The real master

Updated: July 1, 2005, 4:07 PM ET
By Steve Rosenbloom | Special to

Editor's Note: This column contains information about winners of some events in the 2005 World Series of Poker that will be televised later this year on ESPN.

Thursday, June 30, 2005, 11:30 a.m. WSOP Daylight Savings Time:

So there I am, standing near the entrance to the Rio's poker hangar, talking to veteran pro David Grey. I'm telling him that Phil Gordon suggested a column idea: Try to find the best player who hasn't cashed yet. Sort of a "Stuck for the Series'' piece.

And Grey immediately raises his hand.

"I don't know if I'm the best player,'' Grey says, "but I definitely haven't cashed.

"I've played at least 10 tournaments, maybe more. I haven't even really come close to cashing. In the first Pot Limit Hold'em tournament, I came in, like, 120th, and they paid 100. That's the only time I came close. I've never even had good chips in any tournament.''

You might know Grey from his appearance at the final table of the main event two years, one of the remarkable nine players to have made it through what was then a record field of 839. Grey's image on ESPN's World Series of Poker broadcasts was that of a stoic pro, so I was a little leery about bringing up this "Best Player Who Hasn't Cashed'' thing because, well, come on, it's not a happy subject for people whose lives are all about cash.

But in real life, Grey is glib and articulate, and charmingly self-effacing. The kind of guy who'd outplay you in a cash game, and yet you'd still want to have a beer with afterward. So, as tedious as it can be to hear about someone else's bad beats, Grey brings a certain joy to them.

"In the Seven Card Stud tournament,'' he begins, "I had aces at least 10 times, I had three 6's starting off one time, I had kings three or four times, and I managed to never get more than $6,000 after starting with $5,000. I lost at least half of the time I had aces up. I never won two hands in a row. I had aces and kings on fourth street against two queens, and I lost that one easy when the guy made runner-runner straight.''

Here's how bad his bad beats got: "I only made two dinner breaks. I don't even know what kind of food they have here. One time I had to go home and let my dog out during a dinner break because my wife was in Florida and the other time I went to eat in one of the restaurants here. I've never made it to midnight.''

Grey is largely a cash game player, and cash games during the World Series with the tremendous influx of amateur players, can be lucrative. But Grey is part of Team Full Tilt Poker, so he is playing a high number of tournaments to help promote the website. Not much to promote, though, when you aren't cashing.

Then again, you don't always have to cash at a poker tournament to make money at a poker tournament.

"There's the man,'' Grey says, pointing to Doyle Brunson rolling down the hallway in his motorized scooter. "There's the man who owes me 20 dimes (that's poker speak for $20,000).''

Here's the deal: Grey and Brunson made a "final table'' bet on the $5,000 buy-in Limit Hold'em event, Grey taking Annie Duke, Brunson taking Jennifer Harman. Duke finished fourth, Harman didn't make it.

And now Brunson is saying there's no bet because he claims Harman never played.

"Jennifer definitely played,'' Grey tells the poker legend, "because I went to dinner with her during that tournament.''

Brunson, who was heading in to finish the $5,000 buy-in No Limit Hold'em 6-handed event as the chip leader, won't give.

"Take it all today, buddy,'' Grey says as Brunson rolls on. "That way you can afford to pay me.''

But wait. There's more. Grey also has the same bet with Barry Greenstein, who's backing Mimi Tran. Only this bet is $50,000 a pop. Duke again scored for Grey when Tran also missed the final table.

"So, I've shown a profit now for the World Series, no matter what,'' Grey said.

All of a sudden, here comes Grey's money girl.

"I made him a lot of money yesterday,'' Duke says, on her way in to play the Omaha High-Low Split event. "I got in the top six.''

"I was tracking you on PokerWire (a dot-com site that reports real-time tournament action),'' Grey says. "The low guy kept staying alive.''

"With four left, I had the chip lead,'' Duke says, "and then I flopped middle pair three times in a row. Somebody always flopped top pair.''

Duke leaves, Grey and I continue to talk, and just then Greenstein comes by. He has a colorful pouch that he unties, and out spill Bellagio chips worth tens of thousands of dollars. And Greenstein proceeds to pay Grey the 50 grand he owes him.

"Barry's sack never empties,'' Grey says. **************************************************************

Duke, by the way, is leaving Portland, Ore., and moving her family down to Los Angeles. Better to be closer to her new interest in Hollywood, what with a TV pilot of her life having gotten off the ground.


Restarting the $5,000 buy-in No Limit Hold'em shorthanded event, Brunson, Chris "Jesus'' Ferguson, Scotty Nguyen, John Juanda, Layne Flack, Men "The Master'' Nguyen and John "World'' Hennigan are still in it. That's three former World Champions and a bunch of other bracelet winners. Yikes, babe.


1 p.m.: During a break in the Omaha High-Low event, Daniel Negreanu is voicing a complaint about the Rio choice of events at this year's World Series, specifically the absence of a mixed-game event, such as H.O.E., a rotating series of Hold'em, Omaha and Seven Card Stud Eight-or-Better.

A mixed-game event isn't particularly attractive to the general poker public, but to poker players, it represents a defining tournament that rewards overall poker ability.

"Specialists can't win,'' Negreanu says. "The final table of that event historically has always been a top player - Doyle Brunson, John Hennigan, myself, David Phan, Scott Fischman. You don't see any random guy.

"For a televised event, what's wrong with this idea: Make it H.O.E., then at the end, for TV purposes, because it's not fun to watch, switch it to No Limit Hold'em. Then what you'll have is a great final table, because you won't have as many Cinderella stories, and you'll have a good format for the public. It's a must-have for next year. If they don't, I'll be very disappointed. ''


Seat 6 raises to $5,000. Brunson calls. Jesus folds. The flop comes J-A-10, two clubs. Seat 6 bets $10,000. Brunson counts out his stack, calls and eyes Seat 6 with a sideways stare. The turn comes the ace of diamonds, putting diamonds and clubs up. Check, check. The river comes the jack of spades. Seat 6 checks. Brunson bets $15,000. Seat 6 folds. Another $32,000 or so comes the legend's way.


