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The WSOP on ESPN: Hilton, Steinberg & Uncle Krunk Headline the National Championship

Jonathan Hilton and company.

The 2013 World Series of Poker continued on Tuesday night with two more brand new episodes on ESPN. Last week, the broadcast schedule kicked off with two hours of the WSOP Asia-Pacific Main Event, while this week was the National Championship from New Orleans, Louisiana. Here’s my recap of the new episodes.

American Authors: Last week I told you about the new intro, which featured a blend of poker's past and present, including a modern-day Phil Hellmuth photoshopped next to an old-school Doyle Brunson in the latter’s win from the late 70s. The montage is set to a catchy song called The Best Day of My Life by American Authors. Be warned, the song is one that’ll stick in your head — I literally just bought it on iTunes for $1.29. You can listen to the song by clicking here.

How Did We Get Here: The 2013 WSOP National Championship, which was the third incarnation of the event in as many years, saw 100 qualifiers receive a complimentary $10,000 buy-in based upon performance in WSOP Circuit events (there were 81,247 Circuit entries this past season). In addition, the top 100 pros from the 2011 and 2012 WSOP Player of the Year leader board were invited to play, but each of these players would have to put up the $10,000 buy-in on their own. All 100 Circuit qualifiers showed up while 27 players put up the $10,000 buy-in.

The Final Table: Here’s how the final table looked at the top of the broadcast:

The final table.
The final table.

SeatPlayerChip Count
1Joe Tehan177,000
2Max Steinberg728,000
3Tim Bowman188,000
4Jonathan Hilton588,000
5Nicolas Vaca-Rondon223,000
6Brock Parker825,000
7Jeremy Ausmus799,000
8Robert Panitch338,000

What You Didn’t See: I was actually in New Orleans and live reporting this final table. One thing I was treated to that didn’t air (not surprising), was the fiasco that was player introductions. There were two beautiful Southern Comfort 100 Proof girls that escorted the players to their seats, but let me tell you, things didn’t go as smooth as planned.

Since it was being filmed, it had to be one fluid shot, and that wasn’t easily accomplished considering the girls had to escort one player to their seat, exit the other side of the stage, literally run in heels and jump off the stage, and then run back to the other side to get ready to escort the next player. Toss in some botched names by the announcer and it was ridiculously bad, albeit in a very comical way. I wish I had it on video.

Robert "Uncle Krunk" Panitch
Robert "Uncle Krunk" Panitch

The Legend of Uncle Krunk: It’s clear the standout character at the final table was 62-year-old Robert Panitch, known on the poker circuit as “Uncle Krunk.” Panitch has developed a reputation among the young circuit pros as being fun and a little aloof. That said, “Uncle Krunk” actually has a degree in computer information systems from Illinois’ Robert Morris University in the 1980s, and before that he left junior college to move to the mountains and be a “hippie.” Somewhere along the line he took over the family business of buying and selling tropical plants in Florida, though he has since retired.

The First to Go: Despite beginning the final table second in chips, 2012 Octo-Niner Jeremy Ausmus wasn’t able to get anything going. His stack slowly dwindled until he looked down at the {6-Spades}{6-Clubs} in the cutoff and raised to 33,000. Panitch called from the button with the {j-Spades}{j-Hearts}, and it was heads-up action to the {7-Spades}{4-Diamonds}{5-Hearts} flop. Ausmus bet 35,000 with his pair and open-ended straight draw only to have Panitch raise to 77,000. Ausmus, who is married with two kids, then moved all in for 496,000 and Panitch snap-called. “Uh-oh,” Ausmus said even before seeing his opponent’s cards. Neither the {A-Hearts} turn nor {Q-Clubs} river helped Ausmus, and he had to settle for eighth place and $38,570.

