Los Angeles, CA
The WSOP Grudge Matches.
Call it what you want -- a publicity stunt, another poker folly, a made-for-TV event, a cheesy game show, or a sincere chance at redemption. The WSOP planned three grudge matches and fans (via Facebook) actually got in say in who got to play by voting for their favorite previous Main Event heads-up matchup.
The headliner was 2003's Main Event reprise with Chris Moneymaker and Sammy Farha, while Johnny Chan got the nod to re-play a pair of heads-up matches against Erik Seidel (1989) and Phil Hellmuth (1988). Due to Seidel's deep run in Event #3 $1,500 Omaha 8, his match up with Chan was postponed to Friday.
Chan and Hellmuth entered the Mothership for the first Grudge Match of the afternoon. I guess this will be a good time to talk about the "gaudy monstrosity" called the featured TV table. It really looks like stage crew acquired leftover parts from the Roswell UFO crash and tried to reassemble it inside the Amazon Ballroom. The stage area is bright, so bright that everyone up on the stage -- players, dealers, announcers, media, security, camera guys, producers, and fans -- were sweating their asses off due to the intense heat generated by the excess spot lights and other unnecessary shiny, flickering lights.
Gone is the old set with a very subdued black background where the only light seemed to hover over the final table players, but this year things have changed in a complete opposite direction. One thing is for sure -- with the new circular, Mothership-like set, you will be able to differentiate this year's WSOP from previous year's broadcasts.
By the way, once the WSOP is over Jerry Yang and Bill Chen will climb onto the stage, press a few buttons, and the entire set will transform into an actual saucer to fly both of them back to their home planet of Nibiru.
Chan and Hellmuth entered the Mothership to replicate their 1989 heads-up battle. In 1989, Tom "durrrr" Dwan was only three years old, but Chan was the hottest tournament player on the circuit and seemed unstoppable. A third straight WSOP Main Event title was well within his grasp-- that was until he ran into Phil Hellmuth. The poker gods (or ancient aliens) were smiling upon Hellmuth that day as he became the youngest WSOP Main Event champion (a record that he'd remind anyone within earshot he held, but in Hellmuth's defense, his record would remain in tact for almost two decades before a Scandi smashed it).
Hellmuth went for his usual Johnny Cash "all black" look. He wore an Aria hat with a PH logo on the side. Hellmuth also tried to go gansta on us and left a "sticker of authenticity" on the bill of his hat -- because that's how the cool kids from the hip-hop-hippopotamus scene wore their hats.
Chan didn't have the same exact bug-eyed sunglasses, which he had become famous for, but he was pretty close. Normally I think poker players are kinda tools if they wear sunglasses indoors, but in this instance the stage is so fucking blinding bright that it's necessary.
Chan wore some sort of colorful yellow and green an purple shirt/vest. I think he borrow edit from Gaddafi's closet. He really looked like a member of Feli Kuti's band with beads adorned around is wrist and a jade necklace dangling around his neck.
Hellmuth and Chan were both very chatty for the cameras and at one point Chan was humming the chorus to the Beatles song Let It Be. Hellmuth wondered if Chan was going to play a full card of events this summer.
"I'm a cash game playa, bro," said Chan. "I don't only want the money."
"I really like bracelets, John" replied Hellmuth. "Have I mentioned that I'm the greatest hold'em player in the world?"
That's when Chan pulled a can of whip ass out of one of his daughter's purses and sprayed it all over Hellmuth. Even though Hellmuth beat Chan in 1989, he couldn't pull off the repeat performance. Chan busted Hellmuth and he finally achieved a little bit of redemption.
Makes me wonder what would have happened if Chan had beaten Hellmuth in 1989 -- perhaps Hellmuth would have never had the confidence to evolve into the
In the other heads-up Grudge Match, we were treated with Moneymaker/Farha in a best of three. Moneymaker won 2-1 and Farha seemed even more perplexed and unleashed a sullied expression like, "How the fuck did I lose to this cracker two fucking times?"
Farha couldn't stop sweating and looked like Patrick Ewing at the free throw line. Farha has always been known for his dinner jackets, but his attempt to look classy made him sweat even more profusely due to the intense lighting. I kept thinking about the infamous Nixon-Kennedy debates from 1960 -- the first ever televised Presidential debates -- and Nixon looked absolutely horrendous with a five o'clock shadow and a waterfall of sweat raining down from every pore in his face and head.
Maybe the pressure got to a sweaty Farha, but one thing was for sure -- he couldn't beat Moneymaker a second time.
A humble Moneymaker told hostess Kara Scott, "I don't think this (victory) was a statement."
* * *
I sat through a press conference with Mitch Gerber and Guy LaLiberte joked (but not really) how uber-wealthy French-Canadiens were going to take over Las Vegas. Along with Ty Stewart, they announced a special addition to the 2012 WSOP -- a $1 million buy-in event.
Yes. $1 million. If the "Big One" attracts 22 players or more, it will qualify for a special bracelet event. A couple of big dogs already committed to playing including the legendary Bobby Baldwin, Phil Ruffin, Durrrr, Gus Hansen, Patrik Antonius, and Andy Beal.
Yes... that Andy Beal.
Obviously, Phil Ivey was not present at the press conference, nor was he mentioned in the lost of players who had already committed.
$1 million buy-in tournament? Why not. If you build it, they will come. BTW, I really can't wait for the 2020 WSOP when they have a $20 million buy-in tournament.
Weirdness abounds as tensions continued to boil over for the second time in three days. At this rate, someone is going to come to fisticuffs by the end of the weekend and someone is gonna get shanked by mid-June.
Men the Master and Hollywood Dave Stann were involved in a shouting match during Event #3 $1,500 after a dealer made an error. The dealer shipped an entire split pot to Hollywood Dave. The dealer tried to rectify the situation and return Men the correct amount of chips, but Men claimed he was short 1,000. Was Men telling the truth? Or was he angle-shooting? His credibility is questionable after decades of cheating allegations, which is why it was highly ironic when he called Hollywood Dave a "cheater."
If you don't know, Hollywood Dave used to be on the UB Blackjack team founded by Russ Hamilton. He was also a sponsored UB pro for a while, so it was kind a humorous that Men the Master of all people accused Hollywood Dave of being a "cheater."
The two were separated by Charlie the floor guy and issued a stern warning. If they continued to verbally joust with each other, they were going to have to sit out with a penalty. If anything escalated, both would get DQ'd.
We really need to get Men the Master and Hollywood Dave to duke it out the next time at extreme midget wrestling at the Riviera.
After the warning from the floor staff, Men settled down, but that was short lived before he consumed beer at a staggering pace. By 2am, he was rip roaring drunk. According to Homer, "Men Nguyen is fairly drunk and just shouted out loudly to the crowd, 'When did I ever cheat?'"
Yep, just another day at the WSOP.
Photos courtesy of Melissa Hayden, Benjo DiMeo, and Wolynski.