With a board of Q-6-K-4, two spades, Seat 4 bets $8,000. Brunson calls. The river comes a queen. Seat 4 bets $10,000. Brunson grudgingly calls, saying, "K-6,'' meaning his opponent's cards. But no. Seat 4 shows K-3. Brunson's K-8 takes down a $25,000 pot.


2 p.m.: Tournament director Johnny Grooms says the Rio has decided not to make an announcement to the players that two black souvenir chips that are strikingly similar to the World Series' official $100 had been brought into play during an official event earlier in the week.

"With $3 million in chips in play, it is not significant enough to alarm a thousand players over what probably and very likely isn't a fraud situation,'' Grooms said.

The Rio gift shop outside the poker hangar is selling black chips with "World Series of Poker'' printed in the center. The official black tournament chips have "100'' stamped in the middle. But when placed in a player's stack, the phony chips look real because they have the same alternating black and white sections on the side.

Players who discover they have phony chips will not get a replacement and could be disqualified if they are deemed to have purposely entered the chip into play.

"If I see someone putting a chip like that into play, they will be disqualified. There's no 'could' about it,'' Grooms said.

It seems unfair that the players won't be alerted about a situation where they could face a loss of money, if only accidentally. But Grooms says the idea of phony chips being brought into a tournament has long-standing poker penalties.

"They do know ahead of time that they won't get equity,'' Grooms said. "That's an understood rule at all times. If there's a non-World Series poker chip in play, it's a standard rule that they don't get equity for that chip. It's their responsibility as a player and our responsibility as a house partially to make sure that the chips that go into play and that go into their stacks are legal chips.


Partial score during a break: Scotty Nguyen - four pictures, three autographs.


Buckle up. Minh Ly re-raises to $4,600. Men "The Master'' calls. The flop comes K-9-10, rainbow. Men "The Master'' checks. Ly bets $5,200. "The Master'' calls. The turn comes the ace of clubs, putting clubs up. "The Master'' checks. Ly bets $8,800. "The Master'' re-raises $20,000 more, leaving him with about $25,000. Ly re-raises over the top all in. "The Master'' calls. Ly shows J-Q of hearts for a broadway straight. "The Master'' flips over pocket 10's for a set. He needs the case 10 or a board pair to stay alive. The river comes a 9. Full boat. "The Master'' sucks out. "YES!'' "The Master'' whoops, bouncing around and clicking beer bottles with Scotty Nguyen. **************************************************************

Seat 5 makes it $25,000 to go. Brunson thinks, and asks, "How good are your kings?'' Then Brunson moves in. Seat 5 wants to know if the legend is calling or raising. "Betting it all,'' Brunson says, making it another $32,000 to play. Seat 5 calls. Brunson turns over A-8 offsuit. Seat 5 shows pocket 6's. The board comes A-8-2-Q-2, and Brunson's two pair rake a $125,000 pot to big applause from the fans three- or four-deep who have gathered to watch the real master.


5:30 p.m.: Brunson has spiraled down in a big way when he raises to $11,000. Action on Men "The Master.'' "Me and the big guy,'' "The Master says, then takes a swig of beer. "What you got there?'' Brunson doesn't move. Stares straight down. Acts like he can't hear the boisterous, elfin Men. "The Master'' calls. The flop comes A-9-K, rainbow. "The Master'' looks at Brunson, then the pot, then checks. Brunson tosses out a $30,000 bet. "The Master'' looks at the impassive icon, then takes another swig of beer. "Thirty-thousand?'' "The Master asks. "Do you know that's $30,000?'' Try as he might to ignore "The Master,'' Brunson finally smiles. "The Master'' finally folds. Brunson is rallying.


6 p.m.: Brunson makes it $11,000 to go. Seat 2 calls. The flop comes 9-4-3, two spades. Brunson bets $30,000. Seat 2 raises it to $60,000. Brunson moves all in for an extra $100,000. Seat 2 calls. Brunson shows Q-Q. Seat 2 holds 9-7 of clubs. The turn comes a 4, the river a 6, and Brunson doubles up. Now over $200,000 after being all in for his last $32,000 a while ago, Brunson is really rallying.


"The Master'' makes it $16,000 to go. Brunson calls. The flop comes 8-2-4, no suits. Check, check. The turn comes the six of hearts, putting hearts up. Brunson bets $20,000. "The Master'' folds, showing his A-K. Brunson takes down the pot with 5-7 of clubs.


6:40 p.m.: Jesus gets all the money in the middle with J-9 offsuit. Scotty Nguyen holds A-7. A jack hits the flop. But an ace hits the turn. Jesus hits the road.


Seat 2 raises to $25,000. Brunson calls. The flop comes 4-8-K, two diamonds. Check, check. The turn brings the jack of diamonds. Brunson checks. Seat 2 shoves in. Brunson calls with K-J offsuit. Seat 2 flips over the ace of clubs and three of diamonds, says he's drawing dead, and mucks his cards. But he wasn't drawing dead. He had a diamond flush draw. It's all moot when an offsuit 4 hits the river. But as he's dragging the pot, Brunson calls over floorman Jody Ivener to ask whether Seat 2's hand would've been live if a diamond had hit fifth street after he mucked his cards. Yes, it would've counted, Ivener says, because every all in hand must be exposed and played out. No matter. Brunson is over $300,000. Rallying, nothing. This is poker's shock and awe. **************************************************************

Brunson raises to $15,000. "The Master'' calls. Ly goes all in. It's another $100,500 to Brunson. He calls. It's on "The Master'' now. "I have a big hand,'' Men says to Brunson. "I'll call you because I don't think you have a big hand.'' "Good,'' Brunson says. But first, "The Master'' wants a ruling on payouts. If he goes all in like Ly and if Brunson knocks both of them out, who gets eighth-place money and who gets ninth-place money? Ivener explains that if two players go out in the same hand, the one who started the hand with more money gets the higher spot. "The Master counts down his chips and finds he would only get ninth-place money. So, he folds A-K. Now it's Brunson and Ly, Brunson with A-J offsuit, Ly with pocket queen. A queen hits the flop. Ly doubles up. Brunson loses a third of his stack. Shock. And aw.


