Monday, February 22, 2010

The WPT Celebrity Invitational, Part 2: I Could Use Some Brass Knuckles

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

I made my way through the tables inside the black-draped tournament room at Commerce Casino. Record-setting field of Johnny Dramas and Troy McClures. 567 players in all, but not a single PokerStars pro in the room (all in Vegas playing at the NAPT Venetian or on the EPT/LAPT) with a sprinkling of Full Tilt Pros all around. Big dogs like Seidel, Jesus, Lederer, Matusow, and Bloch. I passed Mike Sexton and Linda Johnson along with a couple of the Van Patten clan. I spotted a few more pros. Sebok. DeVo. YellowSub. Chainsaw. Todd Brunson. Unabomber. Liz Lieu. Kristy Gazes. Scott Clements. JC Tran and Chino wandered around as alternates checking out the hot tail inside the ropes. They were not used to seeing so many glamorous people at a poker table.

The entities known as Wicked Chops Poker wandered into place. I had hoped that Snake and I would be seated together. He was anticipating an early evening since he planned to run the Pasadena Marathon on Sunday morning. If he was gonna play loose and dump chips... I wanted to be one of the recipients.

I took my seat around 8:03, three minutes after the scheduled start time and found myself the only one at my table. The adjacent table featured Jesus and Jerry Buss, which meant that one of the many Asian girls in his harem would be sweating their sugar daddy. In case you're wondering... Buss wears white Nike socks. But does Buss gets Nike socks for free, or if one of his bitches fetches a new package for him every week?

Trishelle from the Real World Las Vegas took a seat at the table behind mine. She established herself as one of the original reality show trollops after a steamy threesome in the hot tub. Trishelle is a Swahili word for "mountainous regions", which was apparent after I got a close up of her twin donuts. Wow. Lemme tell ya... them some tig ol' bitties. No fancy lighting or camerawork there. I salute her plastic surgeon.

After a couple of minutes of me chatting up the dealer, one player finally sat down -- a French-Canadian pro named Rene who wore a turtleneck. A gold necklace dangled around his neck and he looked like one of John Gotti's crew. I noticed that Rene sported his WSOP bracelet around his wrist. Normally that's sort of gauche, but this was one of the acceptable instances when bling matters.

By 8:15, my table began to fill up. I sorta recognized the guy next to me but like so many actors and actresses in the room, they looked vaguely familiar.
My Starting Table:
Seat 1: Local pro who wore sunglasses
Seat 2: Guy with tattoos (then later... Kirk Acevedo aka Joy Toye from Band of Brothers)
Seat 3: Rene the French-Canadian pro
Seat 4: Loud Fat Guy who does voices for cartoons
Seat 5: Unknown actor
Seat 6: Erik Palladino (from ER)
Seat 7: Unknown Woman (not an actress but someone in the industry)
Seat 8: Mark Thompson (local L.A. weatherman)
Seat 9: Nick Gonzalez (2009 runner-up)
Seat 10: Your Hero
I quickly found out that Nick Gonzalez lost to Freddy Deeb heads-up in last year's WPT Invitational. He held the distinction of being the last celebrity standing. That juice goes a long way in celebrity poker playing circles, and anyone in this town will tell you that any type of buzz is good buzz, especially since he was running around for auditions sweating it out during pilot season.

Change100 went downstairs to play cash games and I sent her a text inquiring about the actors at my table. I figured that I'd consult the former Hollywood exec about the background of my thespian tablemates.

"Palladino got fired from ER after two seasons for mouthing off to the show's producers," she texted me. "And Nick is a hipster actor who was in The OC and the new Melrose Place."

Ah, that's where I remembered Nick, from his role as D.J. the yard guy who was schtupping Mischa Barton's character in The O.C.. Like most of the actors that I meet in Hollywood, I was much taller than him in person. Since Nick Gonzalez was the celeb who went the deepest the previous year, he garnered a significant amount of attention from the cameras. For the first couple of levels, the WPT film crew hovered around our table. A constant flow of photographers snapped photos and I accepted the fact that my ugly mug would be the "most cropped" photo at the WPT Invitational.

Nick said hello to me when he sat down and everyone else pretty much ignored me. A couple of friends in the media stopped by like BJ, Foiled Coup, and Matt Waldron, along with a few random pros who said hello as they wandered past my table. At that point, the folks at my end of the table realized that I might be someone important.

"You look familiar. How do I know you? You a pro?" asked Nick Gonzalez.

"No. I'm a writer. Do you read Bluff Magazine?"

Nick Gonzalez mentioned that he had just met my editor at Bluff, Lance Bradley, when he played in the PokerStars NAPT Celebrity Charity tournament less than 24 hours earlier in Las Vegas. The drunk guy from ER sitting across from me was super drunk and he kept apologizing for his high state of inebriation. He wanted to know where else I wrote. I told him that I'm also the author of Lost Vegas.

"Lost Vegas? Oh, I read that. Good stuff," barked the drunk guy from ER as he took a swig of his vodka cocktail.

