Las Vegas, NV
Very few people visit Las Vegas for salvation and redemption, but every once in a while, a player has a shot at exorcising past demons. In poker, you're often at the mercy of the fickle poker gods, and fnd yourself at the shit end of so many situations during the pursuit for glory. Sometimes you wait days, weeks, months, and years for atonement.
For Gavin Smith and Dean Hamrick, they both got that rare opportunity.
The name Dean Hamrick rang a bell. It took me a few minutes before his name and face crystallized in my memory banks... flashback to 2008... where Hamrick was bubbled off the Main Event final table in 10th place. Essentially, Hamrick became the first ever November Nine Bubble Boy.
Since that soul-crushing moment, Hamrick managed to final table a donkament last summer, but didn't bring home the bracelet. When he advanced to the final table of one of this summer's donknaments, Event #42 to be exact, he arrived with a salty taste in his mouth. He was not about to let this opportunity slip through his finger tips.
Hamrick attracted a bevy of young fans, mostly his friends which included the reigning champ Joe Cada. To them, Hamrick was their hero. If you don't know Hamrick's back story, he walks with the assistance of two crutches due to complications at birth. He was born with club feet and encountered other serious health issues. He had over a baker's dozen worth of surgeries, but is still limited crutches. Unable to compete in athletics and other sporting activities, Hamrick turned to poker. The rest is history.
Flashforward to the Rio... Hamrick had home court advantage with an overwhelming support group and whenever it seemed as though he was ready to hit the road -- something tremendous happened in his favor. Early on at the final table, he avoided elimination when he woke up with pocket Kings against Niccolo Caramatti's pocket nines. Hamrick's Kings held and he doubled up as his friend chanted, "Go Dean-o!"
As the night wore down, Hamrick found himself heads-up against Thomas O'Neal. He held the lead and began to chip away before O'Neal won a flip to take the lead. All of a sudden, O'Neal went on the offensive and took a 4-1 lead. Hamrick caught a little luck when he got it all in with Ac-6c against O'Neal's A-8. They ended up chopping the pot and Hamrick avoided an elimination.
That fortunate second chance (sense a theme here?) is all that Hamrick needed. He went on a run where he captured the chip lead and then finally pulled away with the victory sometime around sunrise. Epic day. Epic final table. Epic heads-up battle.
The 2008 WSOP Main Event November Nine Bubble Boy will no longer have that dubious distinction on his resume, because Hamrick now has a WSOP bracelet for us media-types to talk about.
Bracelets trump all things bubbly.
Gavin Smith is one of those rare characters in poker that can lighten up the darkest of rooms. He's a part rodeo-clown and part-savant; he's a a throwback to the old era and could have easily held his own in the rough and tumble days on Downtown Vegas in the 1970s.
Gavin Smith won over $5 million during his decade-long poker career, which is good enough to put him at second on the All Time Canadian Money List. Daniel Negreanu is the only player from north of the border who has more earnings than Gavin.
Most recently, Gavin has publicly confronted his issues with the bottle, one of very few pros who had no qualms about acknowledging his life leaks. Gavin is a hall of famer in all matters related to liquid refinements, but the superfluous booze and late nights had taken its toll. The Vegas nightlife has swallowed up many a man and ruined fortunes in the process. Over the last few years, Gavin waffled back and forth between periods of prohibition, moderation, and full-blown benders of epic proportions. In the past, Gavin needed the extra incentive of prop betting to keep him sober. These days, he's been seeking out the help of a life coach. Whatever he's been doing -- it worked the last two days.
One thing is for sure, when Gavin Smith lays off the sauce and finds a harmonious balance in life, he is one of the toughest hold'em players in Vegas. During Day 2 of Mixed Hold'em, Smith more than held his own. According to the reporters covering the event (Shamus and Chip Bitch), Smith was playing the LHE rounds superbly. He also made a couple of timely "hero calls" in the NL rounds as he chipped up throughout the day.
Gavin Smith easily advanced to the final table with a healthy stack and second in chips. Also advancing were fellow Canadian Daniel Idema, WSOP-Circuit guru Dwyte Pilgrim, and Jamie Rosen. After Gavin bagged up his chips, he politely answered a few questions for the media, while sipping a coke of course. A year or two ago, it would have been a rum and coke. A jovial Gavin displayed his sense of humor with his final table bio sheet. Under "lifetime ambition" he mentioned that one day, he'd like to be the media director of the WSOP.
Gavin Smith is apparently back to the top of his game. He returns to the Amazon Ballroom on Saturday afternoon with just eight men standing in his way of shipping his first ever bracelet.
