10 a.m. I arrived a little early to get my media pass. Things are a little different for the World Poker Open now because they have some competition with the WSOP Circuit event in town. That does not seem to change the attitude or demeanor of the people involved with the WPO though... they are confident the tournament is going to be a success and that their will be plenty of action in the tournaments and cash games. I didn't see anyone that I recognized walking around and I'm sure not too many of the so called “big names” are going to come into Tunica for a $300 tournament but it will be interesting to see who exactly does show up. I've learned long ago... the best players are often people you've never heard of that are content making their money without the fame and notoriety; something I am sure I will see plenty of in the upcoming weeks.
The structure for this tournament is relatively fast. 40 minute levels, starting with 2500 in chips and blinds of 25/25 with decent escalations (none of that gross doubling you see in many low buy in tournaments except for the jump from 25/50 to 50/100 and from 50/100 to 100/200). All in all, it’s not a bad structure for a $300 tournament.
11 a.m. No one is better at procrastination than a poker player. A line, at least 100 deep, lines the hallway of the Gold Strike conference room area as they wait to sign up for today's event. A few vendors have set up shop. It's nothing like the WSOP, that's for sure, but it's still poker and you can feel the excitement in the air. For many players, this is their “big” tournament. $340 might be half their paycheck or they might have been saving up to play in this. The big names might scoff at stakes like this now... but when they were getting started, this was where they were at too. Unless your name is Bill Gates, you probably don't start out directly buying in to $10,000 events. This is fun poker and it's also some of the best (and worst) poker you can find. I'll try and give you some good examples of what I mean by that.
12:00 pm As is to be expected, on the first day with a large field, the tournament is a little slow getting started and has been delayed. I finally recognized ONE person, although he's a bit on the infamous side... Dutch Boyd. I've talked with Dutch before so I'll try and see if I can find out what he's up to and why he's here playing a $300 event. I do have to say that the Gold Strike tournament area is one of the nicest ones you will run into. They even have leather desk chairs sitting over in one area for spectators. I did notice that they have changed the set up from past years. They used to have free drinks and coffee in the back corner and that is now gone. I guess now that the MGM is taking over the reins at the Gold Strike, they are cutting costs. I wonder if they still have the free buffet for players (it was a great buffet)... I'll have to find out. I was considering playing today but with the size of the lines and the fact that this might be a good event to cover, I decided to wait until next week sometime to play.
12:20 pm Tournament director, Johnny Grooms, has finally started the tournament. Before doing so, he passed the mic (well actually two mic's as he was double fisting it) to director of operations, Ken Lambert, who touched briefly on the history of the World Poker Open and why it has been so successful. He mentioned how some of the notable players such as Doyle Brunson and Chip Reese came here in the beginning to help out Jack Binion. Pausing... he asked for a moment of silence for Chip Reese. The room came to a hush with the exception of one or two people who couldn't stop shuffling their chips for five seconds, (I'm guessing Chip must have laid a bad beat on them in the past).
I also ran into one of the WSOP photographers and he told me how the WSOP circuit events had been failing because Harrah's lets the casinos run them. “No press, no photos, no television coverage,” he said. I can see now why the staff here feels confident that their tournament is the best one.
1:47 pm There are approximately 800 players in the event and play will go until 2 a.m. Depending on how many are left, play will resume at either 2 pm (if more than 2 tables left) or 4 pm (if less than 2 tables left) tomorrow. So far so good for Dutch Boyd... he's more than doubled up and told me that he took someone's jacks down with suited connectors.
Something that always amuses me is walking outside of the tournament area and watching and listening to people talk on their cell phones after they've been eliminated from a tournament. You want to talk about over dramatic. “Honey, I was a 90% favorite to win the hand and he called me and hit his card. Can you believe it? I feel like killing myself.”
Yes, that's an actual conversation that I heard. U-m-m-m. OK. I followed the person to see if they would get into a cash game so I could join them in their mega, super duper tilt, cash dump off but alas it was not to be. This is one reason why cash games at tournament locations are so profitable... people tilting off their chips after a tournament bad beat.
4:15 pm Here is how trusting gamblers are. I was taking a break for a few and killing some time playing blackjack... just making $5 and $10 bets. A guy has just lost a couple hundred, pulls out his last $200 from his wallet and places it all in the betting circle. He's been helping out an older, sweet lady sitting next to him. He is dealt a 3 up. Not good. His next card is an 8. The dealer has a 6. Perfect situation to double up. Only one problem. He doesn't have any money left on him and can't leave to go get some. The sweet, old lady reaches into her purse and gives him $200. He doubles down and receives a 6 for a 17. The dealer's first up card is a 9. The only way they guy is going to lose is if a 6, 5, 4, or 3 come off. He laughs as a 5 comes off and he loses $400. He walks away. At this point I'm thinking he just took the old woman for $200 but he comes back about 2 minutes later and hands her two crisp $100 bills. Gotta love it!
