After 55 events and two months of nonstop poker, I'm exhausted, and in all honesty, I'm glad the World Series of Poker is over. I'm still on the bracelet schneid, of course, but that isn't surprising. I didn't play well when it mattered and didn't deserve to put some bling on my wrist when it was all said and done. Here are some of the highlights, lowlights, and random thoughts from the Rio:
Bicycle playing cards and the "poker peek" style were introduced at the first event, and they did not go over well. With the new design, the poker peek style allowed players to simply look at the corners of the cards to see what they were holding instead of lifting the entire card off the felt. However, with massive confusion between the sixes and nines, the cards were troublesome and pulled out of play. Fortunately, USPCC owns the KEM brand -- the absolute best playing card in the world -- and they immediately shipped out tens of thousands of decks for use in the WSOP. Without a doubt, having KEM on the table made a big difference this year. I'm sure the Bicycle pro and poker peek style will be back after the Players Council and USPCC have had some more time to get it right.
So close …
I made it deep in the first tournament, the $5,000 mixed no-limit/limit event. We were down to about 65 people and nearly in the money when I picked up 5-6 offsuit in the big blind. Tony Ma limped in under the gun and everyone folded to me. Of course, I checked, and saw the flop: 5-5-A with two spades. My first thought was, "I'm not going broke if he limped in with A-A." My second thought was, "I don't see how I'm not going to go broke if he limped in with A-A."
I had an above-average stack and Tony did as well. I checked to him and he bet about half the pot. I raised, but intentionally didn't pot-commit myself. He called. The turn was a spade and I had a sick feeling in my stomach. I didn't raise enough to get him off a flush draw. In this precarious spot, I decided I had to bet in case he had a hand like A-K with the king of spades. I bet about two thirds of the pot and he immediately moved me all-in. Reluctantly, I called and he turned over 10-7 of spades. Brilliant. A great way to end my first tournament at the WSOP. It's two months later and I still don't know how to play this hand.
The fields were absolutely massive, especially in the smaller buy-in events. Two thousand or more players were commonplace. For overflow players, the WSOP created a big tent behind the Amazon room with about 50-60 tables. When the air conditioning was working, it was barely passable as a playing space. When it wasn't working, it was 110 degrees in the tent and I've got no idea how people withstood the heat. I'm against capping the fields, but Harrah's will have to do better next year with the tent. With the fees we're paying for this series of tournaments, they should be able to afford better playing conditions for the overflow players.
Every single event was up in attendance, except for the championship event. The Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act obviously didn't affect the appetite for the bracelet too much. In truth, a case can be made that the $10,000 main event was actually up this year, despite having only 6,358 entrants. The UIGEA made it impossible for the online sites to preregister satellite winners into the tournament. Essentially, if you won a seat online, the site would deposit $12,000 into your online account and trust that you'd take that payment and head to the WSOP. About 75 percent (a consensus estimate) of the people that won their seats online stayed at home and fixed up their deck instead. I know that at least 4,000 seats were awarded and unclaimed from the major sites. So we're up this year, at over 10,000 by my calculation.
Here's another gem from the $1,000 no-limit hold 'em with rebuys event. I drew a tough table, with noted pro Daniel Alaei on my left and Antonio Esfandiari across the table. Alaei and a Frenchman at my table were going nuts with the rebuys and were in at least $25,000 combined. I had managed to work my stack up to about $17,000 with only a single rebuy. I was in second place in chips in the tournament after the break and rebuys concluded, only behind Alaei, who had about $18,000.
Play tightened up considerably. With the blinds at $100-$200, a good player with $6,000 raised under the gun to $600. I was in the cutoff with K-K and reraised to $1,800. Alaei went into the tank for about two minutes before re-reraising to $3,900. The under-the-gun guy folded and it was decision time. Can I get away from K-K here? Is it that obvious that he has A-A? Think about that bet size for just an extra minute or two.
Why $3,900? He's raised me exactly $2,100 and he's given the under-the-gun guy a chance to re-re-reraise to $6,000 and trap me in the middle. Alaei is an excellent, top-rate player. Would he make that play with Q-Q? A-K? If he's trying to isolate me with a sub-premium hand, why give the first raiser a chance to get involved? I'd love to say I laid this hand down. But I didn't. My pre-all-in-move logic consisted of, "I have K-K, I'm only in the tournament for two grand, I'm all-in." He, of course, had A-A, and I had a hand that taught me something about the game. An expensive lesson, yes, but one that I'm happy I learned. As I left the table, I said to Esfandiari, "I'm not good enough to lay that hand down." He said, "I am, and you are too, Phil." In retrospect, I think it's an easy laydown, or preflop call and postflop fold if I don't flop a set.
The bubble play in almost every tournament I cashed in was absolutely atrocious. I was second in chips with just over 200 people to go in the $1,500 event when the bubble approached. I raised 2 to 2.5 times the big blind about five hands in a row and stole six sets of blinds. On the sixth hand, I'm under the gun and decide, "What the hell," and raise double the big blind without even looking at my cards. There is one player left to go out before we're in the money. Everyone quickly folds to the guy on my right in the big blind. "I don't want to go broke on the bubble," he says, and flips up A-K suited and folded. I kid you not. Folks, it's really difficult to play that badly.
Hellmuth won the race
Hellmuth won No. 11. Blah blah blah. What else could I write that hasn't already been written about the self-proclaimed "Poker Brat"? All I know is this: Phil is without question the best no-limit hold 'em player in the world against weak fields.
The $5,000 heads-up event was a tremendous success. I had an easy run to the round of 32 and then ran into a buzz saw. My first-round match I received a bye, as did about one third of the players. In Round 2, I faced Eric Cajelais, and boy did I want to win that match (we've had some fun at the tables before). Fortunately, I held the deck over him for most of the match and it was over in about 45 minutes. After winning that match, I was assured of having a great WSOP no matter what happened the rest of the series.
In Round 3, I faced a 65-year-old European woman that actually folded three of the first four hands she had on the button. She was so bad heads-up that when I had her down 7-3 in chips and raised on the button with A-K suited and she moved all-in, I folded. The only way she could win the match would be to win big pots. That one took about 90 minutes, but she eventually blinded her way out. My fourth-round match lasted 12 minutes. My unknown opponent limped in and I held 2-3 offsuit in the big blind. The flop was 9-2-2 and I check-raised him. He called. A three hit the turn and I bet. He moved all-in and I called. His hand? Q-9. Yummy. Moral of this story: There is still plenty of dead money in these new, specialized events.
Tom Schneider, winner of two WSOP bracelets this year, cost me $10,000. I bet Bill Gazes and Chip Jett that there would not be a two-bracelet winner this year. Of course, Tom follows a long line of multi-bracelet winners -- in fact, it has happened every year for the past five years in a row. That is an amazing feat. Congrats to Tom, and Bill and Chip as well.
I got my $10,000 back from Mike Matusow taking the over on 6,200 players for the main event. It was looking very grim for me, but a last-minute crunch of players on Day 1D helped me hit the over.
So, those are some random thoughts and stories from the 2007 WSOP. In my next column, I'll break down the final table of the championship event and give you my view of our new champion, Jerry Yang.