I didn't have the heart to call his bullshit. I picked up an obvious tell... Lost Vegas hasn't even been published yet, but that's the sort of shady shtick that the denizens of Hollywood sling back and forth. Even if you have no idea who someone is, you always tell them that you admire their work. It's such a terrible Hollyweird cliche, but deep down actors really want to know that they are relevant... even if you have to lie to them to massage their egos.

"Thanks," I said. "You're no slouch yourself. You practically carried ER during your time on the show."

That was a low blow on my part, but sometimes writers have to put actors in their place.

The continual cameras were my least favorite part of sitting next to Nick, although that's just a relatively minor gripe because I certainly understood the purpose. And hey, who knows if I get on TV so my mom can see me. Regardless, the positives of sitting next to Nick far outweighed the negatives. For example, Nick is a handsome actor who knew an impressive number of actresses in the room. A steady stream of starlets stopped by our table to flirt, schmooze, and sneak in a few seconds of camera time. I didn't mind the starlet parade one bit.

Trishelle sat only a few feet away and spent a lot of time leaning over to talk to Nick, but of course, always within camera shot. I can't tell you how many times I turned my head to be greeted by Trishelle's misty mountain tops. I snuck a few peeks down her dress like a leering deviant out of a Bukowski poem. Judge me all you want. You would have done the same fuckin' thing. Magnificent. The melons are currently in season.

One starlet, who played one of the cheerleaders from Friday Night Lights, became a frequent visitor to our table often bouncing by with the grace of a ballerina. She had recently gotten engaged and happily showed off her ring.

"How many carats?" asked drunk ER guy.

"3.4," she proudly announced.

Jaws dropped. Silence. Even drunk ER guy was at a loss for words. The rock on her finger was the size of a bull's testicle. If she sported that on the NYC subway, she'd get her hand lopped off in seconds. God knows how many miners from Botswana shed blood for that warped symbol of eternal love.

The table banter was fun, friendly, and at times kinda loud with most of the chatter was down on my end between ER guy, the weatherman, and Nick. The obnoxious fat guy who did voiceovers asked everyone if they were going to rebuy. The Invitational was a freeroll (only the final table getting paid out with $100,000 to first place), but you had a chance to rebuy until the first few levels with $200 going to Chrysalis, a local organization that helps homeless people find jobs. Mostly everyone at the table acknowledged that they would rebuy.

"I don't make money," he barked. "I'm a former child actor. My parents stole all my money. That's why I'm doing cartoon voices for Nickelodeon. Being fat is funny when you're a kid. Not anymore. Only the pretty people in Hollywood make money."

The looseness of the tournament equated into less hands per hour. The action was slow. S....s.....l....l...l....l.....o....o....o....o...o...o...o...w. Seemed like everyone was Hollywooding it up on every hand for the cameras. Gah. Fuckin' actors. The excruciating pace might have driven me nuts if I didn't have Twitter to keep me occupied during the downtime or the fragrant-smelling starlets buzzing by Nick to keep us distracted.

ER guy showed up a little late to the table because he was drinking at the bar. We got involved in a hand together on the first hand we played. I had As-Qs in the big blind. He had K-K. The flop was Queen-high and I'm lucky that I didn't lose any more chips than I did. I lost another hand shortly after with Q-Q and within the first forty minutes, I said goodbye to 40% of my 10K starting stack. To complicate matters, I went card dead for a couple of levels and rarely played a hand.

Due to the lack of cocktail servers, the drunk ER guy took matters into his own hands and fetched beers at the cash bar. He took a huge chiplead when he busted two players on the same hand. Woman in seat 7 shoved on the flop of a rainbow Jack-high board. The fat guy who did the cartoon voices also shoved. ER guy had them both covered. He tanked as he and the fat guy jawed back and forth for several minutes. ER guy took a couple of long pulls off of a bottle of Michelob Ultra and finally called all-in with K-J. Both of his opponents tabled A-J. He was fucked until a King spiked on the river. ER guy jumped out of his chair. Cameras swooped in. Beers got spilled. One of the girls from Jerry Buss' harem curiously wandered over. The two players he busted were stunned by the sick beat. The fat guy lost his shit because wasn't going to rebuy. He was dunzo as the drunk ER guy raked in a pot worth over 55K.

My stack continued to shrink until I doubled up before the break. David Plastik had just busted from a different table and wandered over to talk to Nick. I had the small blind. Drunk ER guy limped. New guy to his left raised 1K. Nick popped him to 3K from the button. I woke up to A-A and shoved for 6K. Drunk ER guy slurred an eloquent speech before he folded. New guy asked the dealer which one of us was the button. With all the chips on our end of the table, the button was buried underneath. The dealer dug it out and he folded. Nick tanked. Without fail, the one time I have Aces and I'm in a hand with Nick, the camera crew took a break. He reluctantly called. I asked him if he had Jacks as I flipped over my Aces. He shook his head and tabled Kd-Jd. The flop was 10-7-8 rainbow. Fuck me.

"How about a nine," said Plastik as I flashed him my best version of the evil NYC stinkeye.

"Keep it low dealer," I said under my breath.

