As everyone settled back after gorging themselves on Thanksgiving in America, poker took center stage on Fox Sports Network. Gathering together seven of the best players in the world, the FullTiltPoker.net Invitational Live from Monaco was a tremendous success for all those involved and should be something that other networks should think about giving a try.
First off, the setting was a truly spectacular one! The players settled into the exclusive high rollers' room (the Salon Prive) of the Casino de Monte Carlo for the made for television tournament and, for those of us who may never have the opportunity to see it, it was an exceptional treat. The grandeur of the room, with simply unbelievable classical paintings on the walls and the gilded, ornate decoration of the architecture, was worth the time spent watching the event alone!
As we were here for what was basically a "sit-n-go", we needed to have a quality broadcasting team to carry what was scheduled to be (at the maximum) a four hour event. The duo of veteran sports announcer Barry Tompkins and "The Professor of Poker" Howard Lederer have simply set the benchmark for the way a tournament should be done on television, be it live or recorded. Tompkins was smoothly proficient to give the card-by-card action, while Lederer provided the background into the players and accurately throughout the event predicted the actions of the professionals that were assembled at the table. The two ably played off each other and, because of the pace of action (or lack thereof) at points in the event, were able to make even a walkover an entertaining piece of the tournament action.
Fox Sports Network also did an excellent job on the technical edge of the program. Although there was some problems with card identification at the end of the tournament (the cards being used had microchips implanted in them and a computer "read" what each player had), there was little trouble in being able to pick up the action. In a nice innovation during hands, the usual information as to percentages was displayed along with the cards in action and (this was especially informative for newer players) the "outs" a player needed to take the hand were displayed as well. All of this was done without disturbing the viewing of the action, which was nicely done by Fox Sports Network.
Oh, there was some poker being played as well! All the players must be commended for bringing class to the event, as they all showed up with suits, tuxedos and ties, befitting of and abiding by the rules of the Casino de Monte Carlo. There were no logos, no T-shirts and jeans, and it lent a great deal of style to the table. David "DevilFish" Ulliot, normally used to being the best dressed player at a final table, was being given a run for his money by the rest of the players assembled!
The play of the tournament was seemingly very tight and very quiet in the early going. Perhaps this was due to the factor that the gentlemen assembled at the table started play at midnight in Monaco to make the 6PM (East Coast) live broadcast time on FSN! As the tournament worked its way along, the players loosened up, even putting the censors to work for a couple of DevilFish's comments. There was plenty of laughing among the group, but it was also obvious that the men all wanted the top prize of $600,000.
It took nearly two hours of the event to eliminate our first player. Mike Matusow was the victim of a bad run of cards and never seemed to get on track during the tournament. He was the first one out in seventh place. Phil Hellmuth made some interesting plays with strong hands early in the action, limping with pocket tens along with Ulliot and allowing Ulliot (with Q-2 of clubs) to outdraw him on the flop. When he made his move with a K-J of hearts, he was looked up by Chris "Jesus" Ferguson with a A-5 of spades. A five on the turn gave Ferguson the lead, but also put two hearts on the board, leaving the flush option for Phil. A blank at the river made Chris the winner and Phil Hellmuth went home in sixth.
David Ulliot was the story of the early going. "The DevilFish" demonstrated his highly aggressive style and was able to bully the table through much of the first half of the event. He was the chip leader before Ferguson dispatched Hellmuth and, through inopportune raises, bled off much of that lead. Still, he displayed excellent cardsmanship and aggression that a player would need in the tournament poker world.
Another player who had trouble picking up hands was Gus Hansen. "The Great Dane" was able to stave off elimination against Phil Ivey when he back-doored a flush after Ivey had a set of sevens on the flop, but was eliminated when he moved in with Q-8 against John Juanda's K-Q. Juanda never fell behind and, with an unnecessary King on the river, sent Gus out in fifth place. The final four of Ulliot, Ferguson, Ivey and Juanda played excellently, no one wanting to leave the game in fourth (the "bubble" for this event, as only the top three were paid). Ivey crippled Ferguson when his seven kicker with an Ace was better than Chris' deuce and Ace and, two hands later, John Juanda sent Ferguson home as the bubble boy.
The three men left would divide up the $1 million prize pool and, as expected, the action was fast after the elimination of Ferguson. Ulliot's early hot streak cooled off and he was next to go in third place with what he brought to the tournament, $120,000. Ivey and Juanda toyed with each other for a few hands, but John chose an inopportune moment to make a play on a pot. With Q-6 of clubs, he pushed in a large raise, only to be repopped by Phil's pocket Kings. The blank board gave Ivey a nearly insurmountable edge and soon after Phil eliminated John to take the $600,000 first prize while Juanda accepted second place and $280,000.
It was an excellent night of poker and the wrapup of a great two days for Phil Ivey. Adding in the $1 million prize he pocketed for winning the Monte Carlo Millions championship the previous day, he walked off with $1.6 million for a week of work and cemented his status as one of the best in the game today. It also was a great broadcast for the Fox Sports Network. It would be very interesting to see the World Poker Tour or the World Series of Poker attempt something along the lines of a live broadcast. The Tournament of Champions would have been the perfect setting for the World Series and ANY final table from the WPT would be worthy of such coverage. Until then, we'll just have to get our televised live poker fix from FSN!
Ed Note: Phil Ivey can't be stopped. But, you could try to stop him at Full Tilt