stories, excursions to strip clubs, binge drinking at the hooker bar, pot-bellied mulleted children running amuck at the Redneck Riviera, and lime tossing out back with a sad, tilty, and often suicidal Otis.
I stumbled upon a story that could have wrote itself before I even got out of bed in the morning. Phil Hellmuth and Mike Matusow. At the same table. Right next to each other. With Hellmuth having position on Matusow. At the featured TV table in front of hundreds of drooling, blood-thirsty fans. They were starving lunatics. Broke dick swine. Some drunk on cheap swill. Others mentally imbalanced. And those were my friends.
It was almost like the Romans waiting for the Christians to get tossed to the lions. The featured TV table was standing room only. The spectators were spilling out of the Beast Lounge with limbs dangling over metal rails waiting... waiting... for a meltdown. For a blowup. For the bloodshed.
The delirious mob anxiously waited to glimpse at the greatest show on Earth and rooted for their favorite villain and their favorite anti-hero.
Many of the frenzied fans took pictures of the backs of the heads of final table players... with flash... despite the pleas from Robbie that "flash photography was prohibited." I'm shocked that a brawl did not detonate in the stands or in the Beast Lounge between the loyal legion of Matusow fans and the smattering of Hellmuthheads.
At a Rangers hockey game in the early 1990s at Madison Square Garden, I witnessed a soused and irate group of fans pummel a poor sod who wore a Flyers jersey to the game. I mean, the Flyers weren't even playing so he had zero protection. New York's finest let the fans tear the jersey off the guy and get a few cheap shots in before they broke it up, then they ejected the clown for inciting a riot.
We weren't exactly center ice at the Garden, but we were on the biggest stage in all of poker with seven dwarfs who were overshadowed by The Mouth and The Brat. I had a front row seat... a strange invitation to watch the madness unfold before me.
Matusow had been on the featured TV table all day. The Poker Shrink was on site sweating his client. He told me that Matusow had taken his meds and they were working properly. You can listen here to our doctor to doctor interview in the latest episode of Tao of Pokerati called Madderall.
"I think the Matusow blow ups are a thing of the past," said a confident Poker Shrink who could tell when the medications were properly administered.
Matusow had a difficult time adjusting to his medications due to his sudden weight loss which occurred after winning a prop bet with Ted Forrest. It took longer than he wanted, but the slimmer Matusow found the correct dosage of Adderall. Too much? He would be bouncing off the walls. Too little? His mind is stale pudding.
During the dinner break, the Shrink hung out with Matusow and a security guard inside the VIP lounge. Hellmuth was at dinner and by default, Matusow was the only other VIP member left playing in the main event. Matusow paced backed and forth and analyzed his table for the Shrink. Matusow specifically said if the players in seat 2 or 3 raised his blind one more time, that he was going after them. Matusow also took a half of an Adderall to focus and settle down before he returned from dinner.
Well, just after the dinner break, Sean Davis raised his blind like he had been doing all day. Matusow did exactly as he promised to the Shrink. He moved all in for his last 540K. Davis quickly called with Big Slick. Matusow sheepishly tabled 10-5 and he knew that he picked the wrong time to make a move. He muttered a couple of expletives under his breath. I guess it was Matusow's day because he had live cards and flopped a 5. The crowd exploded. Erupted. Bursting with fruit flavors. Matusow went berserk. He jumped up and down as his fans clapped and cheered and stomped their feet for their hero. Matusow's hand held up and he doubled up.
"I shifted gears at the right time!" screamed Matusow. "It's time to go to work. I feel good!"
The rush. The excitement. The adrenaline. The confidence. Matusow fed on all if it. The more the fans cheered, the higher he got. Matusow hammed it up for the cameras. I could see dollar signs multiplying in the eyeballs of the suits at ESPN and Harrahs.
"Lemme tell you. I suck!" said Matusow as he worked the crowd like a crooked preacher ranting to a congregation of sinners on Sunday morning seeking salvation in the last place they'll find it.