Thursday turns into Friday, and Friday turns into forever, but the $5,000 shorthanded event is going to be completed right here, right now, no matter what. ESPN was going to shoot it, no matter what, especially when the matter involved Brunson, so because this RosenBlog is already too long, let's cut to the chase:

ESPN and probably the entire poker world got what they wanted - the legend, who taught a generation how to play via his bible "Super/System'' and is doing it again with his new testament "Super/System 2,'' was at a final table and going after a record-tying 10th gold bracelet.

Second in chips to Flack, Brunson proceeded to watch Scotty Nguyen take out Jason Lester, then saw Flack's aces crush Ayaz Mahmood's queens to make it four-handed. Brunson then busted Flack, playing K-9 against K-10 and catching a nine. After Minh Ly took out Nguyen, it was Brunson and Ly heads-up with Brunson holding a 3-1 chip lead.

Even shorter stacked now, Ly moved in with K-Q, putting Brunson to a decision on a $200,000 raise. Brunson called - with 10-3 offsuit. You heard me: He called with 10-3 offsuit.

Boom. A three hits the board. Pandemonium. No way the Rio has ever sounded so loud, so joyful, at 4 in the morning. Brunson is mobbed. The championship bracelet that ties him with Johnny Chan for the all-time lead is fastened on his wrist. the coronation of poker's sitting monarch is deserved and complete.

At a time when hordes of players many generations younger and easily more energetic than the 73-year-old Texan who moves through casinos in a motorized scooter and hobbles around poker tables with the aid of a crutch, Brunson put on a 16-hour clinic that proved he is still the bomb-diggity.

"It's hard to substitute for experience,'' Brunson says. "No one has more poker experience than I do. Then again, no one here is as old as I am.''

No one has more World Series of Poker bracelets, either. The legend adds to the legend.


Wednesday, June 29, 2005, 12:30 p.m. WSOP Daylight Savings Time:

Four events today: The start of the $5,000 buy-in No Limit Hold'em shorthanded tournament (six players max at a table), the start of the $2,000 buy-in Razz, the restart of the $2,000 No Limit Hold'em and the final table of $5,000 Limit Hold'em. The World Series of Poker hits for the cycle.

And an interesting trend develops. Because the $5,000 No Limit shorthanded event features only six at a table, players play looser and more aggressively. A-little, for instance, gets played here, whereas it gets mucked in a 10-handed game. As a result, there are more early bustouts - Daniel Negreanu, Phil Gordon, Jennifer Harman, Chau Giang, Jow Awada and the voluble Tony Guoga and Mike Matusow, just to name a few.

And that leads most of them to enter the Razz event that starts two hours later. Razz is a seven-stud-type game where you try to make the worst hand possible, which seems to be what you get in Hold'em when you're trying to make the best. Razz is considered by many players to be the most miserable of all poker games - so miserable, in fact, that T.J. Cloutier refused to enter, and this is a guy who plays every tournament and won the Razz bracelet last year. No matter. Razz draws about 300 entrants, an amazing showing, double what tournament officials expected.


In the $5,000 shorthanded event, John "World'' Hennigan and the trash-talking Guoga get all the money in the middle, Guoga with second pair and the second-nut-flush draw. Hennigan with top and bottom pair. Hennigan's aces and treys hold up. Tony G is done, and the man with a history of humiliating opponents quietly leaves.


The Toronto-born Negreanu is wearing a Hockey Night In Canada jersey at the table. Way cool. **************************************************************

Loose, aggressive play, indeed, in the shorthanded tournament. Tennessean Jim Rumptz raises $250. Howard Lederer re-raises $1,200. Rumptz calls. The flop comes k-10-6, rainbow. Lederer checks. Rumptz bets $500. Lederer flashes the Q-Q he's folding. Rumptz flashes wired 7's. Lederer shudders.


Mr. Hockey Night in Canada in the big blind calls a $175 raise from the small blind. The flop comes 7-2-6, two spades. The small blind bets $350. Negreanu says, "You don't have any of that,'' and he calls. The turn comes a king of spades. The small blind checks. Negreanu moves all in for $1,000. The small blind folds. Guess he didn't have any of that.


It's full-metal Full Tilt Poker. Lederer and Chris "Jesus'' Ferguson can't get out of the Rio's poker hangar during a 15-minute break to just go to the bathroom because they are besieged by autograph seekers.


Busted out of the shorthanded event, Negreanu sits down at his Razz table. As you might know, Negreanu issued an open challenge to "play anybody, virtually any game, for any amount from $100,000 to $500,000.'' He has had several takers, including an ongoing nine-match series of every game against Barry Greenstein (Greenstein is 2-1 so far).

Now, I don't have half-a-million bucks to take on Negreanu. Don't have many poker skills, either. But that could be to my advantage. So, I tell him I want to play him heads-up for $200, and here's why: That's lunch money for Negreanu, and so, the stakes would mean so little to him, that I might bore him into losing.

"I would make you a huge favorite,'' Negreanu says. "I'd find ways to make money by betting on you with other people.''


Matusow - aka "The Mouth'' - is standing outside the poker hangar entrance, doing interview for something called the Players Network. He's telling interviewee Mel Judah, "I'm going through $90 million in buy-ins. I have idiots who stake me.''


2 p.m.: Phil Ivey enters the poker hangar 12 hours after he busted Robert Williamson III in an epic marathon to win the $5,000 buy-in Pot Limit Omaha event, his fifth bracelet. "he's the best tournament player in the world,'' Barry Greenstein says. "And a good cash game player, too. He wasn't going to play in that event. I had to wake him up after the event started to get him to come down here and play.'' I decide I want Greenstein to give me a wakeup call.

The usually tight-lipped Ivey says to Greenstein, "Want to hear a stat? How many times do you think I folded (at the final table)? I folded 10 times in (12) hours.''


