After a month-long hiatus, fresh episodes of the PokerStars.net Big Game returned to the airwaves last week. Following Nadya Magnus’ triumphant stint as the Loose Cannon proved to be difficult for Troy Howard, a 29-year-old music engineer from Niagara Falls, N.Y. While Magnus was calm and collected in the face of the massive stakes, Howard proved to be a bit panicked and tilted, the father of five reminding his opponents just how many mouths he had to feed at nearly every turn. Over $800,000 was spread across the table, Howard facing an eclectic quintet that included Barry Greenstein, Antonio Esfandiari, Chau Giang, David “Viffer” Peat, and a man who never met a hand he didn't want to play, millionaire businessman Rick Rahim.
Rules refresher: Each edition of the Big Game lasts 150 hands. The action is pot-limit preflop and no-limit post-flop. The blinds are $200/$400 with a $100 ante paid by the button, and while the Loose Cannon is limited to his or her $100,000 stake, the pros can rebuy at any time for up to $500,000. At the end of the season, the Loose Cannon who posted the most profit wins a North American Poker Tour passport worth $50,000. That benchmark is currently set by Magnus, who took home $63,600 at the end of her session.
Hungry, Antonio?: Antonio Esfandiari is in the midst of a $30,000 prop bet with Brian Rast where for three months, they both have to quit drinking and subsist only on health food consumed from Tupperware containers.
Howard creeps into the black: Giang opened from the button for $1,200 and Howard defended his big blind with . Howard hit trips when the flop came down and led out for $2,500. Giang called. The turn came the and Howard fired again, making it $6,500 to go. Giang gave it up and the Loose Cannon won his first significant pot, pushing him into the black with a $1,700 profit.
Rahim hooks Howard: When this hand came up, amateur player Rahim had already set up an extremely loose image, playing more than two-thirds of his hands, while Viffer had leapt out to an early chip lead. Rahim straddled blind for $800, Howard raised to $1,600 holding , Viffer flat-called with and Chau Giang came along from the big blind with . With the action back on Rahim, he looked down at two red jacks and re-potted to $8,800. Howard called $7,200 more, Viffer called and Giang folded. Rahim led out for $20,000 on the flop and both Howard and Viffer folded. Howard beat himself up a bit about his preflop call after the hand and seemed a bit tilty. Little wonder — he was now stuck more than $34,000.
To lighten the mood, hostess Amanda Leatherman asked Howard to give us a little taste of his freestyle rapping talent. He was more than happy to oblige.
“I double straddle, jump on like a saddle, put my money in there, don’t be a baby wit’ yo rattle. I’m the man, freestyles, top of the head, north side, 1000 block, you heard what I said.”
“That’s pretty good for a guy being stuck,” Greenstein said.
Viffer hits the slot machine; Howard can’t get away: Viffer limped in with pocket sevens behind Howard’s straddle, Rahim called with , and Howard checked his option with . Viffer hit a set of sevens on the flop and bet $2,000. Howard called with bottom pair and a gutshot. The turn was the and Viffer made it another $3,000 to go. Having picked up a flush draw and an open-ended straight draw, Howard wasn’t going anywhere. He made the call, but the river blanked for him with the . Howard again checked to Viffer who fired a $6,000 value bet. Despite missing his draws, Howard paid off Viffer’s set and found himself down close to $40,000. Viffer, on the other hand, was completely running the table over and was up over $134,000.
Greenstein plunders Giang’s stack: After playing rather snug in the early going, Giang found and made it $1,600 to go. Rahim called with , Viffer called with and Greenstein came along with . The flop was boffo for Greenstein, who hit top set against Giang’s overpair. The action checked to Giang, who bet $4,000. Rahim called with bottom pair, Viffer gave it up, and Greenstein raised to $13,000. Giang made the call and Rahim folded. The on the turn gave Giang a straight draw and he called Greenstein’s $20,000 bet. Greenstein bet $42,000 when the hit the river and Giang paid him off, Greenstein raking in the $161,400 pot. With that hand, Greenstein increased his profits to $127,000 while Giang was left with only $60,000 of the $200,000 he bought in with.