Enter Phil Hellmuth. The gates of Hades flew right open. When the smoke cleared the room, Hellmuth sat down with about 1 million in chips.
"Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!" Matusow repeatedly screamed as he jumped up and down like a little kid on Christmas who just got a brand new bike.
Once word got out that Hellmuth and Matusow were seated right next to each other at the TV table, the vultures flocked. Media row had been empty all day except Tassie Devil covering it for PokerNews. All of a sudden, everyone was interested in the potential fireworks.
Photos by flipchip • lasvegasvegas.com
I wondered how the dynamic of Hellmuth would change the chemistry of the table? Hellmuth was rather quiet when he sat down. Over the first fifteen minutes, I suspected that Hellmuth was studying his opponents and letting Matusow run the show. The Mouth had been the table captain since he sat down at noon and continued to do so.
"I came out to hang out with my buddy Phil. I He just got here and he told me how great he is. Now I gotta sit here and hear for ninety more minutes!" Matusow yelled out to the crowd as the ate up every single morsel and sound bite like it was the last scraps of food on Earth.
When Hellmuth and Matusow talked, they whispered things to each other with Matusow hiding his face with his hand sort of like when a pitcher and catcher has a mound conference.
Matusow and Hellmuth were the two biggest sharks left in the Main Event. They were obviously avoiding each other. Like a rigged election or a fixed boxing fight when two big names are matched up but both completely dog it and throw half-assed punches and dance around all night because they don't want to get hurt and just want to collect the paycheck. The hardest thing in the entertainment business is giving the voracious fans what they want. At least something... anything... otherwise they'd be a mutiny and hurl empty Beast cans, small coins, car batteries, bar stools, and Everest seat cushions at the stage.
Yeah, it was very obvious after the first twenty minutes that Hellmuth and Matusow were going to avoid each other. They focused on trying to pick off the weaker players. But as Matusow had told the Shrink at the dinner break, "Everyone is a solid player." A few were aggressive that Matusow would try to set up. He took chips off of one of those guys in that fortunate hand when he outflopped Big Slick with 10-rag.
Chino Rheem shifted gears and picked up the most chips in the first hour of the Hellmuth/Matusow dynamics. Greg Mueller had two horses at the featured table. One of them was Rheem and he got happier and happier the more chips that he won.
"Chino? He was on tilt. Full blown fuckin' tilt. His chips were going everywhere. But look at him now," said Matusow.
The featured table players had been playing with Matusow all afternoon and night. They were sort of conditioned to Matusow's bizzaro world. They didn't seem intimidated by Hellmuth at all. In fact, they were gunning for him. In their eyes, Hellmuth swam into their territory. Hellmuth was fresh fish. The hunted. The target.
Hellmuth got pushed off a pot by Aaron Keay and he mumbled something as he folded his hand.
"I object to all of you picking on my friend Phil. Leave him alone!" pleaded Matusow trying to egg on Hellmuth and work the crowd at the same time.
After about seventy-five minutes of the lackluster Hellmuth and Matusow match up, I was disappointed. Let down. Hyped. Much ado about nothing. Like that last Hollyweird flick with your two favorite stars that went nowhere. I wanted a refund. I could have been roaming the hallways trying to figure out who Oliver or other agents were going to rumble over once the day was complete. Watching agents trying to secure clients at the end of the day is sort of like watching a trio of monkeys fuck a football. It's kinda funny but utterly pointless.
And on the last hand of the night... it finally happened. An implosion of Hellmuthian proportions.
Here's what Tassie Devil wrote for PokerNews titled Hellmuth Ends the Day With a Blow-up...
Cristian Dragomir opened with a raise to 80,000 before Hellmuth made it 255,000 to go from the small blind.Who would have thought? 10-rag once again outflops Big Slick.
"I hope he doesn't have aces," said Hellmuth as Dragomir asked for a count. After a few moments, Dragomir made the call.
They saw a flop of 9c-10c-7s and Hellmuth checked to Dragomir, who thought for a moment before firing a healthy bet of 300,000. Hellmuth sighed in disgust before folding As-Kh face-up on the table.
