One thing that you will find is that, in Las Vegas, time has no meaning. Whereas the normal world may correspond to a clock, in this gambling oasis in the desert there is nothing that can't be done at anytime. If you want to party, it goes non-stop. Eat something? There are twenty four hour buffets and breakfast places to satisfy you. If your tastes run to the, let's say, more exotic, that can be had too. It makes for the sense of time that the rest of the world runs under obsolete.
With that said, 420 players stepped to the felt on the first day of the Doyle Brunson North American Poker Championship at the Bellagio and, after the first day of play, nearly half the field had been eliminated. Legendary big stakes player Chau Giang was the leader on Day One, but his time perception seemed to be off. According to rumor, after finishing the play for the first day of the tournament, Chau headed off to Bobby's Room in the Main Poker Room for more action. Night became day and, supposedly, Giang NEVER LEFT! He played poker around the clock and came back in to defend his chip stack. The cash game in the high roller room of the Bellagio must have been quite lucrative and deservedly so, because by the mid-point of Day Two, Chau's lead had been exterminated.
With around 130 players or so, it was time for the next step on the poker trail for myself. I walked down from the Bellagio to the Mirage, a short little stroll at this time of year (and probably the only time of the year!). The Mirage runs a daily rebuy tournament that generates great action and many notable players will find their way to the poker room there. On this particular Wednesday, the buy-in was $100, with unlimited rebuys and an optional add on at the end of the first hour.
Upon making my way to the table, I was interested in seeing that California cash game and tournament player Mickey "Mouse" Mills was at my table. I asked what brought him to the game and he replied that, with the daily tournament action on hiatus at the Bellagio, it was the best game in town. It seemed there were some other players (none that I recognized) that had at least competed in some of the action at the Festa al Lago and even a couple who were already out of the main event. This was to be a serious test for sure!
My plan was to stay pretty much out of the way for the first hour, as rebuy tournaments are notorious for loose play as the players attempt to accumulate chips. I was able to do this fairly well, although it seemed that my opponents were, at the minimum, getting some fairly decent hands to start with. There were the weak Aces that were pushed with, which generally were crushed by a better Ace or large pocket pairs. As a rebuy tournament will go, these players simply chucked another $100 into the pool and were off again.
I was able to hold my own for the first hour and made it to the add-on, which I accepted to keep pace with those at the table. While I wasn't the short stack, I wasn't exactly striking fear in a couple of my opponents who were able to be the recipients of one or two extra stacks of chips from the action of the first hour. Soon after the break, though, I was to meet my Waterloo.
It started innocently enough, with pocket Queens, when a shorter stack than I pushed the rest of his in. I felt it was worth it to take the shot, as at the worst I expected a coin flip. I got exactly that when my opponent turned a A-K of diamonds. My momentary elation of having the advantage quickly disappeared when the Ace came on the flop. This shrunk me down and prepared me for the end.
In middle position, I made perhaps the only true mistake during this trip. With pocket threes, I chose to play them aggressively and was called by the small blind, a gentleman who had recently moved to the table with a good stack of chips. A hearts full flop came with K-10-8. The gentleman on the stack called "all in" and I made a fateful mistake for not giving him credit for the face card in the blind. He turned up his King and my tournament night was done.
My mistake was in overplaying the baby pair from my position. I also made the additional mistake in not giving my opponent credit for at least a paint card and compounding it with a silly call. I would have been in condition critical mode had I not called, but I would still have been playing. It was a humbling lesson to learn.
Nevertheless, it was a joy to play in the Mirage poker room. The decor and feel are very comfortable and, with forty or so tables in action, you can definitely find a game and price range for your wallet. The play at the tournament, if indicative of the cash games, would be very challenging and worth the time spent in the room.
The good side of leaving the tournament is I was able to make it back to the WPT event and catch the end of the day. At the end of Day Two, we had played down to 39 players with some big names dominating the leader board. Day Three would be played down to the six men (or woman, as Kathy Liebert was still in contention) that would make up the final table.
Gus Hansen continued his excellent play from a month ago at the first European Poker Tour event in Barcelona and was in contention, but eventually left before we reached two tables. Kathy Liebert was playing excellent poker and showing some fighting spirit as she stuck around for quite some time before she left for the night in thirteenth place. There was a Feduniak sighting at this year's tournament, but this time it was Bob Feduniak instead of his genial wife Maureen. She patiently sweated him as he played for most of the day on a short stack. When I asked her what was worse, playing to a final table or sweating her husband, with a laugh and a note of glee she said she would much rather be playing than watching! The larger stacks and time eventually caught up with Bob, as he was eliminated on a tremendously bad beat when he got his money in with the best of it (Q-7), only to watch Danny Shiff take him out with a 9-4 when the flop and the river delivered fours. Bob was out in twelfth place.
There still were some big names on the tables, though. Two World Series of Poker Main Event champions, Dan Harrington and Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, were battling alongside Barry Greenstein, WPT Mirage Poker Showdown champion Gavin Smith, WSOP bracelet holder Jan Sorensen from Denmark, and Ming Ly, who was runner up to Doyle Brunson when Doyle captured his tenth World Series title. It was Ming, in fact, who ended the night for Ferguson and gave us our final ten.
The final table is shaping up to be one of the most competitive in recent memory. Ly, Greenstein, Smith and Sorensen are all doing well, but Dan Harrington has been playing big stack poker with devastating effects on his opponents. If a few of these gentlemen can make the final six, and Abraham Gray, Ernie Scherer and Tony Grand work their own impressive stacks, there could be some excellent poker in store from the World Poker Tour when, in the next installment of Earl's Excellent Poker Adventure, the Final Table takes place!