Greenstein is beaming today. He's handing out copies of his new book "Ace on the River'' shortly before his son, Joe Sebok, is about to play at the Limit Hold'em final table. "He's only been playing a year, and he's one of the best tournament players around,'' Greenstein says.


6 p.m.: The amazing Doyle Brunson hobbles on one crutch back and forth from the shorthanded tournament to the Razz event, trying to stay alive in both, and despite having chips at both tables, he graciously stops to sign autographs and pose for pictures. Of course he does.


At the Limit final table, a talented young player named Luke Neely spikes a queen on the river to double up through Annie Duke, who drops her head in her hands.


Neely hits another queen on the flop to again double up through Duke.


6:50 p.m.: Duke finally busts Neely to send him home in eighth place.


7:10 p.m: Jack Effel, the assistant tournament director, is taking a vote of the Razz players on whether they want to play down to the last player tonight - maybe even well into tomorrow - or play until 2 a.m. and restart later Thursday. Many players are angry because Razz was scheduled as a one-day event, and a restart would take them out of the $5,000 buy-in Omaha High-Low Split event they already bought a ticket for. Razz is so unpopular that Rio officials expected about 130-140 players. Here, they have about 300.

"Many of these players don't have any clue how long this tournament's going to take if we played all the way out,'' tournament director Johnny Grooms says. "It's going to take past the start time of (Thursday's) tournament. In any stud-type event, the structure is set up for 150-200 people, which would give them about 20 hours of play, but with 300 people, you increase the play to about 26 hours of play, which means if this tournament started at 2 o'clock (Wednesday), it would end - after a dinner break and all the breaks included - at 5 o'clock (Thursday) afternoon. If they want to play it all the way through, they're insisting the reason they do is they want to play in Thursday's event. If they get to the (last few tables), they're not going to be able to play in it because they'll still be playing in the stud event. They're don't understand. This event will not end before Omaha starts.''

************************************************************** Erick Lindrgen is presenting a Magic Johnson Michigan State jersey at the shorthanded tournament. "I thought I'd show a little Magic,'' he says, "because that's what I need.''


Doyle Brunson has chips in the shorthanded event, and here's one reason why:

Brunson raises to $1,000. Seat 5 calls. Seat 6 moves in for $2,850. Brunson calls. Seat 5 folds. Brunson has Big Slick offsuit. Seat 6 has A-Q offsuit. The board comes Q-9-A-J-10. Brunson makes a straight. "What a way to go out,'' Brunson says.


Layne flack still has chips in the shorthanded event, and here's one reason why:

Seat 3 raises to $800. Flack calls. The board comes 6-Q-8, no suits. Seat 3 bets $1,500. Flack calls. The turn comes a 10; the board has two hearts. Check, check. The rivers comes the jack of hearts. Check, check. Flack is playing 9-7 offsuit from the blinds and makes a straight.


Andy Bloch, one of the original Full Tilt Poker pros, and his fiancee, Jennifer Creason, are playing at the same Razz table. Her stack is bigger. She raises the pot. Johnny Chan re-raises. Bloch covers his face, appearing to fear his fiancee going up against a man fresh off his record 10th bracelet. Creason catches small and bets out. Chan mucks. It's OK to come out now, Andy.

Turns out, Bloch wasn't averting his eyes because of the matchup. He was doing it because she had earlier told him to keep his face to himself when she was playing a pot he wasn't also part of.

"He makes faces,'' Creason says. "I don't want to see how he plays my hand. He'll makes a decision on my hand when he doesn't know what I'm holding and I don't want him to judge me.''

"So,'' Bloch says,'' I just started covering my face.'' **************************************************************

Brunson busts out of Razz, so he hobbles back to the shorthanded No Limit event. And he finishes the first day as the chip leader. Of course he does.


Tuesday, June 28, 2005, noon, WSOP Daylight Savings Time:

More than a thousand people stream into the Rio poker hangar. The lines to enter today's event butt up against the poker tables. It's $2,000 No Limit Hold'em and it's a televised event, two things that automatically increase the fields because No Limit is the only poker people see on TV.

"No Limit Hold'em is the most popular game in the world by a long ways, obviously because of television,'' feared English pro David "Devilfish'' Ulliott says. "Once people start playing No Limit Hold'em, they'll start weaning off the Limit.''

These kind of crowds increase the equity of the pros, because there are fewer of them, but it also increases the land mines, because there are more of them.

"I've gone through two fields over 2,000 already (to reach final tables), so hopefully I'll get through this one,'' Ulliott says. "I've had 12 hours sleep and I'm ready to go.''

All the pros believe it will be another amateur who will win the main event the way it has gone the last three years, and I'm thinking, Jennifer Tilley gives new meaning to the terms "the sexy pick.''


The Rio seems exceptionally cold today, not the way the cards are running, but the way the AC is running. Maybe it's a plot to increase sales of World Series of Poker logo sweatshirts.


Weird thing: A player at Phil Gordon's table won a pot, then got a 10-minute penalty for showing his cards to Gordon during the hand. "There's a reason that's a penalty,'' says Gordon, who called the floorman after the player flashed his pocket aces as Gordon was considering a bet. "You can't do that to encourage action or discourage action.

"He knows that I know what he has. So, if I bet, how many levels deep is he willing to go? If I put him all in, do I have him beat or do I not have him beat? He was a little on tilt because of the floorman being called over, so I thought he was going to call me. I folded. I knew he had me beat.''


Layne Flack raises to $150. Seat 5 raises to $300. Flack raises to $700. Seat 5 moves in. Flack calls. Seat 5 turns up K-K. Flack flips over Q-Q. The board comes 3-8-8-3-6. Flack is gone.

Asks Seat 5: "Who was that?''

Answers just about everybody: "Layne Flack.''

Seat 5: "No (bleep)? I thought he looked familiar.''


1:00 p.m.: Gordon, author of the terrific "Phil Gordon's Little Green Book,'' and Matt Matros, who wrote the enlightening "The Making of a Poker Player,'' are out in the hallway talking, two player/authors out of the tournament. Not good for book sales, I say.