Double for Tehan: Joe Tehan is one of the best players on the circuit (he has 31 WSOP cashes), but he started the final table as the short stack and was in danger of making a quick exit. Fortunately for the 32-year-old pro, he ended up getting his last 163,000 all in from the hijack with the {6-Diamonds}{9-Diamonds} and was called by Max Steinberg, who held the {a-Clubs}{j-Diamonds} in the cutoff. The board ran out {4-Spades}{10-Clubs}{3-Diamonds}{q-Diamonds}{6-Clubs} and Tehan, who is married with a 13-month-old son, received a much-needed double.

Colombian Down: That left former Harrah’s New Orleans poker dealer Nicolas Vaca-Rondon on the short stack and a short time later he moved all in for his last 61,000 with the {j-Hearts}{10-Spades}. Brock Parker called with the {a-Diamonds}{7-Diamonds}, and Tehan came along with the {a-Spades}{9-Hearts}. The two active players checked it down as the board ran out {3-Diamonds}{6-Clubs}{q-Spades}{5-Spades}{7-Clubs} and Parker’s pair of sevens won the pot. Vaca-Rondon, who was inactive at the final table until that hand, exited in seventh place for $49,187.

Monster Pot: There was one hand I distinctly recall as changing the course of the National Championship, and this was it. It began with Jonathan Hilton opening under the gun for 40,000 with the {a-Hearts}{5-Hearts} and Panitch calling with the {a-Clubs}{q-Hearts}. Tehan then moved all in for 319,000 from the button with the {k-Spades}{k-Diamonds} and a short-stacked Steinberg called off from the small blind holding the {10-Diamonds}{10-Clubs}. Hilton quickly folded and Panitch thought a bit before calling to put both players at risk.

Joe Tehan
Joe Tehan

Most of the players at the table were on their feet while Steinberg, who won a bracelet in the 2012 WSOP Event #33 $1,000 No-Limit Hold’em for $440,238, sought consolation on the rail from his twin brother Danny, who you might recall from the final table of the 2010 WSOP Europe Main Event where he finished sixth for €156,530. Steinberg was in the rough shape, but that quickly changed when the {10-Hearts}{7-Diamonds}{j-Spades} flop delivered him a set. The {8-Diamonds} turn and {Q-Clubs} river were run out and Steinberg more than tripled to 822,000 while Tehan took down the measly side pot of 142,000.

Tehan was eliminated in the next broadcast hand when his {10-Diamonds}{8-Spades} failed to overcome Tim Bowman’s {a-Diamonds}{4-Spades} after the board ran out {7-Diamonds}{k-Clubs}{2-Spades}{2-Clubs}{4-Clubs}. Tehan, who is a former World Poker Tour champion, shook hands with the remaining players before exiting in sixth place for $63,894.

Bowman Busted: After flopping the nuts and slowplaying — which allowed Hilton to river a flush — Bowman was left with 186,000 and committed it all from under the gun with the {j-Hearts}{8-Hearts}. Action folded to Steinberg in the big blind and he called with the {q-Clubs}{j-Clubs}. The {3-Clubs}{4-Hearts}{k-Hearts}{7-Diamonds}{10-Spades} board failed to help the humdrum Bowman and he was sent to the rail in fifth place for $84,544. My personal take on Bowman would be that when you make a final table, show some personality. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a name for yourself. Waste it if you want, but know that it could cost you +EV in the long run.

WTF?: I won’t go into too much detail on how the hand played out, but let’s just say there was 436,000 in the pot on a board reading {9-Clubs}{6-Hearts}{5-Spades}{k-Clubs}{9-Hearts}. Steinberg checked and Hilton, who held the {5-Hearts}{5-Diamonds} for a full house, bet 335,000. Parker quickly folded the {k-Diamonds}{q-Spades}, and while Steinberg should have done the same, he began to think.

Now, when I was in New Orleans back in May for this event, I remember wondering what in the world Steinberg called with in this hand. I finally got the answer in this week's episode, and I couldn’t believe it when Steinberg called with the {j-Hearts}{10-Spades}. WTF was he thinking?