Matusow laughed and said to Dragomir to show the bluff, and Dragomir flipped 10d-4d! Matusow and the crowd roared in hysterics as Hellmuth jumped out of his seat and stormed around the room berating his opponent for calling his reraise with ten high.
"Listen buddy, you're an idiot!" screamed Hellmuth. "This is the Main Event and you are the worst player in history!" he continued as the crowd was loving every moment of the blow-up.
Dragomir's entourage continued to cheer as Hellmuth continued the barrage. The TD stepped in and issued a warning to Hellmuth to settle down before Dragomir stood up out of his chair to put Hellmuth back in his place with a cry of, "Enough is enough!"
Fortunately for both players the clock ticked over to the end of the level, and the end of the day's play to settle both players down. They eventually shook hands and began to bag up their chips as Mike Matusow summed up the situation best as he shouted, "Thank God for Phil Hellmuth! Thank God for Chris Moneymaker!"
10-2 was cool in the 1970s when The Hustle and platform shoes were in style. The Hammer was soooooo 2004. As we approach the end of the decade, 10-rag is the new bullshit hand. Michalski the opportunist has already started printing up shirts in his garage.
Hellmuth lost control. He berated Dragomir so much so that tournament director Steve Frezer gave Hellmuth a one orbit penalty. Frezer yellow carded Hellmuth for his outlandishly gauche behavior. Finally. Someone stood up to the bully and bitched slapped Hellmuth like a red-headed step-child at a family picnic. Since time expired for Day 5, Hellmuth must sit out the first orbit on Day 6. He wasn't pleased with the ruling.
Lucky for Hellmuth, play was over for the night. He could have steamed off all of his chips if play continued. As is, he ended Day 5 as one of the shortstacks with 79 players to go. Hellmuth got a new table draw for Day 6 and is no where near Mile Matusow.
Warning... tin foil hat time. During the last two hours of Day 5, the winds of the whispers of the 'conspiracy to fix the featured table' swirled around the Amazon Room. Hellmuth's table broke and he headed to the featured TV table with Mike Matsuow. Coincidence?
New World Order. Illuminati. Roswell. ESPN.
I wrote this in the live blog when Hellmuth sat down... I think everyone at ESPN wet themselves with the possibility of a an insane blow up. Then again, I think they were also cringing, because the thought of one of them bust(ing) the other would not be good for ratings. In a perfect world, the two would avoid each other and meet at the final table.
Jimmy Sommerfeld once rigged the final three tables of an event in Reno so the action would go quicker. He was up front with the players and explained what he did so it wasn't really any controversy. But on Day 5 of the WSOP main event? Several people called shenanigans when Hellmuth strolled up to the featured table.
It was a one in nine shot that Hellmuth got the empty seat card that would send him to the TV table. Did someone plant that card? Or was it totally random? It all depends on how you view the world.
Some of my friends have a serious distrust for corrupt institutions and corporations especially when there's millions of dollars and jobs and reputations on the line. All though the poker conspiracy theorists don't have proof, they firmly believe that they know a fix when they see it.
The existentialist in me believes that life is a godless and chaotic universe full of random coincidences. Ergo... that Hellmuth final table draw was totally random. Sorry to crumble your tin foil hats into a little ball. The fix was not in. Or maybe it was? And I'm part of the vast conspiracy trying to help the cover it up. The truth is out there. Trust no one.
Two men entered. Two men left. One rode a tidal wave of confidence. The other? Slid deep into the depths of mega-tilt.
Hellmuth and Matusow both return at noon on Sunday to battle it out to the final 27. They are two of the most recognizable characters in poker and aside from a few Matusow and Hellmuth haters, everyone involved in poker is hoping that both players advance one more day.
Can Hellmuth regroup, peak into the souls of his opponents, and remain bulletproof for one more day? Can Matusow stay focused on his meds and continue his run and make Flipchip look like a genius for picking Matusow to win the Main Event on the night before it began?
The wretched squall of Hellmuth and Matusow continues...
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