Big buy in poker tournaments are all the buzz, but a €1 million to enter unlimited re-entry tournament still stands tall. Those are the stakes of the Big One for One Drop Invitational poker tournament kicking off in Monte Carlo Friday afternoon.
This is the third running of the Big One for One Drop. The first two events, held as part of the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas in 2012 and 2014, were the two biggest buy in events in the history of poker. Antonio Esfandiari took over $18 million for first in 2012 and Dan Colman took more than $10 million home (plus the crown) in 2014.
In a new twist this year, the 2016 tournament is by invitation-only, off limits to professional poker players and catering to the recreational high rollers of the poker scene. The venue has been moved to Monte Carlo, the playground of the rich and famous. Check out the schedule and tournament info here.
As always, though, the tournament is held with the aim of raising money for charity, with over $100K from every entry going to One Drop, whose efforts for clean water access around the world you can read about here.
Because of the unusual structure of the tournament (unlimited re-entries until the end of Day 1) and some uncertainty as to just how many will play, betting on the outright winner is a tough prospect to gauge. So Matchbook has posted four last-longer tournament matchups for action either way. All of these eight runners are very likely to play and these pairings are made for action. The terms are simple: non-runner no bet and last man standing in the tournament from the matchup with re-entries allowed.
Guy Laliberté vs. Bobby Baldwin
This matchup looks to me like a classic “trap game.” You could make a case for the pricing here to be so one way that it would sound like a sure thing.
Let’s review. Guy Laliberté is the whole reason this event has come together. The One Drop charity is his baby and his dream. Poker has been his enthusiastic passion for the last eight or nine years. Laliberté was a self-made billionaire before he ever saw a hand of no-limit hold’em.
Then, later when he started to play poker, he dived into the deep end. He has only two recorded cashes in his poker career and one of them was in the first running of this event in 2012. Laliberté plays loose, enthusiastically peels off the flop and the turn, loves the big blind and adores the game.
Bobby Baldwin, known as “The Owl” from the days when a nickname was your street cred, is quite simply one of the legends of the game. He’ll almost certainly be the only WSOP Main Event champion in the field. When he won the world title back in 1978, Baldwin was considered a poker newbie. No one outside of Texas had ever won the tournament before and Baldwin hailed from the far away land of Oklahoma.
You’d hardly consider him a poker outsider anymore. He arrived in Las Vegas on a casino junket and never left, becoming a seminal figure in the Vegas Big Game during the ‘80s and ‘90s alongside Doyle Brunson, Chip Reese and Johnny Chan. A friendship with Steve Wynn saw him leave poker’s daily grind to become President of the Bellagio. For Baldwin, playing poker now is probably just like taking a classic car out for a Sunday drive.
And yet the answer to “How big a favorite should Bobby Baldwin be?” is maybe not at all. Baldwin and Laliberté will be a bit familiar with each other’s games, as they both made the final table of this million dollar buy in event in 2012.
I had the great privilege of watching almost all of that tournament via live stream. In my estimation, Baldwin’s tournament game still had a bit too much of 1979. Simply put, he will always have the goods before allowing that pot to swell. At that point, Baldwin will just have it in spades.
Though Baldwin has forgotten more about straight-up poker skill than Laliberté will ever know, Laliberté may have actually logged more hours at the table in nosebleed tournaments than The Owl has over the last five years and that means something for sure. Baldwin needed a new passport for the Monte Carlo trek; he might actually melt outside of Nevada state lines. Laliberté is a world traveler supreme and will have the full force of Monte Carlo luxury to keep himself warm.
This is also the matchup where the “coaching” rule could come into play. All One Drop entrants are allowed to avail themselves of a professional poker player as a personal coach. Baldwin would probably chuckle politely at any 22-year-old internet wiz who has advice for him on how to play, but Guy has gone for a coach befitting his status as the BMOC. Laliberté has been spending the past week on his yacht with Daniel Negreanu, who, for my money, is the greatest tournament poker player of all time (Sorry Phil. And the other Phil as well!).