As the fake Twitter account of Uncle Krunk said:

Uncle KrunkThat's the worst fucking call I've ever seen. You've got a reserved seat in my home game any time bud. @MaxJSteinberg

Parker Parked: After Steinberg opened for 55,000 from the button with the {A-Spades}{8-Clubs}, two-time WSOP bracelet winner Parker moved all in for 350,000 from the big blind with the {a-Diamonds}{4-Clubs}. Steinberg eventually called and sent the only other bracelet winner at the table home in fourth place after the board ran out {8-Hearts}{9-Spades}{3-Spades}{2-Spades}{10-Clubs}. Parker, who began the final table as the chip leader, took home $114,008 for his efforts.

Stuck Outside: In a side interview with Hilton, the man from Chattanooga, Tennessee talked about his love of family and Christ. Among them was his wife and young daughter, who were briefly shown outside Harrah’s New Orleans. What viewers don’t know is that they were out there for a reason — they couldn’t come into the casino. You see, in Louisiana you must be 21 years old to enter the gaming floor. Neither Hilton’s wife nor daughter (obviously) were of age, so much to the disappointment of Hilton and his supporters, they had to sweat the action from afar.

Max Steinberg
Max Steinberg

Uncle Krunk Smoked: Hilton opened for 60,000 on the button and Panitch called from the small blind with the {8-Clubs}{7-Clubs}. Steinberg came along from the big with the {10-Diamonds}{5-Clubs}, and it was three-way action to the {4-Spades}{k-Clubs}{a-Clubs} flop. Panitch, who flopped a flush draw, bet 100,000, Steinberg folded, and Hilton min-raised to 200,000. Panitch snap-shoved for 410,000, and Hilton made a quick call. Panitch tossed his hands in the air and began to mumble to himself as the {3-Hearts} appeared on the turn followed by the {5-Spades} on the river. The man known as “Uncle Krunk” missed his draw and fell in third place for $156,743.

Please Don’t Ball All Day: The heads-up match was fairly entertaining, but I want to highlight two things you could hear in the background in the broadcast, both of which came from Hilton’s rail.

The first is the saying, “Ball all day.” It harkens to Hilton’s Twitter account, but it soon became the catchphrase among his supporters, most of who were drinking heavily. It was kind of cool at first, but soon the inebriated rail began shouting it aloud after every hand, though none more so than Bryan Campanello, who went on to win a bracelet this summer. The novelty soon wore off and it became extremely annoying, not only to me, but also to the TV crew. “Ball all day” persisted, and by the end of the night it went from cool to annoying and then up to so over the top it’s entertaining. That said, I hope I don’t have to hear it for a long time.

The other is the saying “No mashed potatoes,” which came in a hand where Hilton was looking to dodge the cards that show a side when squeezed. Instead of saying “No sides,” Hilton’s rail started to say “No mashed potatoes,” which is a common side dish to a meal. I thought it was extremely clever and is a saying I still use from time to time.

A National Champion is Crowned: In what was the last hand of the broadcast, Hilton opened for 85,000 on the button with the {k-Spades}{10-Spades} and then called when Steinberg three-bet to 240,000 with the {9-Diamonds}{7-Spades}. The {k-Hearts}{10-Clubs}{8-Diamonds} flop was action as it gave Steinberg an open-ended straight draw and Hilton top two pair. The former bet 275,000, the latter called, and the {a-Diamonds} turned. Steinberg kept the pressure on by moving all in for 1.285 million, and Hilton snap-called. Both men headed to their respective rails to watch the river, which came the {2-Diamonds}.

Steinberg missed and finished as runner up for $219,799 while Hilton captured the $355,599 and his first gold bracelet.

“Ball all day. Ball all day. Ball all day,” his supporters chanted as they joined him around the table for the traditional winner’s photo.

Champion Jonathan Hilton
Champion Jonathan Hilton

Tune in Next Week: The WSOP on ESPN will continue every Tuesday through November. You can check out the full schedule by clicking here. Next week’s episodes will feature the start of the Main Event. If you happen to miss it, check back right here on PokerNews for a full recap of the action.

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