It has been noted that one reason the LA Professional Poker Tour event of 2005 was considered the toughest of all time was that every starting table was more star-studded than the typical final table of any event these days. At my first table we had Barry Greenstein and Thor Hansen (who I consider to be amongst the very best players of our time) and as people were eliminated they were replaced by successful competitors such as Chris Ferguson and David Chieu.
One thing that I have noticed over the years is that there are very clearly great players when they have a lot of chips, and others that are great players with a short stack. In my opinion you have to be able to play well with either to be one of the best.
The best of the best these days seems to be Daniel Negreanu and as he was at an adjoining table on day one I did not get to watch him play hands but I did have an eye on his stack, which was short, one could even say very short (about 3,000 of a starting stack of 10,000) for many hours. It is likely that he played his normal aggressive game prior to my tuning him in but I was impressed with how patient and tough he was with the short stack.
I know that it is easier to be patient and objective when you are at the top of your game and on top of the poker world and making millions of dollars every year, but being able to play well with a short stack when the incentive is small impressed me. I have seen many a famous player over the years find any excuse to just throw their last chips into a pot even though they are a substantial underdog. Part of the reason that I am writing at length about how impressed I am with Daniel's current game is that over the past years I have often felt that he was impulsive and unsound and was therefore not very impressed by the fact that he was having good results. This is a public correction of that view. Either he matured as a player or my observations were just flat wrong.
He had to overcome another obstacle in this event which happens to all of us from time to time, and that is the fact that no one at his original table went broke until there were about 80 players gone in the tournament. What this means in practical terms is that there were tables where the chip average was 180,000 or more while at Daniel's table it was capped at the original 90,000. If you think about this you will see that it adds another handicap to the possibility that you might place well in an event.
Fast forward to day two and I will talk about some hands played at my table as the wunderkinds built their stacks (Negreanu and Lindgren won nearly half the chips in play on day two! That is really impressive, no matter how lucky they were.).
Early in the day Daniel had already doubled up when he raised up front (big blind was 1200) with AK off-suit (No surprise in that. One pithy insight on the tour is that in all forms of holdem if you are going to win tournaments you had best be able to beat AK and you had best be able to win with AK. Daniel's preferred raise these days seems to be two and one half times the big blind.). Peter Costa called from the blind and checked a flop of K62 with two clubs, Daniel bet about 6,000, and now Costa moved all-in having Daniel well covered. Daniel immediately said, "ahh Peter, did you flop a set?" as he attempted to peer into the smiling Costa persona, "nah, I don't think so. I think you are in trouble!" and he reached across the table and took the 'all-in' flag (a dealer aide to the mobile television crew that rushed around trying to film most of the all-ins as they happened) and raised it high while saying "I call, all-in!" Peter turned up the A-10 of clubs and missed the flush draw. This hand put Negreanu over 100,000 in chips for the first time. Many players would have played the hand exactly as he did, but they would have liked it a lot less.
A short time later Erick Lindgren was down to 23,000 and raised from near the front to 7,000 with a big blind of 1600. It came back to Costa in the big blind again and he sorted and resorted his chips and the amount that it would take to put Erick all-in (Costa had about 45,000 total as the hand began as the loss to Negreanu had weakened his once big stack. Costa was a very active player at this table and at every table I have ever shared with him.). At long last he elected not to, flashing an ace-ten as he mucked. Eric then showed 7-7 and remarked as he mucked them, "We were going to the flag that time!" which indicates that he was intending to call the all-in re-raise. After the hand and after the fact comments do not mean a lot but in this case I believed him. For Peter Costa the completion of this tragedy happened later when he picked up QQ and ran into Erick's AA and was knocked out of the tournament.
When the television lights come on some players really flash some moves. I am not sure that is what happened here but it is an important footnote to the following two hands. The effervescent John Esposito was on the button when we were at the televised table with three tables left, I believe the big blind was 3,000 at the time and he raised it to something near the normal raise (a 'normal' traditional raise would be three times the big blind), I passed in the little blind, and John Juanda re-raised to some number like 24,000 off a large stack of about 160,000, Esposito now moved all-in instantly, counting out a re-re-raise of about 43,000 and chirping "all you can eat, baby!" (a phrase made famous amongst players by Scotty Nguyen). Juanda now thought for a while and mucked his hand at which point Esposito turned up a 3!!! Juanda never changed his penetrating look or expression but I could feel the temperature rise considerably.
The very next hand Esposito limps from the cutoff as first in and I mucked A-8 off-suit on the button. I thought that I had Esposito beaten badly but was very concerned about the heat that I felt on my left and had no desire to raise and have Juanda re-raise me when I held 60,000 or so in chips and, although below par, was reasonably comfortable. Sure enough Juanda raised it 15,000 or so and Esposito mucked 7-6 hearts face up, at which point Juanda showed 7-2 off-suit. Laughter all around. Never awaken a dragon, folks.
When we were about 15 handed there came a hand on the television table that will likely air at some point. The blinds were 2,000-4,000 with a 500 ante and Jim Meehan had the button and Daniel Negreanu was in the big blind.
Jim is a human rain delay as he brings every game to a crawl as it nears the money, he has a set of questions that he asks the dealer every time before he looks at his cards, and more questions before taking action if he is likely to enter the pot, followed by counting out his bet two chips at a time, and then announcing a total, which is always as odd a number as he can construct with the available units. He is a certified character who usually wears a leather hat and plays as well as he wants to. The insight about him from the players is that he needs new material. Now I find him very amusing but the above is certainly true.