How much can a poker player improve in a week of training? If Negreanu is your teacher, there’s an upper limit of sky high.
How much can a poker player improve in a week of training? If Negreanu is your teacher, there’s an upper limit of sky high. Negreanu has spent his life communicating the intricacies of poker strategy in simple terms and I think Laliberté may have very well doubled his EV against this field over the last few days. Baldwin may well be prepared to have a rebuy in this event, but let’s assume that Laliberté’s clip for One Drop is a magazine with an XXXL size. Add all that up, and I’d rather be on the side of Cirque du Soleil.
Recommendation: Guy Laliberté to win at 2.05 or more.
Haralabos Voulgaris vs. James Bord
Two players here with drastically different styles. James Bord is a flipper supreme, one of the great coin flippers of his generation. If you give this man ace-king, Bordy’s chips are going to the center. First, last, sideways, those chips are going in.
When James Bord won the WSOP Europe Main Event in London in 2010, I lost count of the number of times he was pumping his fist during a 50-50 runout with the betting done. He quickly shook off the one-hit-wonder label with a big buy-in win in Marrakech and a third-place finish in the Sky Sports Poker Million IX at a final table that included both Gus Hansen and Tony Bloom.
James Bord is a fearless gambler whose little eyes shine when the bets get big. He spent a couple of years traipsing the nosebleed games in Macau but has been mostly off the radar since, with his last recorded cash three years ago at the WSOP. I’m excited to see him back in the high-stakes ring and curious as to what he will bring.
Haralabos Voulgaris, better known as Haralabob, has been involved in poker a lot longer than most would know. He used to pony up to the 10K buy in events when $10,000 was worth a lot more than a coat-check claim. He had a couple of six-figure scores in Las Vegas and Atlantic City before James Bord may have even turned 21.
These days, Haralabob plies his trade betting on the NBA, a subject in which he is without parallel. Presumably, one million euros is just another bet to Haralabob now. He’s played the Big One for One Drop before and has gone deep without reaching the money stages.
Despite the fact that he has some high-powered poker friends in Olivier Busquet and Dan Colman, either one of whom might be coaching him for this event, it remains to be seen whether Voulgaris can change his tight but aggressive style into one more suited for this type of event.
It's sort of an eternal question when it comes to last-longer matchups: Do you want the survivor or the guy who is more likely to win? I would presume both these players are liable for exactly one buy-in, so there’s no edge there.
Bord could very well be out the first round of the table and Haralabob is very unlikely to double his chips during Day 1. Feast or famine? Call me crazy, but I’ll take the flipper in this spot all day long. If Bord is anywhere better than evens, I want him doing a dance with the money all in and five cards to come.
Recommendation: James Bord to win at 2.0 or more.
Andrew Pantling vs. Tony Bloom
You want to know the straight up two best poker players in the Big One for One Drop field? Look no further than this matchup between Andrew Pantling and Tony Bloom, two players who cut their teeth making a living in the modern game and who could both still likely grind it out today had they not moved on to tackle bigger things.
Tony Bloom is one poker generation older than Pantling. Bloom walked the halls of Binion’s Horseshoe back in the day and got his nickname of "The Lizard" from his live game stare. Pantling's poker education was in the Wild West of the online boom, and his screen name of "Clockwise" was feared long before his face was known.
Bloom just wins. I’ve seen him gambling for more than 20 years, and no matter what he does, he still wins. If he wasn’t so damn smart, you’d swear that The Lizard is just a hot dice thrower on one of the longest winning streaks that’s ever been seen. He could be King Midas himself come back to life to cavort among the common man.
Poker quickly became his enjoyable hobby while still young because Bloom was doing so well in his other endeavors as one of the bigger sports punters in the world. Bloom’s strike rate in poker tournaments inspires disbelief. There were a few years when it felt like nobody since Ungar had had more tournament success with so few tournament entries as The Lizard Tony Bloom.
