An old saying goes, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach gym.” In the poker world, does the same thing apply to commentators? For this week of Poker After Dark, six players, five of whom are best known to the poker world for their skills as announcers, formed the winner-take-all table. High Stakes Poker’s Gabe Kaplan and Kara Scott (who has recently replaced Kaplan’s sidekick AJ Benza), Poker Road’s Joe Sebok, Poker Superstars commentator Mark Gregorich and Poker After Dark’s own “voice of God” Ali Nejad joined Howard Lederer, who got in via his work for Fox Sports. Who would win this showdown, and more importantly, would the poker be any good?
The answer to the second question was that the poker lacked much style for most of the week. Basically, there was a lot of “A-B-C” poker going on. Lederer, Gregorich and Scott all played extremely tightly, with no variations in their games. None of the three departed from this strategy, which made them all susceptible to getting less action, and also made Scott and Gregorich vulnerable to blind increases. The two most unpredictable players were Kaplan and Nejad, who had a history with one another going back to Kaplan’s elimination of Nejad in a previous Poker After Dark week. Sebok was somewhere in the middle, changing gears effectively enough to go very deep in the tournament.
The early shows in the week, along with fairly lackluster poker, featured Nejad and Sebok needling one another incessantly. Nejad started it off by bringing in a tray of champagne to toast the fact that Sebok finally made a televised final table of six, since he has become legendary for finishing seventh in tourneys that have only six on-air players. Sebok and Lederer also engaged in a seemingly interminable discussion of rock music, which had Kaplan, who was sitting between them, attempting, mostly unsuccessfully, to look interested in.
The first really huge hand of the week took place on the second day, when Lederer raised to 1,800 on the button with pocket eights. Kaplan called in the small blind with , and Sebok followed suit in the big blind with . Lederer flopped a monster when Q-8-Q came, with two diamonds. The other two players checked to him, and Lederer didn’t slow play, betting 3,500. Gabe called with his flush draw and Joe folded. The turn brought Kaplan his flush, with the . He checked, and Lederer bet 5,000, whereupon Kaplan went all-in. Howard called, and the river did not bring the one out that Kaplan needed. Kaplan was crippled by the hand, and soon got as low as 2,500 chips (from a starting stack of 20,000), putting him in danger of becoming the first player out.
The next critical hand was a battle of the blinds between Gregorich and Scott. Ironically, it came literally seconds after Sebok and Gregorich were talking about a hand in a tourney they were playing with pocket eights against pocket jacks. Gregorich found jacks in the small blind and raised to 2,200. Scott had the eights and re-raised to 6,300. Gregorich then went all-in, and after agonizing for quite a while (Scott kept saying “You’re so tight!”) she called the bet. She got no help, as both rivered flushes, and Scott was now on life support as well. She got back in the game somewhat by going all-in four times in a row, getting no action (her tight style prevented anyone from playing back at her with anything even remotely marginal), but she never really was able to get much traction.
Kaplan began to come back at the beginning of the third day of the telecast, when he went all-in with his short stack with A-4, only to have both Gregorich, with pocket fives and Lederer, with , both call. Kaplan was drawing very thin, but the flop of A-7-4 vaulted him into the lead, and two blanks on the turn and river miraculously tripled him up!
Kaplan was in jeopardy once again on the third day when he called on the button with J-8, Sebok completed in the small blind with and Nejad checked his option with 5-3 unsuited. The flop came 5-8-3, and after two checks, Kaplan went all-in and Nejad, with bottom two pair, called. Nejad still seemed fatalistic about going up against his nemesis, and sure enough, Kaplan hit a jack on the river for a better two pair.
Soon after that Scott went all-in with pocket fives, and Gabe snapped her off with his kings. Kara became the first one eliminated, leading the players to joke: “There goes the 18-35 year-old male demographic!”
Nejad ran into Kaplan once again, when Gabe raised to 3,200 on the button with K-7, and Nejad went all-in for the rest of his chips with K-Q. Gabe called, and then added insult to injury by flopping a seven. His pair held up, and Nejad went back to the announcer’s booth, where, for the rest of the week, as Kaplan eliminated other players in similar situations, he kept repeating, “I’m not bitter. Just sayin’!”
With four players left on day four, and Lederer still holding on to the chip lead he earned from his full house against Kaplan, we were treated to a roller coaster ride, where first one player, then another, was either at risk of elimination or in the chip lead. Kaplan doubled up after “appearing” to make a string raise with pocket kings, being forced to call, and allowing both Gregorich and Lederer to get into the pot. Howard, with J-2, then flopped top pair on a flop of 3-4-J, and Kaplan doubled through him with his overpair. In one of the few hands played to the river, Kaplan pushed Lederer off a small pair with an all-in bluff after the river.
The biggest hand on the fourth day started with Sebok raising to 4,000 with A-4. Gregorich re-raised to 12,000 with on the button, and Lederer said, “This would be a good time to pick up A-K,” and then found pocket aces instead, and went all-in. Kaplan then stated, “Good time to pick up 7-2, so I can get out of here,” and found exactly that! Gregorich called Lederer’s bet, and gave Lederer back the chip lead when he failed to bust the rockets.
The final telecast began with all four players still in the tournament. Kaplan and Gregorich got it all in with Kaplan’s K-Q behind Mark’s A-8. But Kaplan rivered his king, and claimed his third victim.
Sebok then took the chip lead by doubling through Kaplan’s K-J with pocket threes. Kaplan was then all-in against Lederer’s A-10 with K-Q yet again. This time, after a flop of 3-J-10, Kaplan turned the straight with a turned 9 and doubled up. He then eliminated Lederer with pocket aces against Lederer’s K-J, setting up the heads-up confrontation between Kaplan and Sebok.
Although Sebok held a small lead going in to the two-man finale, the heads-up was all Kaplan. He caught cards, he was more aggressive, and he finally took Sebok out. The final hand saw Joe raise to 11,000 (2,000-4,000 blinds) with , and Kaplan call with . The flop came 9-J-K, all hearts! Gabe bet out 10,000 and Sebok went all-in. Although another king on the turn gave Sebok some outs, the river 7 sealed the deal, and Kaplan completed the most impressive comeback in Poker After Dark history!
See you next week for a new installment of Poker After Dark!
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