"When you start playing and stop writing, let me know,'' Gordon says. "I'll sign up for every event on the circuit.''

He got all of that one, ladies and gentlemen.


Mike "The Mouth'' Matusow steams by. He's out of the No Limit event. Maybe a little out of his mind, too.

"Poker is a (bleeping) farce, period,'' Matusow says. "I'm playing good. A guy raises under the gun. I have A-Q of spades on the button. I called. I'm not going to go broke with the hand. It came A-10-blank. He bets $300 into me, so now I'm thinking he has a big ace, like A-K. I'm real careful here, so I call $300. The turn card comes a queen, gives me aces and queens. He bets, like, $500. Now I don't like my hand. I'm like, 'How could he bet back into me here?' So, I flat call. The river card comes baby card and he bets $600. I think forever and ever and ever. I think the best I could have is the same hand. I should fold here. But I can't lay top two down here, so I call. He shows K-J offsuit (for a straight) that he raised with under the gun and the gutterball (bleeped) me. I had like $700 left, and three hands later six people call and it's $50 to me in the big blind with (two) clubs. I take the flop. The flop comes A-3-4 with two clubs. It goes bet, call, call. I shot out my last $700, and of course it comes blank-blank. I never hit a (bleeping) hand like that. I hate poker. Poker is a game for morons. Thank you. I got that out of my system.''


The final table of the $5,000 buy-in Pot Limit Omaha re-buy event features a final table of 10 players, but only nine spots get paid. ESPN gave the players the choice of continuing until one more player busted out, but at 2 a.m., the 10 remaining players chose to all go to sleep with all of them on the bubble and come back to settle it Monday afternoon.

So you have the totally abnormal situation where someone at the final table will not get paid, which figures to increase the tension. But wait. There's more. The table includes "Poker Brat'' Phil Hellmuth. Combustion to follow.

The final table also includes stone killers Phil Ivey, Robert Williamson III, Allen Cunningham, Surinder Sunar and Eddy Scharf, and it's Williamson, the 2002 Omaha champion who has made the final table the last four years, who has the biggest rooting section - 10 family members, eight of them wearing his new line of "Mr Omaha'' T-shirts.

Williamson, however, is not wearing one of his new T-shirts. "I've got my Alcatraz socks on,'' he says, revealing black and white striped socks that read "Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary.'' Williamson, apparently, is a sock guy. "I have Scooby-Doo and Care Bears socks,'' he says. Williamson apparently is a bath, guy, too. "I love ginger-mandarin and blackberry-vanilla bath salts,'' Williamson says. "I take a bath just about everyday with bath salts and about three times a week with bubble bath.'' Yes. Well. OK then.


Tournament officials and ESPN hands have to put black tape over Ivey's and Hellmuth's ballcaps because they're showing too many logos. Hellmuth also is told to take off his headphones, Can't use them at a final table. For a guy who makes sure that everyone knows how many final tables he has made, you'd think Hellmuth would learn the the final table rules by now.


Ten-handed, with one of these players destined not to be paid, Ivey goes all-in on a board of K-K-A-8. Hellmuth calls quickly. Ivey is the chip leader and easily has Hellmuth covered. Hellmuth could be out if he's wrong. Both players show K-8 for kings full.


Richard St. Peter goes all in with aces. Ivey calls with Q-J-9-8, a jack comes on the flop, a queen on the turn. Ivey makes two pair. St. Peter makes his exit. Everyone else at the table will now get paid.


Ivey is playing almost every pot. Winning almost all of them, too. He began the final table with more than twice as many chips as the player in second place, and now he's starting to add a couple turrets to his chip castle.


Hellmuth and Ivey are in a hand again. Gordon sits down next to me. The flop comes down, and Gordon says, "Phil (Hellmuth) is going to bet.'' And Hellmuth bets. OK, how'd you know? "He has a bit of a tell,'' Gordon said. "He looked down at his chips.'' Sharp guy, that Gordon. I think I'll have to read his little green book again.

Same hand, after Ivey previously called Hellmuth's $70,000 bet, Ivey bets out $40,000. "Perfect bet,'' Gordon says. "That's about half of Hellmuth's stack, so he pot-commits Hellmuth with only a $40,000 bet.'' Hellmuth folds. Expert play at the table, and I'm getting private expert commentary from press row. Life is good. By the way, you can an earful of Gordon's insight from the podcast he's doing for the appropriately named


Ivey has almost doubled his stack, which is pretty much double what the rest of the table has combined. Wear kevlar.


4:33 p.m.: All of Hellmuth's money goes in the middle on a flop of K-Q-7. Williamson calls. Hellmuth has a set of queens. Williamson has a set of kings. Hellmuth latest attempt to tie Johnny Chan with a record 10 bracelets is done. Buckle up.

But no. Hellmuth just walks around the set and mutters something about the deck. No Mt. Phil today.


Williamson raises $34,000. Cunningham re-raises $40,000. Williamson calls with ace full of kings. Huge standing O from the "Mr. Omaha'' shirts.


Amir Vahedi, puffing on one of his Cuban cigars, also is stretching his back and legs and bending his knees and doing all sorts of pokerobics.


5:40 p.m.: After a flop of Q-8-2, two spades, Scharf moves in. Sigi Stockinger re-raises over the top all in for even more -- $189,000. Ivey calls for the $159,000 more. Scharf has a sets of deuces. Stockinger has a set of queens. Ivey has the nut-flush draw. The turn comes a 7 of spades, giving Ivey his flush. When the board fails to pair on the river, Ivey has knocked out Scharf and Stockinger in one hand. Hide the women and children. And every other poker player on earth.


6:20 p.m.: On a flop of Q-10-4, all diamonds, Cunningham bets, Ivey raises, and Cunningham re-raises all-in. Ivey calls. Cunningham flopped a set of queens. Ivey flopped a king-high flush. The board comes blanks, and Ivey has busted Cunningham. Not even recent bracelet winners are safe. The terror level has been raised to orange.


Erick Lindgren stops by to watch his buddy Ivey. "Hey, E-Dog,'' someone asks, "are you still in (the No Limit Hold'em event)?''

