Las Vegas, NV
Supposedly, Phil Ivey was going to "big time" the TOC and blow it off to play real poker instead. With millions in prop bets on the line, you can't blame Ivey for wanting to focus on bracelet events instead of a glorified made-for-TV freeroll. Ivey's potential snub of the TOC, despite being the top vote getter, worried officials. Would more pros would skip out if Ivey bailed?
In the parlance of Sportscenter speak, "This is Phil Ivey's universe... we're just paying rent."
The TOC was rescheduled at the last minute -- instead of one day of action playing from 27 to 9, the TOC split into two four-level segments (starting at noon on Sunday and continuing at noon on Monday). The final table is scheduled for July 4th (day before the Main Event). Whoever is left at the end of Day 2 will return next week.
The last minute schedule change was more accommodating for the TOC players (especially Ivey) so everyone could play in bracelet events. In fact, some of the Day 2 and 3 restarts were pushed back as well. As a result, everyone who was invited had played without any issues.
The concept of the current TOC rubs me the wrong way because two players in the field (sponsor exemptions Andrew Barton and Elky) are not bracelet winners. If you want to run this event, just don't call it Tournament of Champions because it is misleading, or as Benjo would say... it's booshit. I have no beef if the sponsor exemption goes to a bracelet winner who didn't get voted in, because at least, they met the "champions" criteria.
Here's my suggestion about three similar events that satisfies everyone's needs...
1. The Real TOC. Have a yearly tournament with only Main Event champs, 50K winners, and WSOP-Europe Main Event winners. The winner gets a motorized scooter and the chance to pick the format of the tournament the next year (HORSE, NL, PLO/8, Razz, etc.).These three different events meets the needs of three separate entities: the TOC pays homage to the champions of yesteryear, the Bracelet Invitational honors the current bracelet winners, and the All-Star Game lets the public watch their favorite pros.
2. Bracelet Invitational. Hold a special event during the November Nine festivities for every player who had won a bracelet over summer, including the WSOP-E. This is similar to the PGA's Player's Championship (where you must win an event on the PGA to qualify to the season ending event). The winner of the Bracelet Invitational gets a year's supply of beef jerky and a $1 million cash bonus.
3. All-Star Game. Four table SNG. Let the fans pick any player they want for this "TOP 40" made-for-TV event. Everyone is happy. The fans feel special because they were a part of the selection process. The players are happy because they have a shot a face time on TV without having to wade through a week of donkey dung. And the TV people are happy because they have a product with lots of familiar faces that will attract viewers and advertisers other than online poker rooms.
I arrived at the Rio before noon, which is something I had not been doing much of this year, opting to come in a little later and staying later. It was sort of strange walking into the Amazon Ballroom and seeing Doyle sitting on his scooter and chatting with Mile Sexton. The topic: sports betting, which was kinda cool to hear what they were bragging about, and what bad beats they recently endured. Dan Harrington joined the circle and I headed to my seat in the press box. I could hear the voluminous musings of Mike Matusow from the other side of the room. He was trying to get odds that a twenty-something would win the event (Cada, Eastgate, or Elky).
The fans were eventually let into the amusement park and they wandered around like little kids in Disney World taking photos with Goofy and Pluto. Most of the TOC players were mingling around the TV stage trying to figure out their seating assignments. The three table tournament would be scattered across the Amazon ballroom in three of the four corners of the room instead of in the same spot. The featured table was used, but not the secondary beef jerky final table. Instead, the tertiary tables in front of the dual press boxes on opposite sides of the room were the locations of the other two tables.
"Have you covered a tournament when all tables involved were this far apart?" wondered my British colleague Howard.
"And have you ever seen pros this bored with a million on the line?" asked Snoopy. "They're rather quiet, not saying much, paying more attention to their iPhones and scratching their balls."
The spectators quickly grabbed seats inside the stadium final table area. The early birds also camped out near available spots on the various rails of the other two tables. They all had cameras. Some had two. Different shapes and sizes from disposables to iPhones. One foreign guy toted around a video camera and was shooting footage of Jesus healing two lepers in the hallway, before one of the security guards busted him.
