I can't remember the last time I had so much fun at a poker tournament. It's been a while. Dream Team Poker pleasantly surprised me. I thought it was going to be cheesy and lame and a mere distraction during gambling on March Madness games. Alas, my assumptions were wrong.
What was Dream Team Poker? 148 teams (444 total runners) made of up three players. The prize pool was split and awarded based on team results (60% or $133,200) and individual results (40% or $88,800). They basically take the top two scores from each team to determine team rankings. First place in the team category paid out almost $60,000 while the individual score was $24,000.
My crew? Tao of Pokerati with Shaniac and Michalski.
Poker can be a solitary pursuit. However, when I stepped into the poker room at Caesar's Palace, I felt the feeling that I forgot...the fun and social aspect... poker as a game for the pure pleasure of it all. The team aspect changed the entire focus of the tournament. Everyone was in a more festive mood. Relaxed. Having a good time and playing poker with friends.
Pros were actually enjoying themselves in a tournament because most of the time tournaments are work (for lack of a better word) in order to pay bills, feed their kids, fund their other vices, or paying off a debt. It's serious shit and they don't fuck around. Dream Team Poker had the air of a laid back celebrity/media or charity event but with a more serious competitive element.
Plenty of entities insist that poker is a sport, or at least, try to package it as a sport or sports entertainment. For the first time, I finally saw the sporting side to poker with the team concept. To use a golf analogy, it is sort of like watching the Ryder Cup when pro golfers from the U.S. form a team and take on a team comprised of Europe's best players. Usually the golfers wanted to gouge each others' eye balls out with tees, but for a brief instance, they all share a rare sense of camaraderie and acted as a support group instead of a group of mortal enemies.
Dream Team had a little bit of everything. Media coverage. Red carpet. A handful of local politicians. Lots of suits. Gaming executives. TV producers. It was sort of a Who's Who in poker with Matt Savage, Jeffrey Pollack, Jack Effel, and Andrew Feldman from ESPN sightings. Even the Mayor of Beverly Hills was in attendance. I shook his hand and told him that I lived in his principality... on the fringe in his slums of Beverly Hills. He flashed a wry smile and wished me good luck.
Lots of side action. Prop betting. Last longers. Some funny team names like '6 Hands, 4 Nuts, and a Rack' made up of Kristy Gazes, Eric Aude, and Jerry Yang. Originally Jose Canseco was supposed to play on that squad and Kristy was a last minute replacement. The crowd favorite was 'Team Favorites' was made up of Hellmuth, Matusow and Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss... who showed up to the cocktail party with a sultry companion in her 20s.
Poker Road entered a team (Sebok, Coourt & Jeff Madsen) along with Huff & Stapleton at Two Jacks in the Hole. The hombres at Wicked Chops Poker were also in the mix. Well, at least two-thirds of the crew. Chops and Addict played with Jason Calacanis, the biggest swinging dick on the internet. Calacanis replaced Snake who was in rehab or getting botox at the time. I don't buy the "running a marathon" excuse.
A couple of pros were too cool to wear their team jerseys. Our Tao of Pokerati jerseys were collared golf shirts and they looked alright. The jerseys served a purpose because it prevented colluding and chip dumping. You couldn't sit at the same table as someone on your team until the final two tables, or you were disqualified. If by chance you were moved to a similar table, you were given a redraw.
My team ate breakfast at the Bellagio and plotted our strategy. Shaniac degen'd $100 away on Keno before my apple wood smoked bacon and Vermont cheddar cheese omelete arrived. We gambled on the bill by playing Price Is Right. My bid was the closest and Shaniac ended up the loser. He paid the bill.
We really couldn't call ourselves the 420 All Stars because Shaniac is off the wagon. Or on the wagon? Whatever, you know what I mean. The kid is laying off the peace pipe and has been writing some kick ass stuff recently if you haven't been stopping by his corner of the interwebs.
The event was sold out and utilized every single table in the tournament room and it spilled out onto tables in the poker room. My starting table included Addict from Wicked Chops Poker and Mas from Poker Poison (Veneno's teammate). There was an empty stack between Addict and myself. After one level, it was pulled.