Howard sniffs out Rahim’s bluff: Esfandiari opened with pocket sixes for $1,100, Giang flats with pocket threes, Rahim calls with his favorite hand, , and Howard comes along from the small blind with . Flop . Action checked around. Turn . Howard leads for $2,000, Esfandiari and Giang fold, and Rahim calls. River . Howard bets $4,000 and Rahim bluff-raises to $18,000. Howard correctly reasons his way to a call and wins his biggest pot of the week so far — $45,400. Rahim buys in for another $50,000 and Howard is down only $16k. Rahim has yet to win a pot at showdown.
Halftime stats: After 75 hands, Howard was down $13,800. Commentator Joe Stapleton noted that he only made a preflop raise 7 percent of the time and had yet to three-bet or check-raise a hand. Translation? Howard needed to turn up the aggression — big time.
VPIP through 75 hands: Howard 29 percent, Viffer 52, Greenstein 32, Esfandiari 28, Giang 31, Rahim 67.
The Magician’s miracle: Holding two red aces, Esfandiari made it $2,400 to go and Viffer smooth-called with . The flop was outstanding for Viffer who hit top set against Esfandiari’s overpair. Viffer check-raised Esfandiari’s $3,400 bet to $10,000, only to have Esfandiari come back over the top for $28,000. Viffer shoved.
“Oh that’s so sick,” Antonio said, pondering the $61,800 he had behind. “You’ve probably got me, but I’m pretty tilted and steamed.”
Esfandiari made the call and they decided to run it twice. The first turn and river fell the and , Viffer’s set holding up to win the first half. Esfandiari started gathering his belongings as the dealer burned and turned the , giving Esfandiari more outs with a flush draw. Miraculously enough, the river was the, Esfandiari hitting running hearts to make a flush and win half the pot.
“Oh my God I’m staying! I was about to quit!” Esfandiari said.
Table talk: The more Troy Howard slipped into the red, the more Rick Rahim needled the Loose Cannon.
“All bark and no bite,” Rahim remarked.
“You think so?” Howard replied.
“Yeah, I think I just said so.”
“Yeah but I managed to call you with a queen.”
“Well, I was bluffing.”
“But that was a little bite, wasn’t it? Nip, nip nip, nip, nip! Don’t get me started, all I gotta do is have a hand!”
“Can’t we all just get along?” Viffer added.
“Temper, temper” Rahim said, in a sing-song voice.
“You’re the amateur here buddy. I’m just not as rich as you” Howard quipped.
Greenstein felts Esfandiari: Greenstein opened for $1,500 with , and perhaps sensing weakness, Esfandiari three-bet to $4,200 from position with only the . Greenstein called, then proceeded to hit a very lucky flop, making him top two pair. Greenstein checked, Antonio bet $7,200 with his open-ended straight draw and Greenstein raised to $21,000. Esfandiari shoved for $91,700 and Greenstein snap-called. Greenstein declined Esfandiari’s request to run it twice. Esfandiari left his hand face-down as the fell on the turn, no help for him. The on the river ended Esfandiari’s night, Greenstein collecting the remainder of the magician’s chips.
“Good luck, Troy. I hope you punish them all,” Esfandiari said as he made his exit. Isaac Haxton filled his seat, buying in for $100,000.
Table talk, part 2: Rahim called the straddle with and Howard raised to $3,200 holding ace-queen. Rahim called. Howard whiffed the flop, while Rahim hit middle pair and bet $5,000. Howard called, then checked dark before the came on turn making him top pair. Rahim checked behind.
“Ace scared you?” Howard asked.
“No ace made me,” Rahim replied.
“It did? $10,000 it made you,” Howard said, putting out two 5k chips as a king hit the river. “Liar. LIAR! Now raise me liar!” he snarled.
