Over the next two months, ESPN will be setting up the stories that it hopes will play out for the November Nine, when the final table finally takes place. With two new episodes each week between now and then, all of them focused on the Main Event, they have plenty of time to develop the characters that will battle it out for the crown in a little less than three months. The next two weeks will trace the four separate first days of the tournament, beginning with tonight’s telecast of Day 1A and Day 1B. Let’s see how ESPN has chosen to edit the hundreds of hours of raw footage it shot during the event.
As you would expect, the episodes began by focusing on players with whom the public has familiarity. The featured table had Allen Cunningham, Eli Elezra and Lex Veldhuis, and some other big-named pros playing the first day of the tournament included Andy Bloch, Johnny Chan, Gavin Smith, Greg “FBT” Mueller, Phil Laak, Jennifer Tilly and Sammy Farha. Some of the celebrities in the field were Jason Alexander, Brad Garrett and Orel Hershiser.
The first hour of the show could have been renamed the Lex Veldhuis Show. We were treated to the online pro just running over the featured table with a series of bold moves. After pushing Eli Elezra off the first deal shown at the table, he began a gradual dismantling of Simon Muenz over the course of a few hands. First, he raised with an offsuit K-J which Muenz called with . After the flop of 10-7-6 and two clubs, Veldhuis check-raised with nothing but two over cards and no clubs! He kept firing as two more clubs hit the felt, and Muenz finally folded by far the best hand on the river. Veldhuis made sure to show the bluff to the table.
Next, in the Jack Links wild card hand, Muenz had pocket 10s and Veldhuis had the mystery hand, which based on what he had been playing, could have been literally any two cards. Muenz raised to 900, which both Veldhuis, and Allen Cunningham (A-J) called. The flop came 4-3-2, with two hearts. Lex fired out 2,300, Cunningham folded, and Muenz continued a bad habit of simply calling Veldhuis’ bets, thereby leaving him in control of the hand. The fell on the turn, and after Muenz checked, Veldhuis bet another 6,000, which Muenz again just called. The river was the , and this time Veldhuis went all-in! Muenz folded, and Lex showed a K-6, for yet another successful theft of the pot.
Later on, Elezra called 300 with Q-9 offsuit, veldhuis raised to 1,400 with 6-4 offsuit, and Brian Pinkus re-raised to 3,400 with pocket queens, which Veldhuis called. The flop was 8-5-5 rainbow, and Veldhuis immediately bet out 5,200, which Pinkus called. The turn brought another 8, and Veldhuis fired out another 10,700, which pushed Pinkus off the winning hand. And yes, Veldhuis once again showed his bluff.
Tom Richter, a new player at the featured table, raised to 1,050 with A-J offsuit, which Elezra called with K-10. Veldhuis, undaunted, re-raised to 4,000 with , whereupon Simon Muenz went all-in with 60 big blinds left, and . The other two folded, and Veldhuis, getting a little bit less than 2 to 1, called! The board was no help to Muenz, and Veldhuis took down the 40,000+ chip pot, sending Muenz to the rail.
Finally, Veldhuis raised to 1,000 with pocket kings. Cunningham, who had been card dead for the entire day, re-raised with Q-8 and Veldhuis put him all-in. Cunningham whiffed on the board, and the 5-time bracelet winner was gone. All in all, it was one of the more dominating Day 1 performances that ESPN has aired.
The network clearly hoped to catch lightning in a bottle twice by putting Mike Matusow at the featured table for the Day 1B broadcast. Unfortunately, the rest of the table was populated by some fairly inexperienced players, and many of the hands shown in the second hour were limp-fests, to the point where Norman Chad became almost apoplectic criticizing the players’ betting tactics.
Day 1B featured a slew of former world champions, including Doyle Brunson, Chris Moneymaker, Chris Ferguson, Greg Raymer, and Amarillo Slim Preston (who hasn’t cashed in the Main Event since he won it in 1972!), as well as top pros Barry Greenstein and Todd Brunson. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see most of these players, other than Doyle Brunson, who was at the secondary table, do much playing.
ESPN tried their best to craft an hour around the new kinder, gentler Matusow, who, while clearly a more humble man after his experiences in the past few years, seems to have lost much of his edge at the table. The Main Event came on the heels of an absolutely horrendous WSOP for him, and his play in this hour featured little of the skilled card reading that he used to excel at. He was rarely aggressive, and even when he made a good read when he flopped the 3rd nut flush and was re-raised all-in by “the tightest player at the table” (according to the Mouth) he laid down his hand to a nut draw.
Doyle Brunson was featured in this episode’s wild card hand, when he raised to 675 with the blinds at 100-200 holding . He was called by the big blind, who held the mystery hand. Both players checked the 2-4-K rainbow flop, but the big blind led out with a bet of 1,500 on the turn of the 3 of the fourth suit. Brunson called, and then also called his river bet of 2,500, when another 4 fell. The big blind showed a J-9, and another player said incredulously, “You really just tried to bluff Doyle Brunson?”
Unfortunately, Brunson was eliminated when his flopped set was outdrawn by a player with a double belly-buster straight, and Pam Brunson showed how Twitter is changing the way people view tournaments when she displayed Papa Doyle’s elimination tweet for the cameras.
The final hand of the hour had Matusow at risk, when he got into a raising war with John Dodge. The hand started out as another limp-a-palooza, which Matusow started with K-Q. Three others also limped with J-9, A-7 and Dodge’s 9-6 in the big blind. The flop came K-9-6, and after one check, Dodge bet 700 into a pot of 1,425. Matusow then raised to 2,500 with top pair, and after two folds, Dodge re-raised to 6,500. Matusow then walked right into trouble by raising to 13,700, which was basically the rest of Dodge’s stack. He called, and Matusow escaped when the 10 on the turn and J on the river gave him a straight. Although Matusow celebrated his good fortune, his play all day was not that of a pro on top of his game.
While the first hour featured some fascinating hands with aggressive and sometimes outrageous plays, the hands chosen for the second hour indicated that ESPN did not have a lot to choose from, especially having decided to focus so much of their attention on Matusow. While his story is a potentially very powerful one to present to the public, the details of his personal life that caused him to write Check Raising the Devil were ignored, and unfortunately, his play did not make for a very compelling hour.
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