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The Million Dollar Challenge: Sara Underwood & Vanessa Rousso Emerge Victorious

Daniel Negreanu

This week’s episode of the Million Dollar Challenge, Episode 3 of Season 2, saw Mark Britten take his shot at $100,000. Britten, a professional stand-up comedian from Texas who often goes by the nickname “Kid Wok,” specialized in Rock n’ Roll comedy. Clearly intent on making it to the season-ending $1,000,000 freeroll, Britten joked, “Can you smell what the Wok is cooking’?”

The Rules: The PokerStars Million Dollar Challenge is played in three rounds. In Round 1, the challenger is joined by Daniel Negreanu, who coaches them as they play heads-up against a celebrity or professional athlete. Although he can give the challenger advice, Negreanu cannot see their hole cards. In Round 1, the challenger is allowed a single timeout that pauses the action whenever called and allows private strategy session with Negreanu. If a challenger manages to win Round 1, he or she will be awarded a trip to the Bahamas.

Round 2 works a bit differently because the challenger faces a Team PokerStars Pro. In addition, Negreanu is put in an isolation booth where he can see the board cards and the challenger’s hole cards while speaking to them via a headset. On the other side of the felt, the Team Pro is given the power to invoke the "Dome of Silence" on two occasions of his or her choosing, cutting off communication between the challenger and Negreanu for the remainder of the hand. If the challenger emerges victorious, he or she will win $25,000 which can either be kept or risked by playing Negreanu heads-up for $100,000 and a seat at the season-ending final table where $1 million will be up for grabs. However, if the challenger risks it and lose, he or she walks away with nothing, and Negreanu will be awarded $10,000 to donate to the charity of his choice.

Playtime with a Playmate: This week’s first celebrity defender was Sara Jean Underwood, the 2007 Playboy Playmate of the Year. Underwood was playing for the Columbia Humane Society, an organization dedicated to the welfare of animals.

First Hand: With {9-Hearts}{6-Hearts}, Britten raised to a total of 1,600 and Underwood called with the {5-Diamonds}{4-Hearts}. Underwood proceeded to lead for 2,000 on the {6-Diamonds}{A-Spades}{6-Clubs} flop. Britten made the call as the {9-Diamonds} hit the turn, giving him a full house. Underwood opted to slow down with a check and Britten followed suit. The {J-Hearts} appeared on the river, and again, Underwood checked. Britten bet 5,000, and after some banter with Negreanu, Underwood slid her cards into the muck.

Corny Quote of the Week: “Playboy, huh? I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on.” – Britten to Underwood

Underwood’s Bluff: Britten limped with {J-Hearts}{8-Hearts} and Underwood raised to 2,400 with {J-Clubs}{9-Clubs}. After a call, the flop came down {Q-Diamonds}{Q-Hearts}{A-Hearts} and Underwood fired out 2,400. Britten quickly called timeout to consult with Negreanu, who suggested he just call the bet and bluff the river if he misses. Britten did in fact make the call to see the {K-Diamonds} on the turn; unfortunately, he didn’t get a chance to act on Negreanu’s advice as Underwood moved all in. Britten folded but not before suggesting they rabbit-hunt the river (it was the {6-Clubs}).

Quote of the Week: “You sound like a drunk Tom Brokaw.” – Negreanu after Britten’s Brokaw impression.

Underwood Distances Herself: Underwood looked down at {K-Clubs}{7-Hearts} and raised to 12,000, which clearly perplexed Britten who held {J-Spades}{9-Diamonds}. Negreanu encouraged him not to wait too long for a hand, and that if he had anything decent, he should call. Britten took the advice and left himself just 6,800 behind. After Britten checked the {A-Hearts}{A-Clubs}{7-Diamonds} flop, Underwood bet 9,200. Britten folded as Underwood took a huge chip lead.

Celebrity Defense: On the very next hand, Britten called 2,000 and Underwood raised all-in. Britten called with {7-Clubs}{6-Diamonds} but was behind Underwood’s {Q-Diamonds}{J-Hearts}. The board ran out {A-Clubs}{8-Hearts}{Q-Hearts}{10-Hearts}{Q-Clubs} and Britten was eliminated. Underwood successfully fended off the challenger and won $5,000 for her charity.

The second challenger of the episode was Joe Sticco, a 26-year-old financial planner from Long Island, N.Y. Sticco told the audience that any winnings would go toward his mother’s breast cancer treatment. However, before he could make that contribution, he needed to get by the celebrity defender and co-host of Dancing with the Stars, Brooke Burke, who was playing for Chrysalis Los Angeles.

First Blood: In the first hand of the match, both players limped to see the {9-Clubs}{8-Clubs}{6-Spades} flop. Burke, who held {J-Clubs}{6-Hearts}, bet 800 and Sticco raised to 1,600 with his {9-Spades}{4-Spades}. Burke made the call and then check-called a bet of 1,600 from Sticco on the {4-Clubs} turn. It went check-check on the {K-Spades} river and Sticco drew first blood.

Joey Diamonds: When it was revealed that Sticco’s nickname was Joey Diamonds, Negreanu asked how it came to be. “My favorite hand is ace-jack of diamonds,” Sticco explained in his thick Long Island accent.

Double Up: A few hands later, Sticco found himself with a 3-1 chip lead and looking down at {A-Diamonds}{Q-Clubs}. He just limped and Burke checked behind with {A-Clubs}{8-Diamonds}. When the flop came {5-Clubs}{3-Clubs}{10-Clubs}, Burke led out for 4,000 and Sticco called timeout. Heeding Negreanu’s advice, Sticco raised to put Burke all-in. She made the call and was one step closer to elimination when the dealer burned and turned the {10-Hearts}. It was down to the river as the dealer once again burned and put up the {K-Clubs}! Burke made her flush, doubled, and evened things up.

Victory: Both players limped and saw a flop of {4-Clubs}{2-Diamonds}{3-Diamonds}. Sticco, who flopped a wheel with {A-Hearts}{5-Clubs}, checked to Burke who bet 4,000 with {K-Clubs}{2-Hearts}. Sticco responded with a min-raise and Burke called. Sticco moved all in for his last 8,400 when the {J-Clubs} came on the turn, which Burke called. She was drawing dead and Sticco sealed the victory and a trip to Aruba!

Enter the Pro: In Round 2, host Chris Rose introduced Team PokerStars Pro Vanessa Rousso as Sticco’s opponent. In the first hand between the two, Rousso lost a quarter of her stack to Sticco’s flopped set of jacks. On the second hand, Sticco raised to 4,000 with {A-Spades}{9-Hearts} and Rousso pushed with {A-Hearts}{6-Diamonds}. Sticco called and the board ran out {Q-Diamonds}{K-Spades}{Q-Clubs}{2-Hearts}{A-Diamonds}, resulting in a chop.

Final Hand: The defining hand came when Sticco looked down at {J-Hearts}{9-Hearts} and Negreanu told him this was the hand to go with. Rousso, who held {K-Hearts}{4-Spades}, asked Sticco if he had looked. When he responded affirmatively, she invoked the “Dome of Silence” and moved all-in. Sticco called and put his tournament life at risk. The {A-Spades}{3-Diamonds}{2-Clubs} was no help to Sticco and the {K-Clubs} on the turn left him drawing dead. The {8-Diamonds} was put out on the turn as Sticco was eliminated while Rousso, who clearly wasn’t thrilled about her win, managed to win some money for her charity.

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