"Yeah,'' Lindgren says. "Can you believe it?''


7 p.m.: Ivey has lost three straight hands. Sweetheart, get me rewrite. Tournament director Johnny Grooms, who is announcing the final table, tells the crowd he believes Williamson's four straight appearances at the Pot Limit Omaha final table is a record. Mr. Omaha, you betcha. Then Grooms says he also believes that another record is "Phil Ivey playing in a tournament where he can win less than in his cash games.''


7:30 p.m.: A funny thing happened on the way to Ivey's coronation: Davood Mehrmand happened, whoever Davood Mehrmand is. All the money got into the pot on a flop of 10-6-3, rainbow. Mehrmand held two aces, Ivey 10's and 6's, making him a 3-1 favorite. But an ace turned, and Mehrman, whoever he is, doubled up to take the chip lead.


7:45 p.m.: The Rio's alert system goes off in the poker hangar. Some voice comes over the loudspeaker. Couldn't understand a single word. Some warning system. The whole poker world could die. What a good time for the Pot Limit Omaha table to take a dinner break.


9 p.m.: Back from dinner. Nothing happens.


9:30 p.m.: Nothing happens.


10 p.m.: I said, nothing happens.


10:40 p.m.: Time for a break from all the nothing that has happened. We are still three-handed. We will be three-handed forever.


11:35 p.m.: Ivey has retaken the chip lead. Don't ask me how.


1:08 a.m.: After more than six hours of three-handed play, Davood Mehrmand, whoever he is, makes a big play with 4's and a straight draw. Ivey calls with 10's. The 10's hold up. Davood Mehrmand - he is an Iranian-born poker and backgammon player - is out in third. Ivey holds about a 3-1 chip lead over Williamson when heads-up play begins, but that's no guarantee this'll end beofre sunrise, what with two of the best players in the world facing each other.


1:52 a.m.: Look at that: It takes less than an hour to end this marathon that began about 11 hours earlier. On a flop of 8-4-7, rainbow, Williamson moves in with top pair/top kicker and a backdoor nut-flush draw. But uh-oh, Ivey flopped the nuts - a straight - and it holds up. The $350,380 consolation prize seems no consolation for Williamson. Ivey, meanwhile, has won his fifth bracelet, the youngest player in history to do so. He says he thinks he can win 30. Don't bet against him.


Monday, June 27, 2005, 2 p.m. WSOP Daylight Savings Time:

Doyle Brunson stops his motorized scooter outside the Rio's poker hangar. He signs shirts, hats, paper, and poses for photos, even gives out software CD's for his Internet site He is here for the second day of the $5,000 buy-in Pot Limit Omaha tournament, and as unfailingly polite and accessible as the 72-year-old poker legend is, he would rather just be playing poker.

"Oh yeah,'' Brunson says. "I've been playing everyday, 10-12 hours a day over at Bellagio. I just haven't been playing very many tournaments. This is all kind of superficial to me - the tournaments, the hoopla.

"I just want to play poker. And go fishing. And hunting. Swimming,. That's what I want to do, and I'm gonna do it next year. I'm going to get away from all this. Maybe not during the World Series, but this has been going on for a year. I've been doing nothing but promoting Doyles Room and the book and the book signings. I'm going to try to get away in September to get my leg worked on and go on up to Montana.''

Brunson remains and inspiration, not to mention a force at the tables.


Phil "The Unabomber'' Laak is playing in the first day of the $5000 buy-in Limit Hold'em event, but a couple nights earlier he was at a table where a couple of "sick guys'' were playing games where they'd pick a card from the deck and the high card won $30,000.

Laak said he used his cell phone to take a picture of one of the players, an obviously obese guy who had a bad case of plumber's butt, and Laak had the picture on his cell-phone/PDA gadget to prove it. I saw it. With what that guy was showing, you could've seated a family of four.


Longtime pro Dewey Tomko, a Runyonesque character who used to teach kindergarten before becoming a poker pro and owner of a casino in Costa Rica and gold course in Florida, is looking to restart the PGI - the Professional Gamblers Invitational. It's a golf event that ran for years, but died out about 15 years ago.

"We got too old,'' Tomko said. "But now these young players have more money and they play golf. It'll cost each player $10,000, plus side bets. People will play for a million bucks a hole. I'm trying to get it on TV.''

You want to make a golf-gambling-TV thing work, you start teaching Michael Jordan to play hold'em.


4:30 p.m.: Hey, look! Gus Hansen! Where you been, dude? "I've been working in Denmark,'' Hansen says.

"I beat him a ton of times in golf and he left the country,'' fellow pro David Grey says. "He owes me $9,000.''

"Make it $6,000,''' Hansen says.


Author Brad Reagan is at the World Series to chronicle the life and times of Erick Lindgren for a book they hope to get published - after they know whether he won millions or lost millions, of course.

"It's capturing the lifestyle of a 29-year-old guy and he's single and he has a lot of money and all his friends play poker at a time when poker is the hottest thing on the planet,'' Reagan says.

One peek into the world of poker players as people who will gamble on everything and then make stuff up just so they can gamble some more:

"On the day I showed up at Erick's house,'' Reagan says, "it was 102 degrees and it was 2 in the afternoon, and Erick was in the hot tub. He was trying to sweat off some pounds because he had a weight bet with Mike Matusow.''

Reagan and co-author Michael Kaplan wrote the wonderful new book "Aces & Kings,'' an insightful and revealing look at some of the best pokers in the world and the way they have changed the game from one generation to the next.


Lyle Berman, who helped launch the World Poker Tour, says he expects to the Professional Poker Tour to have a broadcast outlet in two weeks. The PPT is a freeroll for players whose career accomplishments have earned them a seat to compete for money put up by the WPT.


Remarkably, Daniel Negreanu is on the other end of the camera, taking a picture of a fan posing with John "World'' Hennigan.


Question to Michael Gracz, winner of the $1,000 buy-in No Limit Hold'em event with re-buys: "Did you play in the Pot Limit Hold'em event?''