“If only I could. You gotta work on your shtick, though, man. It’s a little much. You’ve got to relax,” Rahim offered
On the next deal, Howard found another premium hand and raised to $1,200 with . Viffer called with , and Haxton looked down at on the button. He three-bet to $4,800, Howard called and Viffer folded. Haxton made the nuts on the flopvb — a set of queens. Howard checked and Haxton bet $6,800. Howard tanked for a bit, studying Haxton.
“Your eyes blinked, sir. You’ve got a set, don’t you?” he said almost psychically as he mucked his hand.
“My eyes blinked? Pretty good,” Haxton replied.
Howard digs his way out: Not realizing there was a straddle on, Haxton min-raised to $1,600 with . Rahim called with , Howard came along with , and Viffer called from the straddle with . Everyone got a piece of the flop — Howard made top two pair, Haxton hit top pair, and both Rahim and Viffer made middle pair. Rahim bet $5,000, Howard raised to $20,000, and the bet chased away all three opponents. With that pot and the blinds he stole on the following hand, Howard cut his losses to $10,500.
The hand that will haunt him for life: With only 22 hands to go, Rahim pressured Howard into double-straddling for $1,600, telling the Loose Cannon that it was high time he started gambling it up. Viffer called the $1,600 with , and the action folded to original straddler Rahim, who called with . Howard looked at his hand for the first time and much to his delight, found pocket queens. He raised the pot to $7,600, Viffer called, and Rahim got out of the way. The looked pretty safe for Howard, who checked over to Viffer, likely hoping he’d bet. Instead, Viffer checked behind. The on the turn, however was quite the scare card for Howard. Still, he bet $10,000. Viffer asked how much he had behind (about $60,000), before flat-calling. The river fell the and Howard bet another $10,000- about one-third of the pot. Viffer shoved.
“Somebody call wardrobe, we’re gonna need a new pair of drawers,” Rahim quipped.
Howard looked positively tortured and after a long dwell, folded the best hand. Viffer showed the bluff, utterly delighting Howard’s nemesis, Rahim. Looking like he wanted the stage to swallow him up, Howard was now stuck $48,100 and needed to double up twice if he hoped to leave with a profit.
“Wake up, sunshine, there’s only a few more hands left! Tick-tock!” Rahim said, driving the needle in even deeper. Can we vote him off the island already?
Curtains for the Cannon: With only a few hands to go, Howard looked down at and decided it was go time. He raised the pot to $6,800, Viffer three-bet to $20,000 with , and Rahim repotted to $68,800 after finding pocket nines. Howard called and Viffer folded, two of Howard’s outs sailing in to the muck. Howard looked completely demoralized while Rahim was practically salivating over the chance to bust his nemesis. He got his wish, the board running out .
“My kids needed this more than I did. These are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and this was mine,” Howard said in his post-game interview as he fought back tears.
“I probably wouldn’t have done that to him if he hadn’t antagonized me,” said Viffer of the hand where he bluffed Howard off the queens.
One last hand: Viffer straddled and the action folded around to Giang in the small blind. He called the $800 with , Rahim called $400 more from the big blind with , and Viffer looked at and reraised to $1,800. Giang and Rahim each called the additional $1,000. The flop came down , Viffer hitting quads. The action checked to Rahim, who bet $2,000. Viffer smooth-called and Giang folded. The turn fell . Rahim checked, Viffer bet $3,000, and Rahim raised to $8,000 with absolutely nothing. Instead of opting for another smooth-call, Viffer re-popped it to $13,000 and Rahim folded. Viffer showed the king.
“You should have just called the turn and let him vomit into you on the end!” Haxton cried, lamenting Viffer’s lost value.
Final profit/loss: Barry Greenstein (+$135,600), Isaac Haxton (+$82,700), David “Viffer” Peat (+$77,800), Rick Rahim (+$66,800), Troy Howard (-$100,000) Chau Giang (-$113,500), Antonio Esfandiari (-$150,000).
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