The circumstances surrounding this event were strange, to say the least. Harrah’s and ESPN decided to put on a special event and award $2 million to the winner of a 10-handed one-table tournament. When I saw the list of players, I noticed something I found a little upsetting: I wasn’t on the list!
I just didn’t get it. They were trying to promote the World Series of Poker and I was the WSOP player of the year. I understand that there were several deserving players who didn’t make the list, but since I won the player of the year award, I assumed that I was a shoo-in.
Of course, you could make a case for John Juanda, as well. John has clearly been the most consistent tournament player in the world over the last five years, no question about it. Then, there was Gus Hansen, who has been winning everything in sight over the last couple of years.
So, I decided to share my thoughts on an Internet newsgroup, campaigning, if you will, for myself. There was a significant amount of equity here — $200,000, all things being equal. Once I went public, several bigwigs did some legwork and were able to get me into this freeroll. So, now the only thing left to do was win the whole thing.
Well, I didn’t prepare for this tournament like I should have. Normally, I spend the night before a tournament watching film and relaxing. Since I was notified at the last minute, though, I had already made other plans that basically conflicted with my natural routine.
I’d promised my fiancée, Lori, that I would spend some time with her and a couple of her friends from Grand Rapids, Michigan. We had tickets to see Mystère, and then we hung out at the Rio later than I probably should have.
So, I woke up feeling a little groggy, and it affected me early on in the tournament. I made two bad plays against Chip Reese that resulted in my losing an early chip lead. From there, I had to claw my way back into the event, and I did.
We started with $200,000 in chips, and I was down to less than $100,000 before I picked up a pot here and there to get back up over $200,000.
On the break, I was feeling pretty good about making a comeback, and my focus was intensifying. I was chatting with Phil Hellmuth, and he said, “No offense, Daniel, but I have to root against you tonight.”
“Fair enough, Phil, but why is that?”
“Well, because as soon as you get knocked out, we can make a deal.”
Phil knows my policy on dealmaking, and even in an event in which it is $2 million for first and nothing for second, I wasn’t about to compromise my position on dealmaking. I genuinely believe we need to eliminate deals from tournament poker, and more importantly, from televised events.
So, when we got back to the table, the blinds were $6,000-$12,000 with a $2,000 ante. There were seven of us left at this point, and I decided to limp in with the 7diamonds 6diamonds from first position. Usually I would raise with this hand, but Phil Ivey was in the big blind and I was pretty certain that he would call a standard-sized raise, anyway.
Everyone folded around to Howard Lederer on the button, and he limped in. Howard was playing so tight in this event, he squeaked. On several occasions, the players made comments about how tight Howard was playing. He was avoiding marginal situations at all costs, and that was pretty clear.
Greg Raymer called from the small blind and Ivey checked from the big blind. The flop came down 7clubs 6clubs 5clubs. This looked like a pretty good flop, but there was also a ton of danger that came along with it.
Both situs poker blinds checked to me, and with $62,000 in the pot, I wanted to make a bet big enough to really show my opponents that I was committed to the pot. That is, if they tried to make a play on me, I was definitely going to play with them.
My first instinct was to bet $60,000. Then I thought, “No, let’s overbet the pot and bet $80,000. Hmm. What the heck, let’s just bet $100,000 and really force my opponents off any potential draws.”
So, that’s what I did; I bet $100,000. Then, the “Rock of Gibraltar,” Howard Lederer, started deliberating on the button. After some hesitation, he made it $200,000. Both Raymer and Ivey folded, and it was back to me.
“Oh, man, how bad does this suck?” I thought. The pot was laying me a huge price, but I was pretty certain that my two pair wasn’t the best hand. All of the clues pointed toward Howard as having the better hand:
- He wasn’t playing wildly at that point.
- He had two players in the blinds to worry about, as well as the initial bettor.
- I didn’t think he could have the hands I could beat if he was making a move; the Aclubs 8diamonds, for example, was a hand he likely wouldn’t have played based on the way he was playing at that point.
- He knew that once I bet $100,000, I was definitely calling for my last $123,000.
So, the question to me wasn’t, “Is he bluffing?” but “Does he have a flush or a set?” If he had a set, I was dead on arrival, unless the set was 5-5. If he had a flush, I still had four outs. So, it came down to a math problem, and that’s what I spent time trying to figure out.
The first hand that jumped out at me that he could have was the Qclubs Jclubs, or maybe the Qclubs 10clubs. Against those hands, I was about a 4.7-to-1 underdog. If the pot was laying me more than that, it would seem as though I’d just have to call.
So, it was time to take a little inventory. There was $62,000 in the pot before the flop, plus my $100,000 flop bet and $200,000 from Howard’s raise. I also factored in my last $23,000 that would obviously go into the pot regardless of the turn card, and came up with this: $123,000 to win $385,000. Hmm. Against either a flush or a set of fives, that certainly wasn’t the right price.
Since I felt there was almost no chance Howard was bluffing in this situation, I threw my hand away and saved my last $123,000. Later when the show aired, I saw that Howard in fact had the flush, the Kclubs Jclubs, which made me sleep a lot better that night.
After that, I played my short stack the best I could, but with the blinds up to $8,000-$16,000 and a $3,000 ante, I was forced to play my last $99,000 from the big blind with the Qu Ju against Doyle Brunson’s A-2. This was a classic coin-flip situation, and had I gotten lucky, I would have been right back in action. The flop came A-10-2 and I was left hoping for a king to come. The turn brought me no help, and a king hit on the river! Sweet! Oh, wait, that’s not a king, it’s a jack. Never mind.