Gracz: "Briefly. I got attached to aces, that piece of (garbage). Some guy got attached to a medium set.''

Pot Limit, it seems, is a bedeviling game, even to top players.

"In No Limit,'' Gracz explains, "you can pick up the antes and blinds. In Limit, if you make a mistake, it won't hurt you too bad. But Pot Limit is the worst of both worlds: There are no antes and you could lose your whole stack.''


The players file into the hallways during breaks, and half of them are on cell phones.

"The flop comes does A-K-6 . . .''

"So, I re-raised . . .

"And he calls with 8's . . .''

Would you rather hear about someone else's bad beats or someone else's fantasy league team?


The final table of the $5,000 buy-in Pot Limit Omaha re-buy event includes Phil Ivey, Robert Williamson III, Phil Hellmuth, Allen Cunningham, Surinder Sunar, and Eddy Scharf. This isn't a final table. It's an All-Star Game.

************************************************************** Sunday, June 26, 2005, Noon WSOP Daylight Savings Time:

The Ladies No Limit Hold'em event starts with nearly 600 players. Players range from women a bartender would ID to those carrying AARP cards. But say this for the group: It's the best-dressed, if not the best-looking field so far this year. I'm sure some people will find that comment sexist, but hey, facts are facts, and men can really looks like slobs at the table.

There are a remarkable number of low-cut tops at the tables, remarkable because cleavage doesn't figure to be an advantage in distracting opponents at this event.

The Ladies event also has attracted the biggest crowd, one that encircles a quarter of the Rio's poker hangar, mostly husbands and boyfriends of the players, and one of those men stading just outside the velvet cordon is top, young pro Paul Darden.

"I'm sweating my wife,'' Darden says. "She's been Limit playing for a few years, but she just started playing No Limit. This is her first live No Limit tournament. She's been playing a little on the Internet.''


Table 18, Seat 10. A woman with an unlit cigar in her mouth. Yes. Well. At least it looks like a Monte Cristo.


Jennifer Creason, fiancee of Fullt Tilt Poker pro Andy Bloch, is usually at the tables reporting on tournaments for But she's playing today, although she's getting down to the felt. "I flopped a set and some lady rivered a straight,'' She says. "But I can still make the final table with my stack.'' Turns out, no, she couldn't. Back to reporting on other players who get sucked out on.


One woman is wearing a shirt with different colored smiley faces. Another has a turquoise straw cowboy hat. Yet another wears sunglasses shaped like spades with another pair of sunglasses over a pink bandanna. Still another woman has a magenta wig under a pink hat. Or maybe that's her real hair. Either way, mommy, make it stop.


It is earlier in the week, and Chip Jett is on his cell phone, talking as fast as he is walking down the long corridor between the poker hall and the Rio's main casino. Then again, Jett does everything fast. Except produce the "Poker's Most Wanted'' deck of cards that he and his wife, Karina, also a poker pro, have been trying to make available for more than a year. "You think we could've sold a couple decks here?'' an aggravated Jett asks with outsized sarcasm. What's worse than lost opportunities for a poker player to make money in his sleep is the lost playing time and added mental distractions that have hindered players with outside projects of late. Says Jett: "I'm not playing as well as I want. I'm making mistakes that I don't usually make.'' Can't be that many mistakes, seeing as how Jett just came third in the Seven Card Stud event, a finish that was worth more than $99,000.

His wife, Karina, meanwhile, is playing in the Ladies event after finishing fourth in the same tournament the last two years. But those events were Limit and Seven Card Stud. This one is No-Limit, the game even casual players apparently want to try.

"I think there's a lot more dead money in this tournament than the women's tournaments previously because I think a lot of women still don't know how to play no limit,'' Karina says, and that can be a problem for those who do. "You never know what they have if THEY don't know what they have,''


The women at Table 24 are discussing the madhouse that the main event will be with 2,200 people ach of the first three days, specifically the madhouse that it will be trying to use the bathroom. And it's a legitimate gripe, because during the first break of the Ladies event, the line outside the women's room is so long that they started using the men's room.


Table 15, Seat 4, Jennifer Tilley. She's got game. And her boyfriend, Phil "The Unabomber'' Laak is fourth in chips heading into the final day of the Pot Limit Hold'em tournament.


2 p.m.: The $5,000 buy-in Pot Limit Omaha re-buy tournament is about to begin. In a world gone crazy with No Limit Hold'em, you should know that this event is a big one, bigger than the $10,000 buy-in main event when you add it all up.

"This and the Deuce-to-Seven lowball are the biggest buy-in tournaments,'' says Howard Lederer, looking imposing in his Full Tilt Poker hockey jersey. "This is a $20,000 buy-in tournament. It's $5,000 to buy in, then you're allowed to re-buy if you have $5,000 or less, so I'm going to rebuy right away, so I'll start with $10,000. Then you can do a double add-on at the end (for another $10,000), so as far as I'm concerned, the minimum you can get in for is $20,000.

"I'm sure there are some people who won a satellite last night for $500 and they're going ot take a shot at idiots like me who put up $20,000.''

But wait. There's more. This event will attract maybe 150 players, but oh, what players:

Lederer, Brunson, Ivey, Ferguson, Hellmuth, Mortensen, Seed, Seidel, Reese, Deeb, Raymer, Violette, "Devilfish,'' Fischman, Ferguson, Giang, Lindgren, Williamson III, Juanda, Greenstein, Phan, Vahedi, Tomko, Vaswani, Helppi, Cunningham, Habib, Watkinson, Phan,Corkins, Pescatori, Scotty Nguyen, T.J. . . .

"I know everyone at every table,'' David Williams says.

Sure, you'll see those players and more top pros in the main event, but that event will have 6,500 others. This one only features a virtual who's who. THAT'S how big a tournament this is.

"The big buy-in, the bracelet, the competition,'' Lederer says, listing reasons this is an event for the pros' pros. "The World Series bracelet that I cherish the most is my Deuce-to-Seven bracelet. I don't know how many people I beat. It's not like I beat 2,000 people, but I beat like 35 or 40 -- I don't know how many played that year - but they were THE best players in the world. The toughest tournament of the year. And this is probably the second-toughest tournament in the world.