The TOC brought out the best and the worst of the Amazon Ballroom with hungover media reps rushing into work an hour earlier (I consider myself an insider and I found out about the change in schedule less than 18 hours before start time... apparently, I missed the press release which had the time change buried. Then again, I haven't read a press release in three years). Agents were slithering around the press box. Lots of flashes going off from the clueless spectators. And everyone was wondering where the fuck was Phil Hellmuth?
Actually, when cards went in the air, only Hellmuth, Huck Seed, and Howard Lederer were not at their respective tables. Hellmuth is... well, Hellmuth, and he was not going to show up on time. It's his shtick -- he arrives late with the cameras awaiting his tardy arrival. At this instance, Hellmuth arrived late and headed right to the TV table. He was shocked that he wasn't at that table. An embarrassed Hellmuth quickly exited the set and rushed over to the other side of the room with a Starbucks in hand.
Huck Seed marches to his own beat. Who knows if he overslept, or didn't get word about the change in the start time (originally it was 1pm and he arrived at 12:43pm). When Huck took his seat, Ivey instantly gave him shit.
The Lederer's absence whipped a few people in a frenzy, even Michalski who showed up at the Rio early because he has this theory (more like a forced wish) that the DOJ is going to pop Lederer and Jesus during the WSOP and make them do a perp walk. Michalski wants to be here when that happens. Most media reps will drop anything to see a specific pro try to win a bracelet, but Michalski just wants pics of pros in handcuffs.
Alas, the DOJ didn't bust Lederer (or Jesus) during the $50,000 Players' Championship, and they certainly didn't do anything at the TOC. Lederer finally arrived and quietly took his seat at the featured TV table which included his sister, Annie Duke, and her nemesis Daniel Negreanu. Those two have never liked one another. One of the first ever threads I read on the old RGP boards was a spat involving Negreanu and Duke, where he accused her of having smelly feet. That was right after 9/11 when I was grinding it out at the underground card rooms in NYC and I had yet to start blogging on Tao of Poker. Almost a decade later, the two still have some bad blood, so much so that the denizens of 2+2 started their own sweat thread titled Negreanu sitting next to Annie Duke in TOC.
Duke pretty much ignored Negreanu, and chose to chill out with a shitfaced Scotty Ngyuen -- the lesser of two evils in her eyes. And yes, Scotty was three sheets to the wind. One of my sources informed me that Nguyen has been tipping cocktail servers to bring him bottles of O'Douls (non-alcoholic beer) but with all of the non-beer pour out and replaced by Nguyen's beverage of choice -- Michelob. Yep, this is the same Scotty Nguyen who made a mockery of the 50K HORSE the year that he won it, and then vowed to never drink on TV to avoid embarrassing his family further. I dunno who he was fooling, aside from himself.
While Scotty was getting sloppy (at 1pm mind you -- and not at the tail end of a twelve hour session), Andrew Barton sat at the table in front of my press box. He was the "sponsored exemption" and one of the only two non-bracelet winners in the TOC (Elky was the other). He went from watching his tablemates on TV, to sitting across from them. I guess he was living the dream that so many of you have -- playing against the best of the best with Johnny "Fucking" Chan to your left and an intimidating Jesus sitting across from you.
Due to the Donkulus running inside the Pavilion, the 1pm Deep Stack tournament was moved to the blue section of Amazon Ballroom. For the first time this summer, we had a slew of amateurs inside Amazon. Any of the real donkeys would have been playing in the Donkulus, which means the blue section was filled with what Benjo called "donks in training." Baby donks, or the area of the cafeteria in high school where all of the freshmen hung out. Thought it was an interesting contrast to the TOC running in the other three corners of the room. Fans were four and five deep on the rail for Ivey's table. The Stadium seating at the TV table was filled up along with standing room only up in the beef jerky lounge.