Maria Ho and David Williams sat at the adjacent table. Maria was constantly on her phone updating Twitter and checking out the progress of her teammates and friends. She even caught a typo from yours truly. I referred to her as MarioHo.
We started with 10,000 in chips and 40 minute levels. I won a pot in the first orbit with A-J. Nothing special, but it's always good to win your first hand especially when you're a little rusty.
I won a 2K pot from Addict. He limped. I popped him with As-Qs. He called. The flop was K-10-x. He check-called a 2/3 pot-sized bet. The turn was another King. He checked. I bet 2/3 the pot and he folded. Since I knew Addict followed my feed on Twitter, I did not mention my hand but planted a seed that I was way ahead with A-K.
The empty stack next to us was pulled and a guy with a short stack sat down. He busted two hands later when Addict took him out. And then the floor moved an empty stack from a late player. Every player got a card when they initially sat down at their starting table. The size of a business card, it had a bar code and your name and your team name. When you busted, one of the floor staff scanned your name and that's how they were able to accurately determine the place you finished in. Dozens of staff in referee-looking shirts wandered the floor with hand held scanners. I was intrigued and wondered how that concept could be utilized in future poker tournaments from both a management and media perspective. It would make the bubble at the Main Event run much more smoothly.
Sort of like a dog tag in war. When you bust, your barcode was scanned to indicate that you were officially eliminated from Dream Team Poker.
Flash forward. In 2029, something out of a speed-induced Philip K. Dick short story, poker media will no longer contain humans. The industry will become totally mechanized with bots and run by AI. We'll have microchips embedded into our index finger fingertip and a bar code on the back of our necks. All you have to do is swipe your finger over a scanner at the poker table to sign in. Or infrared scanners from the eye in the sky locked into your neck barcodes. RIFD poker chips instantly tracked stack sizes.
Anyway, the Dream Team tournament progressed and every few minutes a different team member would stop by to check up on someone at my table. Lots of relaying of information on fellow team members.
Thor Hansen, the Godfather of Scandi poker, took a seat at my table. T.J. Cloutier busted out early and wandered over to my table. He told Thor about the beat how he ran Kings into Aces. When he walked away, a few people snickered, "Is he heading to the craps table?"
I got dealt A-A and got involved in a pot with one of the three crazy Asian players at my table, but he insisted that he was abnormal. On a flop of 7-7-4, he bet out and I raised. He folded to my re-raise and said, "I'm the only Asian in Las Vegas who knows how to fold." He flashed pocket Jacks and tossed his cards towards the muck. I showed one Ace.
At the first break, I hovered around 12K and Shaniac was above average. Michalski took a big hit and slipped to under 3K. He busted shortly after the first break.
Thor Hansen cracked Aces with Queens. The flop was Q-5-5. He got his opponent to shove all in on the turn. I picked up Aces later that orbit and busted a player who had K-J. A King flopped and he shoved. I quickly called and knocked him out. My stack was around 16K until I doubled up Addict. My 8-8 was no match for his J-5.
I chipped up and then busted a player. I opened, he shoved with nines, and I called. My tens held up and my stack increased to 22K. Shaniac busted out and the entire fate of Tao of Pokerati was on my shoulders.
Then I got distracted with my degenerate sports betting. With less than two minutes to go in the UConn/Missouri game, UConn held a three point lead. The spread was six and that queasy feeling invaded my stomach that I always got when I was about to lose an absurd amount of money on a single basketball game. After a time out, A.J. Price drilled a jump shot. UConn led by 5. Missouri missed a jumper and UConn's Kemba Walker snagged the rebound and Missouri quickly fouled the freshman guard from the Bronx. Walker averaged 9 points a game all year. He had scored 23 points in total after the first three March Madness games... and he equaled that number with a 23 point performance to lead UConn in scoring. Walker calmly hit four free throws down the stretch to put his team up by 9 with 50 seconds left. Matt Lawrence from Missouri dropped a trey to get within six. Missouri fouled and UConn hit two free throws. 78-70 with 41 seconds to go. Missouri missed a three pointer, secured the rebound and missed a layup before finally scoring. 78-72 with 23 seconds to go. Two more successful free increased the lead to 8. Missouri made me sweat the final seconds when Zaire Taylor drilled a three pointer. Are you fuckin' shitting me? 80-75 with 12 seconds to go. Missouri fouled Craig Austrie, who hit two of the biggest free throws in recent sports betting memory for me. 82-75 with seven seconds left. The spread was 6 fuckin' points and Zaire Taylor missed a layup with 0:02 on the clock. The final score? 82-75. UConn miraculously covered on a missed layup. Wow. That was a tremendous swing. With that bet locked up. I relaxed and returned to focusing on the tournament.