"For a guy like Doyle, he's going to buy in for $20,000 just like me, and that gets the blood going because you have a big risk. A $1,500 risk isn't going to get the blood going. As much as we love to win, when you get knocked out of a tournament, it needs to hurt a little bit. This one will hurt a little bit.''


In my upcoming book "The Best Hand I Ever Played,'' to be published by ESPN Books in September, Robert Williamson III explains how he learned the art of the hustle from his father at age 5. So it's no surprise to see RWIII shooting from table to table trying to get some "last longer'' action. The pros, see, have thousands of dollars of side bets going for who lasts longer in the event. Williamson takes $4,000 action from Eric Weiner, and I know that because they made me pick a number between 1 and 5 to settle it. If you can't gamble on gambling, then what's the use, right?


3:08 p.m.: Josh Arieh hits the hallway. He's still in the Pot Limit Omaha event, but "I'm steamin' a little bit, so I'm going to take a walk.'' He comes back from his walk and sits on a couch in the hallway to talk. He was planning to go home to Atlanta on Monday, but not now. Michael Jordan is coming to town. "We're supposed to play golf on Wednesday,'' Arieh says, his face lighting up. "That's pretty cool.''

Here's how golf goes with Jordan: The new guy in the group asks Jordan if he wants to play for money, Jordan says sure, the new guy asks how much, and Jordan says, "Whatever makes you nervous.''


I finally found out that it's Blair Rodman who was wearing the "Kill Phil'' hat at the table with Phil Hellmuth, except it wasn't aimed at Hellmuth. It's the title of Rodman's new book on how to hold your own against good players. In his manual, Rodman uses "Phil'' to represent every good player, which isn't far from the truth, what with the likes of Ivey, Gordon, Laak, and, yeah, Hellmuth.


3:30 p.m.: Arieh is back in the hallway, back to steaming. "It's going to be a $30,000 tournament for me,'' he says.''


Williamson is a big chip leader with more than $50,000 at the end of the re-buy/add-on period, much to the delight of his rooting section, which includes Ken Kamp, who is part of the ownership group of the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs. They met during the last Spurs championship celebration in 2003 when Kamp, Steve Kerr, Danny Ferry and couple others wanted a pretty brunette to pose with them in a picture, and that brunette just happened to be with Williamson. "Then we went to the champagne suite,'' Kamp said, "and partied 'til, oh, 5 in the morning.'' Kamp is returning the rooting favor after Williamson flew down to San Antonio for the Game 7 win over Detroit last week.


Erick Lindgren, after the re-buy/add-on period: "I have more chips than I bought in for in a re-buy tournament. I'm so happy.''


The "Unabomber": is sitting at the final table of the $2,500 buy-in Pot Limit Hold'em event without his trademark gray hoodie. "It's hot in here,'' he says when I ask why. Look, kid, this is on ESPN. Think marketing. And so, he puts on the hoodie. "Like my mother said, 'If you're not going to be smart, keep smart people around.'''


The poker world roasted one of its greatest characters Sunday night - John Bonetti - who at age 77 came third in a World Series No Limit Hold'em event this year. Bonetti has won three gold bracelets, but he is best described as a "ballbusting, cantankerous curmudgeon,'' a description that WSOP media director Nolan Dalla used in his official report on that No-Limit event and a description that many believe understates the gravelly voiced, potty-mouthed, dealer-torturing poker veteran.

"No one likes John Bonetti,'' said dais member Mike Sexton, host of the World Poker Tour. "Phil Hellmuth sucks up to John. They have their own private (butt)-kissing club, and no one likes either of them anyway.''

Sexton took another shot at Hellmuth, who was sitting on the dais while Johnny Chan, who has nine World Series bracelets to tie him with Hellmuth and Doyle Brunson for the all-time leader, was sitting at a the final table of a Pot Limit Hold'em event: "If Chan gets that 10th bracelet, you won't sleep for two years.''

As for Bonetti's mouth, which has earned him numerous timeouts for cursing at the table, Sexton said: "If Andrew Dice Clay took up tournament poker, he'd be drawing dead against Bonetti for F-word penalties.''

The egomaniacal Hellmuth opened up by talking about himself, naturally, so when Bonetti got up there, he offered this: "He has nine gold bracelets. They're about eight inches long. So, that's eight times nine. That's 72 inches. If he put them altogether, he could wear them as a headband.''

The roast was put on by PokerStars, which presented Bonetti with a ticket for an entry into the $10,000 main event.


The third-chip leader behind respected pro Ram Vaswani of Britain's Hendon Mob and legend Doyle Brunson in the $5,000 buy-in Pot Limit Omaha event with re-buys? Former tennis player Evgeni Kafelnikov.

************************************************************** Heads-up for the Pot Limit Hold'em title: Johnny Chan vs. Phil Laak. The "Orient Express'' vs. the "Unabomber.'' The "Unabomber'' would raise, Chan would come over the top, and the "Unabomber'' would be out of his seat - maybe out of his mind, too - and getting right in Chan's implacable face, saying. "What do you have? What do you have?'' Chan would sit there wearing his usual stone face, while Laak, the poker poster child for ADHD, was bouncing around, dropping besides the dealer, trying to cajole good flops. It got so that even the inscrutable Chan started laughing.


Looks like no sleep for Hellmuth. Chan beats Laak for the Pot Limit Hold'em title. And that means Chan has won his 10th gold bracelet, breaking a tie with Hellmuth and Doyle Brunson.


While the "Unabomber'' is completing his final table, so is his girlfriend, Jennifer Tilley, who is the massive chip leader in the $1,000 but-in Ladies No Limit Hold'em tournament that concludes Monday. Think ESPN is loving this?


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Steve Rosenbloom is a regular contributor to and writes a syndicated poker column for the Chicago Tribune.

Steve Rosenbloom has been contributing to the ESPN Poker Club since March 2005. Along with his contributions to, Rosenbloom writes for the Chicago Tribune and is the author of "The Best Hand I Ever Played."