The turn was a blank. The river was a ten. The new guy smashed his hand on the table. He obviously folded A-10. Nick went silent as he pushed over some chips. I won a small hand before the break and found myself around 16K.

I opted not to rebuy. I made a couple of donations to Haiti earthquake relief, even though I technically had not worked since November. I skipped the rebuy and went downstairs for the duration of the break. My buddy Chicago Bob stopped by to sweat the event and I met up with Change100 who took a break from her cash game session. Michalski and I recorded an episode of Tao of Pokerati where I described the tournament area as a "room full of cliches." I used the rest of the break to jot down notes.

On one of the first hand back, we had major fireworks. A couple of players limped. The new guy raised on the button. The weatherman in the small blind agonized over a decision. He eventually shoved. Nick re-shoved from the big blind. The new guy insta-called.
New Guy: A-A
Weatherman: 10-10
Nick: K-K

The Aces held up (he actually made a four-flush). Last year's runner up was out, along with the weatherman. Both busto on the same hand. The new guy was over 60K in chips at that point while the drunk ER guy bitched, "Way to go. You just knocked out the pussy magnet."

That was the wisest thing he said all night. The starlets and busty Trishelle weren't stopping by to see us... they were there for Nick... well more for the cameras surrounding Nick.

Nothing happened for a level while the drunk ER guy continued to drink and the new guy bullied everyone around the table. Rene started making moves and chipped up. I increased my stack to 16K after I won a hand with 9-9. I opened in middle position with a raise. Five callers including drunk ER guy. Flop was 5-4-2. I shoved. Everyone bailed while drunk ER guy tanked and tanked. He begged me to show if he folded. I shrugged my shoulders and he folded anyway.

"Show! Show!"


"You're now my enemy."

Awesome. Now, I knew that I could trap him with a big hand and I waited for a spot to re-steal against the new guy who kept 3-betting everyone preflop. Two players limped. New guy raised from the button for 2.2K. I re-raised for 7K without even looking at my hand. I had about 14K behind. He tanked and tanked and kept shaking his head. He looked like he wanted to re-raise and pulled out a couple of orange 5K chips, but he pulled those back and called my raise. As the dealer fanned out the flop, I peaked at my cards for the first time... Jd-9c. The flop was A-A-4 with two diamonds. I shoved. He asked for time and replayed the hand aloud. He counted up his chips and wondered how much he'd have if he lost. That told me he had diamonds. Now I definitely didn't want him to gamble, but perhaps he held 10d-9d and then my Jack-high would be good. He finally folded and said that he couldn't chase the draw. Who knows.

On the next hand, I woke up to Kings on the button. Guy in early position raised. New guy 3-bet him. I 4-bet him with my cowboys. He smooth called. The flop was K-x-x with two spades. He checked. I bet out and he folded Q-Q face up. He said that he almost 5-bet-shoved preflop. I wish he did.

On the very next hand, I found As-Js. Action folded to me. I raised. Rene defended his big blind. Flop was A-high with all hearts. Rene checked. I bet small and he folded. I was over 40K at that point after winning three consecutive hands.

Kirk Acevedo (you might remember him from such roles as Joe Toye in Band of Brothers) joined our table...

Joe Toye was with us for less than an orbit before we got into a hand together as the time approached Midnight with less than 400 players still remaining. Woman next to me opened for 2.5K. I called with Ah-Kh. Joe Toye called on the button and the blinds folded. The flop was 9h-5x-2h. Original raiser c-bet. I shoved and Joe Toye couldn't have said "I'm all in" fast enough.

Joe Toye flopped a friggin' set. Why else would he shove? Shiiiiiiiiiiit, I totally forgot about him in the hand. Joe Toye had me covered by a few thousand. The woman next to me folded Ace-rag (sans hearts). I flipped over Ah-Kh. If my big draw hit, then I'd pass the 100K mark. And if I whiffed? Then I was heading to the sports bar with Fun Warren.

Joe Toye tabled 9-9 as expected and begged the dealer for no hearts. The turn was a baby heart to Toye's dismay, and I took the lead... temporarily. Toye still had outs if the board paired. The river? 5h. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck me. Out in 390th place or so.

"At least I got busted by Joe Toye," I said as I shook his hand.

Toye smirked and said thanks. He put my chips to good use and ended Day 1 fifth overall with 163K. Some dude named Otis held the lead with over 242K. Sportscenter alum Rich Eisen also finished in the Top 5 in chips. And Snake from Wicked Chops Poker? He remarkable finished in the Top 10 only hours before he was supposed to run a marathon in Pasadena. He was among the media colleagues who survived the cut including WhoJedi and Matt Waldron. Riki Lake, Trishelle, the dude from Mallrats, and Drunk ER guy were the celebs who advanced to Day 2.

The apocalypse is rapidly approaching. Trishelle advanced to the final table of the WPT Celebrity Invitational. Cue the raining frogs.

Many thanks to Matt Savage for the invite. I hope that I can sneak in again next year.

Original content written and provided by Pauly from Tao of Poker at All rights reserved. RSS feeds are for non-commercial use only.

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