During the 2003 WSOP, poker pros Freddy Deeb and Marcel Luske had been really working me, bluffing me out of hands a combined 17 times in a single event! Yes, they outplayed me many times that day, but their wins were relatively unimportant battles — really just a bunch of small pots.
My plan was to win the war.
That same year, at the Bellagio’s World Poker Tour Doyle Brunson Classic, I faced off against Freddy Deeb once again. This time, though, I wasn’t in the mood to let him run his bluffs against me. Freddy started things off in a similar fashion, tossing in huge raises with the blinds at $100/$200, but once I started calling his game I had him dominated. Obviously, when a person bluffs continuously and successfully, they’re getting away with something and need to be put in their place. It was time for me to step in.
In the 2003 World Series of Poker’s $2,500 buy-in limit Hold’em tournament, I found myself heads up with Young Phan. This may not seem like a huge deal, but let me fill you in on a little history:
In 2001, I was heads up with Scotty Nguyen in Omaha 8 or better with a chance to win my eighth title; I lost. In 2002, I was heads up with Johnny Chan in no limit Hold’em with a chance to win number eight; I lost – instead Chan won number seven to tie me. This time I needed to win!
There have been certain times in my career where I’ve felt an uncanny, almost other-worldly feeling playing poker, like I had entered a zone of complete talent and dominance. When I enter that zone, I know the time is ripe to take down a championship. So although I was playing great poker and was ready to take down Young, he wasn’t going for it. He brought his “A game.” Back and forth we battled, 100 hands, then 200 hands, and finally we crested 300 hands of one-on-one poker, and neither of us would back down. Grueling heads-up play like this feels more like a chess match, and sometimes you have to get creative and surprise your opponent.
In November 2008, after a four-month delay, play resumed in the WSOP’s Main Event. This was the first year that they offered the “November Nine” as a separate, made-for-TV event. That summer, the play started in July, with 6,800 entrants, and continued like mad down to the final table. Then, the action froze and everybody waited and waited for this new feature called the “November Nine!”
At that point, the action unfolded for two months on ESPN, building the tension, drama, and excitement. Millions watched ESPN in the early fall, no one knew who the winners would be, and everyone formed opinions of who would win and why. In November, the event was hosted in the Penn & Teller Theatre, which was filled to capacity with over 5,000 cheering, poker-crazy fans who were there to watch the spectacle unfold live. Players from foreign countries showed up with rowdy entourages from their home countries who waved flags and painted their bodies. I was sitting in the special spectator seats on stage with Daniel Negreanu, Chris “Jesus” Ferguson and Johnny Chan.
In 2002, after maintaining a great positive attitude through a terrible WSOP, I was ready to win the Main Event and the accompanying $2 million prize. Monday and Tuesday (Day One and Day Two) I played as good as I could play, and I caught a lot of big hands as well. I went smooth, Cadillac smooth in fact, from $10,000 right up to $127,000 without ever being low on chips or close to all-in. I really thought that moving from 130 players down to 45 players on Day three would be a piece of cake. And then…
…Hello, Meng La!
Wow, I had never met Meng “over the top” La before, but he was seated just to my left on Day Three and, believe me, this guy made Stu Ungar look like a slow player! Meng proceeded to raise or re-raise like a mad man over the course of the day. He raised, re-raised, or moved all-in almost twenty times in the first two hours. This guy never folded his hand once he put a chip in! How he survived that first two days playing that fast is a mystery to me.
On day two of the World Series of Poker’s Main Event in 2008, I found myself bluffed out of a huge hand by a fellow player from my home state of Wisconsin.
I was more than a little steamed because the young Wisconsinite – who I will call “Green Bay” because he had dressed the part in a Green Bay Packers sweatshirt, my favorite NFL team – just couldn’t resist the urge to flip his cards after I folded to rub it in: a stone cold bluff. Look, he made a good play, but it’s always war at the poker table, right?
I told him (after I was done being a Poker Brat): “Good play, but you never should have shown me your hand. Now I’m going to watch you and take you down.”
Getting personal in these things is never a good idea, but sometimes I can’t help myself.
In the 2009 World Series of Poker $10,000 buy-in Main Event, 6494 players competed and 648 finished in the money. The so-called November Nine, those players who made the final table and had to endure eight strenuous days of poker, were: Phil Ivey, Jeff Shulman, Eric Buchman, Darvin Moon, Joseph Cada, Kevin Schaffel, James Akenhead, Antoine Saout, and Steven Begleiter. Beating that many players is truly an accomplishment. By the way, the ultimate winner, Joe Cada, earned a whopping $8.5 million, and even ninth place played $1.2 million!
I was still in the hunt late on Day Four with about 450 players remaining in the tournament when the following hand came up.
With the blinds at $3,000/$6,000 and a $1,000 a man ante, I peered down at pocket aces. An aggressive opponent with almost $1 million in chips opened for $22,000. I was sitting three spots to the left of the button with $135,000 in chips.