Las Vegas, NV
"There's 17 people watching final table of biggest Stud hi/lo tournament in the world," commented Benjo. "One of them asleep and one is a dog."
Despite the high-caliber of talent assembled at the final table of Event #15 $10,000 Stud Hi/Lo, the stands were virtually empty compared to just 48 hours earlier when Tom "durrrr" Dwan and his multi-million dollar bracelet bet had packed the joint to the rafters in one of the most electric final tables that I had witnessed in six years.
Day 1 of the 10K Stud Championship had begun under duress with a chunk of the field distracted by durrrr's run at a bracelet which threatened to dent the bankrolls of poker's high-stakes community. By Day 3, when the final table was finally set, a sparse crowd greeted them.
The stacked final table included six known pros and two Russians: Jen Harman, Steve Zolotow, John Juanda, Frank Kassela, Chainsaw Kessler, Dario Mineri, Vladimir Schmelev and Kirill Rabtsov. I never heard of Rabtsov before, but Schmelev went deep in the 50K 8-Game when he lost heads-up to The Grinder.
Day 3 began with 19 players and still three places off of the money. At that point, a trio of Russians remained including Sergey Altbregin. With two tables to go, Altbregin and Schmelev were randomly seated next to each other in seats 1 and 2. They spoke in Russian between hands, but it's when the banter occurred during hands that the players, dealers, and floor had a problem. Despite the warnings, the two persisted until the floorman threatened a penalty. They complied.
A dozen Russians flocked on the rail and the air filled with the cacophonous sounds of four different conversations in the same Cossack language. For a second I thought I was having a flashback of riding a Brooklyn F train. That's when I spotted the mysterious man with the satchel on the rail, standing next to Alex 'KGB' Kravchenko. He was seen at different times during the 10K event on Day 2 and during the final two days of the 50K 8-Game. A couple of the Russians left when Altbregin busted in 11th place, yet the man with the satchel remained.
When Gary Benson bubbled off the final table in 9th place, the action was paused so the final 8 could take an hour dinner break. While I was in the middle of dinner, Chainsaw wandered by and even rapped his knuckles on the table. Yep, my girlfriend and I got a flyby hello from Chainsaw and thirty seconds later we saw Eskimo Clark wandering down the hallway.
10K Stud 8 Championship Final Table
Chainsaw had a shot at a bracelet... but he'd have to outsmart and outnit a handful of superior players, and he also had to worry about Dario Minieri. I guess Super Dario was trying to live up to Wicked Chops Poker' Year of the Woman. I kid. I kid.
But seriously Dario, what's the deal with the white Goomba shoes circa Gotti's crew in the early 1980s, white designer pants, and white belt? The Fashion Police, led by Change100, definitely did not approve of the young Dario's ensemble.
"He looks like he's ready for a night on the town in WeHo," mentioned Change100.
You see, because Dario is Italian, he can get away with things like dressing up for a night on the town in Provincetown. He even busted out his special scarf for the final table.
"My secret weapon," he insisted.
Jen Harman is perpetually cold. On Day 2, she was wrapped in a hoodie, scarf, and a blanket... and was still chilly. On Day 3, she wore a hoodie underneath a jean jacket, but also had a scarf. Ah ha, Dario wasn't the only girl wearing a scarf at the final table.
Alas, the secret magic scarf did not work for Dario, and he busted out in 8th place. Vladimir Schmelev made a third final table since the 2010 WSOP began. He finished in 7th place in the 10K Stud and managed to finish in 7th place in 10K Stud 8. If you include his 2nd place score in the 50K, that's an auspicious start to the 2010 WSOP for Schmelev... which puts him atop of the Player of the Year rankings.
Rabtsov, the last standing Russian, could do no better than sixth. If there's one thing I learned over the first two weeks of the WSOP -- the Russians have become excellent Stud players. Kravchenko, Schmelev, and Rabtsov were all patient, disciplined, and knew when to push the edge.
Some of the media were whispering about a potential John Juanda vs. Jen Harman matchup for the bracelet -- but also dreading if that scenario happened because the two are such methodical and patient players that a six plus hour HU battle was entirely possible. However, after several hours of five handed play, Jen Harman coughed up the chip lead and Frank Kassela took control of the final table. He pulled away as the other four beat each other up and began to fall behind.
Juanda busted in fifth, followed by Steve Z in fourth place. With three to go, Jen Harman could not muster up a comeback and exited in a disappointing third place. For Big Game pros like Harman, the money means very little compared to the time they had invested (three days in this case). Harman was in it for the bracelet, but could only get as close as third place.
At the inaugural WSOP-Europe in London, I had the pleasure of watching Jen Harman's final table in a HORSE event. She had German pro Thomas Bihl on the ropes with less than a couple of BBs, but she could not deliver a blockout blow. Bihl had escaped death and mounted one of the most insane comebacks to defeat Harman.
The 2007 WSOP-E was a historic moment in poker, particularly for women in poker. Annette Obrestad was a few days shy of her 19th birthday. The WSOP-E was her first opportunity to have a shot at a bracelet because she was too young to play in Las Vegas. She final tabled the WSOP-E Main Event and eventually took it down. Along the way to her historic victory (including becoming the youngest bracelet winner), she knocked out Annie Duke and Jen Harman. If you believe in symbols, then I took that as the poker gods way of saying that the torch hath been passed from Harman/Duke to Obrestad.
The 2010 WSOP marked the American debut of Annette "Annette_15" Obrestad even though I had seen her wandering around the Rio the last two summers. This was her first chance to actually play an event, which many prop bettors thought would increase the chances of a woman winning a bracelet -- and further increased the chances that Mike Matusow would run naked down the Strip if women won three bracelets during the WSOP.