Five players busted out on Day 1, or rather, in the first four levels. POY leader John Juanda, was the first to bust out, and he was followed by Greg Raymer, Barry Shulman, Phil Ivey, and Sammy Farha. Ha, the joke was on the WSOP. Even after the schedule was changed to accommodate Ivey, he was among the first bustouts (in all fairness, it was a bad beat).
Bouncin' Round the Room on Day 31...
It was a hectic weekend day with two final tables, the TOC, and a Donkulus. Both events with scheduled final tables still had to play down. The re-start for Day 2 of the Mixed Game and Day 3 of PLO/8 were both delayed due to the TOC.
Event #45 Donkament Day 3 and Final Table: Alex Outhred survived two days in the killing fields, but he was among the first causalities on Day 3. Cash game specialist Thomas Bichon (one of the French Team PokerStars Pros with Arnaud Mattern) fell short of the final table in 11th place. Ray Coburn was the only player among the final nine that stood out. I recall that he cashed in a couple of EPT events many moons ago.
A Brazilian advanced to the final table, Thaigo "TheDecano" Nishijimajust, and I love how that name sounds -- very Shakespearean -- heroic, yet tragic. Whenever a Brazilian has a shot at a bracelet, Maridu blows a vuvuzela and every Brazilian within in a 420 miles radius rushes to the Amazon Ballroom as the rail becomes washed in a sea of yellow and green. I dig the Brazilians; they always bring their own booze and have ass-shaking samba ringtones on their mobile phones.
Alas, TheDecano busted in third place and the flash mob of Brazilians quickly dispersed. Ray Cobourn had to settle for second, while Jesse Rockowitz took down the bracelet.
Event #46 PLO/8 Day 3 and Final Table: 18. 23. 14. 13. 2. 17. 39. Nope, that's not Hurley's numbers from Lost, nor last night's Powerball numbers. Those are Chainsaw Kessler's seven cashes this summer. He was once in fierce contention for the POY race, but he needs a bracelet victory and then some to catch up to John Juanda and Frank Kassela. At the least, he went deep enough to get another food comp.
The final table was a motley crew: Erik Seidel (consummate pro), Leif Force (a former-pro disc golfer which is a clever term for 'hippie'), Chris Bell (one of Gavin Smith's former drinking buddies), Perry Green (1981 Main Event runner-up who lost heads-up to Stu Ungar), Dan Shak (hedge fund manager), Rob Hollink (Dutch pro who was the reason why Brandon Schaefer didn't win two EPT events in 2005), and how could we forget about Devilfish Ulliot (dirt dick).
I have probably written thousands of words about Devilfish's penchant for young women (who are barely legal and we're talking within days of that danger zone), but at this point it's become one of those "cliches" that beat poker writers make fun of during breaks at our anger management meetings. The ultimate cliche is a hack writer writing about the Devilfish cliche, which I'm doing... and I'll stop that right now.
Seidel had a pretty decent afternoon as the end of Day 1 chipleader in the TOC. His good juju spilled over into the PLO/8 event. Even though he was one of the shorties, Seidel grinded his way to an average stack at the final table. Seidel is a member of the Ocho Club with Phil Ivey. They are doing what they can to keep Men the Master out (not that they are discriminating, they just don't respect cheaters), so they are trying to win nine bracelets as fast as they can. Only four men have won more bracelets than Seidel -- Phil Hellmuth (11), Doyle Brunson (10), Johnny Chan (10), and Johnny Moss (10).
With six to go, Seidel was third in chips. Leif Force busted out in 5th, and Siedel ad slipped to fourth in chips. He could not get anything going at that point and fizzled out in 5th place. Devilfih was eliminated in surprising third place (another deep run for the Brits), meanwhile a heads up match was set between Chris Bell and Dan Shak. When the dust settled, it was the North Carolina boy, Chris Bell, who emerged with the bracelet. I wonder if Erick Lindgren still backs Chris Bell, because if he does, Lindgren just had a fantastic weekend with both of his horses winning bracelets with victories from Bell and Gavin Smith.
Photos courtesy of Harper & Benjo.