When I heard last night that Phil Hellmuth had been moved to Mike Matusow's table at the ESPN featured table, I have to admit that the thought that the “random” draw was rigged. Who in their right mind wouldn't have this nagging doubt when the biggest name left in the tournament gets moved to the same table as the 2nd biggest name left in the tournament... at the table where the television set up is. It was a bit of a coincidence, but I shrugged it off as that.
As I was watching the Hellmuth/Matusow table though, a debate ensued with a well known poker professional and Jeffrey Pollack. The pro had a horse that was playing at the televised table and he thought it was more than a coincidence and that it was unfair to the other seven players at the table. Pollack rushed off to find out the truth on the matter. I joined in on the conversation and told them that I had wondered the same thing but that it would be hard to “rig” the re-draw. The only feasible way they could do it without drawing immediate scrutiny is to have the floor person arrange the seat cards in a way so that when they high carded the first one that the proper card went to Hellmuth. The pro and his buddies said if people wanted it to be done, they could do it. Hellmuth's wife was sitting directly next to the group and even she thought it was more than a coincidence. I even talked with a Harrah's suit and they told me it was more than a little strange.
Pollack came back about ten minutes later and told the pro matter of factly that he had talked to some people and the re-draw was completely random. I don't think that appeased the pro though as he was definitely in the conspiracy theory camp at that point. I talked with Steve Frezer, one of the tournament supervisor's, after the night was over about that and he told me that Nikki did the re-draw. Nikki came over and swore up and down that it was completely random.
Moments ago, my ESPN producer friend came over to me and talked to me about the issue. He wanted to make it clear that ESPN would never do anything to affect the integrity of the game. In fact, he told me he was in the control room when Hellmuth sat down at the table and he said to his people, “Is that really Hellmuth?” He wanted to make sure that it was known that ESPN doesn't have quite the power, or isn't the puppeteer that many people think they are, when it comes to tournament decision. So it probably wasn't rigged... it was merely a big coincidence. It was interesting to watch the mini-drama unfold up close and personal.
When the tournament ended last night, the remaining players remained in the area talking with their friends and family. There was a level of excitement in their faces and the way they talked that is hard to match. It was fun standing around watching them revel in their poker glory. They had outlasted 6,800 people and were only 70 people away from making the November Nine. Make no mistake about it, it's a big deal.
The poker agents stalked the players to try and get them to sign a deal. That's the seedy part of making it this far. The truth is, these players don't need an agent, but they don't know this. They could make a deal directly with the website and pocket the money that the agent would keep. Granted, the agents have relationships with the site and know how much money they can get, but if a player merely asked a few questions they could get the same information.
Phil Hellmuth's one round penalty was lifted after being deemed “too excessive” by WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack and tournament director Jack Effel.* Umm. What ever. I was there at the table last night, those two weren't. Hellmuth was all over the guy, yelling and screaming at him, and calling him names. Any other player in the world would never have had this penalty lifted. I'm sick of the special treatment Hellmuth and certain others in the poker world get. It's The Ego's world and we're just living in it, and this is only further proof of it. What makes the whole thing even worse is that in the time Hellmuth would have been sitting out, he nearly doubled up in chips. As Mike Matusow said, “It's bullsh**, Phil was way out of line. He gets his penalty lifted and now has 1.7 million. No one else could have gotten away with that.”
Sorry, Harrah's and the WSOP staff but you dropped the ball on this one big time.
I spent the first level watching Tiffany Michelle playing. My plan was to watch her through most of the day, but she moved to a table that has no access and I'll have to hope she moves again.
Her day started off with ESPN interviewing her at the table. Tiffany had a friend, Jamie, sweating her on the rail. I chatted with Jamie for a minute and she said she had flown in from Los Angeles at the last minute because she was too distracted not being here. As play started, Tiffany was filling out her ESPN bio and she folded her first few hands. Finally, she opened the action for 90K and was called by the small blind. She made a continuation bet of 200K on an A-K-8 flop and her opponent folded.
Lisa Parsons went all in at the table next to Tiffany's and was called. Tiffany walked over there to watch Parsons and when Parsons was eliminated, Tiffany came back and turned and smiled at her good friend Maria Ho who was now watching. Ironically, Maria was the last woman standing in 2007.
Tiffany lost a good sized pot to Matusow when she let him get there. She called a raise in position and the flop came A-Q-5. Matusow bet 110K and Tiffany called. The turn was a 7 and both players checked. The river was a 9, Matusow bet 200K and Tiffany called. Mike said, “I got two pair” and turned over 9-7 for the runne-runner two pair. Tiffany mucked her hand but without question she had to be ahead before the river.
Tiffany gets a few of those chips back when she raises from the big blind after Matusow limps. He folds and shows K-Q. She wins another medium sized pot when she raises and gets two callers that fold to her 275K bet on the flop. Her boyfriend, Dave Stann, and Jeff Lisandro joined the rail and each gave her a hug and words of encouragement before she moved to the center table with no access. She ended the first level a little less than with what she started at 3.4 million but appears to be playing a very solid, controlled game.
I'll be back later with more from day six of the Main Event.
*An official statement from WSOP:
Official Statement from the World Series of Poker
This morning Phil Hellmuth met with Jack Effel, WSOP Tournament Director, Howard Greenbaum, Harrah's Regional Vice President for Specialty Gaming, and Jeffrey Pollack, Commissioner of the WSOP. Based on that meeting and an official review of the situation, it was decided that the penalty imposed on Mr. Hellmuth at the conclusion of play last night was excessive.
"Warnings and penalties are intended to correct inappropriate behavior and our rulings should be as fair as possible, given the circumstances," said Pollack. "In this instance, the punishment did not fit the crime."
"Phil has now been warned and put on notice in a way that he never has been," Pollack added.