Andrew Pantling has a poker game that could best be described as “perfect.” Before moving from poker to becoming Matchbook’s CEO and now a gaming entrepreneur, Pantling dominated internet cash games. In his former life, Clockwise racked up so many hands that your head would spin. Andrew has probably played more hands of poker than the rest of the entire One Drop field combined; now that’s strong. His poker has been error free for so long that you feel like his processor might overload if it happens again. But that’s unlikely.
Pantling also has Monte Carlo form. You want unflappable? Check out the video of Pantling’s reaction on the final hand of the EPT Grand Final in Monte Carlo from 2013. Last carded for the trophy, glory and a half million bucks, Pantling barely flickered before getting up and shaking Steve O’Dwyer’s hand. And if you asked him about it, he’d probably use the words of Doc Sokow from The Cincinnati Kid, “The bet was correct. He should not have called.”
Pantling has the precision and technical skill. Bloom has swashbuckling talent and a rabbit’s foot of gold. This is a close matchup, but my mind is clear. You want to bet against Midas, use your own money, not mine. I’m on The Lizard. Tony Bloom.
Recommendation: Tony Bloom to win vs. Andrew Pantling at 1.91 or more.
Paul Newey vs. Talal Shakerchi
This matchup features the best of the Brits. In the realm of amateur poker players who made it big before taking up the game, Paul Newey and Talal Shakerchi are two top men. And as they have both frequented the European super high roller circuit for the last few years, they have crossed swords at the table no shortage of times.
Of all the players matched up in this list, Paul Newey is the one whose game I am least familiar with. But that’s my fault, not his. Newey has made 10K-plus buy-in European events his home. With over $3 million in tournament earnings, Newey currently sits 17th on the GPI rankings for the UK. No small feat.
His biggest cash of $1.5 million came from a final table placement in one of the toughest poker fields ever assembled: The 2014 running of this very event. It featured Colman, Negreanu, Christoph Vogelsang, Tobias Renkemier and Scott Seiver all in the top six alone. If you were to say that every one of those players is in the top 10 tournament poker players of all time, you would get only a roomful of nods.
So Newey can play against top competition without strain. He’s big and he’s brash and his bets come quite loud. His resume only lacks a seal the deal win, so he’ll show up in Monte Carlo with determination on his mind.
Talal Shakerchi has long been a poker hero of mine and I confess I'm biased in this regard. In 2010, 10 poker players showed up in Las Vegas having qualified among thousands for $1 online to try and take a last seat in what was then one of the more prestigious televised tournaments on tour, the partypoker Premier League IV.
It was your usual mix of sunglasses and hoods, chancers in the role of Moneymaker with a ticket and a dream. The quiet and bespectacled guy from London impressed a bit with his manners and his play, but not much else.
It was a few years later in London when I was railing a high roller tournament at the EPT that I stopped in shock at seeing the man behind a mountain of chips, “Hey, that’s Talal!” I shouted to whoever was near. Sure, someone responded, "It’s Talal Shakerchi, the hedge fund billionaire. He’s been showing up lately in all the big games."
Later I found out about Talal’s double life. By day, he was one of the biggest hedge fund managers in London, moving astro-sums at lightning speed. And by night, Shakerchi would fire up his computer and grind the world of micro-stakes online. He trolled the geekiest of poker forums, just a student of the game.
By day, he was one of the biggest hedge fund managers in London, moving astro-sums at lightning speed. And by night, Shakerchi would fire up his computer and grind the world of micro-stakes online.
But that was then and this is now. Shakerchi has become, in my mind, one of the most skilled true amateurs on the planet. Shakerchi barely peeps at the table but his aggression level is somewhere near Mach IV. Though it takes a brave man to make the call, you know that he’s half liable to be sitting there with air. I have to say I love his game in a field like this. You shouldn’t dance in a minefield unless you’re armed to the teeth.
Sane men will think differently than I will, but I make Shakerchi a solid favorite against Newey and I’d be willing to lay a bit of a price.
Recommendation: Talal Shakerchi to win vs. Paul Newey at 1.85 or more.
--- Jesse May is a former poker commentator and writer who now works for Matchbook.com
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