I convinced Mas to fold Queens pre-flop. He opened 3x and I popped him from the button. He tanked for a couple of minutes and then folded Queens up. I flashed him my Kings. A couple of hands later, I found Jacks and opened to 1.8K. Guy to my right from the "West Coast Rounders" called. Old guy raised to 6K. Thor Hansen shoved all in. He was the big stack and had well over 50K. I folded my Jacks. The guy next to me said that he folded A-K. The old guy tanked and muttered something about folding Queens. He eventually folded and Thor won the pot worth of 10K. Thor tossed his cards towards the deal and lofted them high enough that my end of the table could see that he had Aces.
At the second break both my teammates were busto and with my stack at 17.5K. There were 248/444 left in the field. Joe Sebok was among the chipleaders with 100K. After the break, I picked up A-K more times that I could recall. I got zero action the first two times. On the third time, I raised Thor's big blind with Big Slick and he called. The flop was 10-7-3 rainbow. He checked and I knew that whatever I bet, he was going to check-raise me. I was about to check when I tossed a couple of chips worth 2/3 the pot. He quickly pulled out a half of a stack of 1,000 chips and announced a raise. I folded. I had run my stack up to almost 28K but after Thor manhandled me and I lost another small pot to him, I slipped to 12K.
Thor took out Addict and added more chips to his when his A-10 suited held up against Addict's Ah-4h. Marsha Waggoner took Addict's seat when she was moved to my table. In less than five minutes, she instantly doubled up with Kings. That was the start of her building a big enough stack to advance to Day 2.
I ran my stack back up to 23K before I lost most of it bluffing off my chips. As the saying goes, "You can't bluff a calling station." I could have played the hand a little better, although my opponent should have folded top pair with a weak kicker. That was my only mistake of the entire tournament, yet ultimately it led to my downfall.
I busted out a couple of hands later. I shoved with Ad-Jd for around 3K. Action folded to Mas in the big blind. He was pretty much committed and called with 8d-4d. I flopped a Jack and he flopped a four. I led until an 8 fell on the river. He won the pot with two pair and I was knocked out in 147th place. I managed to get some love from Matt at Poker Listings who mentioned me in his updates a couple of times. Matt titled my elimination post as... Dr. Pauly Gets Licensed Revoked.
I went out to the sports book and watched the last minute of the Pitt/Villanova game. I had Nova +2. They blew a 4 point lead with 20 seconds to go and Pitt tied the game at 76 with six seconds remaining. The anxious crowd of sports bettors huddled at Caesar's Palace sports book erupted when Scottie Reynolds hit a shot as time expired. Pandemonium. There was actually some time left on the clock and Nova had to cut short their celebration. Alas, it was essentially over. The last tenths of a second ran off the clock and Villanova advanced to the Final Four and I went 2-0 at the sports book.
The night ended when action got down to 27 players. The top 25 paid and Jamie Gold ended Day 1 as one of the shortest stacks. John Regis from Poker Masters ended the day as the chipleader. Mas, Tom McEvoy, Marsha Waggoner, and Thor Hansen also advanced. When action resumed on Sunday afternoon, the team concept really came into play. Jamie Gold from Team Aced doubled up quickly. He hung on to finish in 9th place. Team Aced, which included his girlfriend, Ashley Nataupsky, locked up first place in the team category.
Although Tao of Pokerati didn't win Dream Team Poker, we had a all around fun time. It was a cool and different concept and it's always a pleasure to play with your friends. Alex Outhred did a kick ass job acting as emcee. I'd actually like to participate again in the next event. Same team.
Stay tuned for new episodes of Tao of Pokerati podcast that we recorded over the weekend.
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