My intention in this column is to talk more about some major players at the Aussie Millions. A significant amount of information comes from pokernetwork.com, which as of just recently is now part of the PokerNews network of sites. Pokernetwork is the major site for what is called the Australasian area.
Not surprisingly Lee Nelson is prominent in every part of the site; he is the Grand Champion 2000-2005, he tops the leaderboard for 2006 as the Aussie Millions winner, his pictures are everywhere, and you can easily link to newspaper articles and interviews with him. He obviously accommodated the media as much as he could. When his wife Pen asked him what he wanted for his 63rd birthday he replied without having to think about it, "First place, honey!" The final day of this tournament was held on the day that celebrated his birthday and he got his wish! His final three challengers had a combined age of 64 and that illustrates how poker has come to be dominated by young males. I thought Lee played great down the stretch and it was nice to see someone with so much emotional maturity win this featured event.
The player who was not at the final table created the biggest stirKenna James. Kenna was the chip leader coming into the final day and his first problem was that they did not allow hats on the set (too many shadows, they said) and so KJ had to put his large cowboy hat on one of the cameras to 'oversee' the action. It must have seemed to KJ that they were taking his good luck charm away as he doubled up two short stacks and was disturbed enough to order a drink, an alcoholic beverage as we say in the trade. Now Kenna was the lucky one and as he caught what he needed (in the first hand post-drink he bet and a player raised all-in with the board seven high, the player held a set of sevens but Kenna had 10h9h for a flush draw, after some deliberation he called and made the flush without the board pairing.) With positive reinforcement he continued to drink and his chip stack steadily grew. He now went off camera and out of my sight, back to the poker room proper, which was 100 meters, or so, away. While there he amassed the amazing total of 2.5 million in chips out of 8.327 million total chip count and by now felt nine feet tall and bullet proof, lining up five drinks and pressing too much with the hands he was dealt. Twice he tried to run over Lee Nelson when he raised from the button and Lee re-raised from the big blind by moving all-in while holding A9 and AQ. Unfortunately for him Lee held KK both times and had an easy call and did not suffer a beat.
Kenna's final hand was almost the stuff of legend. It had the makings, but fell on its own sword before crossing the finish line. Someone limped up front and Nenad made it 100,000 to go from the little blind with QsQd and Kenna re-raised to 350,000 from the big blind with AcKc, the limper mucked and Nenad moved all-in, having Kenna covered. A surprised Kenna went into the tank and decided that he could not lay this hand down. He called and the flop came QcQh10c, so even though Nenad flopped quads Kenna could make a royal flush! That would have made the movie for sure, but it did not happen and KJ was out in 9th place!
After Mark Vos (AUS) went out 8th the final table was set up for the seven remaining players. There were no live spectators allowed on the set to view the proceedings, although a feed was sent out via closed circuit to various locations in the casino.
The starting chip counts at the final table were;
Seat 1: Jeff Sealy (USA)-1,982,000
Seat 2: Nenad Medic (Canada)-1,841,000
Seat 3: Shannon Shorr (USA)-1,532,000
Seat 4: Russell Davies (AUS)-777,000
Seat 5: Wes Bugiera (AUS)-594,000
Seat 6: Robert Neary (USA)-617,000
Seat 7: Lee Nelson (NZ)-1,024,000
Play began with an ante of 3,000 and blinds of 10,000-20,000 which meant that a lot of play was available, even for the shortest stack.
This was the friendliest and most relaxed group that I can ever remember watching at a final table and they deserve kudos for that. Most final tables have huge egos, trash talking, over-the-top celebrations, and under-the-breath cursing. There was very little of that as players jabbed with chips and settled in slowly, with some surprising confrontations arriving occasionally to punctuate the mood...
I thought that Nenad Medic and Lee Nelson were clearly the two players in the lineup that would be the most difficult to beat but anyone who had survived all the pitfalls of the previous days to get here might be tough. Wes Bugeria was the designated underdog and had the most dramatic story. He was a doctor who had a (sick) woman come to see him and cough repeatedly on him, after which he fell very ill and then was diagnosed with Alzheimer'sthere were moments in this tournament when he did not know what he had. Shannon Shorr was a 20 year old from Alabama who was told several times by other players to "breathe" as he looked like the enormity of arriving at his first final table overwhelmed and possibly confused him. Robert Neary was a 21 year old business student from Sacramento who played a steady game throughout. Russell Davies was a 29 year old programmer from Sydney. At one point Sealy moved all-in with Kc8c and Russell called from the little blind with AcQc and the flop came Jc8dh5s, turn Ad, river an 8d! After which Davies, also having his first high stakes final table, looked ill as he was heard to mutter, "That's absolutely sick!" Jeff Sealy was a guy who made large raises and accumulated a lot of his stack coming over-the-top, until Lee Nelson stopped him by moving all-in on the turn over his raise of 500,000 with a board of 8c3h2h4d, Lee was the small blind and Jeff the big blind in this one. Jeff asked Lee some questions at that moment and later at the concluding party, and tried to speculate on what Lee held. This is a hand we will all see on TV.
I thought the first key hand that led to Nelson's victory happened in a confrontation he had with Shannon Shorr, SS raised to 95,000 pre-flop and Lee called. The flop came 8h3h3x and Lee bet out for 100,000 with SS calling. The turn was the Ks and Lee checked and then called SS's bet of 200,000, the river brought the 8 of diamonds and Lee moved all-in! Shannon thought long and hard and somehow came up with the wrong idea as he called and could not beat Lee's pocket sixes.
Medic seemed to lose his focus late in the event and went out third. I think he got some type of mindwobble trying to figure Lee out and the following hand was the clincher. Three handed Lee raised to 180,000 on the button and Nenad called with QQ from the little blind, The flop came A83 with two clubs and Nenad checked. Lee shuffled his chips a while and now bet 250,000, Nenad thought for some time and called, he clearly is not sure what is going on, he started with a large hand but it does not seem large at this momenthowever he did eliminate Kenna James from this same position with this same hand. Is it his lucky hand for this day? The turn brings a 4 of hearts, Nenad checks and we go through the same routine, long thought, shuffling, betting 400,000, reluctant calling. The river brings a 7 of hearts and we do it one last time with Lee finally settling on 800,000 and Nenad calling. Lee shows 88 and takes in an enormous pot.
One pokernetwork writer here in Australia calls the cut-off seat the "hijack" which I think is very clever! An amazing factoid is that Lee knocked out all six of his opponents at the final table!
Until next time play good...and be lucky!