Back to the televised hand; Jim is first in and raises it to 14,000 off a stack of about 150,000, the little blind mucks, and now Daniel says aloud (not recommended, when you notice it), "he didn't even look at his cards!" Daniel now looks at his cards and calls. The flop comes 10-x-x, now Dan looks at Jim, picks up two stacks and says, "now I am supposed to just make a bet and you fold, right?" and as Jim looks down the table at me he widens his eyes a bit, surprised at the question. "Nah, don't answer!" Danny hastens to say as he puts in 25,000. Now it is Jim's stage and he looks at me again, I did not catch every word but he says something about this kid is so sharp as to notice that I did not even look, and then interrupts himself with a wave and an "all-in!" of his large stack. Now Daniel has about 210,000 more in chips and is the tournament leader if he just passes this hand and is clearly faced with a difficult decision. He goes into the huddle, counts out the call, shoots a few looks at Jim, wonders if he was right about Jim not looking at his hand, and finally decides it is worth the risk. He calls. The hands come over Q-10 for Negreanu, 10-3 off-suit for Meehan! Daniel was right and is right and a Q on the turn certified the victory.
We went from 12 players to the television final of 6 contestants so fast that it defies understanding, I believe it only took 15 hands! Usually in any large event going from 18 at two tables down to the final 9 or final 6 can takes hours and seem like a visit to the dentist, but not this time.
First former world champion Tom McEvoy (shortstacked all day) made a mistake from the button, we were six handed at both tables and the pot was composed of 3000-6000 blinds with 1000 antes, Tom held K-J of hearts and raised it to 18,000 off a stack of about 44,000, now the irrepressible John Esposito goes all-in from the little blind for 27,000 with Ace-7 off-suit and Daniel Negreanu calls for a ruling, wanting to know if he calls here if is open to McEvoy moving all-in. (The correct answer is no, and the correct ruling was given. In limit events if you have half or more of a bet then you re-open the betting. In big-bet you must have the full amount of a raise to re-open the betting and many players as well as tournament directors do not seem to be able to get this right.) Daniel calls, Tom calls, the flop comes QJ-small, Daniel checks, McEvoy moves all-in (too late, Tom, as you know!), Daniel calls and turns over QJ.
Now Asher Derei, a tough professional from Israel that was leading the tournament in chips earlier, is moved to our table and assumes the button. We will play five and five at two tables until the final nine are determined. That takes one more hand. Toto (the Ripper) Leonidas moves all-in from first position for about 78,000 with A-J off-suit and around to Daniel who has awakened with A-A.
Now we are nine handed and everyone has their own hole-card cam. They rush out to adjust chairs and microphones and powder and glue my bald head so as not to blind the viewing audience, a few words from Steve Lipscomb (the main WPT person), and we are off. Hand two David Colclough moves his short stack of 60 thousand or so all-in with AQ off-suit and is called by Allen Krell with 9-9 and it comes A-5-3-2-4 and the bets are returned to the players.
The next hand is a stunner, Steve Brecher, a tough player from Northern Nevada raises the 6,000 big blind to 17,000 and Chris Bigler fidgets around in the cutoff and finally moves all-in, passed back to Steve who thinks for a very long time and calls 115,000 or so more with QJ of hearts. I, for one, was stunned. Bigler has the internet all-in hand of AK off-suit and it comes 10-xx-8 and K and Brecher is gone in 9th. He told me later he imagined it would be a race and could not shake the idea out of his head. For whatever reason I believe he put Bigler on 9-9 and decided to make a play to got to the final six right there.
I raised the next two hands and got walks, one hand later Eric Lindgren raised it off his big stack to about 20,000 and it came around to John Juanda in the little blind with about 50,000 total and he moved all-in with KQ off, the big blind was Bigler and he held the very strong hand of QQ and did not know what to do. His head told him to re-re-raise but the fear of going broke to Eric kept him from this winning move and he called. Eric called and it came Axx with two little clubs and Eric held AJ of clubs and won a nice pot while Juanda went out 8th, a few hands later the blinds were raised to 4,000-8,000 with a 1,000 ante and El Blonde (Colclough) moved all-in for about 60,000 with 6-6 and was called from Bigler on the button, holding 8-8. David did not improve and was gone in 7th.
On the last hand dealt Allen Krell held K-J of spades in the little blind and agonized over what to do. Had he taken the flop he would have certainly won the hand as he would have flopped a royal flush draw and turned two pairs. The real question is who is this mystery man and how did he end up here amid this strong lineup? I have known Allen for years and until 1999 played fairly often against him in a 60-120 lowball game in Northern California but it is very unlikely that anyone else in the field knew him. This is his first tournament! He told me that he was chosen at random (an online lottery of sorts) while playing a tournament on Paradise Poker. He is a poker player but his arrival at the final table brings up as many questions as answers, please remind me, just who is this event allegedly for? Is it desirable to have some random amateur players beyond the locale exemptions? I am not sure that the professionals that were knocked out short of the money like it, but having the fodder bite back is an interesting story for sure. Good luck Allen, except against me.
The table has been set, but a report on the final table is yet to come.