Face the Ace returned for its second episode this past Saturday night and was hyped as the episode that could potentially bring us our first millionaire, in Don Topel, a truck driver who beat both Erick Lindgren and Howard Lederer, before deciding to risk it all, $200,000 to be exact, for a big million dollar win.
Upon selecting the , Steve Schirripa reads Gavin Smith's bio card before introducing the former WPT Player of the Year, much to Topel's dismay. What was Topel expecting here? Gavin may be one of the least intimidating pros of the possible selections; it could have been Phil Ivey, Gus Hansen, or a slew of other feared pros. Topel then says, "I was hoping for Jennifer Harman."
The match starts with Topel holding A-J off suit, a sure sign of disaster. Topel won the hand without a fight, but the A-J was certainly an omen of things to come. Isn't A-J the demise of almost any promising start?
Topel was strangely calm, upon our first impressions, for a guy playing for a million bucks. He chatted up Gavin quite a bit early on, in what could only be viewed as a mistake from the amateur. What could this banter have been helping him with, other than maybe making himself feel more at ease? In turn, the conversation most likely helped Gavin Smith, the seasoned pro, who may have been able to use the table talk to pick up a read on good ol' Don.
Early on in the match, Gavin mentions the two should just limp their buttons playing predominately post-flop. Topel makes the correct assumption, that this is not to his benefit, yet decides to do exactly that; limp-call in almost every hand aired on television. Gavin, unlike Lindgren and Lederer before him, seems happy to let Topel take the lead in any hand, maybe messing a bit with the truck driver's mojo. A number of times, Topel leads out on a flop with a weak hand, and then proceeds to give up on the turn and river, allowing Smith to stick around with all of his weaker holdings, knowing he most likely won't have to call big bets on fourth and fifth street.
At about the midway point of the match, Schrippa decides to bring out a pizza. Seriously? Don't we all remember a certain Tiffany Michelle french fry debacle during the 2008 WSOP? Topel gladly takes a slice, and then Steve urges Gavin to take one as well saying, "fat guys need to stick together." Gavin barks back that he loved Steve in the Godfather, only to find out he was actually on the Sopranos, in what could not have been a more bizarre moment in this million dollar match. With pizza in his mouth and chips in his hands, Topel plays on without a hint of pressure weighing him down.
A few hands later, the amateur picks up two ladies, and Smith called Topel's raise with . The board brings an over card, and Topel immediately shuts down, checking the flop, turn, and river, only to call a bet of $35,000 on the river, which ends up being the only smart decision of the hand. With Gavin pairing his ten on the flop, Topel surely could have gotten a lot of value had he taken the more aggressive route in the hand. At the very least, Topel could have had an idea of where he stood, instead, he chose to play it safe, hoping to keep the pot as small as possible, essentially saying he is ready to check-fold his way to the million.
The match progressed much the same way it had been, with both players playing as passively as possible, hoping to hit big hands. Smith lands the first major blow. On a flop, Gavin quickly checks his top two pair, letting Topel fire away with his top pair and a nine kicker. For the first time in the match (at least that was shown) Gavin quickly raises it up to $86,000, in what was literally the first significant sign of pressure from the Canadian pro all day. Sure, Topel has top pair in a heads-up match, but calling here was a big mistake for Don. If Gavin had been putting a lot of pressure on Topel throughout the match, calling or raising is a smart play here, but in this spot, Don should have surely folded, especially since Gavin is firing on the turn almost always, which he did, prompting a fold from Topel.
Another series of pretty unimpressive bottom pair type hands took place with Gavin getting the best out of Topel's passive play each and every time, not getting a ton of value, but winning plenty of small pots. One hand in particular Gavin again limps his button with , and Topel, instead of taking the agressive route as he should have, checked his option with , prompting even the announcer to say, "the once aggressive qualifier chooses to check." The flop brings both a gut-shot straight draw and a flush draw for Topel to which he checked to his Canadian adversary. Gavin quickly checked behind, and both players checked again when the came on the turn. Topel hits his on the river, and check-calls a bet from Gavin, who was now in full control of the match.
Don Topel's run to a million was looking bleak with only seven big blinds and a very large hill to climb. Topel was never able to put his foot on the accelerator. He again limps in with . Gavin looked down at , and decides to slide enough chips into the middle to put Don all in. Now, if Don Topel had moved in himself here, he surely would have been called by Gavin, but a limp and then an all in call for the entire match? Could it really end with such a miserable play? Well it did; Gavin pairs his ace on the flop all but putting the nail in the coffin, and Don wouldn't hit any miracle cards to give him a win.
Don graciously congratulates Gavin after losing it all, and looks ready to burst into tears as Steve Schrippa consoles the amateur. Don Topel faced the Ace one too many times, and this time the Ace came out on top. All the excitement, all the hype, and all the anticipation of a gambling amateur going for a million bucks was gone, and all that was left was for Don Topel to walk off the stage with nothing but a story, a smirk, and the knowledge that he let some serious money slip away.
The show must go on though, and there was another amateur ready to face off against the Full Tilt Pros for a shot at glory. Marsha Owens, another amateur, has been playing poker for five years and entered came on stage saying three letters; OMG! I guess online poker has gotten the best of this middle-aged woman, who ended up facing off against Gus Hansen.
The match was an extreme let down after watching Don the Trucker go for a million, and when Gus flopped a full house with pocket tens against Marsha's top pair, top kicker, he too put an end to the amateur's misery, and any shot of the show awarding some big money.
Two weeks in the books, and Face the Ace has seen three total competitors and shelled out a measly $40,000 in prize money, to the one gentleman smart enough to know that beating Phil Ivey was difficult enough, and to not press his luck. Where does it go from here? It's tough to say, but we certainly hope for a few more deep runs at the cash, win or lose, because after watching a million dollar match, its hard to get excited about anything less.