Perhaps the appearance of Obrestad in Vegas, fired up Harman to bring her A-game for the 10K Stud 8 Championships. The last few years have been a struggle for Harman with off the felt issues (health problems and then raising twin babies), which is why she left the Empire Casino in London utterly devastated that night in September 2007 when she lost heads up to the German.
Harman left the Rio with a third place finish. The bracelet came down to big-stacked Frank Kassela to the man... the myth... the legend... Chainsaw.
Chainsaw is a tough mofo. The last time I saw him get this close to a bracelet? 2005 WSOP when he lost to Todd Brunson in a Omaha 8 event. That night was special because it marked the first time that a father and son were bracelet winners. Chainsaw would roam the tournament circuit for the next five years awaiting his next shot at glory.
Frank Kassela, a businessman from Tennessee, is a legit semi-pro who grinded out $1.4 million in winnings since the Moneymaker boom. His biggest score prior to this WSOP was a victory in the PLO Rebuys event at the 2009 LA Poker Classic. He more than doubled that with a first place finish in Event #15.
At 4:20am -- a time when most West Coast potheads were clutching their bongs in an herbal celebration of life -- Frank Kassela smoked Allen "Chainsaw" Kessler like cheap schwag. You can't fault Chainsaw because he was outgunned from the start of heads up. The min-cash legend Chainsaw took down over $276K, which is his largest all-time score. Nice job, Chainsaw.
Kassela won over $447K for first place in a tournament that he almost did not play. Kassela went deep in the LHE event, but bubbled off the final table. If he advanced he would have skipped the Stud 8 event. As is, he busted out in 10th and Matt Matros went on to win the bracelet. Without a final table to play in, Kassela walked to the cage and bought into the Stud 8 event. The rest is history.
Kassela faded a field of 170 players and flew under the radar for most of Day 2 and early on Day 3. He snatched up a bracelet from the grasps of two tough-as-shit Russians, four-time bracelet winner John Juanda, a former bookie turned poker pro, and a determined Jen Harman. Let's not forget about the epic feat that he'll remember everyday for the rest of his life -- the night when he successfully dismantled the Chainsaw.
Supposedly, Erik Seidel had a prop bet that Chainsaw would win a bracelet in his lifetime. I was confused it he meant Seidel's lifetime or Chainsaw's lifetime. But whoever made that bet with Seidel had a close sweat.
Bouncin' Round the Room on Day 12...
Another relatively slow day with only four events and a single final table... albeit a final table that almost took a half of a day to play down to.
Event #14 Donkulus 2.0: When Day 3 began, the event had a few notables remaining even despite the field was in excess of 3,000... Jared Hamby, Dan Carter, Andy Black, Mats Gavitan, David Baker, Burt Boutin, Carl Olson and Ylon Schwartz.
Andy Black appeared physically fit compared to the last time I saw him when he looked like he was living in the woods for a few years in his own Unabomber-type of shack. If I didn't know any better, it almost seemed like Andy Black emerged from a booze rehab center. He's been walking around clean shaven and sporting a pinstripe suit. The suit didn't quite fit him. I wondered if he found it hanging in the closest at the sober-living halfway house where he's been crashing.
Anyway, the event began with 3,042 runners and four calendar days later we're down to the final nine... Jared Hamby, David Baker, and Mats Gavitan all advanced to Day 4. First place in the Donkulus pays out $472,479. Not a shabby payday for a $1,000 investment.
Event #16 Six-handed NL: After 16 events into the WSOP, I haven't seen the floor get called more than for Day 2 of 1.5k Shorthanded. The field had one player who was particularly vocal engaging in an utter display of douchebaggery during different instances. Blake Slade caused a couple of commotions during the first half of the day. As one member of the European press uttered, "Is that douche still at it?"
One of Benjo's French friends mentioned that he was at the same starting table as Slade. Within 15 minutes of the tournament starting, the Frenchman had his fill of Slade who annoyingly talked the entire time.
Slade eventually calmed down his antics, but I later found out he wasn't yapping because he had busted. With Slade gone, it seemed as though a couple of drunks on the rail took up the slack, particularly one yokel who stumbled into the Amazon Ballroom hootin' and hollerin' like it was the rodeo finals, and clutching an almost empty Corona bottle with the backwash swirling around as he screamed from the rail in thick Southern accent. His outrageous outburst instantly drew criticism from the reserved Euro press sitting near me.
"(Le sigh). Americans cannot railbird properly without acting like a douchebag," Benjo said.
"It should be about the player, not about the railer," added Snoppy.
"But it's about the self-centered douchebags," accepted Benjo in defeat.
Sometimes you can't change the way some folks act in public, especially in Las Vegas.
Event #17 5K NL Day 1: This is an event I'll pay more attention to on Day 2 as it plays down from 200+ to a final table. As expected the field in the 5K contained many top-tiered pros. Total numbers were up from 2009, but the field had many more quality players than the ME. Simply put... a lot less dead money in the 5K than you would find in the ME or in the one of the lowest available buy-in events on the schedule.
Alexia Portal is best known as being a sultry curly-haired actress in France who happens to be a solid poker player. When I asked Benjo if I could find naked pics of her on the intertubes, he snapped, "What are you fucking stoopid? There's not a single French actress in the history of cinema who did not undress for the cameras."
While you're busy googling naked pics of her all day, let it be known that Alexia advanced to Day 2. Chino Rheem is among the chipleaders along with Jeff "yellowsub" Williams. The G also ended Day 1 as one of the bigger stacks. If he goes deep and has a nice score, he might be able to buy a robot to be Daniel Negreanu's personal chip counter.
Cliche of the Day: Drunken moron on the rail rooting on a friend in the 6-handed, only to crash and burn two hours later and pass out sitting in a chair at an empty table in the corner.
Photo courtesy of Benjo.