Bouncin' Round the Room on Day 29....
Friday night at the Rio... always a fun time when the party people come out of the wood work and the casino's population losses significant IQ points as the BAC level dramatically increases. Kudos to Rio's security who helped clear out a gaggle of (non-media) drunks from the press box.
Event #43 10K HORSE Championship Day 3 and Final Table: Just like pretty much every non-NL event so far this year, the final table was not set by the conclusion of Day 2. The HORSE players began Day 3 with two tables and played out for several hours before a final table of eight was set. Brian Townsend held the top spot during the latter part of Day 2, but struggled early on Day 3. He fell short of the final table with a 10th place finish. Scott Fischman bubbled off the final table in 9th place, and the final table was finally set.
With eight to go, Matt Glantz held the lead over a final table that included the Eugene "White Russian" Katchalov, Carlos Mortensen, Nick Schulman, Marco Traniello, and Crazy Marco Johnson. Oh, and how could we forget about Richard Ashby? The Brit was going for his second bracelet this summer and the sixth overall for the United Kingdom.
Carlos Mortensen: poker pro, architect, narcoleptic
Traniello was short-stacked and his time at the final table was short-lived. He bailed out in 8th. Nick Schulman departed next in 7th place, and when he busted, the three hottest spectators in the stands, who were part of his entourage, also left. Mortensen couldn't get anything going and fizzled out in 6th place.
The remaining five played for a couple of hours as the lead changed hands many times over. During the breaks, Richard Ashby bolted over to the blue section on the other side of the room to play his stack in the 5pm PLO/8 "faux rebuys" event. Ashby was getting blinded out yet managed to chip up a bit during breaks in the HORSE final table. He would make Day 2 of that event...while Day 3 of his other event had yet to finish.
Shortly after 3am, Matt Glantz found himself as the shortstack and busted out in 5th place, as Ian Gordon had jumped into the lead with four to go. Only Ashby, Katchalov and CrazyMarco were standing in his way of the bracelet. When the action passed the 4am hour, Marco exited in 4th place. Gordon was still out in front with three to go. They quickly got rid of the Russian in third place. The heads up match was set... Ian Gordon vs. Richard Ashby. Gordon was virtually an unknown as a twenty-something pro from Montana, but he had over a 4-1 chip advantage over the British pro. It didn't take long before Gordon took down the tournament.
The Brits failed to win a 6th bracelet and mustered up yet another runner-up finish at the WSOP. To Ashby's credit, he now has a first and second under his belt at the WSOP, which should move him up a bit in the POY standings, but not enough to overtake the leaders -- John Juanda and Frank Kassela.
Late Night Hijinks: It started with a simple toss. A stack of used scratch paper sat in messy pile within my reach. The yellow pieces of paper belonged to Benjo and his colleagues who had scribbled down hands, notes, and chip counts during their daily rounds. I crumbled up one of the yellow sheets and took aim at an empty plastic cup on the table of the lower level of our two-tiered press box. I let it rip. Wide left. I instantly grabbed another piece of yellow paper, crumpled it up, and unleashed another toss. Wide right. Fuck me. I attempted another toss. That's when Benjo saw what I was doing and he joined in. It wasn't lime tossing, and I would never dare engage in that utter deviancy without Otis, but we were definitely gambling on a derivative of "throwing things" bets. Simply put -- a piece of paper in a cup.
Within minutes, five other slap-happy reporters joined us. Ten minutes later, we had a dozen media reps from different international outlets attempting the now impossible feat. No one could get the paper in the cup. A couple attempts came close. I grazed the outer lip at one point, but that was it. The size of the paper balls varied.
"Your balls are too small," commented one participant to another.
Hundreds of wadded up paper balls were unleashed toward the direction of the cup. At one point Shamus went out to collect the missed pieces of paper, like the guy who gets to drive the caged-cart at the driving range that retrieves all of the golf balls.
Just when it looked like no one could score a basket, Tim the intern from Bluff (otherwise known as Timtern), came out of nowhere and dropped a paper wad. Swish. Dead solid perfect. He won the prop bet. I peeled off a bill from my roll and the kid doubled his daily intern salary.
Some times my favorite moments at the WSOP happen spontaneously. Like 2am in the pressbox. After 29 days in the jungle, throwing wadded paper balls seems like the most meaningful thing you've done that day.
With that said, I'm eagerly awaiting Otis' arrival for another summer of lime tossing.
Photos courtesy of Harper & Benjo.