On the way home from Monte Carlo I decided to give up my airline ticket and pay for a one-way seat on Larry Flynt’s private jet. With one quick stop scheduled in Bangor, Maine, for fuel and pizza, it was to be pretty much a 12-hour straight shot to Vegas. Phil Ivey, Gus Hansen, Mike “the Mouth” Matusow and I were scheduled to play $400-$800 limit poker all the way home! So what’s not to like? We were flying high on Larry’s Gulfstream IV, playing high-stakes poker (so the time would pass more quickly), and perhaps I could win $50,000 on the flight home.
We hired a dealer to deal to us all the way home, and even before we were off the ground, the cards were in the air. Because Ivey had won both tournaments in Monte Carlo over the previous two nights (for $1.6 million), and because he wasn’t used to playing poker at such modest stakes (he’s used to limits of at least $2,000-$4,000), I thought he might be off his game a bit. He wasn’t. Gus wasn’t used to playing this limit either, so he figured to be playing way too loose, which he did do, but he barbecued Matusow and me anyway.
I talked about playing in a $120,000 buy-in tournament in Monte Carlo, a seven-player affair carried live on Fox Spots Net and Sky Sports. We flew over there for just two tournaments, the first of which I covered in recent columns. The second tournament was the $25,000 buy-in Monte Carlo Millions, to be played on FSN and Sky Sports at a later date. With a sell-out field of 120 players and a first-place win of $1 million. Because we started with $50,000 in chips, and the blinds were moved up slowly and incrementally, there was a lot of play (and thus skill) in this tournament.
With 60 of us coming back for day two, I was feeling pretty good about my chances, still holding almost $100,000 in chips. We would play down to the final nine players, and I was feeling at or near the peak of my game. I was on! On the third hand, with the blinds at $500-$1,000, the defending champion, Player X, made it $4,000 to go in first position. In the big blind, I looked down at 2-2, and pondered my decision. Normally, I would merely call, to try to flop trip deuces, but my radar was on, and I felt some weakness from Player X. So I raised it up $12,000 more, and Player X called. The flop was 8-8-5, I bet out $16,000, and X folded quickly.
Last week, I talked about missing my turkey dinner and losing a pot with pocket 10s as my holdings — after playing them in a controversial way. This happened while I was engaged in a seven-player affair with a $120,000 buy-in that went out live to more than 110 million households worldwide on FSN and Sky Sports. The tournament was held behind closed doors in the Monte Carlo Casino with world-class players Gus Hansen, Phil Ivey, David “Devilfish” Ulliot, Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, John Juanda, Mike “the Mouth” Matusow, and me.
Now let’s continue with another interesting hand that came up, this one between the 2000 World Champion Ferguson and me, when the blinds were $5,000-$10,000 and the ante was $2,000 a player. Everyone else folded to me, and I looked down at Kh-Jh on the button. With $97,000 left, and showing a pretty conservative playing style, I had a decision to make. Of course, I would raise it up, but how high should I make it go?
I could set it anywhere from $30,000 to $97,000 to go, and I had a decent hand, one that I would have been quite happy simply to win the blinds and antes with. I wasn’t Matusow — who had gone broke pushing all-in with 7-6 off suit 30 minutes earlier — and the guys knew that from years of watching my relatively conservative play. If I were to put in my whole stack, I would be sending a message that I had a pretty good hand. I’d also be making it very tough for anyone to call with a small pocket pair, or an ace-x type hand like As-5s (x being a weak kicker). Whereas if I made it just $30,000 to go, someone could well move all-in, raising it my last $67,000, with his small-pair or ace-weak-kicker type hand.
I have never, ever missed my turkey dinner on Thanksgiving. To miss it would be downright unpatriotic! But this year, I was in Monte Carlo playing two poker tournaments. One of them was the $25,000 buy-in Monte Carlo Millions (a topic for a future column).
Today, I’m focusing on the second tournament — a seven-player affair with a $120,000 buy-in that went out live to over 110 million homes worldwide on Fox Sports Network and Sky Sports. (Of course, Thanksgiving is purely an American holiday, so after searching high and low, I discovered that there was no turkey, stuffing, cranberries and mashed potatoes to be had in Monaco.)
The tournament was held behind closed doors in the spectacular Monte Carlo Casino. The field was world-class: Gus Hansen, Phil Ivey, David “Devilfish” Ulliot, Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, John Juanda, Mike “the Mouth” Matusow and me. The tournament began at midnight in Monte Carlo (6 p.m. on the U.S. East Coast). It was scheduled to last four hours, and we knew that it wouldn’t go past that because the blinds were to be carefully monitored and controlled.
Last time, I talked about the Tournament of Champions (TOC) and mentioned that the chip leaders after both Day 1 and Day 2 were me, Mike “the Mouth” Matusow, and Hoyt “Cowboy” Corkins, in that order. By the way, having the same three players leading for two days is a rare and remarkable occurrence. I also mentioned that poker legends Johnny Chan (finished 12th) and Doyle Brunson (finished 10th) were both eliminated just shy of the final table. With a first place prize of $1 million and $1 million to be split amongst the other final table members, first place would be sweet! Especially for me, seeing that I finished second in the 2004 TOC to Annie Duke.
For the first 70 minutes of the final table, I played just two hands, winning one of them. Patience was key for me, for this was not a table I could easily run over (these guys wouldn’t let me raise a lot of pots just to steal the antes and blinds). After all, I had Corkins on my left, along with European star Tony Bloom and a good young Internet player named Brandon Adams at the table as well. Still, my stack had shrunk only from $281,000 to $270,000 or so.
Last week, I talked about Harrah’s Tournament of Champions (TOC), and the fact that poker legend Doyle Brunson finished in 10th place. With 110 players, a $1 million dollar first-place prize, $1 million more for the rest of the final table, a Christmas Eve show on ESPN, and poker history hanging in the balance, winning this one was going to be a nice feather in someone’s cap. Especially for me, in light of the fact that I had finished second, quite famously — for the Poker Brat tirade I threw afterwards — to Annie Duke in the 2004 TOC.
Before I get into it, let’s back up a bit to the final 16 players, when Johnny Chan, Brunson and I were still alive in the TOC 2005 event. (For anyone who follows poker, you know that Chan and Brunson both won their 10th World Series of Poker bracelets in 2005 on ESPN, while I remained at nine.) In any case, a key hand for me occurred with two tables remaining, against none other than Chan himself.