As the skies opened up and the rains fell on Friday, the L. A. Poker Classic moved on to the Main Event, the $10,000 buy in tournament for the World Poker Tour. It started precisely at 3:30 Friday afternoon although, admittedly, many players had not quite gotten to the point of being in the event yet. A line was still evident as buy ins and satellite winners raced to grab their chits proving they were going to the Big Show. For the most part, more than four-fifths of the field was seated and playing as the cards hit the felt.
There were some interesting matchups around the room. One thoroughly stacked table included professional Sam Grizzle and former WPT champion Erick Lindgren, as well as World Series of Poker bracelet holders Thomas "Thunder" Keller, Layne Flack, and a perpetually absent Phil Hellmuth. Straight from the pages of "Super/System", both Doyle Brunson and Mike Caro were at a table together with WPT Battle of the Champions winner Ron Rose along for the ride. Costa Rica's Humberto Brenes had the audacious task of battling the ladies, WSOP Champions Cyndi Violette and Kathy Liebert. There were even a few celebrity poker players as well, with actors James Woods, Tobey Maguire and Gabe Kaplan making the trek to the tables.
Gradually, everyone made it to the tables, and with the initial start of 25/50 blinds and everyone with a 10,000 chip stack, play began. For lack of a better way to put it, the carnage was about to begin.
As we moved into the second level, we had out first notable casualty of the tournament, and it was none other than the Godfather of the game, Doyle Brunson. Twenty minutes into the round, Doyle was out of the tournament, but said to me, "Son, that's the game," as he ambled out of the Crowne Ballroom. He stayed around though, talking to other players and fans as they went for their pilgrimage to the person who first put the game on the map.
During this time, the announcement came down as to the numbers for the tournament; 538 entries, with a prize pool of $5,166,414 to be paid out to the first 45 finishers and the first place take of $1,859,909. A round of applause went up from the gathered masses and, just as quickly, the attention was turned back to the cards.
I watched as, nearly back to back, both WPT champ Paul Darden and WSOP champion Annie Duke both took the walk from the tables. Annie never seemed to catch any cards to work with, and Paul had been seriously crippled in a early hand and was not able to make the comeback.
Daniel Negreanu, who has been on a streak for seemingly forever, ran the ship at his table. The 2004 CardPlayer Magazine Player of the Year was firmly in control of his table. Two other players who were also beating up their fellow table mates were "Action" Dan Harrington and defending World Series Main Event Champion Greg Raymer. All had sizeable stacks and were using them to their advantage.
Phil Hellmuth finally arrived to his table, but a few hands in was forced to take a timeout as he displayed some conduct (I will not mention the exact indiscretion) that was deemed to be worth the penalty. I heard Phil later remark it was the first time he had received such a penalty in almost eight years. Even with the unwanted break, Phil was firmly in control of his game and was able to rebound several times from a short stack to stay around (by the way, on occasion, he will drink a Budweiser).
Jennifer Harman was the next name I noticed to go as she ran all in to Malibu, CA's Brian Anderson. Harman held a very nice A-Q, but it was an uphill battle against Anderson's pocket eights. When an eight hit the flop, the battle was nearly insurmountable and, after all was said and done, the diminutive Jennifer was out just before the dinner break.
After dinner, WSOP Champion Tom McEvoy was gone, and fellow titleholders Chris Ferguson and Scotty Nguyen were both in trouble as well. Gus "The Great Dane" Hansen and Tobey Maguire squared off on the same table together. And, with the raise in blinds and the addition of the ante, we said goodbye to Cyndi Violette, Scott Fischman and T. J. Cloutier.
I watched as Humberto Brenes delivered a two for one knockout to Christen Johansson and another player as they were all in. Brenes held K-K and Johansson pocket Aces, with the third gentleman on a measly pocket nines. Brenes proceeded to draw out the King on the turn and took a massive chip stack from the battle..
There were two women who were doing extremely well. Evelyn Ng was sitting very well at her table with around 40K in chips, and Renee Wexler of San Diego, CA, who was the player who crippled Paul Darden, was sitting around 50K herself. Along with Kathy Liebert, they were the three women who were performing excellently at the tables.
Along the way we lost both Gus Hansen and a very entertaining Scotty Nguyen. Scotty was his usual self, as he was laughing and joking the entire time. I was at the table when he grabbed a WPT handheld camera and conducted a "up close" interview with Men "The Master" Nguyen. Scotty had everyone laughing as he poked and prodded at Men to make comments for the camera, and he displayed some great camera skills as he panned the players at the table. If this poker thing doesn't work for him, maybe he has a future as a cameraman!
When we hit Level 5, the players began to drop out quickly. Phil "The Unabomber" Laak, Phil Ivey, Ron Rose and Amir Vahedi all were eliminated as the body count rose. There were twenty five tables left as we entered Level 6, which means we had eliminated over half the field in only about seven hours! Plans are to get to the end of Level 6 and call it a night. By that time, conceivably there could only be another 225 players left in the field and it will set up for another great night of poker action at the Commerce Casino!