The last two weeks of telecasts took us through the four days that made up Day One of the Main Event. The focus, not surprisingly, was on well-known professionals, such as Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth, and Mike Matusow. The only one of the November Nine that we got to see was, again to no one’s surprise, Phil Ivey, who was as much under the spotlight as a player could be while playing at a table in the hinterlands of the tournament room. Tonight, ESPN moved on to Day Two, with tonight’s two hours being devoted to Day 2A. Let’s follow the action and see how the network continued to tell the story of this year’s World Championship.
Both the featured and the secondary tables contained former world champions. Greg Raymer, seated side-by-side with Jason Alexander, was at table one, and Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, along with bracelet winner Roland de Wolfe, manned table number two. We were to see a lot of both former world champions, and although the commentators didn’t discuss it, view the very different ways they consistently chose to play strong hands post-flop.
In last week’s telecast, one of the best short features showed Ferguson playing a hand against Prahlad Friedman in a WPT tournament. Ferguson described how he often likes to play strong flops by betting out, rather than slow-playing. He flopped trip aces against Friedman, and then turned the fourth ace. Because he bet consistently throughout, Friedman didn’t suspect that Ferguson had the case ace, and wound up putting all his chips in the middle with aces full of kings. In tonight’s telecast, we saw Ferguson twice employ this strategy to perfection. In the first of these hands, Ferguson had pocket jacks, and his opponent had A-Q. The flop was J-10-10, and Ferguson simply led out with his flopped boat, and his opponent called. The turn was an 8, and Ferguson continued to bet. When a king came on the river, giving his opponent the Broadway straight, Ferguson was able to get all of his chips. Later, he was behind going to the flop, with A-Q against the A-K of his opponent, when the flop came Q-2-Q. Ferguson bet out, and then bet the innocuous turn, and his opponent then put Ferguson all-in, thinking Chris would fold, only to see the bad news.
At the other table, we saw Raymer handle this type of a flop completely differently. Jacqueline Scott raised to 1,500 with A-10 offsuit, another player called, as did Raymer with A-Q unsuited, and then Alexander, getting the discount in the blind, with . The flop was Q-5-Q, and Raymer decided to slowplay the hand and checked. Alexander then bet 2,500. The other two players folded, and Raymer just called. Raymer also checked the turn and the river, calling Alexander’s bets each time, and taking down a 47,000 chip pot. He said after the hand that he suspected Alexander had pocket fives, so he played somewhat cautiously with his three queens. Still, it showed a very different approach to playing strong hands after the flop, which Raymer duplicated a couple of other times during the evening.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of this telecast was watching the continual banter between Raymer and Alexander. Whether it was the two of them singing the Flash Gordon theme, or Raymer asking Alexander what movie he wishes he could have acted in (Alexander chose “Network”), the two of them, along with commentator Norman Chad’s numerous Seinfeld references, kept the two-hour show moving along. Chad related that Alexander likes to tell poker professionals “If I lose to you, it’s supposed to happen, but if you lose to me, you will never live it down, so make your decisions very carefully.” But Alexander wasn’t all jokes and mirrors. He showed a very solid game, making laydowns when he was beaten, and value bets when he was ahead, comfortably making it to his first-ever Day 3.
One of the interesting sagas of the evening was the survival of Roland DeWolfe. He was all-in with A-3 against A-K and flopped a 3. He was all-in with pocket eights against queens, and flopped an 8. He was at risk with pocket fours against nines, and flopped a four. Through it all, DeWolfe maintained his usual good humor and needling table talk.
Some of the other highlights of the evening included the following: 1) 96 year-old Jack Ury tangling with a brash player who tried to goad him into getting all his chips in on a 6-7-6 flop. Ury played it as if he wasn’t sure what was even going on, but then agreed to go all-in. His opponent confidently turned over 7-6, only to have Ury slow-roll his pocket sevens for the better full house. Although Ury went out a short time later, that hand showed he is still in full possession of his poker-playing faculties. 2) Learning that pocket fours is now being called the “Obama,” in honor of our 44th president, and 3) Jason Baltz laying down pocket kings to Greg Raymer. Raymer raised with jacks, Baltz popped it from 1,600 to 4,500 and Raymer raised once more to 20,000, leading to Baltz’s fold. After the hand, Raymer commented, “I guess it was a good fold, since I’m sure you wouldn’t have folded aces or kings.”
Tonight’s show, although it didn’t introduce us to any of the other players who will battle it out in the November Nine, was a fast-paced two hours, with lots of interesting hands, entertaining features (with the exception of Chad’s putting contest against Dewey Tomko, which could have been much more fun, given Tomko’s reputation) and solid commentary from Chad and McEachern. Next week’s two hours will focus on Day 2B, the last day before all of the remaining players merge for the rest of the tournament. We are just a little more than two months away from the final table, and we can expect ESPN to continue to ratchet up the tension and the excitement in the weeks to come as the championship unfolds. See you next week!
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