5:00 pm If I had to guess, I'd say half the field is gone. The blinds are at 200/400 right now and the average stack is probably 5-6K. I saw Dutch Boyd lose about 1/3 of his stack with pocket 5's against pocket 9's but he's probably still right at average. Minh Nguyen just moved tables and was carrying a rack of chips so looks like he's off to a good start. I also ran into a good friend of mine, Leon Morford. Leon recently took down 200K+ by winning a Heartland Poker Tour event. One of the nicest guys you could ever know... I'll try and sit down with him for an interview sometime in the next week.
10:00 pm They made the money quicker than I thought they would. They are already down to 49 players. 782 players started with 72 getting paid. First place will take down a whopping $58,739. Not a bad return of investment for $340. Damn, I knew I should have played. A good friend of mine and former student made the money. I talked him into backing me in a tournament, if he finishes in the top 3. He will of course finish 4th now (he ended up finishing 37th).
Short stack mania is all the rage right about now. All in after all in. Most of the time the dominated hands are losing but every once in awhile you'll hear an emphatic yes (or in some cases the more emphatic F*** NO!) as they hit their miracle card to stay alive. One such hand took place when a short stack went all in with 10-9 and found himself up against pocket aces. The flop came with an ace and a 5 and a 6. The short stack needed a runner-runner miracle to stay alive and as most of you probably know... anything is possible in poker. The turn was a 7. Oh come on... you know what the river is by now. An 8. “YEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSS!” the player yelled. And I mean yelled. It was so loud, the whole room stopped playing with their chips; looking at their cards; it was quieter at this moment than when they asked for the moment of silence earlier in the day for Chip Reese. Then people started laughing and play continued.
11:30 pm Now down to 29 left, including 3 women... with 2 of them having healthy chip stacks. Shelly Adler won a monster pot of 150K which put her at or near the chip lead. The blinds are 2,000/4,000 so that should give you an idea of how shallow the end of this tournament is. In this particular hand, she woke up with aces in the big blind and ended up getting it all in with a player who held Q-J with the on a J-x-x all spade flop. Shelly didn't have a spade so she had to fade any jack, queen, or spade and was able to do so. She's busy doing my favorite thing in poker (stacking chips after winning a big pot) and the dealer tells her that she needs to post her small blind. She rolls her eyes in a joking manner and tosses out 2K and says, “chump change.” It's folded to her in the small blind and she raises. The big blind comes over the top of her and she folds K-10 suited face up. The big blind shows pocket jacks. Good discipline... I can see her making it to the final table if she keeps playing like that.
12:30 am Down to 19 players. The 3 women are still in and Kimberly Robertson just doubled up twice. The first double up took place when Shelly Adler raised first to act to 18K with the blinds at 3K/6K. Another big stack in the small blind flat called and Kimberly moved all in for a total of 48K from the big blind. Shelly re-raised to isolate and the small blind folded what he said was A-J. Adler turned over pocket 7's (I love her re-raise isolation play) and Robertson showed her hand... A-J. 4 outs if the small blind really had A-J. Of course one of those four cards flops and Kimberly doubles up.
On the last hand before the break, Robertson raises to 21K and the big blind moves all in. Kimberly has 77.5K left after her raise and the blinds are about to go up to 4K/8K... so if she folds she'll have just under 10 times the big blind. Close I think... and she contemplates what to do for about 15 seconds before calling. She later told me that he had pushed back at her a couple of times so she figured that his range of hands was wider than most people in that situation. She turns over A-10 this time... the big blind has pocket 5's. Once again she flops good hitting the ten and after the hand was nearly up to 200K.
Her hands are shaking as she brings in the chips... I've noticed a lot of players (myself included) have this problem. Win a big pot and the tension release causes your hands to shake as you start to stack your chips. It makes you look like you were nervous but that is not really the case. It's just a “Thank God I won” release of stress. She walks over to her significant other after the hand and the joy on her face says it all. It's moments like these that make poker such a rush.
1:30 am They made it to the final table with 30 minutes to spare and have ended play for the day. 9 players remain with the blinds at 6,000/12,000 and a 2,000 ante.
You have to feel for some people and their bad luck... but I wonder sometimes if they bring it upon themselves. In one particular hand, Kimberly Robertson raised and a medium stack moved all in. Kimberly thought about it for a minute and reluctantly called with pocket 3's. The all in player looked like he'd been shot in the head as he turned over jacks. He was grimacing in pain; covering his eyes. He didn't want to look at the flop. The flop was safe for him. The turn was too. And when the 3 came on the river it was as if he had known it was coming all along.
That's the look of someone with pocket aces who is all in. Let the photo be a lesson to all of you out there. Look how relaxed Joey is. That's not the look of someone who is bluffing... of someone who is afraid that you are going to call him. Joey's opponent folded and Joey picked up a big pot. He ended the day with approximately 210K in chips which I believe is good enough for 4th place entering the final table.