ESPN’s coverage of the 2010 WSOP Main Event moved tonight to the first of the two Day 2s. While there were nine former Main Event champions still alive and playing in the field on this night, ESPN chose to focus the vast majority of its attention on two well-known and popular professionals, Patrik Antonius, seated at Table Two, and Daniel Negreanu at the featured table. These choices bring up a very interesting point about poker as a “sport.” While a baseball career is limited to, at most, 20 years or so, and usually much less than that, the life of a high-level poker player can go on indefinitely, which means that we can almost expect to have ESPN, if it continues to air the WSOP, to feature Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth, et.al. for another 40 years, as once someone’s fame is established, the network can ride that horse for a long, long time, whether or not they actually continue to play well. Whether that bodes well or ill for poker remains to be seen. With that editorial comment out of the way, let’s move on to the action.
Negreanu started with a below-average stack, but in the early going, seemed to be gaining steam. In an early big pot, Adam Fisher, with blinds at 200-400-50, limped under the gun with A-J, and Negreanu just checked his big blind with A-Q. The flop was 4-9-Q, Negreanu checked, and Fisher bet 600. Negreanu called, and the turn brought the . Negreanu checked again, and Fisher bet 1,200. Negreanu raised to 4,200, and Fisher re-raised to 13,200. Negreanu then pushed all-in and Fisher called, drawing dead. The meaningless came on the river, and Negreanu scooped up the 49,200 chip pot. Soon after, he won two other smaller pots, and had tripled his stack early in the day, and got as high as 85,000 before beginning to run into trouble.
Meanwhile, ESPN continued to offer up some good stories on some of the lesser-known players in the field. First came a brief feature on Billy Kopp, who flopped a higher diamond flush than an opponent to eliminate the other player from the field, which of course led to a revisiting of the flush over flush hand he lost against Darvin Moon that knocked him out in 12th place last year. Then, we were treated to a story about Jeff Sarwer, who won the under-10 international chess championship in 1986 when he was eight years old, and stopped playing chess two years later, after being expected to be even better than Bobby Fischer. He described a similarity between poker and chess as being “choosing a route that is uncomfortable for your opponent,” a very apt description of high level play in both games. However, the best story of the night came in the second hour, where we were introduced to Heather Sue Mercer, who had been a place kicker for her high school football team, and then thought she had made the team at Duke, only to be cut due solely to her gender. She filed suit for sexual discrimination and won a case where the Duke lawyers said, in no uncertain terms, that she had, in fact, been cut for being a woman. She was awarded two millions dollars, but ironically, never got a penny of it, since the Supreme Court ruled that Title Nine cases of discrimination were not eligible for punitive damages.
Back at the table, Patrik Antonius put on an absolute clinic all through the telecast of how to completely dominate a table. In the first wild card hand of the night, Antonius had the mystery cards and raised in middle position to 2,000. Denny Walters called him on the button with pocket jacks. The flop was 10-K-3, and Antonius fired out 4,000 into the 5,575 in the pot, and Walters called. The turn card was the , and Antonius bet 9,000 and again was called. The came on the river and with 31,575 in the middle, Antonius bet 26,000. Walters called once more, and Antonius showed pocket threes for the full house. Halfway through the two-hour show, Antonius had tripled up from about 60,000 to over 180,000.
After seeing the Billy Kopp hand that was so similar to a famous hand in recent poker history, we were treated a re-run of another legendary hand that involved Chris Moneymaker during his run to the title in 2003. If you recall that tourney, there was a hand where Moneymaker sat motionless for minutes, certain that Johnny Chan was supposed to act, when in fact, it was Moneymaker’s turn to play. History repeated itself this year on Day 2A, when Moneymaker waited over five minutes for his opponent to respond to his bet, until he decided to call the clock. His opponent told him that he had gone all-in almost immediately after Moneymaker’s bet, and had been just about to call the clock on HIM, a fact that seemingly everyone at the table was unaware of. Moneymaker wound up calling and doubling up to over 120,000, as his opponent just threw his cards into the muck.
In the second hour’s wild card hand, with the blinds at 400-800-100, Negreanu raised to 1,800 in early position with the unknown hand. James Carroll called in the hijack with K-10, as did Tony Utnage on the button with , and Pierre Bou-nahra in the big blind with . The flop was A-2-K, and all four players checked. The turn card was the , giving Bou-nahra a flush draw. He checked, and Negreanu bet 6,200, causing the other three players to fold. Negreanu showed the camera for the successful bluff.
However, Negreanu’s Day 2 started heading in the wrong direction, as he began to appear under the weather and was visibly fatigued and clearly losing his edge. In the first of two losing hands, he raised to 1,800 in second position with , and was re-raised to 5,200 by Charlie Hook with A-K. Negreanu called, but then folded to a flop bet on a board of A-K-4. In the second hand, he raised under the gun with and was called by Tristan McDonald in the small blind with pocket queens. The flop brought 3-5-8 with two clubs. McDonald checked, and Negreanu bet 2,500, which McDonald check-raised to 8,500. Negreanu called, but when the fell on the turn, he folded to McDonald’s bet of 11,000, putting him below 50,000 chips.
Antonius, on the other hand, continued his rampage when he raised to 2,500 with in late position, and then called Marco Gardonio’s re-raise to 6,400 (Gardonio had pocket aces). The flop was 8-3-5 (!), and Gardonio led out for 9,000. Antonius raised to 21,000, Gardonio made it 60,000 and Antonius went all-in. Gardonio called, but the on the turn and the jack on the river gave him no help, and Antonius took down a pot of 194,500 chips, eliminating Gardonio, and putting Antonius at about 300,000 for the tourney, and in great shape heading to Day 3.
On the flip side, Negreanu’s slide continued to the end of the day, in one more confrontation with Hook. Hook raised to 2,400 (blinds were at 500-1,000-100) under the gun with , which was called by Jeff Stephenson in the cutoff with K-Q, and Negreanu in the big blind with K-J. The flop was 10-7-9. Negreanu checked, and Hook bet 3,200. Stephenson folded, but Negreanu called, and the two saw a turn of the . Both players checked, and the came on the river. Negreanu bet 6,800 into the 15,000 chip pot, and Hook thought for a while, and then made the call, leaving Negreanu with just 29,000 chips heading into Day 3.
While there was also some coverage of both of the Mizrachi brothers, each of whom was building a formidable stack, as well as some shots of Johnny Chan, ESPN seemed to be going by the motto “give the public what they want” in choosing to spend the bulk of the coverage on the two famous pros, also focusing on just how many attractive women were railing the former male model Antonius. One wonders just how new stars will be marketed in the future, since, aside from Tom Dwan, and the coverage he has almost demanded with his high-wire, high stakes action and side bets, the stars today are not much different than those that were featured when the poker boom began in 2003, as evidenced by who the public voted for in the Tournament of Champions. As the Main Event progresses, it will be interesting to see how the network develops the Mizrachi story, as well as beginning to identify the other November Niners.
See you next week for Day 2B!